"What was up with you out there, Star?"
"Yea, Dude! When I tossed the guy your way, I thought you were gonna...-" Beast Boy pulled back his arm. "-...ya know, zap him. Like 'pow-pow-pow!'" He pumped his fists out, mimicking the motions Starfire would use to hurl her green energy bolts at their foes.
"M-my apologies," Starfire muttered sheepishly, distraught by her mistake being called out. Her head hung in shame as she walked through the main lobby of Titan Tower, eager to head upstairs.
The team was regrouping after a rough bout with some mutant jewelry thieves that were hoping to amplify their powers with a rare gem. It hadn't been an enthusiastic affair, just a by-the-books kind of deal. No one had even spouted any corny one-liners or comebacks – not even Beast Boy. They just weren't in the mood for that kind of thing that day.
Cyborg pounded the side of his fist into the main elevator's call button, and the doors swung upon. He watched his three present teammates file into the lift, with Starfire slouching in last. By the time Cyborg had initiated the elevator, Starfire was leaned up against a corner of the enclosed space, practically glaring at the floor. He exchanged glances with Beast Boy, who offered up a silent shrug, and Raven, who was expressionless, as usual, though her eyes conveyed her curiosity.
"Listen," Cyborg sighed, directing his voice right at Starfire. "Your boyfriend's outta town. That's rough. I get it." She wasn't reacting to his words in any way, head still hung. "But we've still got a job to do," Cyborg continued. "We're already down one Titan as it is. You gotta get your head in the game, Star. What happened out there? And last week at the docks? That was sloppy. Now, how long we been at this? We're better than that."
Starfire's emerald eyes burned like otherworldly coals, yet she still did not give Cyborg her gaze. Cyborg paused, the droning hum of the elevator the only sound amongst the tense quiet. Beast Boy had a solemn look about him, his lower jaw slid thoughtfully to one side. Raven was gazing out the elevator's window pane, watching the sunset reflect off the river surrounding their fortress island.
Cyborg continued. "I mean, today, those guys almost got away. With the way things are, we've gotta keep things on lock-down here. Can't afford any slip-ups."
"Yea," Beat Boy agreed. "We don't want this place to become another Arkham City, am I right?" He laughed awkwardly, coming to the realization of how insensitive this remark came across in hindsight.
He turned away from Cyborg and Starfire to see Raven giving him a deadpan glare.
"Not helping," her gravely tone scolded him quietly.
"He's right, though," Cyborg insisted with some irritation. "With Robin in Gotham, the last thing we need is to let things get out of hand here."
The elevator reached its destination and the lot of them shuffled out.
"Am I making sense?" Cyborg mumbled tiredly, his bionic hand clamped anxiously against the back of his head.
"Your logic is sound," Starfire acknowledged. "But you fail to understand."
She brushed past him, but his sturdy arm reached out, clasping on her thin frame. She stopped, her purple boot skidding across the carpeted floor. Cyborg released his grip.
"What am I missing, then?" he pressed. "You're depressed. So...I dunno, go cuddle with Silkie, drink some mustard, do whatever helps you feel better."
"It is not that simple," Starfire puffed, latching her hands on her elbows. "I cannot fight properly if I do not...feel right. Remember?" She cast her weary glance to Raven, who seemed to shirk a little, as if intimidated by being reminded of their...incident.
"I do," Cyborg affirmed. "That's why I'm tellin' you to do what'll make you 'feel right' so this stuff stops happening."
"Yea," Beast Boy encouraged, hoping to alleviate tension. "We'll make waffles, and put strawberries on top, and...whatever you want, me n' Cy will cook it up. Right?" He looked to Cyborg for approval and the robotic young man nodded.
"How about that, Star?" Cyborg offered.
"I'll even overcook it, just for you," Beast Boy added.
But Starfire's frustration billowed some more. She shook her head, stalking off toward the hallway.
"I appreciate your offers for burnt confectionery treats, but I cannot simply...plug myself in and feel well again. I cannot recharge as you can, Cyborg. I cannot binge on sweets and carbohydrates like Beast Boy. And I cannot empty my mind's worries as Raven does. I apologize for my unsatisfactory performance, but I do not know what can be done. Perhaps it would be best if I did not hold you back the next time you are needed."
