There was something wrong with Robin and Starfire was not going to stop until she found out what that something was. The Titans had all realized there was something dearly wrong with their leader when he had not shown up for training that day without a word to any of them. Robin did not cancel practice and he did not, not show up. She had been elected by everyone else to gain information on what was keeping him from his usual duties, and while she was quite curious as to what was provoking such an odd occurrence she was quite worried.
Fears of him being seriously ill and unable to move or an obsession like that he had often expressed with Slade taking over again. He had returned from his trip to Gotham, that she knew, so it wasn't that he had failed to come home.
Starfire came to a stop outside of his large door and stared at it for a moment. While she worried about his wrath she was also worried about what might be going on with him within. "Robin?" she called out in a loud voice so as to be heard through the thick door, and knocked heavily. "Robin?"
There was no response from Robin, if he were within, as she believed and Star considered waiting for him to let her in. Deciding she was not going to wait for that and to risk what Robin would call an invasion of privacy, Star entered the emergency code next to the door that he had given her and waited as the door slid open. She spotted Robin standing over his bed, sticking clothing and personal belongings into a suitcase.
A hollow feeling came into the pit of her stomach. She knew logically what was going on but it worried her. He had not acknowledged her calls, or when she had breached his door, which normally he would. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. "What are you doing?"
"I'm packing Starfire," he said, his voice short and curt.
The confirmation of the ritual activity that occurred before leaving had her on edge. She bit her lip as she nodded nervously. The tone that was too often present in high stress situations didn't bode well either. "Yes. But why? Where are you going? When will you be back?"
The young man hidden in the shadows of his dark room let the clothing in his hand fall into the suitcase, tired. It never failed to amaze him just how many questions she could ask in that rapid fire manner that she had. "I have to go Star, and I'm not coming back."
He had hoped to get away without Starfire crossing his path. With her righteous anger and his inability to say no to her, especially when he wanted nothing more than to follow her. He let a soft sigh out as he put more of his clothing into a bag. "I have no other choice."
Within a flash she was between him and his suitcase. Star slammed it shut to accent her anger and frustration. "You always have choices," she growled at him. "You are Robin; you are our leader. You must stay."
"I'm not Robin anymore," he said, out loud for the first time, making it real.
He watched as her already wide eyes grew larger with the shock of his words. "What?"
The pain that came with the truth that he was no longer who he had been for all these years reverberated through his chest and he worked to reign it all in, not to give a sign of just how devastated he was by the news. "Batman decided that I am no longer fit to be Robin."
Fury was coursing through Starfire as the words began to make sense. "You ARE Robin!" He had always been Robin, her Robin. She could not lose him because some person decided this for him. "How could you be anything less?"
"I don't know, but I guess I'm going to have to find out. I--I don't like this any more than you do Star, but I don't see any other way." And he had looked for a way out, but at eighteen he had been stripped of who he had been for years and he had in turn disowned the man who had become his father. He didn't have any other answers.
"There must be. You cannot leave."
She took his hands in her own and gave them a very gentle squeeze. "We will find another way," she assured him.
He wrenched his hands out of hers and moved away. "It's too late." He sat in his desk chair and lowered his head into his hands. "You said it yourself Star, I am Robin. Who else can I be in this world?" He lifted his head and looked at her. "It's gone now. What do I have to offer to you, to the team?"
"You are you." She bit her tongue to stop the name Robin from rolling off of her tongue. "I was wrong earlier. You are Robin to me because that is all I have ever seen you as…" Starfire trailed off remembering something else, something that's importance hadn't really been made clear until now.
"I know you want to know who I am but Bat--" She was about to tell him of her idea but he looked as if he was on another one of his missions. "Screw him. Here." Star watched fascinated as Robin-or not Robin-lifted his hand to his face and tore the mask away.
"Oh!" she gasped as she saw his face in full for the first time. Dark blue eyes stared out of the face she had come to know so well, putting the last piece of the puzzle that he was in place. There was pain and anger in those eyes, and she wanted nothing more than to throw her arms around him but she was not sure how he would take it.
His breathing was harsh in his own ears and he was pretty sure that Starfire could hear his heart beating as well. "My name is Dick Grayson and I am the adoptive son of millionaire Bruce Wayne. He adopted me after my real parents died when I was nine."
