Sorry about the delayed update. I don't have real internet at my house, so I use my phone. Except that I got a new phone, and that kind of screwed everything up.
Chapter 20 - Starfire of the Teen Titans
"We are gathered here today to honor the memory of Simon Amal," the man before us speaking in a monotonous tone said.
Sarah was on my right, her fingers laced through mine supportively. Raven stood to my left, her elbow touching mine in a display that meant as much to me as Sarah's affectionate gesture. Nightwing and Robin stood behind us, Robin sulking and Nightwing looking very severe. Beast Boy and Cyborg stood close to them, quiet and respectful.
No one else had come to the ceremony. Of course they did not. Simon Amal-Crux, as the six of us better knew him-had no family. No friends.
I do not think any of them understood why I wanted to be here. They were all supportive, of course, but I believe that they were supportive of this endeavor the way they were supportive of my stranger outfit choices or of my love of cooking. They knew it made me happy and so they participated.
I cannot blame them for that. I hardly understood why I wanted to be here, myself. I had a sense of duty. The way Beast Boy sometimes wished to leave patrol early but I simply did not feel right doing so. I suppose I attended the service less because I wanted to than because I wished to see this part of whatever was happening in my life to the end.
The ceremony was short. I do not believe that the clergyman doing the speaking wished to hold an audience of six teenagers for very long.
His box-a coffin, Nightwing informed me-was lowered into the ground. The hole would be filled later, after we had left.
I crouched at the mouth of the grave, looking down curiously. It was a nice ritual the humans had. Tamaraneans set the burning bodies of our loved ones on a pyre set to fly into the sun. We returned our energy to the source. Human rituals had the same idea, returning their bodies to the earth from which they believed that they had been crafted. Of course, I do not understand why they believed they were made of earth rather than star matter, but Raven patiently explained to me religious and poetic works which cited this as the case. Interesting.
"Crux," I said, my voice quiet. I did not mind if my friends overheard me, but it seemed respectful to Crux to keep my words quiet. "I am truly sorry that your parents were killed by a Tamaranean ship. I know what it is like to lose your family at a young age. I know what it is like to fear an entire planet of people. Thank you, Crux, for reminding me that although we have those similarities, you are everything that I have successfully fought not to become." I stood now, but my speech did not feel finished. "I will move past the wrongs you have done to me. I will not break. I will walk the uncertain path laid before me, guided by X'hal." I paused here. "Tamaranean blood runs through your veins. May X'hal find you in your afterlife and guide you."
That was everything I wished to say. I turned to my friends, who were all staring at me uncertainly. I nodded at them, signaling the completion of what I wanted to say, and we began the journey back to our vehicles.
Cyborg, Sarah, Beast Boy, and Raven piled into the T-car, Robin mounted the R-cycle, and Nightwing and I were left alone with the N-cycle.
"Are you okay?" he asked, his voice quiet.
"Yes. I believe I am more okay now than I have been in several days," I admitted.
His mouth curved into a small smile. "Good." He brushed my hair away from my face and slid the helmet made especially for me over my head, then he put his own on and swung his leg over the body of the bike. I nestled on behind him and we took off after Robin.
Nightwing drove slowly, as he knew that I was not particularly fond of the N-cycle. By the time we reached the garage, only Robin was still there, and he was in the process of hanging his helmet on the peg on the wall.
"Okay," Nightwing said after I had swung myself off the bike. "I still have more work to do in the lab, but I'll be out by the time dinner's-"
"Wait," I interrupted, yanking my helmet off. I had been meaning to speak to him about this.
Crux had fallen to his death two nights before. Between that time and the funeral ceremony, Nightwing had holed himself up in the laboratory, occasionally coming out to ask for Cyborg's help but largely insisting on doing everything alone.