"Starfire," Cyborg called out to her. "You and Robin had a fight – it happens. I'm sure when he comes back, ya'll will be fine, so just...-"
"Rrgh," Starfire huffed out, her groan echoing down the hallway. The remaining three Titans stood along the steps that led to their sprawling couch space.
"Yikes," Beast Boy breathed out. "Star's pretty moody, huh? She takin' lessons from you, Raven?"
"Just give her some space," Raven spoke her mind, bypassing Beast Boy's remark.
"Am I missing something here?" Cyborg mumbled.
Raven instantly came back, "You're missing that what's wrong with Star isn't exactly in her control. Her powers are dictated by her emotions."
"Well, but...-" Beast Boy gestured his wrist toward Raven. "So are yours, right?
Raven elaborated, "I need to keep my powers in check by keeping my emotions shut up inside me. Starfire's powers are the opposite: they only work when she lets her emotions out. But you can't just make her feel whatever is convenient."
"All this just because she can't see Robin?" Cyborg posed dubiously.
"It could be more than that," Raven said thoughtfully. "Or...it could be less. Does it make a difference?"
"Uh-" Cyborg's human eyebrow raised and he blinked at her. "It does when it's throwing us off like it did just today."
"Maybe one of us should...talk to her?" Beast Boy presented.
"It's not like Star to get this way," Cyborg pointed out. "Usually Robin's the one to get her out of a slump."
"I'll do it," Raven stated bluntly. "I'll talk to her later." This earned her a couple of baffled looks. "...What?" she grunted with some offense.
"Like, no offense, Rae," Beat Boy awkwardly muttered. "But you kinda...get people into slumps. Not outta them."
Raven's insides twisted with an unspoken frustration, but her focus held.
"Fine," she huffed, whirling around to head off toward her bedroom, her cloak flapping about. She had books to read, if no one needed her for anything else.
"Hey, whoa," Beast Boy blurted out, chasing up to her. "Sorry. It's just weird, I wouldn't think...-"
"I know," Raven said with a hint of disdain. "You're right. I am weird. And creepy, and idiotic if I think I could ever cheer someone up. Is that it?"
"Come on..." Beast Boy moaned in frustration. "Don't twist what I said."
"Raven?" Cyborg called out. "You're talking to a green kid that changes into animals. And I've got more circuits inside me than blood vessels. I don't think 'weird' is even a thing with us."
"Maybe not," Raven agreed. "But we are all teenagers."
"Aaaand...what's that supposed to mean?" Cyborg retorted testily.
"I think she's saying it's a girl thing," Beast Boy whispered – rather loudly – over Cyborg's shoulder. "Like...you know..."
Cyborg's expression dulled at this thought – Raven hoped it was more in reaction to Beast Boy's immaturity, but who knew? Boys...
"I will talk with her later," Raven insisted. "Leave her alone for a while."
"See what I mean?" Beast Boy continued to whisper.
"Stop doing that," Raven snapped, sparking the green-skinned little twerp with a shock of black lightning.
The wind whipped and whirled across the rooftop of Titan Tower, its helipad empty. Raven lingered in the doorway for a few moments, surveying the sunset on the horizon. A mass of deep red hair flipped in the wind at the roof's edge. When Raven's hood no longer rattled the sides of her skull – the wind had calmed – she proceeded across the roof toward her friend.
Starfire was sitting over the roof's edge, her tall, purple boots dangling off the side. Raven approached the girl's right side, looming above her.
Raven swallowed, dampening her dried throat. She spoke, her gravelly voice struggling to convey the concern that was tucked beneath the layers.
"I...don't think he's going to be back tonight."
"I concur," Starfire replied sullenly, unmoving.
There was another gust of wind, and Raven could feel the autumn air sweep into her hood, chilling her cheeks and neck. She shivered a little, wrapping her arms around herself from beneath her cloak.
Starfire, naturally, was immune to such mild changes in temperature. The girl could walk through a tundra in that outfit, half her skin exposed, and barely catch a cold – Raven knew this, because it had happened.
"Why did you come up here?" Starfire asked. "Did you not require the 'alone time'?"
"I...did," Raven mumbled. She was now wondering herself what had possessed her to come up here.
Concern, right? Yea. It was murky, shrouded in her self-appointed fogs of indifference, but she could see it there. Concern, sympathy...
