A/N: Um... You all are probably wondering why, exactly, this is being re-posted. Alright then. The reason is: I did some serious re-editing and the end result is almost a new story from the last quarter down. And, so... Yeah. This is new... but not new.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to Teen Titans.
Dedication: To my lil' sis: JJ (for you brainstormed with me) and to The Silver Phoenix who beta'd the new version (I'm sorry this took so long).
You peel the mask away from your face, and blink away the slight stinging that throbs from the pale skin. Your eyes drop to stare at the piece of cloth you hold in your hands, slightly impressed that such a disarming scrap of material could define you so well. That a mask could be your signature, just like Batman's unnerving lack of emotion. Maybe you are more like your father than you would like to admit.
Your eyes raise to see your reflection in the mirror. You recall that once upon a time your eyes had specks of green in them, that they used to sparkle with the idea of a new day, that you sometimes wished you didn't always have to wear a mask. Now they are dull, now the dawn of a new day brings new and old felt grief, now you are thankful for that stupid cut of fabric. Now they stare back at you, bloodshot from lack of sleep and blue, endless pools of blue that shine with the colour of tears not shed. Because you've never cried for her. Not once. Robins don't cry. Richards could, if they wanted to, but you haven't been Richard since... since...
You push that thought away, and peel off your clothes. They're sticky from sweat and soon your whole skin throbs like the area around your eyes do. You shrug that off though – just another disadvantage to wearing spandex – and snap off your belt before tugging off the steel-toed boots. You jump in the shower, not wanting to see yourself or how thin you know you've gotten, and stand beneath the shower head waiting for a moment before turning on the faucet and allowing water to pour onto your head. In that brief moment, you enjoy the weight that leaves your shoulders with the uniform. Does it really mean so much?
The water's scalding hot and a cry accompanies your startled step away from the water. You steel yourself and inch back in there, refusing to give in to water. Because it's just that. It's only water. It can only hurt your skin.
Dried blood begins to wash away and flow down your body. You watch the water carry it away, and follow it all the way down the drain, somehow amused by the sight of it swirling around and around in a mini whirlpool before disappearing out of sight. You aren't surprised by the sight of it. Being human has its disadvantages, and bleeding easily is one of them. It's just part of the job now. As Cyborg would say, Another day, another dollar; except you're not being paid to do this. Right now, you can't remember why you're doing this.
You reach for the bottle of shampoo and pick it up, weighing it in your hands. It's lighter than it was yesterday ("Obviously," you mutter to yourself) and there's some residue around the bottle cap where excess shampoo squeezed through. You snap it open, and it oozes out of the bottle and onto your outstretched hand. You lay it down now, and bring your hands up to scrub your head, hoping that it'll be strong enough to get out all the gel and sweat and blood and anything else that might have wound up in there. You never can tell.
As you scrub, you finally let down your shields, and permit the words that have been whispering in your ear all day – week, month, two months, three – to wash over you. You do this every bath time. You tell yourself it's because it's the only time you're ever alone, but you know the truth. You have cried over her; you just can't tell afterwards, as your cheeks would be wet anyway.
You cringe away from it, like you do every time you hear those words. Not possible, you think; she can't be gone, she's here, she's just in her room...
Emotions well up in your throat, emotions that you hate. Denial still predominates your mind as you whisper to yourself, "She's not gone, she's not, she's not..."
No. She's not. No, no, no, no, no, no...
She's gone. She's gone. She's gone. She's gone, she's gone, she's gone...
No! Not gone! Never gone. Right nearby, in her room, maybe playing with Beast Boy...
And you'll never see her again.
You sob now, allowing your head to drop, and your arms to crumble. Shampoo flows down your face, intermixed with the tears that fall in heavy droplets from your eyes. The water beats down on you, hard and steady like the words you just faced, and your legs shudder beneath you.
You know it's hitting everyone hard, not just you. Cyborg doesn't whistle anymore, Beast Boy doesn't giggle like he used to, Raven is more on edge than ever. And you? You can't even lead your team right anymore. And the worst part? You don't care.
The others are healing. They can bounce back somehow, in some way that you wish you could. Maybe Raven hasn't bounced back, per se, maybe instead she locked everything up in that mirror of hers; but still. She doesn't cry like you do.
