A tribute, just 'cuz I can… Post-Tokyo, again, just 'cuz I can…
Starfire stood by some of the waiting groups of children to rest for a moment. She felt guilty at the fact that the reason behind her resting wasn't due to any physical weariness or over-exertion of strength; no, it was more like a rest for her psychologically… This had been one of those very rare times when Starfire did wish that Tamaranean powers were not so much inclined by emotions. If that were the case, she could still be helping her friends, who had continued aiding the local authorities and firemen as they searched through the carnage for survivors. Starfire's a second-in-line warrior princess to an alien race that she had watched as a child go from a once peaceful and prosperous empire to a slowly deteriorating one from which the devastations of war against tyrannous invaders reduced nearly their entire culture back to its baser (and almost feral) survival-of-the-fittest instincts. Now, being here- in this situation, seeing all the shocked, horrified and grief stricken faces on these waiting children and their anxious families- the red headed Titan felt a nauseatingly uncomfortable wave of nostalgia; it was like witnessing a piece of her past repeat itself, and on the very planet where she thought she'd found a safe haven from such terrible and meaningless ruin.
Starfire had heard talk of war over seas. U.S. government investigating land(s) run by the hands of tyrants, stashing weapons of mass destruction for anyone they felt posed as a threat or was simply considered unworthy… More stone-hearted dictators who thought their way and/or their kind was better than others and wanted to 'perfect' what they saw as flaws in their own little world through the use of force (violence, intimidation), as they had become far too blinded by the hunger for power to see much reason… It was yet another familiarity that made her stomachs twist in knots, but certainly never did she want to even consider that this resembling fear would come back to haunt her. Not on Earth, not to her friends. Starfire wouldn't wish such pain that can only result from the means of war on her greatest enemy; especially not a pain of this magnitude.
… But if there's one lesson Starfire had learned from growing up with the effects of war, itself, it's that there are some things- some unfathomable and horrifying things- you cannot always control.
That is what she kept reminding herself over and over, once she had recovered from the shock (and then terror) at what she and her teammates saw, when they and their entire Teen Titans network (as in every ally since the battle against Brotherhood of Evil- North to South, East coast to West coast- who owned their official T-Communicator) received a live feed from members of the JL yesterday on what had happened that morning in New York City.
The rest was sort of a blur, at least up until their arrival later that previous afternoon. No matter how many times it may happen in a person's lifetime, situations as monumental as this are entirely too big to fully register unless you were there to experience even a mere portion of it for yourself. Starfire and her teammates watched a lot of it on the news, unable to tear their eyes away from the screen, almost like they were all subconsciously trying to will themselves into being there so they could stop what they were seeing. In the meantime, they had let their minds go numb in attempts to keep from descending into madness over the fact that they had to stand by and wait for the 'okay' to go there and help.
The attacks had been unexpected, and so between the frantic responses of the American authorities and media, it took some time for any supers, meta-humans and/or heroic groups to get involved. Unfortunately, there were still a few large political officials that felt since this was presumably a terrorist attack directly against the U.S. government, at least according to the targeted locations- and any licensed 'vigilante' (which basically counted just about every super or non-super in tights) was technically considered as what said vigilante label suggests (that these heroes were self-appointed law enforcers outside legal authority) - dealing with these attacks was to be strictly the business of the army and other U.S. servicemen who were actually licensed within legal authority. In other words, some White House sticklers didn't think it was appropriate for heroes and meta-humans to get involved with politics, not even to this degree; mostly due to the fear of drawing even more unwanted attention. On one hand, Starfire found this somewhat understandable. Any aid from the supers here on Earth was quite diverse, as the Titans were certainly not the only heroes who completed missions in other countries worldwide; however, to get sucked into a feud or actual war between two countries by helping one and not the other would sound biased and in total contrast to what groups like the Teen Titans or the JL stood for, which was the greater good for the whole planet and not just certain parts of it. On the other hand, Starfire had also possessed the unbelievable urge to crawl out of her skin as restrained as she felt during those agonizing hours of waiting for confirmation to assist in New York City. It took a fair amount of pushing from the bigger heroic groups, including the Justice League, X-Men… even tighter knit groups such as the Doom Patrol and even the Fantastic 4 became involved. In the end, it was Beast (a highly intelligent mutant and political activist of the X-Men) sided with other representatives of each heroic group such as Batman and Superman (JL) along with Mento (DP) and Mister Fantastic (F4), who finally reached a compromise with the government officials to assist in the aftermath. Nothing more.
Starfire never liked politics- not when she was a princess on Tamaran and certainly not right now.
How in X'hal's name could something as formal and mechanical and monotonous as cursed politics possibly measure itself to this? Starfire thought darkly, incredulously, while looking back at the scene before her that she and her friends had spent several sleepless hours trying to make sense of as they'd searched relentlessly for signs of life amongst the debris.
