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Electra

Kiss Today Goodbye

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The battle was finally over, even if the damage would take weeks or months to clean up. Stesha didn't know if some parts of the Lighthouse were even repairable, but at the moment she couldn't bring herself to give a damn. She'd heard that the outer system fighting was over as well, and the skirmishes on Earth were just mop-up operations at this point, but it was all rumors until she met up with the rest of the extended League for debriefing. Her mind was numb right now, concentrated on the mundane chore of dissolving the large tangles of vines and roots that marked her battles along the corridors of the space station. As she approached one of the less-mangled docking bays, she heard voices, friendly human voices.

 

"And then I swooped in from behind and drilled their nacelles with a laser beam!" Max Atom enthused, sketching his story in three dimensions with his hands as he entered the corridor. Behind him Johnny Rocket and Captain Thunder listened with patient amusement, occasionally chipping in details. There were a half-dozen heroes spilling into the corridor, a good chunk of the contingent who'd fought the outer-system battle, heading for the command deck where there'd be food, showers, and the League meeting. "And then one of those antibody ships started to buzz me," Max continued, "but Dark Star was right there and just pancaked it, like it was made of paper!"

 

Stesha froze at the sound of the name, seconds before the man himself came into view around the corner from the bay. He looked exactly as she remembered of course, a velvet-black hole in the world, edged with just a faint trace of white light in the shape of a man and two glowing-white eyes set in the featureless face. "Derrick," she murmured.

Edited by Electra

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All the conversation ceased as the returning group looked from Fleur to Dark Star. Despite Stesha's efforts to keep her personal problems just that, nobody on the League was dense enough not to realize how long Dark Star had been gone, or to miss the look on Fleur's face. They drew back slightly, even as Dark Star floated hastily forward, his feet just brushing the metal deck as he headed towards her, reached for her.

"Stesha!" The white light winked away and for a moment Stesha thought she could see human brown eyes again, but then they were lost behind the glow once more. "I've missed you so much!" he assured her, folding his arms across his chest and unfolding them, shaking his head, making a subtly weird sort of display.

"You've forgotten how to change back," she observed quietly, hugging her own arms to her chest.

"No, of course not!" he protested, though there was a slight edge to his normally implacable voice. "It just takes a little longer than it used to. Just a minute..."

"I suppose it's not a skill you need to use much anymore."

"Well no, not exactly, really only when I'm on Earth," he admitted, staring at his own dark-energy fist as he flexed and unflexed it, trying to recapture his own physicality. "Human bodies aren't acclimated for space, or most of the planets where I've worked. But it hasn't been that long..."

Edited by Electra

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"Two years," she corrected her voice still quiet, the only way she could be sure to keep it even. "Two years ago today you came home on Christmas and brought us presents. You were gone again on some mission before New Year's, and I don't even remember why. It's not surprising you'd forget."

"Two years?" Dark Star's white eyes widened and then, maybe triggered by the surprise, maybe by the memory, turned honey brown and white again. The rest of his body followed swiftly this time, the darkness flooding away to reveal Derrick Lumins' human form, still wearing the cheerful red sweater and brown trousers she'd bought for him that Christmas, the last outfit she remembered him wearing. His feet dropped to the deck with a soft thud, but he didn't seem to notice. "How can it have been two years? I know I was busy, but it can't have really been that long..." He moved in to put his arms around her and Stesha allowed it, just for a moment.

Almost in spite of herself, Stesha lifted her hand, brushing his cheek with her fingertips. "It was," she murmured."Amaryllis doesn't remember anymore. I have a picture of you above her daybed so she doesn't forget what you look like." She closed her eyes a moment, resisting the urge to stay in the circle of his arms and pretend for a little while. Instead, she stepped back and clasped her hands together in front of her. "We need to talk, Derrick. In private." Over his shoulder, she gave one hard look to their teammates still loitering in the hallway. Even though some of them were technically her superiors, they took the hint and beat feet towards the lifts.