"Dick." She smiled, saying his true name for the first time. Something he had hid from her for as long as she'd known him. She decided to take a chance and ran a hand down his cheek.
Letting it fall to her side she spoke again. "You will still be our leader though. I have had an idea," she said, allowing a grin to split her face, "a glorious idea. Promise me you will not leave before I return."
"Promise me," she said, a growl entering her voice and her eyes beginning to glow with her anger. "If you leave without saying your farewells I shall never be able to forgive you."
Dick was tempted to argue with her but once again she'd managed to say something that he had no way of arguing with. Instead he crossed his arms and let out an aggravated sigh. "Fine."
The tone didn't seem to bother her and she grinned at him. "I shall be back."
She did something unusual and flew out of the room at a fast speed, racing for her room. If this was going to work right it had to be perfect for him to see, to understand. He would have to understand and see it clearly, anything less wouldn't be good enough.
He watched her go, wanting to call her back and get the goodbye over with or take her away with him somewhere else, be normal. But he didn't know what normal was anymore. A circus kid turned crime fighter there was no real scope of normal to him. Living as a vigilante teenager with a bunch of other vigilante teens with a manner of different powers…it was pretty hopeless.
An hour later, his mask back on, Dick returned to pacing his room…Robin's room. He had been Robin here. There were articles covering the walls, reminders of all of the team's past endeavors, his Robin gadgets were broken due to his rage. Somehow Batman had managed to take away what everything in the tower was to him.
He was this team's leader; he was a good leader…most of the time. One trip home, one patrol with Batman, one run in with Joker and he was shot, barely a little nick, and that was the end of it. He was no longer Robin. The persona he had been living half the time since the age of ten was taken from him without any safety net. And it was just he who was forced to stop, Batgirl was still flying off of rooftops.
The injustice of it all burned through him. He was not bad at fighting criminals, especially the deranged, but two seconds with Batman made it feel like that night had been his third night on a rooftop and he'd decided to do something incredibly stupid. If he had been stupid it had been in feeling like that novice up there with Batman all over again.
He had followed every protocol, every command. The Joker had simply been expecting it, anticipating it and then had taken a shot. He had escaped serious injury, just a nick through the shoulder. But that nick meant he wasn't reacting fast enough, he wasn't good enough anymore. He was obsolete.
The sound o f her voice had him stopping and turning towards the door that was sliding open. "I'm here Star."
He saw her staring at him with apologetic eyes as she had almost addressed him by the identity that had been stripped of him. "I just didn't…you have entrusted me with your secret and I did not wish to announce it to the others without your permission."
"It's okay," Dick said honestly, wishing he knew a better way to make this uncomfortable for her and for the rest of the team. He couldn't just be 'Dick the Titan' sounded a bit too much like Larry the Titan and well…Larry'd been trouble.
She took a pad of paper from behind her back and presented him with it open to a page. "Here."
He stared down at the black bodysuit of a costume with a blue bird drawn across the front. It was rather blocky, the wings having chunks taken out of them to look like separate feathers and a mask rather similar to his own. He looked up at Starfire who was watching him expectantly not understanding what it was she was trying to tell him. "What is this?"
Star grinned at him, she had known he would need a bit of prodding to understand as he had not seen what she had seen. "Nightwing."
"Nightwing?" he asked her, still staring at the drawing but falling back to sit on the bed.
She nodded excitedly and sat down next to where he had sat. "Remember, from my journey to the future. You were no longer Robin, you were Nightwing. In bringing back the timepiece I did change some things, but there are some things that I suppose were not dependant on the retrieval of the timepiece."
"Like Nightwing," he finished, catching her train of thought and staring at the drawing still.
"Exactly. Don't you see?" She exclaimed, the joy of solving this trouble rushing through her. There was enough joy within her that she was ready to fly in loops in the room. "You can stay here as Nightwing and remain our leader. We need you." She bit her lip before adding, "I need you."
His brow was furrowed and she knew he was trying to reconcile the transition in his head. He needed some help with this decision, that much was obvious. She laid her hand on his shoulder. "It does not matter to me what your name is, so long as you are you. Robin, Dick, Nightwing…still you."