You don't cry so much because of the fact that she's gone. That would be bearable, if it wasn't for the second half. The half that reminds you that Warp was from a hundred years in the future. One hundred years.
You'll never see her again.
After some time of exposing yourself to the truth (and it hasn't gotten any better after three months) you shove shields back up, refusing to listen to any more words, allowing yourself to go into denial. You stand shakily, as the impact of loneliness had brought you to your knees, and turn off the water, listening to the steady stream becoming a few lone raindrops. You crawl out, and grab a towel – warm and fluffy – and wrap it around yourself.
You face the truth. You're afraid of forgetting her. Afraid that one day many years from now, seeing the Titans again (because you know that they're going to split apart soon; none of you can take so much stress), one of them will bring up the subject of the little, foreign young woman. And you will look back at them and say, "Who?"
To forget. That hurt. The fear of forgetting your best friend aches inside. All the time, the ache in the pit of your stomach.
You dry yourself off, and reach for your clothes, catching a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Hair drips down and covers your ears, your forehead, and the back of your neck. Your face shines with water and your eyes stare blankly back at you.
And then you remember, which is really all you seem to be able to do nowadays. But somehow, this remembrance is different...
"Robin. Who gave you your hair?"
You turn around and stare at the alien watching TV on the couch next to you. "My hair?"
"Yes. Did your mother, or your father?" She stares back at you with innocent, endless, green eyes.
A picture of your parents flies before your eyes. "Dad," you finally answer. "My dad had dark hair."
"You mean, The Batman?" she questions.
"No. My real dad. My birth dad."
"Oh." She nods her understanding, glancing back to the large plasma screen before looking back at you. "He must have had lovely hair."
"Why do you say that?" you ask, after much blinking in astonishment. This is one of the weirdest conversations you have ever had, and, being the leader of a group of teenagers fighting crime with super powers, that was saying something.
"Because you do."
You feel your cheeks flush. "Ah. Thanks."
"On Tamaran," she continues, oblivious to your discomfort, "hair is a symbol of strength."
"Really?" you ask, intrigued despite yourself.
"Yes. If the hair is very long, and has a great thickness, you are considered a strong opponent."
"So, you must have been very strong," you add, cheekily.
She blushes, her flush bright red, unlike yours which is fading into a soft pink. "How long is your hair, Robin?"
"I dunno," you shrug. "Past my ears, I guess," you say, scratching at a point halfway down your neck, around the collar of your shirt.
She purses her lips thoughtfully, before a grin splits them wide open. "Please, come with me." She stands, and takes your arm, flying away from the TV, dragging you away from your work. She leads you to the bathroom, and pushes you lightly towards the sink.
"What are you doing, Star?"
She grins mischievously, and your heart flutters. "I am washing your hair. The gel of hair you always apply makes it very difficult to measure the length of your hair." While she talks, she allows the sink to fill up, and by the time she's finished, she dunks your head underneath the water.
You swallow in a bit of water, and she pulls you up, instantly scrubbing at your scalp with far too much force. "Ow!"
She lessens the pressure and apologises, biting her lip in concentration. You would never admit it, but it does feel kind of nice, her hands in your hair.
She then dunks you back under the water, and there you stay for a couple of seconds, before she pulls you up, and grabs a towel, drying your hair with much ferociousness. After a while she stops, and allows you to look in the mirror. As you do so, she stares at your hair, and you grin at the reflection of you and her standing (or floating) together.
"I suspect that in four months, your hair will be long enough to be put in a tail named after the earthen pony!" she cries, spinning about in the air.
You're happy to make her happy. Really. "You want to put my hair in a ponytail?" you repeat, eyebrows raised high.
"Oh yes! You would look very dashing with one, Robin." She rests her head on your shoulder, smiling at you eagerly in the hopes that you'll see things her way.
You try to imagine yourself with a ponytail. You have to agree with her. "But I don't usually grow my hair out that long," you mumble.
"Please, Robin, for me? You may always put in the nasty gel of hair so it could not cover your mask – er, eyes." She bites her lip and floats closer to your face.
"Can I get a trim?" you ask. "So it doesn't look messy?"
