It had happened again!
Starfire burst into her room and threw herself on the bed. This settled it. She was sick! There was no other explanation for the sensations she was feeling!
But what could she do about it? She knew nothing of Earth sicknesses; truly, she had never thought that she would fall ill to any of this planet's diseases, but she could not ignore her own body.
She rolled over and hugged a pillow to her chest. She mentally ran through a list of the people that she could ask. It was not a long list.
She could not ask Robin, no, no. The sickness got worse around him. The Beast Boy had gone out to do the shopping of ‘vegetables’ and ‘tofu.’ Besides, he was being of the 'immature,’ as Raven put it, a word which she had learned was not a good thing. Most likely, he would not be able to help her with her problem. Cyborg was in the garage, working on his 'technology,' and she had no wish to disturb him.
She sat up on her bed at a sudden thought. She would talk to Raven! Yes, that was a good course of action! Although the other girl did not say much, Starfire had the impression that she was very intelligent. She was always reading a book; surely she knew something about this strange sickness that was plaguing her.
Filled with confidence, she flew quickly out the door. She shot through the hallways of the Tower, weaving through the piles of boxes that she suspected were the Beast Boy's. She narrowly missed crashing into a wall when she did not make a turn fast enough. Undeterred, she sped up.
Within moments, Starfire was standing in front of her reclusive teammate's door. She took a deep breath, then knocked on the door. Its echo seemed far too loud in the silent corridor and she cringed as she noticed that she had accidentally bent the metal on the door with the force of her knock. Earth metals were so much softer than on Tamaran. She would have to remember that.
The door slid open and she found herself staring down at her teammate. Raven was wearing her cloak with the hood drawn up, which seemed to be her usual outfit, throwing most of her face into shadow. Unreadable violet eyes stared back up at her.
"Yes?" Somehow, it did not seem like a question.
Suddenly, she did not know what to say. Why had she thought that Raven would help her identify her sickness? They knew nothing about each other despite having known each other for several Earth weeks now; they lived in the same house and went on missions together, but that was it.
She felt it was necessary to employ one of the stalling terms that she had learned was part of the language of English. "Um…" she began, then trailed off. What should she say?
Fortunately, Raven saved her from having to come up with the rest of the sentence. "Why is my door like that?" she asked, flicking her eyes towards the knuckle-shaped intents in the metal.
Starfire laughed nervously. "There is a good reason for that, really. You see – "
Raven cut her excuse short. "Nevermind," she sighed. "What do you want?"
At the reminder of why she had come to seek the other girl out, Starfire visibly wilted. "I wish for your aid."
"You need my help?" Raven sounded surprised. Starfire wondered how many people had asked for her assistance in the past. She imagined that number was a small one. "With what?"
"I have contracted an unidentified illness and I require your aid in determining what it is. I suspect that it is native only to your planet, because I have never experienced it on my planet before. Will you please help me?"
Raven stared at her for a long moment, before nodding her head. "Fine. How do you feel? Tell me your symptoms." Starfire noticed that she did not invite her in, but she had expected that. It seemed that her teammate was very protective of her privacy.
"I am experiencing odd feelings. My heart is beating irregularly, sometimes it will speed up. Blood is rising to my face at the most inconvenient of times and I find that my hands become slippery. My ability to speak in your language is sometimes compromised, and I seem to… stutter. Yes, that is the word. I stutter and cannot maintain eye contact for more than a few seconds." She stopped when Raven made a humming noise, but continued when she just waved a hand for her to go on.
"I am feeling nervous and shy a lot of the time. I can't seem to focus very well, and it sometimes feels like gnorflecks are fluttering in my stomachs." She stopped in her recitation and stared expectantly at Raven.
The other girl was staring at the wall, her face looked thoughtful. Her eyes snapped back to Starfire, but they seemed to have a gleam of humor in them. "And these feelings…do they only happen around a certain person?"
She gaped at her. "Yes! That is most certainly the case! Please, you know what I am suffering from?"
"Maybe. Which person are you experiencing these feelings around?"
