Author's Notes: So, this is it, the moment you've all been waiting for. Welcome to the concluding chapter of So Coal Black Grew the Elder One! I can't tell you how excited I am to be here at this moment. Anyway, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to like and of course review this work.
Just a quick update before you begin reading. You may have noticed that the rating has changed for this story. That is due solely to this chapter. Mentions of sexual assault and abuse will be mentioned in this story. Details will be left out to keep it within a mature rating, but all trigger warnings for this kind of material apply.
Episode 14: Memories
Jump City, 1 Year Ago
"So…uh, what do we do now?" Beast Boy asked, looking to his new friends.
The sun had risen on a new day, and somehow, he and a group of random heroes had saved Jump City from total annihilation by an army of reptilian aliens. If it was not for his experiences with the Doom Patrol, he would not have been able to conceive of such a scenario.
The tall, metallic guy, Cyborg, Beast Boy liked to call him, looked around. "Well, space-girl needs a place to crash, what about the rest of y'all?"
The alien, Starfire, as she had just introduced herself, already had a question on her lips. The hooded figure, Raven, Beast Boy remembered, seemed to read her mind. "Crash is just an expression for sleep."
She nodded, still not sure about the explanation. Robin spoke up, answering Cyborg's question. "Just got here last night. Haven't had time to search for a place."
Cyborg looked to Beast Boy. "Uh, you know, no one notices another stray dog in the streets."
Cyborg took a deep breath and let out a small laugh. "Alright, well, I've got space. It's not much, but I think I can fit y'all in. Come on."
The others started to follow him, but Raven shied away. "I've got places…other dimensions I can stay. It's fine."
"C'mon, you're going with us," Cyborg said, sweeping her up with one of his arms.
The whole way there, they made small conversation, though it was mostly Beast Boy bombarding all of them with questions, especially Robin, who he was a huge fan of, as he explicitly stated several dozen times. Still, he had plenty of questions for everyone.
"Okay, so Starfire, are your people mammals, reptiles, or what?"
Raven nudged him. "Don't be rude."
"Hey, I turn into animals. I'm curious."
Starfire did not seem to mind and always answered candidly. "Mammal, like humans, yes?"
There was still something nagging Beast Boy. "Uh, yeah, but if you're a mammal, where's your belly button?"
Starfire contemplated for a moment. While she had all the vocabulary of the English language thanks to Robin, she still lacked context for a lot of words, or she did not know the Tamaranean equivalent without a visual in front of her. Raven, seemed to understand her hesitation. "He means your navel, where you would've been connected to your mother in the womb."
"Like this," Beast Boy said, raising his shirt.
She nodded in understanding. "So, that is where your…'belly button' is."
"Okay…" Cyborg said, catching on. "So where's yours."
Starfire pulled her hair back so that they could see the skin just below the base of her skull. "Um…that's different," Raven said.
"Are outies normal?" Cyborg asked.
"Cool!" Beast Boy said.
She let her hair fall back into place. "If you mean that my navel is on the outside, no, I am the only member of my family with that."
Beast Boy now had a million more questions to ask Starfire but was cut short when Cyborg announced that they had reached their destination. It was a tiny mechanic's garage with a half-lit sign. The building was old and the bricks were clearly worn, but the building looked sturdy.
"Used to belong to my grandad," Cyborg said. "When he and my grandma passed on, they left this place to me. Come on up. We'll get y'all settled in. I've got a couple beds and a couch. I figure Starfire and Raven can have the beds and then you two can fight for the couch."
Beast Boy looked to Robin, who only smirked. "Uh…no chance you got a doggy bed?"
Cyborg shook his head. Raven spoke up. "What about you?"
He stopped and sighed. "Ever since this happened…" He gestured to his metal frame. "I have to recharge instead of sleep. I just plug in down in the garage."
He led them to the small apartment upstairs. It was cramped, but cozy, though it looked like it had been a while since Cyborg had done any housekeeping. "Starfire, you can have my old room," he said, opening a door.
She stood and stared into the room, looking hopelessly confused. Again, Earthly words were there, but she had no context for them. "It's a bed," Robin said, starting to figure it out. "You sleep on it."
Starfire examined the bed again, unsure of how humans found them comfortable. But she was determined to make it work. She clambered in and lay with her head hanging over the foot of the bed. It was not a terrific feeling on her back, but it would do, better than how she had been sleeping for the past few weeks. Almost instantly, she fell asleep. "Uh…Star, that's not…" Cyborg tried to say before realizing she was out.
"Must've been tired," Beast Boy suggested.
"You probably would be too if you just escaped from alien slavers within an inch of your life," Raven added in a somber tone.
Given everything they had been through, the last thing anyone wanted to talk about was the situation they had rescued Starfire from. No one wanted to imagine what sort of torture she had been through.
Though sore from having slept on the floor, Beast Boy was thankful for having a warm place to sleep. He stretched and scratched, hearing his back pop back into place. He was still half-asleep as he trapesed down the hall and opened a door. He fumbled around before he heard a scream. "What are you doing in here?" Raven shouted.
That seemed to wake him up. "Whoa! Geez, sorry. I left my shoes in here. What's the big deal?"
"Have you heard of this thing called privacy?"
She shoved him out the door. Beast Boy was not to be deterred. "You've lived alone a lot, huh?"
"Why does it matter to you?" His out-of-the-blue remark had piqued her curiosity.
He shrugged. "I lived with the Doom Patrol. We were used to this kind of stuff. So…what about you?"
"I lived with the monks of Azar." That was all she wanted to say on the matter, but Beast Boy didn't seem to get the memo.
"They sound…uh, fun, but they left you to yourself?"
Raven turned away, shutting the door behind her. "They raised me," she said, "but they avoided me when they could."
Starfire bolted up in bed, gasping for breath. Dreams of last night still plagued her. It was over. It was supposed to be over, she thought. Once reality set back in and she remembered where she was, she willed herself to get up. She smelled something cooking and went towards food.
As she came down the stairs, she saw Cyborg standing by some sort of device, whistling away, while some sort of food was cooking on the device. He spotted her. "Mornin', Star!" he greeted. "I was wonderin' when y'all would come down to eat. You seen any of the others?"
She shook her head, following her nose to the smell of something that seemed somewhat familiar. She opened the refrigerator.
"I don't know what kind of stuff your people eat, but I hope you like bacon," he continued. He saw what she had grabbed out of the refrigerator. "Bologna, hm. Well, okay, I can do something with that for you. I make a pretty good fried bologna…" With a loud gulping sound, she had eaten the entire package. "Sandwich," he finished, giving her an odd look.
She eyed the bacon cooking in the skillet hungrily, but Cyborg swatted her away. "No way. You'll give yourself a stomach ache eatin' like that."