She narrows her eyes in thought. "Yes, you may. But no more than one inch of your earthen measurements!" she decrees.
"Until you put my hair in a ponytail. Then I can get it cut?"
You eye the mirror again, and spot her begging face in the reflection. It's impossible to say no to that face. Playing it cool though, you shrug. "Sure. Why not?"
"Oh, glorious day!" She spins again and hugs you. "Many thanks, dear friend!"
You stare at the mirror, blinking in realisation. This is perfect. How could you forget something that is a part of you? Everyday you would look in the mirror and see your hair and remember a little alien with a bright smile and a heart on her sleeve. You would never be able to give up hope that she would come back. You couldn't give up hope as you really wouldn't want six feet of hair at the age of sixty.
You frown at that thought, and shove it away with the thoughts of never seeing her again. You will see her again. You will. And until you do, no more than an inch of hair will be cut from your head.
Time passes. You grow up, get over it, become grumpy. Barbers and fan girls grow disappointed that you refuse to let more than an inch of hair fall from your head. You have such lovely hair, they sigh. You glare them and their scissors away. You made a promise. And you are going to keep it, even if it takes one hundred years.
The team's attitude is growing too, in a negative way. You nestle yourself somewhere where no one can find you and listen to your team-mates trying to find you. Raven loses her nerve as her two best friends are gone – one physically, one soon to be. Beast Boy is growing up and bending under the pressure that builds everyday inside the tower. Cyborg tries to hold the strands that used to tie them all together, but he is no Starfire and so, he fails.
No one really wants to try without her there anyway.
And so, Beast Boy and you, the Boy Wonder, butt heads practically everyday, both trying to grow up, but both still grieving so much it's hard to do so properly. You shout insults focusing on his animal-like behaviour and he focuses on your tendency to isolate yourself from the world. Cyborg watches, his waffles burning on the stove behind him, and Raven hides underneath her leather-bound novels.
Now though, Beast Boy concentrates on your hair. It's grown now, almost to your shoulders, and he fires words at you about your appearance, and how scruffy you look, and "How can you call me an animal when you look like caveman?!"
You ignore him. They don't understand that this is for Starfire and you don't plan on telling them. It's your own secret, something you plan to share with her, and her alone, and they can say all they want about it but it won't change your mind.
You always walk away from these fights, refusing to shout out your secret. It would dishonour her, and you don't think you could handle that.
"I'm sorry, Star. I've waited a year since you and I made that promise, but I can't wait any more. It's getting in my eyes and I almost got killed in that last fight. I'm sorry, but it has to be this way."
You stare at the instrument in your hand, then glance back up at the mirror. Despite the fact that you've taken to talking to yourself - well, Starfire, but that's just semantics - you feel something resembling pride... and happiness. You've finally stopped using that stupid hair gel and now your hair falls a little past your shoulders, long and thick. Starfire would be proud.
With a final swallow, you raise the hand that holds the item of impending doom. Before you allow it to touch your locks however, you apologise once more, hoping to gain some courage. "I'm sorry, Star. You won't be the first one to put my hair in a ponytail."
You try to gather all your hair in your free hand, making sure that there are no loose strands around your neck or ears, but this is harder than it looks. You gain a little more appreciation for females, especially the perfectionists. Finally, you try to wrap that stupid elastic around all that hair, but it's too loose, and then it's too tight, and you try for a number of times, until you tug it up to the base of your neck. You stare at your hair, proud of yourself for accomplishing this dreaded task, but then you realise that it's off-centre. With a glare, you pull out the elastic and start again.
After several tries – you lost track after the fifth one – you finally decide that it's done well enough to go out in public. You're not really looking forward to people's reactions (especially Beast Boy's), but you remind yourself that this is for Star and that you can handle anything they might throw at you. It's called surviving, and through reasons you can't control, you're getting rather good at it.
When you return home to Gotham, Bruce is kind enough to wait three days before he tells you to get a haircut in no uncertain words. You tell him off in language you haven't used since you joined the Titans. Although, now that the Titans have split, you suppose old habits are bound to return.