"Robin," she said, and then felt her face heat up at the thought of him. "See," she yelped, pointing at her face. "It's happening right now!"
Raven's lips twitched upwards, but she nodded solemnly. "I can see that. I think I know what's going on here." Starfire leaned forwards eagerly. "You have a case of lovesickness."
"Love…sickness?" she repeated. "This lovesickness, is it …how you say…contagious?"
"Contagious? It does affect a lot of people, yes." Starfire got the idea that Raven was amused with her, though she could not see why.
"Are the effects permanent?" she asked worriedly.
This was worrying information. "How dangerous is this 'love-sickness?’"
"I wouldn't say it's dangerous," Raven said slowly. "Although it has been known to make people behave strangely."
"Strangely?" This 'love' was sounding very scary.
"People lose their inhibitions, and act contrary to their usual nature when they are in love. At least, that's what I've heard."
"You have never been affected by this?" Starfire questioned.
"No," she replied shortly. Clearly it was something that she did not want to talk about.
There was a pause, in which Starfire shifted from foot to foot. Coming to Raven had been most informative, but there was still one matter that needed to be cleared up…
"I thank you for your help, but I have one more question. Please, what is this 'love?’"
The other girl's eyes shot to her hairline and she stared up at her. "You don't know what love is?"
From Raven's tone, it was a word that she should have known. That was not her fault though. Information obtained from lip contact was sometimes incomplete. She might have to touch her lips to Robin's again. She wondered why the thought of pressing her lips to his was so appealing. "I am not sure of the translation into my language," she admitted.
The smaller girl blew out a breath. "I'm probably not the best person to explain to you what love is."
Starfire did not understand and she said as much. Raven's eyes took on a sad light, even though her expression remained unchanged. She was probably experiencing a nahkra, a sad memory of the past. "There are different kinds of love," the gray-skinned girl explained. "There's the love that a," – she paused for a moment – "parent feels for a child, or that you can feel for a friend. But the type of love that you're experiencing is one that a girl feels for a boy."
"But what is love?" Starfire pressed.
Raven shook her head. "Why don't you get someone else to explain to you?"
Starfire nodded decisively. "Yes. You have the good advice. I will ask Robin."
Raven made an odd choking sort of sound. "No, don't do that."
"Why not? He has the knowledge in many areas. "
"He may be suffering from the same…sickness as you, though he doesn't know it yet."
Her eyes widened and she made to turn and leave. "Then I must inform him at once!"
Raven's voice stopped her. "That wouldn't be a good idea."
Starfire frowned and turned to face the shorter girl. It seemed almost as if Raven was trying not to laugh. What was so amusing? "I do not understand," she said.
"He does not know that his is…sick yet, and it would come as a shock to learn that he is."
"Then that is all the more reason for me to inform him of this 'in-love' sickness that he has contracted!" she exclaimed.
"Trust me, you don't want to do that. Why don't you go ask Cyborg?" Raven suggested.
Starfire thought it over for a moment. Her tall, dark-skinned teammate had struck up a friendship with the Beast Boy that was mostly based on their mutual appreciation of video games. She did not know him that well, but from what she could see, she believed him to be a nice person. And if Raven thought that talking to him would help her, than she would follow her advice.
"I will do that, Friend Raven! I give you my thanks for your aid!"
"'Friend Raven?’" the shorter girl repeated.
"That is what one says to their friends, yes?"
"You consider me your friend?" There was such an air of startled vulnerability around Raven when she asked that question that Starfire frowned.
"Of course I do!" To prove it, she pulled the unsuspecting girl up into a backbreaking hug. Raven made a little gasping noise and Starfire quickly released her.
"I apologize for that," she said, rubbing the back of her neck sheepishly. "I will get better at the hugging so do not worry. But now I must go now and ask Cyborg about the 'in-love!’"
She floated up and shot away, leaving Raven to stare blankly at her retreating figure. Navigating through the hallways was a lot of trouble when she was flying at high speeds, but she could not just punch through the walls; apparently, that was Not Acceptable Earth Behavior.