This seemed to puzzle her a bit. She was pretty sure she had been polite as can be, but maybe humans fought harder for their food than Tamaraneans. "What's the matter?" Cyborg asked. "You got a stomach, right?"
"I have nine of the stomachs," she answered.
That seemed to surprise him. "Okay…well, that kinda explains it. You…uh, go sit over there and wait a minute."
Starfire looked at the nearby table. At least that structure looked familiar to her. She waited patiently while Cyborg continued to converse with her. "So…nine stomachs, how does that work?"
"One stomach serves as the main organ, processing food upon consumption. The other eight are for storage purposes."
He set a plate before her. She eyed the dish warily as Cyborg had made her eggs and bacon look like a smiley face. Did all humans mimic cannibalism in their meals?
"Yeah, well, not to worry. On this part of Earth, you don't have to worry about storing food for famines and stuff. No need to eat like you're starving. He caught himself when he said that, noticing her downcast look. "Unless that's what those lizard things did to you. Is that it?"
"They did not want me to have the strength to fight back, and so they tried. Last night, I only had enough energy to break out. If not then, I never would have had another chance."
Cyborg mulled it over. No wonder the girl had broken into that movie store to eat the snacks, wrappers and all. She had worn herself down. But then, another thought occurred to him. "Uh, Star, you do know you weren't supposed to eat those red wrappers around the bologna."
Starfire's long, purple tongue deposited a pile of red wrappers from her throat, all cleaned off, and onto the table. Cyborg only stared. "Well, you're just seven different kinds of interesting, aren't you?" he said, trying to hold back his gag reflex.
Around that time, Raven came to join them. "Hey!" Cyborg greeted. "Up for some breakfast? I've got eggs, bacon, waffles if you're interested."
"Gee…it all sound so good," Raven said in a deadpan voice.
"Waffles it is, then."
Starfire was getting up to leave, but winced in pain, clutching her left side. "You okay?" Cyborg asked. "Here, let me look at it."
She glowered at him, a growl beginning to form in her throat. "Hey, none of that. Star, I'm not trying to hurt you. Trust me, okay?"
She relented, flinching slightly when his cold hands touched her. But, he was a friend, she had to tell herself. She cried out when his fingers hit the sore spot. "Ribs," he muttered, "bruised definitely, broken maybe. A doctor could tell us more."
Raven pulled him aside. "Are you out of your mind?" she asked.
"What? She needs help."
"This isn't like taking in a stray puppy. She's from an entirely different world. Her anatomy might be different. Her body may not respond to our medical treatment. And that's not counting exposure to human diseases."
He shrugged. "Well, she does have nine stomachs, so I see your point."
"Exactly. Wait, what?"
He shook his head. "Never mind. So, what do we do?"
Raven looked to her. "Let me handle this one."
She sat back down beside Starfire. "I think I can help, but you have to stay still. I promise I won't hurt you." She held up her hands in a non-threatening pose to emphasize that point. "I won't even touch you."
Starfire let out a sigh and nodded, trying to trust these new friends. Raven's hands glowed a calming blue as they hovered over Starfire's ribcage. She winced briefly when something seemed to pop back into place, but otherwise, it was totally painless. It was an amazing feat to her, and apparently to Cyborg as well.
Beast Boy and Robin came in shortly after, Beast Boy clearly having a one-sided conversation. "We need some kind of cool team name," he said. "Like Justice Kids, or Awesome League, or uh, um…"
"They all sound equally terrible," Raven interrupted.
"Well, I don't see you comin' up with any ideas."
"Please, like it's that hard to come up with stupid hero names. Gee, why not go with something corny like Teen Titans, or something like that?"
Beast Boy's eyes lit up at the thought. "Ooh, that! I like that."
"We are not doing team names," Robin said, ending the conversation. "We're not even an official team."
"Well, we beat up baddies, and we live together now," Cyborg said. "Might as well be a team. Course, there's no way we can all live in this small little place without driving each other nuts. I'm thinkin' we could convert that old alien ship into a bigger house of some kind. I have access to materials from Stone Labs to help upgrade it."
That seemed to perk Robin up. "Really? You think you could do that? I…uh, know some people that can get us some good crime scanning equipment. And if it's funds we need…"
"Easy there. We know you got connections to the Bat. I was thinkin'…"
"Oh, we should build it like a giant T for Teen Titans. That would be so awesome," Beast Boy interrupted.
"No Teen Titans," Robin said.
"And no T-Tower. I'm not doing anything ridiculous like that," Cyborg added.
That whole afternoon, the group had been making plans: trying to decide on this new tower, planning strategies based on their powers, everything. Only Starfire seemed distant throughout. "You okay, Starfire?" Robin asked, sitting beside her.
She sighed. "I have caused a lot of trouble by coming here."
"It's not that bad," he said. "We're going to go help clean up the town, and…"
She shook her head. "It is more than that. I was supposed to be a war prize for peace on my world, and now I have ruined that. I fear aggressions may start on Tamaran once more, and I have no means of communicating with my K'norfka."
Cyborg overheard them. "So you need to phone home?" He laughed at his own joke. "Say no more."
He ran down to the garage and back up in the blink of an eye, carrying an armload of metallic items. "I've been working on different types of communicators with some extra parts. I made something a while ago that can transmit and receive over lightyears of distance. Had no intention of talking to aliens with it, but I guess now it comes in handy. Here, you just set the coordinates to…"
Robin meanwhile went over to Cyborg's police scanner. So, Cyborg liked to serve as guardian of Jump City, Robin thought. He could respect that. He heard a few voices that gave him pause. "Cyborg, who is Cinderblock?"
Cyborg rose up. "Some big thug of a bad guy, or monster, or whatever. Not bad, but causes a lot of trouble. I've only ever been able to tick him off, but never catch him."
"Sounds like a job for the Teen Titans!" Beast Boy shouted, striking a heroic pose. "Titans, away!"
"We're gonna have to put a stop to that," Cyborg mumbled, heading for the door. "Star, I think we got this one. You can stay here and call home if you want."
Starfire nodded. Though she wanted to help her new friends, she also wanted to see that Tamaran was still safe. Following Cyborg's instructions, she thought she had a transmission out to Tamaran. "Hello!" she called out. "Galfore! Blackfire!"
At first, all she heard was static, but then Galfore's gruff voice came through. "Princess, is that really you?"
Tears welled up in her eyes. "Galfore, yes, it is I. I…I am sorry. Something happened. I could not do it. I left. I am ashamed of my cowardice."
"Princess, there is nothing to apologize for. I could not bear to imagine you in that horrible place. What they would have done to you in the Citadel…I am just glad you are safe."
She wanted to tell him then. She wanted to tell someone, anyone, but could not bring herself to do it. "Has my absence resumed the war?" she asked instead.