He tries again, once a week, but not always on the same day. The reasons are all the same: You look scruffy; you're supposed to be my ward; how can you see with all that hair; what do you need to prove? You try to explain to him that you don't look scruffy, you have even more fan girls now than you did before; what does being your ward have to do with anything; you've gotten very good at putting your hair in a ponytail and it doesn't bother you anymore; you need to prove something to yourself, and why should it matter to him? If you were honest with yourself, you would realise that it hurts that he doesn't ask why the Titans broke up, that it almost seems like he suspected you would.
Alfred, at least, is sympathetic and after the millionth time (give or take a few), he finally steps in between you and Bruce and tells him to, "Leave him be, Master Bruce. He's just had his whole world fall around his shoulders; at least let him keep his hair." He gets a hug and an explanation from you, though not about the hair. That's still your little secret, something so close to your heart that no one's allowed to see it.
You try patrolling with Batman, for Robin will always be Batman's sidekick in good, old Gotham, but it doesn't really work out. You don't feel much like a Robin any more, and you tell him so. He gives you a look but doesn't comment. Alfred doesn't give you any advice either. You wonder if it's because they don't have any to give.
You wonder if it's time for a costume change. Robin was a boy. Now you are a man. You're turning eighteen next month and all you want for your birthday is an identity and a wonderfully cheerful alien.
Superman ends up coming to your rescue. He tells you about this hero from his home world, a hero who did amazing things. He says his name was Nightwing, and the minute it leaves his lips, you know who you want to be. He gives you the name, Alfred helps you with the costume, and for a while, you are happy. Whistling even.
Then you hear from Cyborg.
Starfire still hasn't returned, and you can tell from his expression that he has given up hope that she ever will. Beast Boy has ventured off on his own, but from what Cyborg can tell, it's not going too well. Raven is losing her mind, just like you feared all those months ago.
You shy away from them all. They aren't your problem anymore; they are all adults, they can look after themselves. So, instead, you take it upon yourself to make Dick Grayson a playboy, and Nightwing as good a hero as Batman. Unfortunately, many people mistake you for the caped crusader, since your hair is practically a cape, and it takes you a long time before rumours start going around that there's another hero in town. A hero just as good as The Batman.
It does your heart good.
The playboy thing is really too much of a success, and you bring girls home with a frequency that begins to rival Bruce's. Alfred watches but doesn't comment, as is his nature, and you rarely see these girls a second time. The ones that you do see all seem to have a few similar characteristics: big smiles, long legs, tanned skin, giggling laughter, expressive eyes, and a button nose.
You avoid the redheads and the green-eyed minxes. You refuse yourself their bodies and the sex they could give you, knowing that it would taint her memory, which is already fading away with the years. But you can't stop yourself from watching them and wishing, as your blond for the night pecks your cheek, that they were another green-eyed redhead clinging to your arm and begging you to dance.
You never did get to teach her how to dance.
When you see Barbara again, for a split moment of time you think she's Starfire and your world spins around you, falling back into the perfect places that existed before she left. But then she turns towards you and instead it's your childhood friend and first-time crush. As immensely disappointed as you are, you are also strangely relieved that Starfire isn't here to see you like this. You run up to Barbara, wrap her up in a big hug and ask, "When did you get back?"
She laughs then, and you realise with a certainty that rids you of any hope you might have had that it wasn't her laugh. But you shove it away and talk to her, hearing about her college time, and what she was doing as Batgirl and a thousand other things you wanted to know. It isn't even awkward like you had always thought it would be. Ex-girlfriend or not, she is still Babs, and she is still your friend. One of the few you have left.
You take her out for patrols soon after, allowing her to stand on her own two feet. You get closer to her and watch her sometimes, wondering if – hoping, in fact – she would be the one to take your mind off your little friend lost in time.
She does. And for a while, you think you could be okay without that wonderful alien. You think you could be happy and that maybe, just maybe, your place is right here, lying next to Babs as she sleeps, watching her breaths leave and enter her lovely body. She is the only woman who doesn't make you cry out someone else's name in the middle of the night.
When the Joker shoots her, and she ends up in hospital, you aren't as scared as you thought you would be. You feel numb.
When you learn that she will never walk again, you don't feel relieved that she will be okay. You are horrified.
When you see her in the hospital and she smiles at you and kisses you in welcome, you don't feel your heart swell up with joy. You want to cry.