A tug at her skirt from where she now stood, occasionally nursing the bottle of water in her hand, and upon looking down Starfire met a sweet pair of big round eyes. They were a bright radiant gray, like silver bells, and belonged to a little girl with dark bangs and hair- long and straight like hers- that stopped about mid-thigh. The child was either sucking her thumb or biting lightly on its nail, as she shyly gazed up at Starfire from under thick eyelashes and shoved her other hand (the one she'd used to tug at Starfire's skirt) back in the side pocket of her blue jean overall dress. She could not be any older than perhaps five years of age.
Starfire managed a tiny polite smile as she knelt down to the little girl's level. "Greetings, young one. What is your name?"
The child hesitated for a moment, and then steadily lowered her thumb from her mouth. "Nadine," she answered quietly.
"Oh, that is a very lovely name," Starfire complimented, as she reached out to shake the little girl's hand, ignoring the small bit of saliva still on her thumb. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Nadine. I am Starfire, a fellow member of the Teen Titans."
"I know," Nadine replied just as quietly as before. "Momma says you came to help look for people that're still missing."
This was why Starfire preferred to rest near the younger bystanders. Children of such mental capacity were capable of simplifying a situation as dismal as this one into a slightly more pleasant picture that, to Starfire, did not seem quite as… well, hopeless. To Nadine, for instance, she and her teammates were looking for missing people. Not just bodies.
Starfire nodded solemnly at the young girl. "Yes, that is correct." Noticing that there appeared to be no grown-up nearby who might've been watching Nadine, she then felt compelled to ask: "Um, where is your mother, now?"
Nadine turned and pointed directly behind her (through the crowd) towards what Starfire assumed to be the awning above some sort of café that was nameless from where they both stood, due to the clusters of people standing in the way. "She runs that coffee place with my aunt. Our friends and family are in there, too. I told Momma I was gonna go talk to you."
"Out here, by yourself?" Starfire's tiny brows furrowed questioningly.
"I think she heard me when I told her," Nadine shuffled at dusty pieces of rubble beneath her small faded looking converse ankle-huggers, which (on an off-note) nearly matched her white short-sleeved undershirt and stripped leggings. "She was still talking to my aunt. I promised not to be gone long."
Thoughts regarding to the situation around her were momentarily forgotten and replaced by Starfire's concern for this child's safety. "You should not be out here all alone, Nadine," she gently scolded. "Even if it is not very far and only lasts a very short time, you must not go anywhere without having an adult you know and trust to watch over you." Starfire rose to her feet and reached for the little girl's hand, again. "Come, I shall escort you back to your mother."
Nadine's silvery eyes looked at Starfire's open palm, before returning to the red headed Titan's face. "But I'm not alone," she argued lightly. "I'm here with you. You're watching over me and… maybe… he is, too."
"He…?" Starfire's palm lowered slightly.
Then, her heart began to sink when the tiny hand that Nadine had kept buried in the side pocket of her overall dress emerged with a wallet-sized square piece of paper. Sure enough, it was the photograph of a tall, handsome man with an endearing smile and the same pair of bright silver eyes.
"My daddy," the child murmured as she traced a finger over the image of his face. "He's been missing, too, but Momma says he might already be up there—" she pointed skyward, "—watching over me, like an angel."
Starfire tried to swallow a knot that was forming in her throat. She knew enough of Earth's religions to realize what Nadine was talking about. Tamaraneans shared similar beliefs in a place of eternal peace, where lost loved ones aided those who were still living and in need of spiritual guidance; it was the same resting place that Starfire believed her own parents resided.
Nadine took Starfire's open palm and placed her father's picture there, before maneuvering the Titan's golden-skin fingers to wrap delicately over the photo. "You can fly so high- past the clouds, over the moon…" The young girl had both hands clinging tightly to the one in which Starfire held the photograph. "If you can't find him down here," her voice grew shaky and Starfire fought to keep her composure, "can you find him up there and tell him Nadine and Momma want him to come home?"
Tears. There were tears, now, rolling silently down the child's cheeks. Starfire's vision became blurry and she rapidly blinked her eyes to prevent her own tears from falling. She had to be strong for this little girl, who somehow managed to exude a pure sense of hope for her father in the midst of these hours of great despair, where there seemed to be no hope left at all.
Starfire inhaled a deep breath, using those few seconds to find her voice, pleading to whomever was listening that it wouldn't come out weak (no sob, no whimper). "I shall do my best," she vowed in a tone so definite, there'd been an instant where Starfire might have believed that she truly could bring the girl's father back (regardless of wherever he was). "You have my word, Nadine." After returning the child to her mother, Starfire returned to searching alongside her teammates and their allies- and on occasion the Doom Patrol, along with Mister Fantastic and Thing of the F4 (most of the X-Men and JL were helping at the Pentagon). She did not stop working throughout the remaining duration of the search amongst the carnage of the World Trade Center.
… [One Day Later: September 13th, 2001 (Late evening)] …
"Hey," Robin's voice came from behind her, seconds before Starfire's peripheral vision detected him settling next to her. "How're you feeling?"
Instead of answering his question, she responded with one of her own, while not so much as turning to look at him. "You are… quite fluent in speaking French, yes?"