"Briefly, but our troops have been able to fight them off. They are retreating."
She let out a sigh of relief. "That is joyous news to hear. And how are my parents?"
Galfore became gravely silent then. But, at last, he spoke in a near-whisper. "Koriand'r, I am sorry. They…they have passed."
Everything after that was a blur. True, she heard snippets of things, such as that they had passed shortly after she left, that Blackfire, in her grief, had left Tamaran. Galfore hoped that Starfire could send a transmission to her and talk some sense into her. But through it all, she heard nothing but muffled speech. Her parents were dead, and she had not been there for them.
The rest of the group had started to return. "We'll get him next time," Beast Boy said, pretty proud of himself. "At least we stopped him from hurting anyone."
"I suppose," Cyborg grumbled. "Still, that was pretty cool, that thing that Robin and I did when my cannon blasted your disc. It was almost like a sonic boom."
They all halted when they arrived to find Starfire slumped over, sobbing. "Starfire…" Beast Boy said, approaching her.
She threw her arms around his neck and wept. "They're gone," she sobbed.
Beast Boy knelt, still cradling her in his arms as she cried, not sure what else to do.
Jump City, Present
Starfire bolted up in bed, stopping herself as a small scream tried to escape from her lips. She had gotten used to this routine by now. The nightmares were coming back, even more frequently now. As she took deep breaths to let her heart rate slow down, she got up, knowing she was not going to be getting any more sleep.
She knew the reason, and all she wanted was for this day to be over. She just had to forget, had to move on, had to do something. Pacing the floor because she knew of nothing else to do right now, she waited until the first light of morning. Just had to get through today, she thought.
So lost in her own thoughts as she left her room, Starfire did not hear Archangel come up from behind her. "Hey, Starfire," he said, tapping her shoulder.
Starfire whipped around, startled, and gave Archangel a powerful kick backed by her full Tamaranean strength. He crumpled into a heap and was slammed against the wall, groaning in pain. She quickly snapped out of it. "Oh, Archie, a thousand apologies. Are you injured? Should I – "
"Just get some ice," Archangel said through gritted teeth.
Starfire helped him up. "I am deeply remorseful. I was not aware of my surroundings."
"It is okay. Let's just go sit down."
Cyborg and Raven walked into the common room to the unusual sight of Archangel icing a good many injuries. "I guess I have learned never to sneak up from behind you," he said to Starfire in a weak laugh.
"Trouble in paradise?" Cyborg interrupted.
"What?" Archangel and Starfire said in unison.
Cyborg realized his mistake. "Um…what are you talking about?"
Starfire answered. "I…injured Archie by accident. I was…thinking, and I did not notice him, and he caught me by surprise."
Archangel raised an eyebrow in confusion. "What were you referring to?" he asked Cyborg.
He smiled sheepishly. "Uh…same thing. Anyway, time to get started on my world-famous waffles."
Raven sat down on the couch to begin healing Archangel's wounds. "Gee, waffles again. What's the excuse…uh, I mean, occasion this time?"
"Oh, come on, Raven," you couldn't have possibly forgotten. One year ago today, we all became a team." He looked at Archangel. "Oh…uh, I mean…"
He shrugged. "I understand."
Starfire let out a small gasp, which caught Raven's attention. For a year now, Raven had always known something was up.
At first, when they all started living together, it took a while for Raven to get used to the influx of new feelings she was empathically reading from her new friends. It was like having twenty different TVs going on all at once. Eventually, the dust cleared and she was able to recognize the common emotional patterns of her friends.
However, what concerned her the most was the strong negative emotions that came off of Starfire, the strongest being fear. At first, she was willing to attribute it to her being worried her former captors would return. But after several weeks, and Raven realizing that the intensity of Starfire's fear was stronger than any lingering worry, Raven knew it was something else.
At one time, Raven had come close to understanding this fear. No one ever noticed when she did a little emotional probing. But then, they had gone through that whole incident with the Puppet King and they had switched bodies. From then on, Starfire knew how Raven's powers worked and it was like a brick wall went up ever since. Starfire quickly figured out the mental blocks needed to avoid Raven. That worried her. What secret needed to be so well-hidden?
"So, I was thinkin', so long as there's no bad guy butt to kick, it'd be a perfect day to go to the park," Cyborg said, bringing Raven back to reality.
The Titan alarm began blaring, canceling any hope of that. "Looks like it'll have to wait," Robin said. "Unidentified aircraft downtown."
The T-car came to a screeching halt as they neared the large aircraft which had crushed nearly two blocks of the city. Starfire had gone rigid, recognizing its architecture.
"Okay, Titans, fan out and – "
"Oh, Robin, your little plans are so adorable and so predictable," a voice said.
Blackfire leaned casually against what used to be the bank steps. She looked annoyed, as though she had grown bored waiting on them.
"And what sort of errand has Slade got you running now?" Robin asked, his eyes darting to every rooftop.
She laughed. "Oh, that's right: you don't know. Slade and I have outgrown each other. I have some new tools and new friends who are much more useful than him."
An army of Gordanians came marching up behind her, slimy, scaled killers, all primed and armed to kill. Blackfire smirked. "What's the matter, sister dear? You haven't said a word. Afraid of a few Gordanians?"
Starfire tried to will herself to say something, anything. But her voice would not come. She could only muster a small squeak.
"Shocking, I know," Blackfire continued. "But see, they'll listen to me because I have something they want: you. That, and this new amplifier Slade so willingly and stupidly made for me."
She let the device on her arm turn on, aimed it at a pile of rubble, and vaporized it with a starbolt. "It ups my powers ten-fold, more than any stupid gem. Now everyone fears me, and I'd like to see you try to even go against this. But, you know, I think my friends here can take care of you."
She disappeared into the crowd of Gordanians as their electrified spears turned on. Robin put a hand on Starfire's shoulder. "Star…"
Whatever fear had paralyzed her minutes before now melted into a wave of burning anger. Her eyes lit with a fury on another level. With a raging battle cry, she sprang into action.
She tore through Gordanians left and right. At first, they were taken by surprise and it was almost too easy. They were immediately bowled over, and some even cowered away. But once the initial shock wore off, for every one she beat down, a dozen others came after her. All the same, she fought with such tenacity, she seemed unstoppable.
The rest of the Titans eventually snapped out of it and went to her rescue. Though their scaly skin was resilient to fire, they still retreated as a sudden blast of flames from Archangel struck them. Sword ignited, he was able to do more damage as he tried to hack and slice an opening to reach Starfire.
Raven was quick on the defensive and started throwing up shields to block the oncoming squads of aliens. She was able to get a few hits in with some levitating debris, but only a few. There were just so many of them. This was not like the last time they faced the Gordanians. This was not just some small squadron. Blackfire had come with a whole army. They had fought numbers bigger than them before, but an entire army? Raven threw another hunk of building at a pair of Gordanians who had started coming for her. One enemy at a time, she thought.