She arrived at the door to the Tower's garage within a few minutes and knocked on the door– without damaging it, which was an accomplishment in itself. She waited for a moment, but when it became clear that no one was going to answer the door, she knocked again, putting a bit more force into it.
The door crumpled inwards. Too much force.
"Oops," she murmured guiltily. Perhaps if she just grabbed at the side of the door and pulled it like so – no, that just made it worse. She carefully placed the slab of now-useless metal to the side, and peeked into the room. "Hello?" she asked, as she gingerly stepped into the room. "I apologize for the intrusion, and for the broken door, but if I may ask you a question…" No one was inside.
Since she was here, she might as well look around. She ventured into the room; it was cluttered with a wide range of technological devices. They covered the walls and hung from the roof, and were even spread out across some of the floor. There were small metal contraptions, only about the size of her hand, and then there were the larger ones.
The biggest one by far was located in the middle of the area. It looked like a very large stinermite, only it was made of metal. Its eyes were low-set and were wide open, but it did not look like it could see her. Perhaps its primary source of sight was its tongue, like the hashknofles native to Tamaran's flatlands. Its legs were rounded and black. Thin, clear panels on its sides and front enabled her to see its insides. It was quite a fascinating creature.
She cautiously took a step towards it, and when it made no movement, she took another step. With a few more tentative steps she was standing next to it. She lightly placed her hand on its side and jerked it back. It was cold. She was beginning to think that it was not alive, as she had previously thought. It did not breathe, had no body heat and it had no heartbeat.
Was this more ‘technology?’ She had only ever seen the Gordanian's invasion fleet; the people of Tamaran were not known for their prowess in the more advanced sciences and technologies.
She was startled out of her thoughts by a loud cry. "Yo! What happened to my door?"
Cyborg was standing in the doorways, staring at what was once his door. Oh, right.
"I am very sorry about that," she said, embarrassed. "I forgot that the metals of this planet are not as strong as on Tamaran."
"You did this? On accident?" His eyes reflected disbelief, before he grinned suddenly. "Well, that does make sense, considering the damage you did to Jump City when you first came here."
Starfire twirled her hair, flustered. The words were not spoken maliciously and she knew that the other Titans held no grudges for what she had done, but she did wish that they would stop bringing that up. She had been very agitated at the time; that had not been the best example of her character. "What is that?" she asked, changing the subject.
"What's what?" She pointed to the large metal object and his whole face lit up. "This is my baby. Isn't she a beauty?"
His…baby? The knowledge that she had gathered from her lip contact with Robin was telling her that a baby was a small, wailing human that slept a lot and needed to relieve itself often. That was not a baby.
If it was Cyborg's baby, would it not look more like him? But, its metal was the same type as his. She supposed that it did look similar. "I did not know that you had a child," she said. He blinked at her, then laughed suddenly. She crossed her arms over her chest, feeling put out. First Raven, then him. Why was everyone laughing at her today?
"What?" she asked, resisting the urge to stick out her lower lip. She was a Tamaranean princess. She did not pout.
"This isn't my kid," he explained. "It's my car."
"Oh." Now it made sense. Starfire had never seen a car up close, but she had often flown far above them. She recalled several conversations about cars that Cyborg had with the Beast Boy. She remembered thinking it was an interesting type of transportation but that it was a far cry from flying.
"It is very beautiful," she told him.
"I know," he said proudly. "And I'm not even done working on it yet. Just wait 'till you see the finished result." Then he launched into a speech about 'horsepower' and 'turbine engine' and 'nitro boosters.' She had no idea what he was talking about, but she smiled and nodded anyway.
When he finished, he looked slightly embarrassed, and apologized for ‘getting carried away.’ Whatever that meant. She had not seen him get carried anywhere by anything, but she supposed that it was yet another aspect of the language of English that she did not understand. She assured him that she had no problems with his carrying.
He smiled and offered her a seat on one of the tables by the wall. He pushed aside a square box with a black face that she remembered was called a ‘computer.’ Hesitantly, she sat down. She did not want his table to become like his door. When she was satisfied that she would not break it, however unintentionally, she got into a more comfortable position. Cyborg leaned against the wall beside her.