She stood from her seat on the bed and paced across the room, looking at the broken memorabilia that scattered his desk. She kept her face turned away from him, knowing that she could not look at him now. "I cannot keep you here. To bind you to this tower with my strength and my powers would be a great wrong against you, as no one should be forced to do what they do not want." And someone already had, but she would not put her name on that list. "Before you go, I must tell you something though. While the words are simple, they are difficult to speak." She turned finally, her eyes burning with the sting of tears. "It is, simply, that I love you."
He now understood exactly what was meant by the words 'direct hit" when it came to matters of the heart. His seemed to explode at this young woman staring at him with such love and intensity. He didn't know how to handle it, how to respond. "Starfire--I…"
Star's face closed on him, no longer the open and usually energetic face that was usually waiting to greet him. It was shadowed as it had not been when she had entered. "I will leave you to make your choice," she said softly, turning and heading out the door.
Dick didn't even manage to respond before the door slammed shut behind her. He stared after her and then down at the drawing in his hands. Could he possibly be someone other than Robin while fighting crime? Could he fight without knowing that Batman was there to back him up? On the other hand, could he survive without the family he had created with the Titans?
Maybe, just maybe, he was not as over and done with as he had thought. There was a very good possibility that Star was right once again.
Still considering, Dick headed for the supply closet that he kept full of everything a superhero would ever need. Time to consider some changes.
Hours later in another part of the tower, the young alien girl was laying flopped over on her bed, staring at the pictures that appeared to be upside-down on her bureau.
She had not meant to return to her room and cry but it seemed the only option anymore. She had told Dick the truth, that she loved him, and he hadn't said anything in return. Starfire knew they were not a couple as a loving relationship on Earth was called but she had believed, felt, that he loved her back. Perhaps she had been mistaken. Or perhaps he just did not know what to do with the information. Or maybe he had just not heard her words.
Star sighed and stood, going to her window to look out over the bay that Titan's Tower overlooked. She had nearly been taken from this place and Robin--Dick had helped her to realize that sometimes it was not what others decided for you but what your heart decided that was best. He had protected her and made sure she was home, with the Titans, where she belonged. It was her duty to do the same for him. So long as he would take her up on her idea.
The digital output on her clock said that it had been hours since she had left him in his room with a half packed suitcase and a drawing of how he might manage to stay. He should have made a decision by now and she should have been asleep, quite like Silkie already was in his little corner of her room. But she was waiting for him to come tell her his choice, good or bad. Starfire couldn't help but wonder to herself if her threat of never forgiving him was enough to keep him from departing without saying farewell.
What if he had left? What would she do?
A low knocking could be heard coming from the other side of her door. "Enter at your will," she called to whoever it was on the other side. She knew who she hoped it was but she couldn't be sure.
"I'd thought you'd be asleep by now."
"I…" She trailed off upon turning around and seeing the young man standing in her doorway. The voice she recognized on instant, as she did the costume. "Nightwing?" she found herself asking breathlessly. The hair wasn't the same but the costume and them mask were exactly as she'd remembered them. Her mind flashed to the first time she'd seen him step out of the shadows in the alleyway in that possible future.
"Well…" he trailed off, spreading his arms wide for her to get a good glimpse of the uniform. "What do you think?"
"OH!" Starfire was unable to restrain her joy as she flew at him and wrapped her arms around him tightly. "It is glorious, simply glorious. Did I not tell you it would be?"
"Yeah, you did. I just need some more air."
"Oh," She released him and took a few paces back so that he had plenty of room. She often forgot her own strength and what it could do to others. "I am sorry."
"It's alright." The smile melted away and a very familiar serious look had come onto his face. "There's something else we need to discuss."
She thought she knew what he was getting at but maybe it would be better if she just pretended she didn't. "Hmm?" she asked. He looked so serious. She hated it when he got too serious, occasionally bad things happened that made her heart hurt.
"You said you loved me," he said without any inclination of how he felt about it.
"Oh, that." She had rather hoped that he would not bring up the incident, that she could pretend that he had not heard it. Instead she was faced with the possibility that he did not, would never, feel the same way, and that was what he was standing here to tell her so.
"Yeah that," Robin said, a harsh edge to his voice.