Cyborg was able to do more significant damage. With his entire arsenal of weapons and the wide range of his sonic cannon, he stood more of a chance. He cleared a path to get to Starfire and offer her some aid. But he was pretty aware of the situation. "There's too many of them, Star," he said, blasting a rogue soldier away. "We need to fall back. Robin would want us to come up with a better plan."
She did not respond but rather roared as she threw herself at more soldiers, blasting starbolts haphazardly. "Or not," Cyborg sighed. He went back into the fray to keep her covered. At the rate she was going, she would get herself hurt soon.
While Robin would have done anything for Starfire in this situation, he was not going to be irrational about it. They were seriously outnumbered, and he did not have nearly enough to fight back with. They needed to regroup. Still, they were too deep into the fight, and there was no getting Starfire down from her current level of ferocity. He knew she had a chip on her shoulder about them, but he had never seen her like this.
Robin did his best to try and get some of the Gordanians' attention off of her. He threw everything he had at them to get them wanting to come after him. It was no use. They had their orders from Blackfire. "Anything?" Archangel asked, having caught up to Robin.
"No," he said, getting more and more frustrated by the minute. "But maybe we just haven't created a big enough distraction. Help me set off an explosion near their ship."
Archangel nodded, following him.
Beast Boy was more than just overwhelmed by all the chaos. He made himself into bigger and bigger creatures to try and fight off multiple attackers, but they were determined, and there were many of them. He could not seem to make any headway. At last, he realized it was pointless to try and fight them all off. He turned into a mouse and scurried between their feet to try and reach his friends. "So, what now?" he asked as he finally reached Archangel and Robin.
"Try to find the others and make sure they're out of the way," Robin answered. "We're about to make a pretty big distraction."
"Can do," Beast Boy said, but then halted. "Um, what about Star?"
"Just do your best," Robin said. "We need this opportunity to rethink our plans."
Archangel nodded. "Do what you can."
Beast Boy grimaced but ran off to do his job. Raven and Cyborg easily backed off, exhausted and beaten from the fight. He tried to follow the sounds of Starfire's shouts to locate her, but easily got swamped in the army of soldiers. Eventually, he found his path, and just in time. Starfire had pinned a Gordanian soldier down and looked ready to rip his head off.
"Star, wait!" Beast Boy called, running in to stop her. Bad guys these may be, but killing was not something he could let her do.
He reached for her to get her to snap out of it, but she wheeled on him, eyes glowing, and struck him with the full-powered starbolt meant for her adversary. The others heard his pained scream, a scream so chilling it made all their blood run cold. She seemed to hold onto him, hitting him with all she had, not realizing that he was not the enemy. "Starfire, stop!" Robin yelled, pulling her off of Beast Boy.
Slowly, she seemed to come back, a horror-stricken look on her face. She saw Archangel holding Beast Boy as his burned chest seared and he moaned in pain. And through it all, she could see the fear in her friends' eyes as they saw what she had done. Robin dragged her to her feet. "We have to get out of here," he said.
Cyborg came back from the medbay, a grim look on his face. "So, how is he?" Robin asked.
"Alive, but barely. Star burned him up pretty good. I don't think the skin's gonna fully heal. Any word on Blackfire or the Gordanians?"
He shook his head. "No, they pretty much just let us leave, and they haven't done anything else except wait on their ship. They're just toying with us."
Cyborg sighed. "And Star?"
Archangel came from down the hall. "No word. She is still holed up in her room. We've tried everything."
Cyborg knew of only one other way. Over the past year, he had learned that the way to Starfire was through her stomach…er stomachs, he reminded himself. She could usually open up under the prospect of good food.
He tapped at her door. "Star, I thought I'd bring you some lunch. You know, probably hungry after all that. It's your favorite: bologna, peanut butter, and olives. I even got the bread the way you like: a little black on the edges."
The door cracked open, and he could see one bloodshot, teary, green eye looking back at him. "Thank you," was all she said.
While he knew she would not be that mean, he slid his foot into the crack of the door, just in case. "Look, Star, something's clearly going on, and we really need to talk about it. It doesn't have to be me. It can be whoever, but you need to talk. You can't keep whatever this is bottled up anymore."
She would not meet his gaze. "How is Beast Boy?"
"He'll be okay. It'll take a while, but he'll be okay."
Cyborg was not going to budge. He waited for Starfire's answer. She yielded. "I will talk with you and Raven," she said at last.
He smiled. "I'll go get her."
Raven and Cyborg sat on the edge of Starfire's bed as she paced nervously across the floor. She was doing everything she could to stall for time. At last, she had to speak. "You know that my sister traded me to the Gordanians for peace. I accepted their terms and went to be their war prize. They did not treat me well."
"They starved you," Cyborg said.
"They beat you," Raven added.
Cyborg's eyebrow raised. While true, he would have expected as much, he had not heard that part of the story. Starfire would not meet their eyes. "When Starfire and I switched bodies, I could feel the scars. I sort of put it together after that," Raven explained.
Starfire looked to them, knowing there was no point in keeping that secret. She sat down and pulled up the back of her top, letting Cyborg and Raven see where the flesh had warped and bumped after healing. "Oh, god, Star…" Cyborg said breathlessly. He had seen pictures of this kind of stuff, in history books about slaves, but in real life…words could not compare.
His fingers lightly brushed the biggest of the scars as he went to wrap her in a hug. She remembered getting that scar vividly. She wanted to die after it happened.
"But, that's not why you were so upset today, is it?" Raven said. "Not all of it. I know about the nightmares."
She was surprised by this. "How?"
"Your room's right above mine. I hear you when you get up, and I can sense the fear afterward. But, I'm right though. That isn't the only reason."
Her silence confirmed Raven's thought. "Starfire, I'm going to ask you something. Just, yes or no, okay? You went willingly to be a prize for the Gordanians. Something happened that night, didn't it? Something changed your mind. Starfire, did…did they do…something to you?"
Raven could not even bring herself to say what she thought it was. Starfire broke down completely, giving Raven her answer. She sobbed into Cyborg's chest as he did his best to comfort her. He looked worriedly to Raven, silently asking what else could he do. There was no good answer to that question, she knew.
Maybe it was Starfire's distraught state. Maybe it was her own distress at seeing a friend so in pain. Raven could not even begin to describe what she was feeling. She reached out to touch Starfire, give her a comforting hand. Raven did not think about how the emotional distress was affecting her powers, and before she knew it, she had entered Starfire's mind.
Raven woke up on a cold, dirty floor, darkness surrounding her. As she moved, she cried out as flayed skin cracked, and that was when it dawned on her that she was in Starfire's memories.