"What of your meditation?" Starfire inquired. "If you do not, then...-"
"I'm fine," Raven assured. "...Are you?"
"I am not," Starfire earnestly answered, wearing her glumness on her sleeves. She turned her head to Raven. "It is not like you to...check on me."
"It's not like you to want to be alone," Raven retorted.
"I do not wish to be alone," Starfire growled, pressing one palm into her face.
"Ooookay," Raven slowly responded with a dubious arc to her eyebrows.
Starfire caught a glance of her friend's confusion and sighed, digging her fingertips into her forehead.
"I believed I did," Starfire tried to explain. "But I was wrong. What I require is...-" She glanced off toward the sunset and let loose an even deeper sigh. "What is needed cannot currently be acquired."
Raven felt confident that even Beast Boy could've figured out this one. It had been a couple of weeks now since Robin had taken leave to assist with the situation in Gotham. Starfire missed her boyfriend – it was something simple enough for Raven to grasp, yet too distant from her personal experience to fully comprehend.
"I tried to explain that to the boys," Raven said tiredly. "You'd think they'd get it, but...-"
"It is illogical," Starfire confessed. "It is unfair. I am quite fully aware of this. Beast Boy...He lost Terra, and yet he-...Cyborg, Robin, and you, Raven...You have all suffered great loss. All of my friends have suffered."
"Uh...Didn't your sister sell you into slavery?" Raven double-checked. "And then your parents died?"
"Well, that's...-" Starfire stumbled. "My sister may not be terribly kind, but...she is not an all-powerful demon whose only wish was to see his daughter him him destroy the world."
The two stared at each other for a couple of seconds, Starfire's eyes wide and Raven's hollow and dull.
Starfire was unable to decipher Raven's blank look, and decided to clarify.
"I am referring to your-""I got that," Raven blurted out.
The oddest thing thing happened then – Raven accidentally let a laugh slide out through her nostrils. Starfire's earnest awkwardness was kind of amusing now and again.
"We've all got problems," Raven put it plainly. Another gust billowed across them, and Raven rubbed her hands across her biceps in an attempt to stay warm.
"Precisely!" Starfire huffed, tossing up her arms. "And it is quite arbitrary by comparison for me to pity myself merely because my...-" She trailed off, her eyes flashing as beams of green light spilled from the cracks in her balled fists. She squinted her eyes shut, teeth clenched, and took a deep breath. The light stopped, and her tense body sagged back into a gloomy slouch.
"Uhhh...-" Raven wasn't quite sure how to react at this. She needed a moment to think.
"Sometimes, it is deplorable, how pathetic I am."
"...Do you mean 'pathetic' as in the...old use, or...-?"
"Every use of the word," Starfire grumbled impatiently. "It is frustrating! I am sitting here, merely conversing-" she ranted, flashing open her hands to produce green orbs of energy. "-and my powers will work when I do not need them to." She clenched his fists back closed, squelching the green glow. "But when you – my friends – need my support, my heart is too heavy to assist, weighted by inconsequential-"
Raven's single syllable caused Starfire's self-loathing rant to instantly derail.
"Don't do that to yourself," Raven warned, her raspy voice shedding some of its usual rigidity. Starfire's wide eyes of emerald, touched by her friend's empathy, were difficult for Raven to confront. She instead pulled her gaze away, looking out over Jump City at dusk.
"Don't start going down that road," Raven advised solemnly. "I know where it leads."
"But...you...-" Starfire pushed herself back up to a standing position to meet Raven's height. "Raven, I only wish I could manipulate my emotions as you do...It would make days such as these so much easier..."
"It would make every other day more difficult," Raven darkly proclaimed, flashing Starfire a brief glare at the implication that her lifestyle was anything close to 'easy.' She quickly blinked herself out of this indignant expression, acutely aware of what could happen if she started lingering on those kinds of thoughts. "You and I have a great deal of power," Raven muttered, continuing to avoid Starfire's sympathetic expression. "But we also have to make sure we can control that power – not just for the boys, but for...-" She vaguely nodded her head off to the horizon, and the sprawling cityscape below.
"Raven, I...am sorry, I did not mean...-"
"Sometimes I'm the one wishing I could be more like you," Raven admitted with a shrug. "The way you can just...let people inside. How close you and Robin are, I don't-...I'm not sure if I even can do that in the first place."