It was not as though I did not know what he was doing. He had not told me, but it was obvious that he was taking the remnants of my own DNA from samples he had collected from Crux's body. I did not interrupt him the previous day because I was unsure what I would do if he succeeded. But an experiment such as that would be too risky. And, I had concluded the previous night, I had no desire to be experimented upon.
"I do not want this, Nightwing."
Still sitting on the bike, he removed his helmet, which revealed the truly confused expression beneath it. "What do you mean? I'm working on getting your powers back."
"I realize that. But you are doing it again. You are excluding me. I have told you that I wish to be involved."
From behind us, Robin coughed loudly and punched the call button for the elevator.
"I know. I know, I'm sorry," he said once the elevator doors closed behind Robin. "Just-habit. I wanted to be sure it would work before I brought you in but-do you want to see what I've done so far?"
"I mean that I do not think I wish to get my powers back this way. Using the fragments of Crux's DNA... And the experiments involved. If it does not work, it may damage me more than it helps," I explained, keeping patient. "I am not prepared to take that risk."
The muscle in his jaw jumped as he clenched his teeth. "Okay, you're right." He sprang off the bike and hung his helmet next to Robin's, then he held out his hand for mine. "Just look at what I've come up with so far, then if you still don't want to do it, I'll stop the whole thing."
I looked at him doubtfully, but it had already occurred to me that perhaps this was Nightwing's form of coping. Locking himself in the investigation room, or the evidence room, or the laboratory, it was familiar. It was safe. While he was busying himself with whatever task he felt he must perform, he did not have to think about the death of Crux. He did not have to think about the possibility that I would not get my powers back. He did not have to think of Robin or the consequences of rashly adding him to the team.
"Very well," I agreed, and I handed him my helmet.
He smiled at me and pressed the call button for the elevator.
"There is something that I have been wondering," I began unsurely. "I suspect it is a highly personal matter, but..."
I paused. Perhaps Nightwing did not wish to elaborate on his reasoning, but I wished to know. I felt a personal connection to Nightwing, something that the Nightwing standing before me would not fully understand.
The elevator doors opened and I stepped inside, Nightwing following after me.
"Why switch to Nightwing now? In the midst of all this?"
He exhaled through pursed lips as the doors shut. "I've been thinking about it since we beat the Brotherhood of Evil, but all this started up before I got a chance to make the change. I asked Alfred-" He paused, the familiar look of panic because he'd said too much about his personal life pulling at his features, but after a moment the panic slid away from his face and he seemed very relaxed. "Alfred, he's the person I got to help with your suit-I asked him for the Nightwing suit as soon as we got back from Japan, so I'd had it sitting around for about a week. But I knew that we'd need Jay-Robin's help to find you and take down Crux. But because of Red X's reputation, I decided to put him in the Robin suit. So I had to switch now."
I nodded. The elevator doors opened and we stepped out, making our way to the laboratory. "Batman must have been surprised at the appointment of a new Robin," I remarked, mostly conversationally, to fill the silence as we walked through the halls.
Nightwing, however, stopped so suddenly that I walked into him. "Yeah," he muttered, looking up at me sheepishly before beginning to walk again. "I didn't get clearance before I did it."
I blinked at him, surprised. Robin foregoing necessary precautions such as obtaining clearance before making a decision was most unexpected. "Oh. Will he not be angry?"
Nightwing shrugged. "Probably. But you were more important at the time."
His words made pleasant flutters ripple beneath my skin. He punched the keycode into the pad and the door to the laboratory slid open.
Nightwing had indeed been working furiously, from the looks of things. There was a pad of paper with several sheet flipped back, filled with mathematic equations and various scribblings. Several microscopes were turned on, lit from beneath to make viewing specimens easier. Nightwing's personal laptop, still emblazoned with the Robin insignia, was open, although it was in sleep mode, and several of the monitors fixed to the wall were on, as well.
"You have been... busy," I remarked, looking around at everything. On the table next to the pad of paper was a mug of coffee, which was cold by now and appeared untouched. I looked down at it disapprovingly.