"So, what brings you down here?" He had a casual way of speaking that put her at ease and she found herself relaxing.
"I wish for you to help me with something that I do not understand."
“Oh, that means ‘start talking.’”
"I see." She would have to remember that. "Well, I do not know what a word means, and Raven told me to ask you."
"What don't you understand?"
"What is this love?" she asked.
"You don't know about love?"
Now she was starting to get frustrated. Why would she ask if she did not know? Nevertheless, she answered him politely. "No."
"And Raven told you to come to me?"
"That is correct," she confirmed.
"How 'bout you start from the beginning?" he suggested.
"That is a good idea," she said, then proceeded to explain how she had caught an illness, and how Raven had diagnosed her with a case of 'being in-love' with Robin. "But I do not know what this 'love' is," she finished.
Cyborg's face had a contemplating look on it, but Starfire had the feeling that he was smiling on the inside. She did not understand what was so funny about her situation. She had an illness, which she might be afflicted with her whole life. This was a serious matter.
"Okay. Love is...caring for someone very deeply. You know there are different kinds of love, right?"
She nodded. "Raven told me that."
"Did she explain?"
"She did not say much about it."
"Well, there's romantic love, which is what you're feeling for Robin, and there's platonic love."
Starfire was beginning to understand. "Please, platonic love, it is between family members? Like a father to his daughter?"
"And the love of a father and daughter is not romantic?"
"No, definitely not."
"Then what is this romantic love?"
"Romantic love is like platonic love. It's…wanting to spend the rest of your life with that person, it's waking up in the morning and thinking of them. It's being happy when the person you love is happy…and sharing in their sadness." There was an expression on Cyborg's face that she had never seen there before. She did not say anything, not wishing to interrupt him. She just listened silently and slowly realized what love meant.
"It's wanting to just spend time with them…spend time getting to know her, what she likes and what she dislikes. It's a million other little things, like giving her your jacket when she's cold, brushing your hand against her cheek, kissing her in the rain…It's being willing to die for her."
He stopped talking and stared blankly at the wall. It seemed that he too was experiencing a sad memory of the past. This was a side of him that Starfire had not imagined. He was very eloquent, something that she would not have thought of him before. "Friend Cyborg?" she asked tentatively.
He shook his head, as if to clear it, before turning to look at her. "Yes?"
"You have been in love, yes?"
"Yeah." His eyes were sad. "I know that people would say I'm too young, but I know that it was love. I really did love her." Starfire noticed that he was talking of the past.
"What was her name?" she asked quietly.
"Sarah. Sarah Simms."
There was another silent moment. Her heart ached for her friend, but she did not know what she could do for him. He clapped his hands together suddenly, making her jump. "Let's not talk about that anymore, 'kay?" She agreed, because she sensed that he very much did not want to talk about this subject. "So, do you get what love is now?"
"Oh yes. You have been most helpful! Thank you!" She hugged him, and to her delight, he hugged her back just as tightly, without wincing in pain.
"Hey, Starfire," he called.
She floated at the door. "Yes?"
"If you wanted to lift weights with me, I wouldn't mind."
She smiled. "I would like that."
"See ya 'round then."
"Yes. I shall see you, Friend Cyborg."
She flew to her room with a lighter heart. She had started out not know what love was, but now she had a new understanding. She knew that she did love Robin romantically. This was frightening, but at the same time so exhilarating. She would – wait, was that Robin?
No, she was not mistaken. Robin was standing there in the kitchen, rummaging through the fridge. He looked so normal, so completely unaware of the epiphany that she had experienced. Her eyes traced over his form, taking note of the muscles rippling under his suit. Before she could stop herself, she murmured his name, just to feel its sound on her lips.
He had heard her? Oh no! What should she say? He was staring expectantly at her, waiting. Having all of his attention focused on her was too much; she blurted out the first thing that came to her mind. "Um…you are going to need to find some stronger doors for the Tower."