"I am certain you can," said Starfire, rubbing grit from her eyes as she looked at Raven. "You already have – you have allowed us into your life."
Raven studied Starfire's earnest, hopeful look, then glanced away, taking a couple of seconds to form her thoughts.
"This is what I mean," Raven mumbled. "I came up here to try and help you feel better, and you're the one showing me sympathy. You can just...be you, and...keep cheering people up, even when you're already frustrated yourself."
"It is not easy," Starfire stated. "I have dealt with...much discrimination in my time here on Earth. And not just from our enemies..."
"I know," said Raven. "So have I. But look at me: my solution is to...lock myself in my room. But you, you're constantly working to make new friends with everyone, you get on the T-phone all the time to talk with other Titans from...-" Raven flicked up her elbow toward the bay. "I don't know how you do it – how you have the energy to do it all the time."
"Energy?" Starfire tilted her head. "Does...does social discourse physically deplete some resource within you?"
"N-no," Raven replied to Starfire's piqued curiosity with a laugh through her nose. "I meant metaphorically."
"Ah, right." Starfire nodded. "I understand. You intend to compliment me, yes? Um, but...for what?"
"For just...being yourself?" Raven mumbled with a shrug.
"Oh. Then I appreciate your attempt at kindness, friend."
"Sooo...-" Raven's lips tightened anxiously. "I'm not succeeding, then, huh?"
"Oh! No-no-no, please do not misinterpret. It is simply that...-" Starfire fiddled with her fingers. "On my planet, it...-" She trailed off, then shook her head. "No. It does not matter. It is...-" Starfire breathed in slow and deep, then exhaled a fast, puff of air, forming a vapor cloud that was swiftly whisked away. She didn't finish her thought, at least not out loud.
The two young women stood on the rooftop for a few quiet seconds, contemplative and melancholy as the bitter autumn air swept by them. Raven flinched as another rush of wind blasted them, tussling her cape around. The col was biting at her bare, knobbly knees, her nose was beginning to run, and her hood was pelting her cheeks. An involuntary shiver ran up and down her back as the air died down to a still unpleasant but more tolerable bitter breeze.
"Raven," Starfire sighed, clamping her hand down on Raven's shoulder. "You look most uncomfortable. Please, do not contract 'the germs' on my account."
"Come inside with me, then," Raven offered. "We can...-" She shrugged, eyes wide as she considered their options. "-...figure something out."
"You said you didn't actually want to be alone," Raven reminded.
"True, but I am not in the correct mindset to meditate."
"We can do whatever you want," Raven grumbled, her impatience beginning to leak through the cracks forming on her dried, cold skin. She sneezed, sparks of black electricity spouting from her skull as she did so.
"Galufnog," Starfire said to her runny-nosed friend.
"Thanks." Raven wiped her dry wrist against her nose and sniffed in her mucus. "Uhh...So...-?"
"I will follow you," Starfire accepted with a small smile.
The knit fabric that enveloped Raven was a bit musty, but undeniably warm. The green turtleneck sweater was rather long, its collar threatening to leap over Raven's chin, its sleeves pouring all around her hands. Said hands, encapsulated entirely by the green clothing, were warmed by the heated mug of herbal tea that they grasped, supported by the floor between her crossed legs.
Starfire had been quiet through the entire process of making tea for Raven – she hadn't even hummed or murmured any Tamaranian folksongs, as she often did while preparing food. By the time their drinks were finished and they were seated on the floor beside Starfire's bed, the all-too-familiar blob with a mouth that Star called her pet was squirming eagerly across Raven's lap, gunning right for her beverage.
"Silkie!" Starfire scolded. "No! Bad Silkie..."
Raven closed her eyes and summoned her energies briefly, encapsulating the chubby, ever-hungry worm into a ball of darkness and gently dropping him in his doggy-bed at the corner of the room.
"Ech," Raven blurted out in reaction. At least the guy wasn't leaving a trail of slime everywhere.
"Apologies," Starfire sighed. "This is why I am still anxious to let him roam the Tower freely."
"Yea, that...makes a bit of sense."
"How is your tea?" Starfire asked, her tone sounding courteous enough but in the trained, apathetic way – like a tired waitress at a restaurant might inquire.
"Oh, it's...-" Raven shrugged. "I haven't tried it yet," she admitted.
