The credits from the movie rolled past on the enormous screen. Starfire crossed her arms, clearly dissatisfied.
Dick went to turn off the DVD player, angry with himself. It had been his stupid idea to rent it. He thought she liked girly things: gratuitous romance, happy endings, sparkly dresses. Didn't all girls like that?
Her eyes remained narrowed, lips pursed, arms folded.
"What? You didn't like it?" he said, returning to the couch.
"Don't girls like this kind of stuff?"
She sighed and shrugged.
"I'm sorry, we'll watch something else next time."
"Robin," Starfire said finally, "why does the girl not perform the kicking of the butt? Why does she require saving? I do not see how this is realistic. Most of the time it is me saving you."
Dick wanted to curl into the couch and die.
Of course, Sleeping Beauty is not the most feminist of role models.
Sometimes she looked into the mirror and hated her hair.
Hated the color that was so alien, hated the texture that refused to be tamed or cut into anything manageable. Hated the cowlicks that appeared every morning like a nasty stomachache.
No one knew how impossible it was to keep smooth, to keep it from exploding into a puff of red frizz. She washed and conditioned it every day, brushed it as soon as she got up and before she went to bed.
It was burnt, gelled, steamed, pressed, and smooshed into submission for an hour every day before Starfire could even consider appearing in public. And two before she would let Robin see her.
The first night she slept in his room, all she could think about was how to get up earlier than him and fix it.
She opened her eyes the next morning to find him propped on one elbow, mask off, loose t-shirt hanging off his shoulders, staring at her.
Her first instinct was to scream and cover her face with a pillow, or possibly knock him unconscious. All her carefully laid plans, all the hair straighteners and products, ruined.
"So that's what your hair really looks like?" he said with a grin.
Starfire shrank into the sheets.
"I like it this way. It looks like you."
Her relieved hug nearly suffocated him.
He was complicated. That much Starfire was sure of. The cocky grin on his face was at odds with the slight shadow of his brow, the flicker of ten thousand thoughts in his eyes.
Too smart. Too young to be so old.
Robin concocted. He planned. Obsessed over ever detail, every mistake, every clue, every unsolved case.
And always memories lurking, dripping in corners, lunging out when he least expected. A trapeeze. A cloaked, masked figure; darkened city streets full of crime and pain.
There were times when he frightened her. When the door of his room and his mind stayed sealed, when he emerged only to get a sixth cup of coffee. When his mind curled and twisted up like blue smoke from a cigarette. Obsessed with solving the puzzle, with winning the game.
He worked himself into delirium, mixed memories with fears into a semi-reality. He would snap at her, frustrated with his inadequacy, sure that he could do better, the determination in his eyes turning to madness.
There was little that anyone could do, little she could do to fix it. She would slip into his room, bring him food he didn't touch, give him persistent worried looks he did not return.
Sometimes she sat on his bed silently for hours while he plugged away on his computer, poured over records, old newspapers, hacking into databases that went nowhere.
"Starfire," he said, "you can leave. You know I'll come out when I figure this out."
"Robin," she said, staring at the floor. "Perhaps one day you will not. Perhaps one day you will get lost in here. I stay so you remember the way out."
Robin used to believe what he had been told: that Paris truly is the most romantic city in the world. Everyone says so - the Eiffel Tower, the sidewalk cafes, ruined poets and artists with their cigarettes, the Seine lit up by the glow of lights.
These people have clearly never been to Tokyo, or have never been in love with a girl or with a city.
Starfire's head rests on his shoulder, green eyes closed, and he knows she has fallen asleep. The plane from Gotham presses on through the sky, and he wades through his memories.
Sitting on the top of the orange Tokyo Tower, the hand of an alien girl in his, a girl who has flown him up to the roof of the world to watch the sunset over an unfamiliar skyline.
Her delicate fingers plucking a cherry blossom from the trees in Ueno Imperial Park, tucking the flower behind her ear.
The salty, warm smell of a shared bowl of Ramen noodles bought from a street vendor; endless cups of green tea and Starfire's apparent inability to use chopsticks.