Edited by Electra

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"We should definitely talk," he agreed eagerly, obviously missing her mood entirely. Reading the temper of a room had never been one of Derrick's strengths. "I have so much to tell you, there's so much I've seen out there. So many different kinds of people, and the stars!" He looked stricken for a moment. "I didn't bring you anything! I have things set aside I planned to bring for my girls, but the rush to get here ahead of the Communion didn't allow for side trips. But I can get them! After the debriefing, we can talk and-"

"Screw the debriefing, Derrick!" Stesha shouted in a voice that had suddenly gone thick with tears, her hands curling into fists. "Screw the League, screw everybody! Two years gone and I'm still in last place with you?" Vines sprang up and wrapped tightly around them both; when they fell away the pair was standing in Stesha's tiny, empty sleeping quarters.

Derrick looked desperately confused, and totally lost. "Sweetheart, what's going on?" he asked, his voice as gentle and patient as always, which somehow only made it more infuriating. "You and Ammy are the most important things in my life, nothing comes before you-"

"Liar," she cut him off again, her voice back to normal volume, but full of bitterness. "Maybe to me, but I think to yourself. You pick us up presents and toss us a phone call when it crosses your mind and think we're the most important thing to you. If we were so important, you would be here. Your daughter doesn't even know you, Derrick, and I've started to feel like I don't either."

Edited by Electra

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"I want to be here!" he protested, hurt and anger covering his face at her accusations. "I would rather be here more than anything else, but Earth has heroes to watch out for it, and so many places don't! There are entire solar systems without a single superhero, who have no hope against all the dangers of the universe without someone willing to go to them and stay as long as it takes. I have to help them, I can't just turn my back!”

"I know you can't,"Stesha admitted, letting the tears finally drip down her cheeks. "And I love and hate that about you. You are probably the most purely heroic man I've ever known, and you don't let anyone stand in the way of your calling. That's what comes first with you. Not me."She wiped her eye with the back of her hand, then the other with the side of her thumb. "We were a vacation romance, you and me, and I didn't realize it at the time. I didn't understand what it would be like when you had to go back to your work. I know that what you do is important, that you save people every day. But I can't live like this anymore."Her voice was hardly more than a whisper.

He spread his hands, beginning to look a little desperate. Derrick had never been strong at understanding social cues, but even he was able to comprehend the depths of the current crisis. "What do you want me to do?"he asked plaintively. "I can work on it, come home more often. I know it's been way too long. It's just so hard to keep track of Earth time out there, especially when I'm so busy. Maybe you and Ammy can come with me for awhile, have the grand tour of space!”

Edited by Electra

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She shook her head. "We can't travel in space the way you do. Even just leaving a planet for an afternoon drains me, even when I'm only as far away as the moon. Ammy has my powers too. Space is no place for us, especially the way you travel. And you've said you'd come home more often before. Two Christmases ago, and it wasn't the first time." She folded her arms over her chest.

"The Stellar Khanate..." Derrick began, then trailed off. "It doesn't really matter, does it? All the tyrants I stop, all the planets I save. You only see that I'm not spending time with you and Ammy."

Stesha closed her eyes for a second. "I don't... I'm trying not to blame you," she said carefully. "There's so much evil in the universe, it seems like it never stops. But do you remember how it used to be, those first months we had together?" Her voice went wistful, her face soft. "Those seven or eight months when we were dating and you were on earth every week. Remember how we would cuddle together and watch television, or you would pick me up from work and we'd have a picnic? I had so much less power, and you were so much less important to the galaxy, but we were together. I was thinking about it, and I spent more time with you during those seven months than in the four years after."

"I wasn't any less vital," he told her, his own face softening with the memory. "I was just fooling myself that people could get by without me. I had to face up to the truth when Amaryllis was born. She was so perfect, so beautiful. I realized that children like her were being born every day on a thousand worlds, every bit as precious to their parents as she was to us, and I was leaving those children in danger for my own selfish needs."

Edited by Electra

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"I don't think it's selfish to want to have a life," Stesha retorted, the edge creeping back into her voice. "It's what keeps us sane, makes us remember what we're fighting for. I have filled my time with so many things. My work on Sanctuary, taking care of Ammy, gardening in the parks, spending time with friends, but none of it fills the hole. Do you think less of me because I don't put Amaryllis with a foster family and spend all my waking hours with hero work?"

"It's not the same thing."

"It's close enough. It's the road you've chosen, isn't it? Push your family away so you can devote your entire attention to the good fight." Her breath hitched and she stopped for a moment, fought for calm. "You're a hero, all the time, but I didn't stand in that church and marry Dark Star. And I can't go on pretending that you're ever going to change."