"Here," Nightwing said, gesturing me to his laptop excitedly. "Come look."
Because Crux's DNA was fragmented, Nightwing had had to match up several different strands to get a complete strand of my DNA. The process must have taken several hours, but it seemed that he had done it. His laptop showed a simulation of different strands he extracted and matched up the bits that had my DNA in it.
It made my stomach twist.
"We'd have to take it to STAR Labs, but I could get Sarah to oversee the project. Then we'd just need to figure out how to-"
"No," I interrupted, gently but firmly, and I shook my head for extra emphasis. "No, I do not want that." I squeezed my eyes shut, blocking out images of the Psions hitting me with a ray of solar energy.
"Star, it's okay," Nightwing murmured, and he pulled me gently against him. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to." I listened very carefully, straining for any hint of disappointment in his voice, but he simply sounded comforting, if somewhat apologetic.
"I just wanted to make sure we could try if we wanted to. That's all." The spandex material of his gloved fingers skimmed across my cheek as he tucked my hair behind my ear. "Nobody's gonna make you do anything you don't want to."
I leaned into him, turning the affectionate gesture into a warm embrace. I was grateful that he worked for so many hours on my behalf, but not as grateful as I was that he was understanding of my refusal to attempt to reverse the Transsubstantiation this way.
I had been through so much in the previous three weeks. While I was sad that this time was coming to close as I was still without my powers, still without many answers regarding what I would do next, I was also very relieved. I simply wished to continue my life with my friends. Practice regimens would need to be more intense than before, and I still needed to improve my skills, but I felt that I could begin moving on.
It seemed odd to want the same things as I did before, but I still found myself craving the intimate relationship with Nightwing which I desired during our stay in Tokyo.
True, we had argued since then, and I still believed that his overprotectiveness and secrecy needed some of the working on, but I could not expect him to be the perfect partner right away. Perhaps we could help each other grow.
"Hey, Starfire?" he whispered, lowering his hand to the small of my back.
In order to see him, I pulled back slightly. "Yes?"
"Would it be okay for me to... ah... To um... I really wanna-"
As he spoke, he leaned toward me. Although he seemed unable to finish his request, I could easily guess what he was attempting to ask and I finished leaning into him so that our lips met.
Being technical, we had kissed once before this. If one wished to count the language transfer I performed upon arrival here, two times before this. There was also the frenzied episode during our bo-staves spar, which was enjoyable at the time but looking back on it, I was distracted by my own emotions and we were fevered and desperate. It was not an entirely pleasant memory. When Robin kissed me after giving me the updated uniform, he was noticeably unsure and I was still much too distracted.
This was nicer, softer, and it felt safer.
It felt right.
The kiss was not very long or involved, and when we broke apart I found myself giggling.
Crux had not taken away my ability to be happy, after all.
I disentangled myself from Nightwing's grasp. "Does this mean I am now the girl who is a friend?"
"I was hoping," he answered, smiling.
"Glorious!" I squealed, and I threw my arms around his neck.
He was about to kiss me again when the door slid open abruptly. "Ah. Sorry."
It was Robin, standing awkwardly in the doorway.
Nightwing seemed annoyed, and he dropped his hands from me hastily, but I did not mind. "What is the matter Robin?"
"Alien mail." He brandished a letter in his right hand, held loosely between two fingers. "It's probably a love letter to me, but I'll need Starfire to translate," he joked.
I stiffened before pulling a smile onto my face. Ignoring him, I murmured, "Thank you." I crossed the room to take it, attempting not to seem as though I was dreading opening the envelope.
My name in Tamaranean was scrawled across the front. The lettering was Galfore's blocky print, not Karras's tilted handwriting. That made me feel the smallest bit relieved.
"Everything okay?" Nightwing asked, watching me carefully.
"Of course," I answered, my tone indicating that I did not know why he would ask such a question. "All is well."