Star turned away, unwilling to look at him while she tried to put an explanation with her earlier words that would allow them to go on as the dear friends they had always been and not "I…I am often overcome with emotion, you know that. I just…" There was nothing she could really say, she wasn't able to take it back.
"Did you mean it?" his harsh voice cut in.
"What?" Star asked, turning back to look at him, her eyebrows drawing together.
There was something about how he said it that had her confused again. He was almost hesitant, something Star would never really attribute to him. "Did you mean it?" Nightwing asked her again.
Rather insulted, Starfire nodded earnestly. "Of course I meant it."
She sighed and worked at explaining her attempt to explain the I love you. Earthlings were much too difficult sometimes and her mastery of their language was not at any great levels. "I was just saying that it was foolish for me to say such a thing when we are not in an appropriate relationship for saying such things."
Now it was he who would not lift his eyes from the ground to meet hers. "No one has said that to me in a long time. Not since I was a little kid."
Her heart cracked for the boy that he had once been and she knew that the man before her was not Robin or night wing. "Dick," she said, wanting to go put her arms around him. That, like usual, appeared like it would not be a suitable response. He had drawn away from her a bit.
"It…It means a lot to me, to hear you say it, to know you mean it. I don't know what to do about it. I…You mean a lot to me." Nightwing let out an aggravated breath and pulled his hand through his dark hair. "I've never done anything like this before."
Unable to help herself, Star found a the corners of her lips quirking up. "Talked?"
"Star," he growled at her.
She found herself blushing and looking at the floor with his reprimand but couldn't find it in herself to stop her smile. "I am sorry. That was wrong of me." She had not meant to upset him.
Star cleared her throat and looked up at him with her face schooled into a solemn expression befitting of the situation. She understood what it was he was trying to do and she was not about to force him into anything. "It is alright," she said, reaching out and taking his hand with hers. Understanding was engulfing the need to tease and she was now completely sincere. "You don't have to say anything."
"I want to," he insisted.
It warmed her, to know that, but that did not mean he was ready to do anything. "You are not ready." She pressed her lips to his cheek almost as if nothing had changed, but it all felt different. "It is alright."
"No." He held a hand up and used his other to take her hand within it. She looked at their joined hands before staring at the man before her. He was focused on their joined hands as well. She wondered if he could not bring himself to look upon her. Then his face lifted and the hand he had raised to stop her lifted and the mask was once again removed from his face leaving nothing but the young man staring back at her. "I do love you Star."
There was enough joy within her to fly them both to Tamaran and back without even lacking breath. Starfire drew closer and touched his free face. She ran a finger around his eyes, highlighting them for herself. "I feel, for this moment, my true name might be appropriate," she said softly, unable to keep her happiness out of it.
That caused him to frown at her and she had to prevent herself from grinning at him because the reaction was so like him. "Star."
"I love you, Koriand'r," he stressed her name a bit, feeling a bit silly about the whole thing.
She was holding back giggles before she threw her arms around his neck. "I love you too, Dick," she said, pressing her lips gently to his.
"There are several questions that we will need to work through to make this work."
"We will figure it out." Stepping back, she removed the mask from his hands and returned it back onto his face. "You can go back to Nightwing for now and I will go back to Starfire. Our given names are for special moments." She stepped completely away from him. "Now we should very likely rest considering you will be running training in the morning."
"Is that your way of telling me to get out?" he asked. Star looked up and found that he was smiling at her.
She looked at him and raised her eyebrow carefully. "You will be running training in the morning?"
It was much less a question than a command. Nightwing nodded in response as if there had not been any doubt that there would be when the sun came to rise over the tower. "Of course."
"It is late. If we do not rest we will not be at optimal levels for training."
It was an argument he would have used and he could almost see her using it because she knew it'd be what we. "I can rest here."
"No," Starfire insisted, shaking her head. Much as she was curious about what him staying would lead to they had just barely…she didn't know exactly what they had done today but there would be no rest for them. "No, neither of us will rest. Goodnight Nightwing, I shall see you in the morning."
"You're sure I can't stay."
"Out," she ordered, pointing out the door, "before I drag you to my bed."
"Starfire," he groaned at her.