A little thrown aback by her sudden choice of topic, Robin hesitated for a moment. "Uh… Why do you ask? No, wait a second," he quickly added, "how do you even know? You've never heard me speak French."
"I did not have to." Starfire admitted coyly, as she looked at him and lightly tapped her finger twice on his lips for emphasis.
Robin immediately started to blush and Starfire removed her finger. "Oh, that- ah, I mean, you can actually still… um… whenever we—?"
Starfire giggled, despite her recently pensive mood; she found it oddly amusing when her new boyfriend (finally she could call him that), who often behaved like the epitome of seriousness and certainty, would suddenly become flustered at the mere indication or memory of kissing his girlfriend. Repeatedly. In the elevator or corners of the Tower's hallways. Like two hormonal teenagers (which they kind of were supposed to be). Though, these past few days didn't leave much time or thought for anything romantic. "The more lip contact, the more chances of exchanging knowledge to any secondary languages…" Starfire explained, only to hear Robin grunt uncomfortably in reply.
"I have discovered that I can translate names originating from the languages I learn," she continued after a brief pause.
"I'm not sure I understand," Robin angled his head to try and read her face, once he'd recovered from feeling self-conscious.
Starfire looked at him, again, this time with a rather sad kind of smile. "Did you know that Nadine is a French name which translates to mean the word, 'hope'?"
Robin exhaled, running gloved fingers through his spikey hair. "Nadine… That little girl you met?"
Starfire nodded, returning her gaze to somewhere in front of her.
"The one who asked you to find her dad…?"
Starfire nodded, again.
"You're still thinking about her…"
It was more like a statement than a question, but she felt the need to answer anyways. "I gave my word that I would do my best to find him, even though I seriously doubted that I could bring just the smallest evidence of him back." Starfire rested her head on Robin's shoulder and he wrapped his arm around her, pulling her body closer to his. "I made a promise to her that I did not even know I could keep. How could I do such a thing? Why did I lend her such a faith so falsely accumulated?"
Robin kissed her temple before resting his cheek on her forehead. "You promised that you'd do your best, not necessarily that you would actually bring him back." Now, they both looked down from where they sat on the ledge of a building that stood across from the café Nadine's mother owned with her aunt, as well as the little apartment the family shared on the second and third floor above said workplace.
Starfire could see the three of them through one of the tall windows that apparently looked into the kitchen and dining room. The mother and aunt were sitting at opposite ends of the table while Nadine sat in her chair between them, as they folded their hands above their dinner plates and bowed their heads for a moment. One chair sat empty at the tableside across from Nadine's.
"Do you think they will be… okay?" she asked softly, as Robin's hand gently moved up and down her arm in a comforting gesture.
"I know they will," he answered assuredly, watching a vehicle pull up outside the café-slash-apartment, beeping its horn three times to get the tenants' attention.
Of course, it was Nadine who came to one of the windows and opened it, so she could lean outside and see whoever their visitor was. Someone emerged from the vehicle, making sure to keep balance on the crutch being used before looking up from the sidewalk to meet Nadine's face. The little girl uttered the name on her lips questionably at first, as if she wasn't sure whether or not she'd seen a ghost, but then…
"DADDY!" she screamed, making her poor startled mother and aunt leap out of their seats. "DADDY'S HOME!" The ladies didn't have time to look out the window and check for themselves, since Nadine had already dashed back inside and supposedly went straight for the doorway leading to the stairs. All three of them disappeared for several seconds until Nadine was the first to practically fly out of the front door and into her father's waiting arms. Luckily, her force of impact wasn't quite enough to knock him off balance on his crutch. When Nadine's mother and aunt came out, they shared looks of shock and disbelief, and then the mother broke down sobbing- colliding less gracefully than her daughter into her husband's embrace, as well. There were weeps of joy, followed by exuberant smiles and laughter. It was one of only a very special few happy endings that managed to overcome the national catastrophe from just a couple days ago. Starfire sighed contentedly, basking in its sweet glow for another minute or two before Robin had bid that it was time for them to return to home.
As she rose to her feet to follow him towards where their friends were waiting in the T-Ship, Starfire looked down one more time at the heartwarming scene that was a stark contrast from what she witnessed days before. Unfolding one of her hands, she smiled at the photograph of Nadine's father, who was no longer another face that belonged to the mere shadow of a memory as she had once believed. Watching the breeze lift the picture from her palm and carry it so weightlessly away, Starfire realized she'd learned something else from that day and from meeting Nadine. The lives that were taken here are never truly lost. They will not only live on in the hearts of their loved ones; they will also forever be honored by generations of people who believe in the spirit and freedom that their nation is supposed to represent. The souls there at Ground Zero are not a mere memory. To Starfire, they are and shall always be a reminder to always have hope.
Sorry if the little girl's ending might not be realistic enough for some of ya, but it was supposed to help get the 'hopeful' message across.
God bless the heroes and souls affected by 9/11. May their stories never be forgotten. Peace.