"Alright," he said, but he sounded doubtful.
"Pardon me," I said to Nightwing, not because I felt the need to excuse myself but because I felt that he and Robin were waiting to have their own discussion. Doubtless Robin would need even more training than I had done yet or would still need to complete.
As I moved past them, Nightwing squeezed my hand affectionately. The door had not quite closed when I heard Robin remark, "About time." It sounded as though NIghtwing hit him for that, but he was not wrong.
I returned to my room, and sat in the chair at the desk that had once belonged to Terra. I was hesitant to open the envelope, as I had already had a tiring day, with Crux's funeral and Robin's declaration of feelings. I slid my thumb over the seal, preparing to break it, when I was interrupted by a knock at my door.
Moving with guilty haste, I shoved the letter into one of the empty drawers in the desk. "You may enter," I called, somewhat bewildered with my own actions. There was no need to feel guilty.
The door slid open, revealing Sarah and Raven, Sarah smiling and holding a bag of popcorn, Raven holding a collection of nail varnish in a sphere of dark energy. They let themselves in, Sarah situating herself on Terra's bed, Raven setting the varnishes down on the small end table where the digital clock sat next to my pillow.
I was confused by this, but excited nonetheless. "Oh!"
"You in the mood for some girl time?" Sarah asked, kicking off her shoes, presumably to facilitate the painting of her toenails.
"Popcorn, nail polish," Raven offered, watching Sarah's sneaker roll over the floor.
"Ryan Gosling movies," Sarah added, giggling.
"Of course! That sounds glorious!" I toed my own boots off, leaving them under the desk, and I hurried across the floor over to Raven's collection of nail polish.
"Glorious," Raven repeated, and I could hear laughter in her voice but I needed to look away from the varnish up at her to confirm it. She was smiling, very pleased. "Even through everything, you're the same old Starfire."
I froze for a moment, allowing her words to sink in. Her smile wavered for a moment, and most likely she believed she had said something wrong. Raven was correct. It had been difficult. It had been heartbreaking. It had been a struggle, and I did not doubt that it would continue to be.
But in the end, it was not my powers that defined who I was or what my place was on Earth. It was my friends. And as long as I had them, I could pull through most any struggle.
"Of course I am the same Starfire," I chirped, grinning back at Raven. "I am Starfire of the Teen Titans. It would take much more than Crux to change that."
"More than ten Cruxes," Sarah piped up, reaching across for a red nail varnish.
"Yes, more then ten," I agreed.
In reality, I had been Starfire of the Teen Titans more than I had been Starfire of Tamaran. I was not turning my back on Tamaran, but I felt much less homesick upon realizing that my home and my family are here.
And that's that! End story!
Some of you probably figured this out already, but...
This story's getting a sequel. Maybe two.
I just feel like there's so much more I can explore in the realm of a depowered Starfire. I was going to tack more on to the end of this story, but this arc is finished. I'm probably going to explore her relationship with Nightwing in the next story, as well as focusing on her gaining more finesse and skill with the eskrima sticks and the belt.
She doesn't get her powers back in this story. Sorry. I wasn't bluffing when I said Transsubstantiation isn't reversible. (Basically I'm doing the opposite of the comic book arc that originally inspired this fic.)
This story has been a learning experience. Thanks for hanging in there while I got the hang of first person Starfire, through the days I updated late and the weeks I didn't update at all, and thanks for leaving encouraging reviews! Hopefully there was at least something you liked in the thousand word story. I don't think overall this is my personal best, but I think I've grown considerably from the first chapter and I'm excited to do more.
I am planning on posting a completely different story before I do the sequel, though. I want to step out of this universe for a little while. Also I am so not going to post an incomplete story because that did not work for me.
If you have tumblr, I suggest popping over there and following me for updates about fanfiction and general fandom enthusiasm.
Other than that, thanks again for reading, hopefully some of you come back for the sequel! Kev out!