And then, as soon as it happens, it is over. But you don't forget it. And nothing is ever the same again.
Everyone expects you two to get married. You do, she does, Bruce does, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon. Everyone.
But on the night everyone thinks you are going to propose (yourself included), you feel the weight of the ring in your pocket, and stare up into her face. She surprises you by saying something no one has bothered you about for a year now.
"You know, Dick, you really should get your hair cut. It's mid-back now and, well, maybe it's time for a change. I'm sure you have your reasons, 'least Alfred said you did, but still. Don't you think it's time to grow up?"
You close your fist over the ring in your pocket, blink at her, and realise that you can't do this. That you made another promise when you swore not to cut your hair.
You promised to wait for her. Marrying Babs would be moving on. Letting someone else kiss you would be betraying her. If you had saved your hair for her, couldn't you save everything else for her too?
"Babs. I have to say something."
Her gaze snaps up to yours and she smiles that smile that used to put you on fire. Now you only feel guilty. It's only now that you realise that you've saved something far more important than your hair. You've saved your heart.
"I think we should break up."
The look on her face haunts you for years afterwards.
When it's all over and you've taken Babs home and muttered some excuse to Alfred, you stand in your room and take out one of your last memories of the Titans - your communicator. You stare at it and let the anger hidden away for years build up inside of you. It builds and grows until it crashes over the dams you've built up and you blow, letting it all out.
You scream and shout and break nearly everything in the room that you find remotely attractive. You come so close to breaking the communicator, but something always makes you sob out another curse, drop it to the floor, and pick some other innocent item to destroy instead. Glass shatters around you, feathers fly, paper is torn and burned to smoky ash, and your knuckles bleed. When you have nothing left to smash, you beat the wall until your body gives up on you and you fall to the floor in a worthless pile of nothing.
You will never get over her. She was the reason you didn't fall victim to Slade, the reason you got over Babs that first time, the reason you could laugh at the stupidest things, the reason Richard could finally have a part of Robin's life. She was something so absolutely incredible... And now she's gone. And you will never have any closure from her. You can never move on.
For a long time, you decide to hate her and everything that represents her, and vice versa. But eventually you get tired of hating yourself every time you look in a mirror or see the sunset. It may hurt more, but you've come too far to instantly hate what you've loved for so long.
Besides. She's really all you have left.
Years later, patrolling the streets of Blüdhaven, you figure out that you're never going to get married. Or, if you do, it's not going to be for a very long time. Because, quite simply, you're waiting for her. You won't be able to get married until you see her again. And, honestly, you might never see her again.
You're twenty-five now. It's been nine years since you've met her, over eight since she's left. You realise that you had only known her for about seven months when she disappeared. No one should be able to make that much of an impact on you in such a short time, right? And yet, she had.
Bruce had been right all those years ago when he had told you to get over her. You should have gotten over her. And yet, you hadn't. It had been too hard, and the memories too sweet for you to let go.
Those times when you're safe in your bed, you imagine seeing her again. She always chooses to stay with you, and you're never lonely and you get married to her and the Titans reform. Because, really, being ten years older than someone is perfectly acceptable. It won't hurt anyone, and maybe now you'll finally be grown enough to be good for her in a way you never were before.
You hope that she'll be as fond of Nightwing as she was of Robin. You hope that everything will go back to normal as if it hasn't been ten years between meetings. You hope that one day you'll finally be able to cut this hair. And always at this point, as if to spite you, it falls in front of your eyes and you have to blow it away.
Sometimes, staring up at the stars, you wonder if her family up on Tamaran misses her as much as you do. And then you wonder if maybe she fell on this planet because you two were supposed to meet. And if that's the case, then you'll see her again. You have to.
You move back to Jump City on your thirtieth birthday.
You take Oracle (the ex-Batgirl) with you – because by now you've both realised that it was a good thing you didn't get married to her, and you're better friends now than you've ever been – and Batman, and Flash, and Robin III. He's like a brother to you now, and you don't have any hatred left in you. Just a kind of lonely emptiness.