She tried to sit up, but the shackles binding her wrists made that a challenge. Pain wracked every inch of her body. Starfire's mind told her it had been nearly a month since she left Tamaran on this ship, meaning every day since then, she had experienced this torture.
Raven could hear voices outside the door, gurgling, hissing, gruff voices. "Lord Trogar explicitly instructed us not to. Torture is one thing, but we cannot do anything else. She belongs to the Citadel."
"It wouldn't' matter. She'd better get used to it anyway. What's wrong with having a little fun beforehand?"
Raven gulped. She had a feeling she knew what would happen. Instinctively, she crawled back to the farthest corner of the cell and tried to make herself smaller. The door opened.
"You scared of me, troq?" the guard hissed. "Still mad about that last little cut?"
Raven knew that it was far beyond little as she felt skin peel on her back. The Gordanian snorted. "Almost to the Citadel, troq. You know what they plan to do with you?"
Starfire's memories of the tales she had heard Rulore tell her mother in private painted a grim picture in Raven's head. Still, she remained silent.
"Well, I say you might as well get some practice in for it before you get there."
She tried to bolt, but he scooped her up and pinned her to the ground so fast, she was not sure what had happened. She tried to scream, but he pressed his elbow into her chest, keeping her from breathing enough to call out. His strength was such that she felt something snap in her ribs as he pressed down on her. "And just where did you think you could go?" he asked, his slimy grin getting wider.
And then, it was as if a movie had skipped a scene. The Gordanian guard had finished with her and finally got off of her. Still, Raven could feel every bit of Starfire's physical and psychological pain at that moment. It was not hard to figure out what had happened in the missing gap of time. She had been in the minds of trauma victims before. Their memories would often block out the memory in some way.
She could hear the guard laughing as he stood. "You did well, troq. I think you might actually get used to this."
It was the thought of knowing that this could become a regular occurrence for her that finally set Starfire off. Deal or no deal, she was not going to endure it again. When the guard turned to leave, she struck him with her cuffs and proceeded to pound his head until it was little more than an unrecognizable pulp. She knew what this meant. Killing a guard was not going to go unnoticed. She would have to escape.
Starfire then let out a primal scream, angry and sad all at the same time, and proceeded to pound the cell door. They only thought it would be strong enough to keep in a Tamaranean. "Will the door hold?" she heard a nervous guard outside ask.
Raven breathed in deeply as she was finally thrown from Starfire's mind. Cyborg and Starfire stared worriedly at her. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to," Raven gasped. "I just…I don't know how…"
"I do not blame you," Starfire said. "You saw…everything?"
"Enough of it," Raven answered. "Look, this has probably been a lot for you today. You opened up and told us. That's big, but maybe you should rest a bit. I know this spell for dreamless sleep. It'll help, but only for today. Some people become dependent on the spell."
Starfire agreed, and Cyborg and Raven left her to rest. "You're not going to use that spell for just one night, are you?" Cyborg said.
"Probably for the first couple of weeks," Raven answered. "It's a lot to process, and reliving the trauma is sometimes as bad as the actual event."
Cyborg placed a hand on her back. "Speaking of, you gonna be okay?"
She nodded. "Yeah, a little meditation and reminding myself that it was only her memories, and I'll be fine."
The two were quiet for the longest time, neither wanting to talk about what happened, but knowing that they needed to. "So, what do we do for her?" Cyborg asked. "I mean, I feel like there should've been something that I could've said or some way I should have comforted her."
Raven shook her head. "It doesn't work like that. There's nothing we can say or do to make it better. It happened, and the best we can do is be supportive of her as she tries to heal if she does."
"But, there has to be something." Cyborg was a man of action. He could not stand to sit idly by.
"Listening today was the best thing we could've done. Look, I have a friend at the café. She's been through some similar stuff. She runs a support group. I can suggest it to Starfire."
Cyborg was still having trouble comprehending. "She didn't tell us for a whole year."
"It's not like she didn't trust us," Raven said, voicing his fear. "Nor is it that she blames herself. She knows something like that isn't her fault. I think it's the politics of the situation. She feels like a coward for having abandoned that arrangement. It makes her feel weak. I don't think there's much we can do to help her there. I think that's going to be more of a Galfore thing when she's ready."
A few hours later, Starfire dared to venture out to the common room. She really wanted to speak to Beast Boy, to apologize, but Raven told her he was sleeping at the moment. She thought that talking with Cyborg and Raven would have helped. It did, a little, but she knew she would never feel easy with the situation. For now, telling them was enough. She knew she would have to talk with others eventually, just not today.
The common room was quiet, probably because Beast Boy was not there chatting up a storm. She felt horrible for that. Cyborg and Robin were quietly discussing something on the screen, while Archangel, who had lost interest in the matter several minutes ago, was snoozing on the couch. Cyborg and Robin heard her come in. "Rested?" Cyborg asked.
"Yes, and thank you, Cyborg. I am lucky to have friends like you."
Robin only gave them an inquisitive stare. Cyborg must have been kind enough to not say anything. Robin would be the hardest to talk to about all of this. He would want revenge.
Cyborg smiled and nodded. "I'd say the feeling's mutual. Listen, Star, if you're up for it, there's something up with these readouts I got on the space ship. My sensors got a quick glance in before Robin and Archangel were supposed to set off their bomb."
Starfire felt bad for that too. Her outburst had disrupted any plans they did have.
He zoomed out of the map so that Starfire could see the full layout of the ship. She could see all the rooms and halls of the ship in schematic form. A few green dots moved about, and she assumed there was that was the Gordanians.
"Anyway, it looks like they may have a prisoner on board." Cyborg zoomed into one particular room which held two green dots and an orange dot.
"This is not one of their slave ships," Starfire said. "It is a small war vessel. That is the power room. Are you certain that is not Blackfire?"
Robin shook his head. "We checked that. According to this recording, she went to the main deck when she left the battlefield."
"Maybe this wasn't someone they were planning on picking up. But, Star, the readout does say that whoever this is…" He pointed to the orange dot. "They're Tamaranean."
"So, how do we want to do this?" Robin asked. "I think the only reason they have whoever it is, is because they know something. That means our top priority should be to get them out. But how?"
"I could do it," they heard Beast Boy wheeze across the room.
He stood on shaky feet, clutching his bandaging.
"No, what you need to be doing' is resting," Cyborg said. "How did you even get here?"
Raven hovered in. "He got up when I went to get him some water and left. Beast Boy, you're in no condition to…"
"You need someone who can get past all those guards. I can do that. Last time I checked, could any of you shrink down to the size of a germ?"
Cyborg tried to calm him down. "Okay, okay, I get it. But, B, you can barely even stand. Look, we can come up with something else."
