I won't pretend I have all the ages and details right, because I'm sure I don't. But this idea popped into my head, and I just went with it.

And I say it's a tiara. :)

The Tiara Debate

She was a light sleeper; he reminded himself of that while trying to quiet the clank of his armor, but it was no use. Metal made noise, and so did people when they stumbled over stray furniture in the dark.

She flipped on the light switch just as he was picking himself up. He made a big show of glaring at the pieces of chair surrounding him on the ground, a good excuse not to look at her.

"You're up early," Starling said.

"Your place is a mess," He replied shortly.

Starling smiled softly. "It gets like that when you live alone."

There wasn't much you could say to that.

"Leaving so soon?" She continued. "I was going to make breakfast."

He watched her as she picked her way around the chair pieces to the kitchen. She was still only dressed in her underclothes, and was moving about with the air of one accustomed to being watched.

Not for the first time, he was strongly reminded that he was an intruder here.

"I've got to go," He said, a little too loudly. "They'll wonder where I am."

"They'll wonder more where your tiara is."

"It's not a---hey! Where did you---?"

She peeked over her shoulder and winked at him. "I'll give it back to you after breakfast."

He stared at her back. The way her waist expanded into hips. The way her shoulder blades scraped under taut pale skin. Her thin shoulders. Her neck.

"You know this was a one-time thing."

He waited for her to get upset. To turn around and tell him that he was wrong. To throw one of her cute little fits.

But her shoulders rose and fell in a shrug, and she said, "I know. What do you want?" She sounded like she was smiling. "Do Cyclonians eat breakfast?"

After great deliberation, he sat in the sturdiest chair at hand. "Toast. I eat toast."

"That's not a proper breakfast," Starling scolded. "I'll make you French toast. With bacon. You'll like it."

He rolled his eyes.

"I thought you were looking a little thin. You should take better care of yourself."

He winced. Bad enough for anyone to say that. Worse for Starling to mean it.

"This is a one-time thing," He repeated softly. "You do know that, right?"

Starling turned and looked at him then. "I know. That's why I'm enjoying it."

He couldn't hold her gaze, and ended up looking at the ground. He felt her smile again.

"You're still so cute."

That got to him. There were certain words you used to describe handsome, successful, evil warriors, and 'cute' was not one of them. "Now, look---"

"You even forgot your gloves," She continued. "You really were in a hurry to leave."

"Of course I was," He muttered. "Because I knew you'd be like this."

She laughed lightly. "Is that so?"

Whatever she was doing at the stove, it was starting to smell good. He stood so he could peer over her shoulder.

In a more romantic, guiltless setting, he might have wrapped his arms around her coin-sized waist and kissed her on the cheek and whispered sweet something-or-others in her ear, all very suave and debonair. He would have made breakfast. He would have made jokes. He would have made her happy.

But it was too late for things like that. He was already backing away, back to the chair, just in time for her to turn around; too late to notice his resolve to make this experience as brief and final as possible, whatever it took. She set the two heavy plates between them on what spare space there was on the table. French toast and bacon, more than enough for both of them. She left again to grab forks and knives, and he couldn't help but stare glumly after her.

He wanted to get this over with.

When she sat again, she was smiling mischievously. "This is probably the first real meal I've had in ages."

"And you say I don't eat."

"I've got a figure to keep," She said, cutting into her toast. "And you don't get your tiara or your gloves until you clean off that plate."

"It's not a tiara."

"Keep telling yourself that."

"So…" It was easy to think of conversation topics that she wouldn't like. Initiating them took a little more creativity. "I suppose it's easier to skip meals without a team to keep you healthy, eh?"

"I suppose so," She agreed smoothly. He cursed her in his head for her ability to take the most horrible comments at face value.

"Raptors, I heard."

"Yes. Your Raptors."

"Uh-huh. Probably. Never liked them."

"But you work with them?"

"They work for me."

"They work for Master Cyclonis, and so do you."