They help you find a place to live in that reminds you a lot of your place in Blüdhaven, except with a better view, and Batman helps you get Dick Grayson off the face of the earth so you don't have to be anybody but Nightwing. Robin and Flash help you with patrols the first couple of nights as you remember the city, and they help you overcome the traitorous feelings that well up inside of you as you see the state it's in. Oracle helps you track down the Titans and you're disgusted by what you find, by what you've caused.
Flash goes with you to see Beast Boy, and you can feel the pity ooze out of your eyes as you watch him on the other side of the bars. He doesn't hate you anymore, and you don't hate him. But there was always a gap between the two of you, and now it's far too late and far too hopeless to bridge it. You end up running away faster than Flash can.
Robin goes with you to see Raven, and as soon as you enter the room you hate yourself. She's so alone. How could you have allowed your anger and loneliness to overcome your friendship? She whips up a black shield between the two of you and self-hatred hits you in the gut. You two were always close, almost as close as you and Starfire were, and now she won't even listen to you. You start to beg for her forgiveness, trying to grab her cape; you almost blurt out your and Starfire's secret, but Robin pulls you away in time. He looks down at you with such pity that you want to kill yourself.
Oracle goes with you to see Cyborg and when you see him chained unto the Tower, you are instantly reminded of when you heard that Babs would never walk again. They get along very well, and you listen to them and pretend not to notice Cyborg's eyes on you. When you finally muster enough courage to talk to him, he brushes away all the sorry's that start spilling out of your mouth. He says you only did what he knew you would, and that hurts more than anything else.
Batman follows you when you go to see Starfire's room. You stand in the centre, amazed and unbearably pleased that Cyborg hasn't touched anything. You walk around, brushing away the dust that has collected in the corners, and wipe the pictures clean before you turn to her bed. You remember how she used to sleep so differently from everyone else, and how you would enter this room and instantly feel better just by being in her presence.
"What? You aren't going to go over and sniff her pillow?"
His humour is dry, which is a reflection of him. You shake your head, still staring at the bed. You feel Batman shift in the shadows behind you. "She didn't use the pillow," you tell him, trying to keep the emotion out of your voice. "Her head used to hang off the foot of the bed, and she'd rest her feet on her pillow. I'm not too inclined to see if it still smells like her feet."
Although, to be honest, if that was all you could have of her, you'd take it in a heartbeat. But you hate looking weak in front of him.
Then silence reigns, and you turn towards the closet. You open it, wincing at the loud creak that sounds from the old doors, and kneel, searching through the clutter at the bottom. Batman moves behind you but you ignore him, pulling out an old scrapbook. You search the pages, looking for the one that she showed you so long ago when she admitted that you were her best friend. You need to see her, need this visit, if only because you've forgotten the details of her face.
You find it, and her beauty hits you so hard you gasp loud enough that Batman can hear you. He peers down over your shoulder.
"Pretty," he comments. "You look happy," he adds a second later, his tone odd.
You stare at the picture, imprinting the image of the two best friends into your memory. Trying to remember the sound of her laughter, the feel of her hair tickling your face, and the smell of it as it brushed your nose. Trying to remember how happy you were, how you were so content that it could be just you and her. You remember almost feeling strong enough to take her hand.
"I miss her," you whisper, and the words echo around the room.
You hear the shifting of cloth as Batman shuffles his feet. "I know."
You don't cry. You don't take the picture. You just leave while you can still hold yourself together.
You stay in Jump. With Beast Boy in the carnival, Raven mentally unstable (you refuse to think she's crazy; you're almost as bad as she is), and Cyborg trapped within the boundaries of Titans Tower, crime runs loose. The city needs someone to protect it.
You remember the seventeenth year without Starfire by buying everyone pizza. You send Cyborg his meat lover's, Raven her plain pepperoni, Beast Boy his vegetarian, and yourself a Supreme. You also send everyone a slice of The Starfire Special, a pizza with all of her funny tasting quirks. You wonder if any of them cry like you almost do.
You've figured out what you're going to do when she comes back. You're too old for her now – thirty-three verses fifteen is too big a difference, even for a lovesick fool – and you know you'll have to send her back. At least that way, you comfort yourself, one Robin will have her. And if not you, then at least another you. A younger you, one who will hopefully realise what he has before it's too late.