The feel of the silk scarf she bought from that one store. Her squeal of delight at every cute thing she saw. The way her voice sounded speaking Japanese.
Starfire had loved Tokyo more than anything, maybe because there everyone felt like an alien. None of her team belonged; everything was a foreign, colorful blur of culture, language and people they could not understand.
She shifts her head on his shoulder, murmuring something unintelligible. For a moment, Dick is certain he can smell cherry blossoms on her skin.
Starfire was, in general, very adaptable to a culture to which she was, well, alien.
There were some things she simply picked up by imitation. The proper way to steep tea, make beds, change the volume on the TV or break apart a chocolate bar were all mimickries which eventually became habits.
Some things she had to be consciously taught by her friends. The difference between the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal, what a "president" actually does, the system of currency and how credit cards work all had to be explained in detail before she was satisfied.
Slang and curse words flitted evaded until she finally got up the courage to ask their meanings. Usually it was Raven she asked, especially after an embarassing incident concerning Beast Boy and her ignorance of the phrase "to tap that."
Certain objects perplexed her. The idea of an underground train system worried her greatly for several days after she learned of its existence. Sushi was explained to her numerous times, yet she could still not understand why it was enjoyable to eat uncooked fish. The secrets of popcorn's magical transformation from a kernel to a puffed snack item remained shrouded in mystery.
But the thing Starfire had the most trouble with were table manners, particularly forks. To her, they looked like a weapon or a surgical instrument - the closest thing on Tamaran was a trident used by soldiers.
Using a fork to pick something up only to put it in her mouth seemed redundant. Why would one waste time and energy on such a utensil when hands were so much easier? And in the time it took to use a fork, wouldn't someone else steal the food from under her?
Mealtimes were battles, fights for resources. Yet on Earth, they were pleasant, civil affairs to be enjoyed with people you liked. One did not need to hoard food or growl at those who threatened it.
She knew this consciously, but it still made her nervous when other forks approached for a bite of her dinner.
It was therefore a great demonstration of love when, on their first date, she offered Robin a bite of her chocolate cake.
Robin was forever thankful that she did not wore a mask. The thought had never crossed her mind - she had no secret identity, no "other life" to keep hidden away, like he did.
He would have hated it if those eyes were not always available to him. Every crease, every tiny variation in color, every long graceful eyelash stuck in his memory.
His favorite color used to be red, but became green the minute he looked at her eyes.
He never thought green could be the color of innocence, courage and softness simultaneously. Never would have imagined that emerald would make his palms sweaty and his heart drum against his chest like a bird in a cage.
Late one night, the two sat together on the couch. The tower was dark except for a single lamp whose soft yellow light made her eyes even more luminescent than usual.
Robin saw her eyelids droop over them as she faded into sleep.
"You know," he began, more to himself than anyone else. "Some people say the eyes are the window to the soul."
"Then you must have a very secret soul," she muttered.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked, ready to be defensive.
"You keep your eyes hidden, even from me," she replied simply. "If even I cannot know what your soul looks like, it must be very secret."
"Maybe it's an ugly soul."
Starfire tilted her head, considering this.
"No," she concluded. "That is not possible."
"It's part of my secret identity, Star," he sighed. "I can't have anyone know. Not even you."
"You know who says."
"He isn't here."
She dug her heels into the proverbial ground and stuck them fast, an immovable object of stubbornness.
"If you show me," she pleaded, "I will promise to forget by tomorrow morning."
Robin was quiet for a long time, staring at the darkened floor. She began to fear that she had offended him greatly and was just getting ready to apologize when he looked up.
Slowly, he reached up and peeled off the mask. When it finally fell to the ground, his eyes remained closed. The feeling of air on his lids and lashes was odd - free but also exposed, naked, vulnerable.
She moved as if through molten glass, so painfully slow, to trace one finger from his temple to his chin as if he were a sculpture.
He inhaled deeply, steeling himself for whatever consequences would follow, and flipped his eyes open.
Starfire stopped breathing. The blue was staggering, endless, sad and joyous and strong as a September sky, as the back of a breaking wave.
She had never broken a promise before. Starfire splintered this one into a million pieces.