"We are not ready for that," Starfire insisted, giving him some help in the form of a hearty shove out the door. "Out," she said, to punctuate the motion. Starfire let the door slide shut between them before leaning against it and smiling. "Goodnight Nightwing!" she cheerily called out through the door.
"Goodnight," he called back before heading down the hallway to his own room and to sleep for the few hours until his alarm clock decided to wake him up for training. That was as long as his alarm clock wasn't among the wreckage.
After awaking to the sound of his unharmed alarm, Dick Grayson pulled out his new black Kevlar uniform with the blue bird emblazoned across the front. It was time for him to fully embrace this new identity. He had admittedly been intrigued when Star had told him about his future self that she had come across in her travels but there had been no immediate plans to become him. Even a year or so after the fact there hadn't been any real reason to become Nightwing.
He wondered if it had been similar the last time, this decision, except that version of himself had made the change without Star's help. In the end it was all one gigantic temporal circle that he really did not want to unravel so early.
Instead he suited up and headed down for training.
Nightwing strode down the hallway and towards the training room for the first time. It was different now, he was someone else than he had been the last time he'd walked out of there as the team's leader. It had been weeks, first his return to Gotham and his recovery and then his return last night. They'd been going through training without him and now he wasn't even who they remembered in some subtle ways, it wasn't just the costume that changed, but the man behind it.
Without a hesitation and reminding himself of Starfire's words that nothing had really changed, that he was still himself, Nightwing headed outside where one of the big training programs was located on the island, with the rest of the Titans already down and ready to start up. The first thing that caught his eye was Beast Boy's jaw dropping upon seeing him, eyes wide, before he managed to pull himself back together. Nightwing simply waited for what he knew had to be coming next.
"Dude!" Beast Boy exclaimed, taking his eyes off of Nightwing for a second to make sure his other teammates were paying attention. "A temporal interloper!"
Knowing he wouldn't be able to stop Beast Boy now, Nightwing just rolled his eyes behind his mask and waited as his friend continued. "I know what happened to Robin now. You came back through time, killed Robin and took place. You're going to replace us all with our future selves and I am going to be BALD."
Beast Boy pointed at Nightwing wildly from where he was semi-crouched behind some equipment. "He's clearly evil!"
Nightwing narrowed his eyes down at the younger and much greener boy. "If I killed myself I'd be dead," he said blandly.
"Oh," his friend returned, almost saddened by the fact, straightening up from his spot. "Good point."
The urge to smile was there, tugging at the corner of his mouth but he wasn't done yet. There were still more hurdles to pass before he was truly back.
"What's up man?"
Nightwing lifted his gaze to Cy's. He felt some stupid need to explain without getting into everything. "Robin no longer exists. I am Nightwing now."
"It fits," Raven said, a simple nod in his direction, "with who you were and who you have become."
"Man, you always were dramatic," Cyborg said with a shake of his head. "We'll give the cycle a whole new body detail when we're fixin' the damage from the run in with Rancid last week. Got any new gadgets to go with the new duds?"
The smile finally broke free. Apparently nothing had really changed here, beyond him. "Not yet."
Star just smiled at him from the edge of the circle of friends and teammates that she had been standing in. "Are we going to begin?" she questioned softly, making it clear that she still completely deflected to him as leader, regardless of the name.
"Yes," he returned with a nod. It was nothing, a stupid little show that did nothing but make sure he knew nothing had changed. It was helped by when he said yes that everyone else started moving to their usual spots
Raven pulled Starfire aside as they moved to watch Beast Boy attempt a run through the training program. Nightwing edged a bit closer pretending like he was completely focused on the electronic board that would cue up the training program when Beast Boy was in position. "What lead to this?"
"He could no longer be Robin," Starfire said simply, "and he needed a way to stay."
"You did a good job of keeping him here."
"I did no such thing. He did everything Raven." Nightwing shifted his gaze to watch them and found Starfire watching him with a grin on her face. "I simply reminded him of something he was destined to do, the rest was up to him."
"Hey dude, what's the hold up?" Beast Boy shouted from his position at the starting line. "I've been dying to try something out!"
"Dying for training?" Nightwing asked, the smile turning into a smirk. "Not such a bad idea." With that he cued up the training exercise a bit harder than what he normally would have for Beast Boy, waiting to see what exactly the boy had in mind.