Winter is long now, summer short. Spring doesn't really exist much, and autumn is just the fuzzy intermingling of summer and winter. You wonder if the world is aching from the loss of the loveliest Teen Titan, if she was so bright that maybe everyone was affected, not just you. That it wasn't your fault you were so attracted to her because the entire earth was too.
But then you remind yourself that it's just Global Warming or maybe the next Ice Age, and that you shouldn't get your hopes up too high. It hurts too much when you fall.
Exactly twenty years, three months, two weeks, and five days after swearing it you are released from your promise. Exactly twenty years after she passed through that portal, you find her again. Just the same fifteen-year-old alien that left you. And you feel contentment that hasn't visited you since she last said your name.
You end up saving her from Warp, an older one, but a Warp nevertheless. As he disappears beneath the snow, you slam your fist upon the ground, intently aware that your best friend is just behind you.
You stand and keep your back turned away from her, wondering how exactly you should play this. And like you always did when it came to her, you decide to play it cool.
"It's good to see you again."
You hear her gasp (you hope it's one of approval), and her startled, "Robin?"
"I haven't used that name in a long time," you explain to her. "Call me... Nightwing." You step out into the light, and watch her face.
She stares at you, as if she's not sure what to do with this new Robin, this Nightwing. "Your... Your hair..." she finally mumbles.
You sweep your hands out. "I kept my promise. I never let the hairdressers cut more than an inch off." You fight the tears that are filling up beneath your mask, because it really is so good to see her again. "I was getting worried actually, that I'd be the longest haired sixty-year-old the world has ever seen."
She laughs at that, the sound choked and hurt. You hold out a hand, wanting to feel hers in yours again.
"Want to put my hair in a tail named after the earthen pony for me?" you ask softly.
She cries and throws herself into your arms. You can't help but hug her, and you wonder how you're going to survive through the rest of your life without her.
She keeps running her hands through your hair, causing your ponytail to come undone, and then redoing it. She keeps looking at you with this look in her eyes, and you keep looking back at her.
"Are you going to cut it off now?" she asks quietly.
You shake your head. You decided this a long time ago. "Not quite yet. Me and this hair, we've been through a lot together. It'd be a shame to dishonour it by cutting it all off now."
"I am glad." She keeps watching your head, never meeting your eyes. "What did the other Titans say when you explained about your hair?"
You feel worry creep into the pit of your stomach. "I didn't tell them anything."
She gasps. "Why ever not?"
You shrug. "I always kinda thought it was our little secret. Nobody really needed to know." You glance up at her. "Guess I could've, huh?"
"Oh, yes," she sighs, a strange look in her eyes. "I would not have minded at all."
You avoid her eyes, and then laugh, although you don't really want to. "Oh well. Doesn't matter now anyway. Everyone's finally accepted it." You turn your head back to her. "You've gotta do this for the other Robin." Your Robin, you want to say.
You nod. "It wouldn't be fair to him. It took me ten years just to get used to all this hair. Don't make him go through all that too."
She laughs quietly, her mind thinking of other things. "Nightwing?"
She looks down at your head resting in her lap. "You truly are a great warrior."
And in that, she tells you everything. Tells you that if there was no way back, she'd be content to stay here. Tells you that she's very thankful that you kept your promise. Tells you that you are never going to get married. Never ever.
It tells you that you have to get her home right away, so that no other you will have to hurt as much as you do right now.
Her boot was in your hand. Her boot was in your hand; and you just let it slip out of your grasp.
You let her go.
The realization knocks you back and you fall to the ground, tumbling instinctively like Batman taught you. Her name rips itself from your throat ("Starfire!") and you watch the portal zip shut without another sound, sight, smell, or feel of her distinct presence.
You let her go.
Beast Boy is trying to say something behind you, but you stare blankly at the space where she was. There's something buzzing in the back of your mind, a little something that you should remember because it's an important little detail, but you can't quite manage to clear your mind enough to figure it out. All you can hear is her name, and the touch of her slippery boot radiating off your fingers.
You let her go.
And you'll never see her again.
That thought is painful and you shy away from it, wishing, hoping, praying, even, that it isn't true. Because she's Starfire, the strongest girl ever, and she can't leave you. She's not allowed to.