"That is an established fact, yes."

"Meaning they don't work for you, they work with you. Your rank is only as high as theirs."

He finally looked at her. "It is not."

Her eyebrows rose. "Isn't it? One evil minion to another seems all the same to me."

"To you, maybe. But not to Master Cyclonis."

She glanced up from her plate for the briefest instant. "Interesting."

"She has her values," He explained stiffly. "I happen to be one of them. I provide better service than any of her other minions could."

"Interesting," Starling repeated.

"She trusts me with more things, to get the job done, and the like. I'm worth more than any of her other servants."

"Do you love her?"

The question was everything of Starling; direct, honest, earnest. No beating around the bush, no niceties. He could only return the favor.


She nodded, and he waited for it, the real response. That one nod wasn't going to be the end of it, and they both knew it. But he knew Starling would gladly let him sit there for an hour, waiting and worrying until:


That wrung laughter from him. "She's not that young!"

"I'm sure she isn't," Starling said primly. "Perhaps you could tell me how old she is? Since I'm sure you'd know."

"I don't know."

"Interesting. What do you know about her?"

"That she's ambitious, and clever. Controlling. Attractive. All in all, she's a lot like you."

Starling didn't like that. He could feel himself edging closer and closer to the edge of her patience. It shouldn't take much more.

In feigned good humor, Starling muttered, "Tit-less."

He shrugged, feigning indifference. "Well, she's still developing. I'm kidding," He added hastily at her expression. "But look. She values me. She lets me do as I like. She gives a damn, and that's more than I ever got from being a Sky Knight."

"You had respect," Starling said quietly.

"I still do."

"Fear isn't respect."

"It amounts to the same thing; it's just as useful, even more so. People who respect might do what you want, people who fear you will do what you want."

"Or fight back."

"In the case of small children and stubborn girls, yes, fight back," He said icily.

"Aerrow is not a small child."

"He's not even legal."

"And you can talk! How old is she?"

"I told you, I don't know!"

She opened her mouth to continue the argument, but after a few moments shut it. "All right then," She said, standing to clear away her plate. She was angry, he could tell.

But not angry enough.

"Is that it? 'All right then'? Surely you have more to say," He scoffed.

"Nothing someone so valued as you would be interested in," She said sweetly. "Don't you have to go and make some small children cry? I'll get you your gloves. And your tiara," She added on her way out.

"It's a helmet."

"It doesn't cover your head. It has no function that I can discover. It is decorative, and therefore a tiara."

He didn't bother arguing. You either understood the helmet, or you didn't.

"Did your Cyclonis sweetheart give it to you? Was it an anniversary gift?" She called from her bedroom. He could here her shuffling about, digging up his things from who knew where she had hidden them.

He gritted his teeth. "And if it was? At least I have someone who gives me gifts. At least I'm not a has-been soldier desperate enough to take enemies into her bed. At least I still have people who care at all."

The shuffling sounds in Starling's room stopped. He knew it was time to twist the knife.

"At least the people I want aren't dead."

There was silence for what felt like long minutes. He wondered if it was his cue to leave. But just as he turned and headed for the door, Starling reappeared. She was fully dressed, and had his gloves and helmet in hand. Wordlessly, she pushed the gloves towards him. He squirmed slightly under her stare as he pulled them on. When he held out his hand for the helmet, she gave it to him.

"Thanks," He said dryly, and headed once more for the door. Before he could truly escape, he heard:

"I can say this."

He turned back, and she was glaring at him coldly. She said, "I can say this. That kid is going to kick your ass."

He smiled at her, as condescendingly as he could. "Good bye, Starling."

"I can also say this," She continued, in the same dead tones. "At least I'm not so badly off that I have to follow has-been soldiers to their homes to receive affection."

The smiled curled off his face, and he strode out with as much dignity as he could.


He seated himself on his Switchblade Skimmer, and took off.

As her dilapidated house shrank from view, he said sadly, "It's not a tiara."