"I can help," he protested. "I've had worse done to me. It's just a burn. I'm not gonna take no for an answer."
He looked to each of them, and the could tell by his determined look that he was not going to budge on the issue. Cyborg let out a small groan. "Fine, but you're taking one of my mini-cameras. The first sign of danger we see, and we're telling you to get outta there."
That answer seemed to satisfy all parties well enough, and Beast Boy was sent out into the field. He was a little slower than usual, due to his injury, but he took his time, trying not to worry his teammates. He got near the ship without too much trouble. As Robin had predicted, they were not there to cause any other kind of destruction. They were waiting for the Titans.
"Alright, I'm going in," he whispered into the microphone.
"And I've got a camera feed going. You're all clear," Cyborg said. "Just be careful."
"You got it!"
Robin spoke up. "Beast Boy, do you even have a plan for when you find this person? You do know they can't turn into animals, right?"
"Cyborg's got me covered. I've got some kinda laser beam to cut through the ship's walls."
"Just remember, that's not a toy. Get in, get them, and get out."
He remained silent and transformed into a cockroach. Skittering this way and that, Beast Boy entered the Gordanian ship. It was not all that different as the first time he had been on one. Though there were more guards patrolling around and Starfire had warned him that this was typical on a warship.
He heard Cyborg's voice in his ear. "Okay, now take a left and follow the stairs. There should be a door at the bottom. Slide through that, and you'll at least be on the right level."
He made his way through the door, turning this way and that to make sure his friends had a good view of the area. "Okay, third door to the right," Cyborg said.
Beast Boy followed the path and went through the door. When he was certain that the coast was clear, he transformed. Back. The Tamaranean boy in the room, chained to a boiler, backed away at his sudden appearance. "Um, so, this looks like just a kid," he said. "But, I'm guessing he doesn't understand English."
He held out a watch attached to his arm, and Starfire spoke through it in Tamaranean. At first, the boy did not answer, but after she repeated the phrase, he spoke slowly and methodically. After several minutes, she spoke to Beast Boy. "He at least understands that you mean him no harm," she said, "though his fluency in Tamaranean is at the level of someone who is perhaps four to five years of age. He looks to be maybe ten or eleven."
"We can solve that later. Main thing now is to get out, preferably without being seen," Robin said.
"Um, hello! I've got a laser saw here. Not like that's subtle."
He heard Robin sigh on the other end. "Just try not to get yourself nearly killed again."
Cyborg butted in. "The back wall in front of you should lead to another power room and no guards. After that, it's a straight shot out to the street."
Beast Boy shrugged and pushed a button on the watch. How come Cyborg got all the cool gadgets? Within a few seconds, the laser beam had cut through the back wall like butter. He grabbed the boy's hand. "Come on," he said, realizing it was a foolish idea to speak since he could not understand him.
Back at the Tower, the team was trying to figure out the secret of their mysterious guest. Starfire at least gave him the ability to speak English.
"I really do not know a great deal of information. I was taken from my guardian family and placed on that ship. I do not know why they would want me," he said.
"Guardian family?" Robin asked.
The boy nodded. "They call themselves the Omegamen. They help protect the Vega System. They took me in when I was small. I imagine they are searching for me now."
"So, how is it that they took you in?" Raven asked. "What happened to your family before that?"
The boy shook his head. "I don't remember. The Omegamen said there was an explosion around a nearby planet, and they just…found me. I don't remember anything else."
"An explosion?" Starfire said. "Do you remember where?"
He shrugged. "I think they said somewhere near the planet Rann. I do not know for sure."
Starfire felt stupid for not having seen it before. The resemblance, the story, it all seemed to fit. This had to be Ryand'r, her brother. "Oh, dear brother," she said, wrapping him in a hug. "How I have missed you. You are still alive! You must tell me everything."
The boy's expression became confused. "Brother? I think you must have me mistaken for someone else."
She shook her head. "Oh, but I am almost certain I am not. You are Wildfire, my brother. When the Gordanians attacked Tamaran, our parents sent you with a refugee mission to save you. It was blown up by Gordanian warships. We thought you were lost, like all the others. That was the explosion. I'm so glad to have you back."
He was still puzzled and could find no words to respond. He did not want to hurt her feelings. Raven intervened. "Starfire, he doesn't remember. Much like you, that memory may be suppressed. He was young at the time, and so, he might never be able to recall it."
"I guess I had not thought of that," the boy said. "I suppose your story could be true, and I just do not remember it."
Starfire wilted, feeling hurt. She could not be mad or upset at him if he could not remember, but what was she to do? How could she reconnect with her brother if he did not even know who she was?
Wildfire nodded. "I am willing to accept this possibility and though I do not know you, Starfire, I would like to."
She smiled. "I would like that very much."
The team let Wildfire get settled into the tower, while they meanwhile discussed their plans. "So, what now?" Beast Boy asked.
Cyborg and Robin were still mulling over maps and diagrams. "They're waiting for us, so we're going to have to bring the fight to them," Robin concluded. "There's just no way around it. But we'll have to come better prepared."
"Maybe if we can get the Gordanians to turn on Blackfire, then we'd have a chance."
"Is that even possible?" Raven asked.
Starfire still remained thoughtful and quiet, but this last statement gave her reason to speak. "I do not know why she would ally with them. She has used unusual alliances before, but never our own enemies."
"It is because she has allied with them before," Archangel said as if it were the most obvious answer in the world.
Everyone turned to him, surprised by this news. "How…how could she?" Starfire said.
Archangel sighed, not quite ready to admit to everything, but seeing no other option. "It is true that my people, in our anger at our disbanded alliance with you, did give away military secrets to the Gordanians. But we only knew of your offensive strategy. We did not know enough about your defenses to tell them that, yet they broke through them easily. It was revealed after the aggressions ended that your sister gave away those defensive secrets in exchange for sparing her own life, and being named ruling regent after their conquest."
Something seemed to snap for Starfire. Everything was unraveling before her. "That…that cannot be. Blackfire may have had troubles, but she would never have turned on us like that. Would she? How could I have not known? How could anyone not have known? Someone should have."
Archangel shrugged. "Maybe someone would have. Your father, maybe?"
Starfire shook her head. "Maybe, but then he became…ill." Her mind started working a mile a minute. "The illness…she…she did it."
"What?" everyone said.
It all seemed to make sense now. "I remember now. Those symptoms…it was a prulom."
Archangel's eyes widened. "You are certain?"
"Yes, when Beast Boy became ill, I remembered those symptoms, I just could not think of where. But now, I cannot believe it. Blackfire betrayed us. She murdered our parents."
Archangel tired to calm her. "Let us not jump to conclusions. There may be another explanation for all of this."