And then, suddenly, a little black dot appears before you, and the portal reopens to push out a tumbling Starfire, cradling something in her hands. As the portal zips shut behind her, leaving her here in this world, where she belongs, she raises her pretty head and smiles at you (and the others).
"History said it disappeared," she says quietly, her voice growing more triumphant with every word. "But history was wrong!"
And just like that, everything is as it should be. She is here, the stolen object is in her hands, and that stupid little voice is gone.
"Star?" You search the Titans' main room for her, your head turning from side to side. "Has anybody seen Star?"
"Roof," they chorus, their eyes never leaving the TV screen or novel, whichever the case may be. It's always been this way and you figure it always will be. There's a comfort in that.
You travel up to the roof, and open the door. As you spot Starfire sitting on the edge, where she usually goes, you smile and walk over to her.
She turns her head and smiles at you. "Greetings, Robin."
You run a hand through your hair and grin at her. "Do you think it's long enough yet?"
Her eyes fill with water suddenly and you straighten, startled by her reaction. Ever since she got back from her quick trip to the future though, she reacts oddly to what you say and it catches you off balance. You'll say something so casually that you'll think nothing of it, and praises will spill from her lips as she gushes over you. And then, like just now, you'll say something hoping it'll bring one of her amazing smiles, and instead she breaks down in tears.
"Hey," you call, crouching down beside her. "What's the matter?"
She sniffs, then rubs her nose with her glove. "I suppose," she murmurs, "after today, you shall cut it again?" Her voice is wobbly, and it scares you.
"Uh, yeah," you say carefully. "That was the plan, remember?"
She nods slowly, "Yes..."
You're struggling to think of what could've set her off. A gesture you unknowingly made, or a word you shouldn't have said. And then you think: "Does this have anything to do with Nightwing?"
She blushes and ducks her head.
There. That's your answer. You hate the resentment bubbling in your gut. It feels like jealousy, and sometimes you have to catch yourself from saying, "Well, he doesn't have you, and I do. I win!"
She's not a prize. You should know that.
"So besides being incredibly good-looking," you say off-handedly, and it is so unlike you that her head pops up and her eyes fill with bewilderment, "Nightwing had really long hair?"
She's smiling; again, you don't really know why. "Very long, beautiful hair," she whispers.
"Huh. I guess I kept my promise," you muse. At her shy nod, you add, "Good thing you showed up, huh? Or I'd have been-"
"The longest-haired sixty-year-old ever," she finishes. At your startled look, she giggles. "He may have said that, once or twice."
You look away. "Glad to know we're not that different."
She nods. "No, you are not. He just has much nicer hair," she adds, rather impishly.
You gasp dramatically and stick your tongue out at her, like a child. She bursts into giggles, like she always does when you act your age, and you can't help but smile. She stops eventually and brushes her hand down your hair. You freeze, because it's been forever since someone's wanted to touch your hair, because you hate it when people touch your hair, and because it feels so good. She's humming under her breath, and because she's happy, you let her continue.
"Can you not keep it, just a little longer?" she pleads quietly.
You sigh. "I think you'll get over it," (him) "faster if you let it go, Star," you say just as quietly.
You can feel her nod, but she's still stroking your hair. "Please?" she whispers again.
You nod, letting her have her way. You know you can't say no to that face. She's got a hold on you, and you're not really sure how or why. Besides, you have to admit your hair does look pretty good this way.
As she whispers her thanks, you frown at the thoughts in your head. If she has this hold on you, she must have this strong a hold on that Nightwing guy. And if she did (does), how hard must it have been for him – for the other you – to go without her for twenty years, only to send her back again? How hard must it have been to give her up that second time, knowing it would be forever?
You sit for a while, trying to put yourself in his shoes. But the feeling of her fingers running through your hair brings you back to the present, to the reality that she is here where she belongs, and realisation suddenly dawns on you. You must look startled, for she smiles that amazing megawatt smile, and in that instant you understand that future self of yours. You understand how he could've made such a hard decision, the way he made it.
Because he has given you a chance; a chance he himself never had. And you determine, right then and there, that you will never let her go. Maybe you won't be anything more than best friends – maybe that's all there is. But that's better than nothing.
And because you're you, you decide to take that chance. She's worth the risks.
- - - END - - -