"Ah," Starfire responded, taking a sip.
"Um...-" Raven's acute mind scanned through its memories. Something about this shirt Starfire had lent her...
"Yes?" Starfire double-checked. "Are you...cold? Is something the matter?" Again, the words were polite, but they were lacking the usual pizazz that was inherently 'Starfire.'
The memory to the front of Raven's conscious. She pushed her fingers out from the sweater's floppy sleeves and spread her arms out, displayed the article of odd-gotten clothing.
Raven asked warily, "Didn't you get this shirt from...Mother Mae-Eye?"
"That is...correct," Starfire admitted, her nose wrinkling at the mention of the creepy woman that had once brainwashed them with enchanted pies.
Raven would point out how disturbing this was, keeping (and wearing) such a shirt, but then again, all of the Titans kept trinkets and odds and ends in their bedrooms – trophies, of sorts. Or even sentimental souvenirs, perhaps. Robin had one of Slade's masks, Cyborg had that device he'd stolen from Brother Blood, Beast Boy still had that music box he'd given to Terra...And after all, who was Raven to criticize? She still had her own strange possessions as such, including a magical book that contained the imprisoned spirit of a deceptive dragon that had once opened her heart's gates, only to burn the inside...Ugh. Why did she keep that thing around?
"It is a reminder," Starfire spoke. She was referring to the shirt, yet Raven's brain had to disconnect the phrase from her own trinkets and associate it in kind.
"Of what?" Raven wondered.
"I...am not exactly certain," Starfire confessed. "It is simply...a reminder. Not all memories we may hold onto are pleasant, and yet...I find it edifying to hold onto them, all the same."
Raven stared at Starfire's glazed over green eyes, the red-headed alien staring longingly into her tea mug. Raven lingered for a moment on this thought Star had presented. Her stupid mind, so caught up in this strange emotional state she was letting it slide into today, began to fill up with thoughts her father, of that horrid dragon, of the many frustrations she'd endured.
The lamp on Starfire's desk flickered, and the furniture around them shuddered, shaken slightly by Raven's powers trickling out. At least Raven hid possessions that brought to mind these horrible people. She surely didn't wear them. Though she was still feeling too chilled to remove this sweater. Grr.
Raven posed, "Why would you want to be reminded of the awful things we've been through? Why would you want to remember it?"
"Raven, that knit article of clothing is merely an object. It is a...thing. That is all. Even so, it is foolhardy for us, of all people, to forget where we have come from, to forget the awful happenings we experienced – it is our duty to prevent those very things from occurring to the innocent lives around us. By remembering all we have been through – together – we have evidence of how strong a team we have become. By never forgetting the atrocities we witness, we keep within our minds the importance of preventing them from transpiring."
Raven stared at her rambling friend with furrowed brows as she sipped at her tea – which wasn't half bad, actually – realizing how lost within her own thoughts Starfire must have been in recent days.
"Uhh...-" Raven blinked down at the goofy sweater she was garbed in, then at Starfire's methodical expression. She realized why she was even here: to try and cheer up her friend. She realized that Starfire was, in fact, feeling rather gloomy, critical, and depressed. It seemed like they didn't need to switch bodies (again) to have a bit of a role reversal now and again.
"My thoughts are...digressing," Starfire muttered with a self-deprecating sigh. "I am not in possession of a coherent state of mind as of late. I have...'the funk.'"
"Well..." Raven paused. "Everyone gets like that once in a while."
Starfire slurped at her tea, sniffing in the warm, minty vapors. She said nothing, but Raven could tell that even if her friend was depressed, she was still enjoying the small, Earthly comforts they had access to in their fortress home. But then those green eyes flickered with remorse.
Raven struggled to comfort her distant ally.
"I'm..err...sorry about what's going on with Robin," Raven mumbled, tapping her fingernail on her mug rhythmically.
Suddenly, there was a bubbling sound from Starfire's mug – the tea inside was boiling, the Tamaranian's brow twitching, her eyes shut tightly with irritation. Raven's jaw was left agape at the sight for a second or two until Starfire spoke with bridled frustration.
"Why must everyone always assume that every discomfort I endure is on account of Robin?"
"So it's...not about him," Raven concluded, puzzled.