She shook her head. "No, of this I am certain. She came to Naraka. She had access to that knowledge. No one else could have gotten that close to my parents to harm them."
An anger bubbled up from within her. She was ready to kill. She began marching back to her room, to prepare for her upcoming battle. Archangel quickly followed behind. "Starfire, I know what you are thinking of doing, but you cannot, please."
She wheeled on him, throwing a glowing punch towards his head. He caught it, glad that she let the starbolt diffuse, fearful she would hurt him like she hurt Beast Boy earlier. He still held her fist in his hand.
"Starfire, others have helped you today. This is my way of helping you. Take it from someone who knows. Killing her will not make you feel better. Killing does not fill the void in your heart."
Tears formed in her eyes. "I already know," she said, collapsing into his arms.
This took him by surprise. Who had she killed? But he did not press the issue any further. He only held her until she was able to go back to her room to rest.
When she got there, Wildfire was already waiting. She had arranged for a bed to be placed in her room for him to stay. Until this whole business could be settled and Galfore could be contacted. "You alright?" he asked.
She sniffed, wiping the last of the tears out of her eyes. "Yes, I am fine, just tired."
He smiled weakly. "I understand you were in the hands of the Gordanians once," he said. "When do the nightmares go away?"
"They do not," Starfire said honestly. "I am lucky to have friends to help me get through it, but sometimes, this helps."
She went to her closet and pulled out a stuffed version of some hairy creature with six legs. "It is a comfort item that I used to have when I was small."
She handed the creature to Wildfire. He held it, staring at hit for a long time. "I remember this," he said.
"A little. You…you used to give this to me when I had nightmares."
"Yes!" Starfire said excitedly, glad he was able to remember something.
He shrugged. "I don't remember everything, but little things come back to me," he said. "I do not think I will ever fully remember you, but I am happy to have you in my life again."
"I am as well." She wrapped him in a gentle hug.
True, she had to prepare for the ultimate fight with her sister, but for now, little things like this made all the misery just a little better.
Jump City had become a ghost town since the arrival of the Gordanians, many citizens too afraid to leave their homes. The Titans could put it off no longer. "Ready?" Robin asked.
Starfire only nodded.
"Alright, everyone knows the plan. Star goes for Blackfire and the rest of us cover. Blackfire goes down, and the Gordanians are likely to cave."
"You sure you want to do this?" Cyborg asked.
"I am not ready to face my problems with the Gordanians, but there is no one else who can make sure my sister harms no one else."
They heard the Gordanian army marching out to meet them. "Okay, then, Titans go!"
Starfire wasted no time clearing herself a path directly into the ship. Several soldiers lay in a stunned heap in her wake. As they recovered, they began sending in troops after her. "Okay, now's our cue," Robin said.
He threw a series of smoke bombs to disorient the soldiers going after Starfire. It also helped to provide a nice cover for Robin to catch them by surprise and knock them away from following her. He took up the position of goalie, trying to keep them from getting back in the ship.
Raven, meanwhile, created a force field around the area. Things were about to get messy, and the fewer civilians involved, the better.
Just as she finished sealing the field, a Gordanian came up from behind her to strike. She ducked just in time, levitating their own weapon out of their hands and bending it into a pretzel. Her eyes glowed a deep red. She had not forgotten her foray into Starfire's mind. They would all pay. The Gordanian let out a squeal of fear and turned tail. She was about to unleash her full wrath upon them.
Archangel also let loose the full brunt of his fury. He owed it to his friend after they had destroyed her home after his people had helped make that possible. Flames roared from his hands, driving back the forces closing in on him. One Gordanian meant to strike for his head, but he whipped around, blasting him in the face. The creature cried out but was not severely injured enough to be incapacitated.
Beast Boy came to his rescue and bowled over several soldiers in the form of a mammoth. "If you've got any kind of a secret weapon," Beast Boy said, catching his breath, "now would be a good time to use it. We can't just keep beating these guys back. On your right."
Archangel let out a frustrated roar, blasting a jet of white flames at the Gordanian. That seemed to sting, and he cried out in pain.
"Dude, I didn't know you could turn up the heat!"
"I…uh…did not know either," Archangel said, marveling at the new discovery.
"Whatever it is, keep it up."
Beast Boy went back into the fray, despite the pain in his chest. The burn still hurt something fierce, but he pushed through. He knew when he took that hit, Starfire had meant to kill. He did not need to know the details. If Starfire had intentions to kill a Gordanian, then they must have done something pretty messed up to deserve it.
He intended only to save it for emergencies, but this seemed like a good enough reason to unleash the beast. He transformed into a massive, hairy creature that looked to be something between a werewolf and a yeti. In this form, he could use his full potential; his top strength, his top speed, top everything. That came with a cost, though. As the beast, he was leaving behind everything that made him human. Anything that moved was now prey. He would have to be careful not to hurt his friends.
Cyborg came armed to the teeth for this fight. Not only were they going against an army. They were going against an army who had hurt someone Cyborg considered his sister. They were not going to leave without a few casualties.
His sonic cannon boomed one right after the other. No one could hear anything except for the thunderous roars of his shots. He also let one of his arms detach, outfitted with a laser gun. The ratta-tat bangs of it certainly got a few Gordanians running.
Outside the ship, it was total chaos, but Starfire focused on her one goal: finding Blackfire. Despite her promise to Archangel not to fatally harm her sister, that did not mean she was going to let her get away so easily.
Cyborg had lent her one of his scanners, so she could follow Blackfire's signal throughout the ship. She carefully avoided more soldiers who were still in there. Probably preparing for an emergency takeoff when things went sour. Not like Blackfire was going to let them turn tail so easily. Still, she did not need a repeat of her last rampage against the Gordanians. She needed to keep her head.
She followed the signal all the way to one of the main armories. So much for the element of surprise though.
"You and your team need to stop being so predictable," Blackfire said. "Still, I guess it makes it easier to beat you to a pulp."
Starfire said nothing, and let her fists ignite. "What, not going to try and reason with me? Not going to try and win me over with the power of love?"
She shook her head. "I am done with the reasoning, Blackfire. You have betrayed our family, and you have betrayed me numerous times. You have run out of the opportunities to redeem yourself."
"Ooh, now this Starfire I like," Blackfire said with a mocking tone. "You'll be a lot more fun to beat."
Starfire yelled a war-cry and threw herself at Blackfire. All that training with Slade had paid off. Her sister caught her and rolled with the momentum, leaving both tumbling on the ground, Blackfire ending up on top. "I think you forget, sister, I have a few more advantages," she said, turning on her power amplifier.
Starfire struggled and dodged the starbolt aimed at her head. She recovered and launched her own starbolt at Blackfire. She nimbly avoided it. "You see, there's no point in your wasted efforts," said Blackfire. "I've always been older, better, and faster than you."