"No, it is not," Starfire was quick to spurt out in a huff. She billowed steam through her nostrils, rolled her eyes hesitantly and shrugged. She dunked her tea bag around as she let her emotions settle. "W-well, perhaps my recent difficulties with him are...connected, but it is not why I remain disgruntled."
"All right, calm down," Raven eased, flicking up a sweater-bound arm.
"My patience wears thin," Starfire ranted quietly, as if self-censoring her own anger. "I tire of this inaccurate belief you all harbor that my existence hinges upon my affection for Robin. The more my own friends imply this falsehood, the more agitated I become."
Raven's thick brows were lowered with consideration, and she inhaled deeply through her nose.
"So what's the real problem?" Raven wondered.
Starfire rubbed her palm across her forehead restlessly.
"It is as I proclaimed before: I am not making sense. It is a puzzle with no solution. It simply is. Just as a clear sky bright with your sun's rays might make me joyful and make you wish to remain inside-...Just as a dreary atmosphere releasing freezing precipitation would have the opposite effect on both our moods-...This matter is similar. There is no logical explanation. I am merely...'down-in-the-dumpsters.'"
"You're feeling...lobster-y?" Raven remarked, trying her hand at some dry humor.
"Huh? I...thought the term was...-?"
"Crabby," Raven flatly self-corrected. "I'm picking on you, because it took you a while to...-" Raven trailed off, noting Starfire's expression – she was having none of it. Well, another failed 'attempt,' then.
"I do not desire the...picking upon."
"Yeeeaa. I'm figuring that out. Sorry."
"It is not by fault of your own. Nor is it of mine."
"We can't control our emotions," Raven agreed, using her dark energies to levitate her half-empty tea as she shuffled a bit on the floor, readjusting her sitting position. She lifted her arm and grasped her mug. "Only what we do with them."
"As of late, there seems to be little I am able to do with mine," Starfire lamented. "My feelings can sometimes be...most inconvenient." Starfire nodded to herself, tipping her mug back to consume its contents. The soggy teabag fell against her lips, leaving a minty, musty aftertaste that she liked.
"I know what you mean," Raven said under her breath.
"Such as today," Starfire went on. "I was unable to assist. I was...weak. My powers are dictated by my emotions, and because they are out of my control...so is my power. I am useless in this state."
"I don't agree with that," Raven decided. "Don't let what the boys said today get to you. We may not have our leader right now, but we're still a team. And that's not just because of our superpowers."
"Hm." Starfire's eyes, glazed over with regrets, stared blankly across the room at her chubby pet worm, who was crawling across her bed.
"Robin doesn't have any powers, and he manages to help rally us all together."
"Yes, of course – he is brave, and...and smart, quick-witted...He is kind at heart, always protecting others. And he has his devices and training to assist him."
"Starfire...you're all of those things, too," Raven pointed out slowly. "Except the...'devices' part, but...-"
"Smart? I am not smart, I...still must have basic Earthly concepts explained to me, as if I were still a bungorf." Starfire made a frowning pout of self-dissatisfaction.
"That's Earth smarts," Raven dismissed. "And trust me, it's probably not such a bad thing to be blissfully unaware of a lot of that. Starfire, you are smart."
"I...suppose you are technically correct, but...-"
"And so what if your powers aren't working for a while? We've all had times when we've felt useless – even Robin."
"You are...saying things that I would not expect from you, Raven."
"That's not so different from us expecting your world to resolve around your boyfriend."
"We've all changed. Even Beast Boy has changed. And you're a completely different person than the day we first met."
"I was...in a very bad situation on that day," Starfire defensively eked out, her face flushing from the embarrassment of those memories.
"And even when you're in a bad mood like that," Raven pressed, "you're still the one that holds us together as a team – as a...family. A really strange family, but...-"
Raven's use of the word 'family' simultaneously brought to Starfire's mind a conflicting blend of memories, the most recent that came to thought being when Raven defeated her own father, claiming the Titans to be her 'family.'
"That's a power you have that never goes away," Raven encouraged. "Whether you meant to or not, you're the one who brought us together, and you help keep us from driving each other crazy. You believed in Robin when the rest of us had lost faith. You still believe in people even after they've mistreated you. That may not be a superpower – it may not send robbers to jail – but it is a power, and it is a strength."
Starfire was shirking from Raven's compliments, her orange cheeks flushed. She focused her eyes on Silkie, who was squirming down off her bed and heading toward her lap.