Starfire stood, planning her next move. "Your pride was what made you lose to me the last time."
Blackfire chose not to respond to that, perhaps because she did not have a comeback for it, and instead shot another high-powered starbolt. Starfire flew out of the way in time for it to disintegrate a shelf of weaponry behind her. She took cover behind more shelves, stalling for time until she could think of what to do.
"So, gonna hide from me are you?" Blackfire taunted. "You're just prolonging the inevitable. And what about your friends? You just going to leave them hanging and let them die fighting for you? I knew you were weak, sister, but a coward too? Then again, I guess I should have expected that. After all, you ran away from your duties to Tamaran. You were supposed to help bring peace to our planet, and instead, you ran away."
Starfire saw her opening. "You betrayed Tamaran and forced me into slavery! I cannot forgive you for any of that."
She fired a highly controlled starbolt that struck the side of Blackfire's amplifying device, smashing it to pieces. There were perhaps a thousand curses on her lips at that moment. But she could not voice them, so deep in shock was she. Instead, she watched as Starfire tackled her head-on. She punched her. "You knew exactly what you were doing!" Starfire yelled, having prepared for this moment. "You gave us away to the Gordanians, just to save yourself." She hit her again. "You knew this, and you still sent me to be their slave. You killed our parents."
Blackfire seemed to crumple with every hit, but she finally spoke up. "Our parents? Starfire, I never – "
Another fist silenced her. Blackfire could take it no longer and struggled out of Starfire's grasp. She made a few feeble attempts to shoot a starbolt at Starfire, but her sister's rage made her ability to avoid them that much more accurate. Starfire hit her with her own starbolts, knocking her to the ground.
Blackfire lay there, nearly defeated. Still, she smiled. "You're not going to do it," she said, spitting blood. "You won't kill your own sister. You can't bring yourself to do it. You couldn't then, and you won't now."
At first, Starfire said nothing. She picked Blackfire up so that they were eye to eye. "I have promised someone not to kill you, so I will not. I ask only that you leave, and never return. But if I discover your whereabouts or any illegal activities you engage in from here on out, I will find you, and I will break that promise."
Blackfire was about to say something back when she saw the look in her sister's eyes. She would do it.
Starfire left the Gordanian ship, one weight off her shoulder, while another weighed upon her. The Gordanians offered very little resistance. With Blackfire gone and a pointless fight, they had no reason to stay. Further, Starfire's threat to them sent the message quickly. Her friends looked at her.
"I wish to go home now," she said solemnly.
"Are you certain?" Galfore asked. "We are more than happy to return you to the Omegamen, but are you certain you did not want to at least see Tamaran? In all technicality, you are the next in line to be the Grand Ruler."
Galfore had been summoned to Earth to retrieve Wildfire. Much like Starfire, hew as greatly surprised by the news. Still, it was an awkward first meeting, as Wildfire did not remember him either.
He smiled. "Perhaps one day," he said. "I suppose it is important to see the place of my birth, but they are my family. I'm sorry, I only meant…"
Galfore nodded. "I understand. It is an unusual situation for us all. But know, you could always be welcome in both families."
Wildfire turned to face Starfire one last time. "Even though I don't know you…or rather, I'm still getting to know you, I'm happy fate has brought us together. Perhaps we may meet again."
She nodded eagerly. "I would like that very much. It is still a lot to get used to. I mean, my brother is actually alive! I am more than happy, but it is different now."
The two siblings exchanged one last hug goodbye before Galfore began to escort him away. True, her family had been broken as she completely severed all ties to her sister, but it was becoming whole once more, slowly but surely. She had also vowed to herself that she would reach out to Rulore in the near future. She was not entirely ready to face the full extent of her trauma, but she was willing to take a few steps to start.
To say that normalcy resumed was a bit of an understatement. True, the team had returned to their usual routines and habits after a few weeks, but things were markedly different. Starfire was quieter and more contemplative at this time. They began to miss her usual cheerful conversation or pleasant humming. But they knew a lot had changed.
She no longer had to hide behind a pretend smile. Starfire had started being open and honest about her feelings. And in many ways, that had been an improvement. It felt like they were getting to know her again for the first time.
Beast Boy managed to heal as best as could be expected. He readily forgave his friend even though Starfire had gotten into the ritual of apologizing to him nearly every day.
Only one person seemed out of sorts since the event. There was still a lot on Archangel's mind, though he could not voice his concerns to anyone else. True, he still felt guilty after having admitted to Starfire the part his own people played in the destruction of Tamaran. She had not blamed him in particular. How could she? He would have been far too young to have been responsible.
No, it was something else entirely which bothered him, some nagging feeling that something did not add up.
He eventually received an answer to his doubts, though it was exactly what he had feared.
Archangel knew he came at night, and though he did not go up there every time, he knew he would be waiting. He was incredibly impatient like that. Archangel knew this time, he had to go up. He waited until the dead of night when he knew everyone else was asleep and traipsed up to the roof. As usual, he was waiting. "So, you finally decided to show," he said, turning and coming to Archangel. "That means you have news for me."
He had prepared for this. "The plant lives. It has grown into a bud. It shall be ready soon."
"Just what I wanted to hear."
It was now or never. "You killed them, didn't you?" Archangel blurted out.
He swallowed, afraid to voice the fear. "The Grand Ruler and his wife. You killed them?"
Saraquael turned back to him, chuckling. "Brother, why are you bringing up ancient history now?"
Archangel stepped back from him. "So, you did do it!"
His brother grinned. "Sometimes, we have to make our own fate. It's not like it was hard to bribe someone to ensure a certain fruit ended up in the right place at the right time."
His fists shook and his body tensed. It could not be. "You underhanded, cold-blooded…"
"Let's not forget why you're here," Saraquael said. "Tamaran will be ours, brother, and you will kill her, or else. Don't forget: this is your chance to kill her painlessly."
"I haven't forgotten."
Saraquael sneered. "Truthfully, I was hoping Blackfire might have taken care of it for us. She is, after all, much easier to deal with. We could've handled eliminating her afterward. But this will have to do."
He could not understand how his brother could speak about such matters so flippantly. Saraquael seemed to sense what he was feeling. "Are you having doubts."
Archangel gritted his teeth. "Always, but I have no choice in the matter."
Saraquael chuckled. "No, no, you do not." He then seized Archangel by the throat. "Because I'm always watching, and I will know if you try to double-cross me, brother. Now, come back to me when that silly flower is ready."
Author's Notes: Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read/like/review this story. It has been a pleasure writing it over the past three and a half years. Obviously, a sequel is in the works, though there is much to get done before then. I don't know when the sequel will come out, so just be on the lookout. Thank you again, and I hoped you enjoyed this tale.