"It does not always feel like strength," Starfire confessed, lifting her arm as Silkie crawled into her lap. "It often feels...like weakness, because of...-"
"The 'letting in,'" Starfire bemoaned. "You make my habits sound...admirable. But are they not simply acts of desperation? Often, these actions are...'useless.' They create no change."
"But sometimes they do, because you make the choice to trust people – to believe in them. Like we all have for each other."
"You say it is a choice, Raven. But it does not feel like one for me. It simply...is. And it creates weakness sometimes – times such as these, when my mind makes no sense."
"That's my point, though. You keep doing it – trusting, believing – even when it doesn't make sense. Because that's just...a strength you have. A power. You have hope. And I've learned from being a part of this team that holding on that is...definitely its own kind of power."
Starfire longingly gazed into her mug, and the girls drank in silence for a few moments. Raven closed her eyes, pressed her sleeve-enclosed palms against herknees, and breathed in through her nose, exhaling through her mouth. She meditated, meandering through her own memories for a few seconds. A specific thought smacked her consciousness – a particular memory – and her mouth reformed the words.
"The greater the struggle against your power, the more it resists. Embrace what you have inside. Let it become you, and you will find what you are meant to be."
Raven's eyes snapped open and she intook a sharp, shallow gasp, bringing herself back to the present. Starfire was gawking at her quizzically.
Starfire inquired, "What manner of sage bestowed such words of wisdom upon you?"
Raven's eyelids hung half-closed and a smile crept over the corner of her mouth.
"A Tamaranian, actually," she slyly answered.
"Truly?" Starfire's head tilted with intrigue, and she gulped more of her drink. "Who was it? Surely I have heard of them, if you have."
Raven's smiled widened a bit. When Starfire's agape lips and vacant, sleep-deprived eyes did not awaken, Raven laughed through her nose.
Raven expounded, "You might know them. They're strong, brave, smart...and the most thoughtful, caring person I think I've met on Earth. Kind of ironic, since they're not even from this planet."
"Of my people, who could you know that would-?"
"It was you, Star," Raven explained bluntly. "You said those words. Back in Russia."
"Oh." Starfire went slack-jawed. "Ohhhh...Again, you are...passing along the compliments."
Raven snickered at the oddball moment they shared, and Star once again smiled back bashfully.
"Something like that," Raven said through her light laugh.
"I...do not know how to reply to your gracious comments," Starfire muttered sheepishly, hiding herself behind her mug.
"That's OK," Raven said, breathing out with some relief. "I...usually don't know what to say in these kinds of situations, either."
Raven had caught herself by surprise with how her thoughts – no, her emotions – had managed to form themselves into words in a way they normally did not.
"What I do know," Raven said, "is that we've all helped each other become smarter in our own ways. I think even some of Beast Boy's sense of humor has rubbed off on all of us."
"Ah, yes," Starfire agreed. "The appropriate phrase is, 'for better or for worse,' yes?"
Raven smirked at this, levitating her empty tea mug. She turned her head, directing the blackened object through the air with her mind. She dumped the used teabag into Starfire's trashbin and set the mug aside on her friend's dresser. When Raven looked back at her companion, the girl was petting the bizarre, alien silkworm in her lap, sucking on her soggy teabag, the string and tag dangling from her lips. Raven raised her eyebrow, bemused at the sight.
Raven repeated Star's words: "For better or for worse."
Starfire spit the dried teabag into her mug, licking her lips. She gently picked up Silkie and set him on the floor beside her, then stretched open her arms and leaned forward.
"I believe this is the appropriate moment in an intimate conversation for friends to initiate 'the hugs.'"
Raven sighed, rolling her eyes facetiously, then floated her cross-legged body up off the ground and forward a foot or two. She hugged Starfire, still garbed in the oversized sweater. It was a rather warm hug.
"You accepted 'the hugs,'" Starfire squealed in a joyful whisper. "Of your own will!"
"Yeeeaaa, don't go telling anyone else."
"Thank you, dear friend," Starfire sighed out as their hug broke apart. Raven noticed the girl's eyes were brimming at the edges with tears. "I do feel a little better. It is...not all gone – the sadness, the upset – but, for now, it is...better."
"So...That 'attempt' can be called a 'success' now?"
"It most certainly can."