"Then what are we supposed to do?" he asked softly, sounding nearly afraid.

"I can't hold you on Earth," she told him quietly, looking into his eyes. Studying them, remembering them. "If this past four years have taught me nothing else, I know that much. Your destiny and your heart are out there in the stars, and I can't keep you from it and I can't go with you. My roots are here, and I'd wither and die away from them. You can't hold onto me from so far away, in a grip so light I can't even feel it. It's not fair to you or me, and it's not fair to Ammy to put her through all the waiting and the not understanding." She sighed, letting the tears go where they would. "I love you, Derrick, and I think part of me will always love you, but we deserve better."

Edited by Electra

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Derrick was starting to look stunned, almost shocky. His voice was a bare rasp now, sandpaper on wood. "How can I possibly let go of you?"

"I..." She swallowed. "I guess you'll just keep doing what you're doing. You have so much to do out there, you don't need the ties holding you to Earth. After awhile, you'll... you'll probably hardly remember." With a hand that trembled just a little, she bloomed a flower on her palm and reached into it, pulling out a thick manilla envelope. "I have- there are some papers to sign."

He seemed to shake himself, drawing himself up and staring at her. "You have divorce papers already prepared?" he demanded, though there wasn't a lot of force in it. "Stesha... is there someone else? I think I deserve to know."

She stared at him dumbly for a moment, then practically shoved the papers into his chest. "God, Derrick! Of course there's no one else. I have been faithful to you every single lonely night for five years while I waited for you to come home! You were my first and my only, and I don't know if there's ever going to be another, but I will not live like this anymore and I am getting the hell out while Ammy is too young to be hurt by it!" She retreated halfway across the room, hugging her own elbows like it was the only thing keeping her from flying apart.

Edited by Electra

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"I didn't mean- that wasn't what I- I'm sorry," he finally said, shaking his head and staying on his side of the room. "I know you wouldn't have." His legs were starting to give way, but not by buckling. It looked as though they were being gradually obscured by a dark shadow, till it was hard to see his feet at all. He looked at the papers in his hands, then back at her. "What about Ammy? What are you going to tell her?"

"For now, the same thing I've always told her," Stesha replied, her voice softening in response to his. "That her daddy is a hero who saves people on worlds that are very far away, but he'll come and see her when he can. You'll always be welcome to visit Sanctuary when you're on Earth." She knew that some of the friends with whom she shared Sanctuary might not have the same opinion, but she'd... do something. Talk to them. "I have some of your things, books mostly, in a box in my Freedom City apartment. I gave the clothes to a group of refugees last year, I didn't know when you'd actually need them again, and most of them were getting dated anyway. There's not really anything else for joint assets, the SCC stopped paying you when you didn't come back to Earth regularly, so the bank account is empty, and I don't plan on asking for any child support, so things should all be very straightforward..."

She trailed off and they just stared at each other for a little while, lost in the surreality of the moment as dark energy crept up Derrick's body, past his waist and over his shoulders. "Keep them," he finally told her in a hollow voice, "give them to someone who can use them. They wouldn't survive my kind of travel anyway. Not much does."

Edited by Electra

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"Okay," she replied, knitting and unknitting her fingers. "I meant what I said about you being welcome on Sanctuary," she told him. "I'm sure Ammy would be thrilled to see you in person, while you're in the neighborhood." The idea of bringing Derrick home like this, for this, was a knife in the heart, but she'd do it for her daughter's sake.

"That's good to know," he replied, voice going echoey now as the darkness covered his throat and his voicebox converted to energy. "I'll do my best, but I don't know what the Alliance is going to ask me to do next. There are a lot of trouble spots still being threatened by the Communion." He had to use his telekinesis to hold the papers and pen to sign them, which he did while the last of his face finished converting. He looked at her, his eyes white and empty, and floated the paperwork back to her. "Soon, though. Tell her I'll visit soon."

"I will," Stesha lied in a whisper.

"We should go back to the debriefing," he told her. "I'm sure it's not over yet, there's so much that needs to be discussed." He nodded towards the door.

"I... I can't," she told him, shaking her head almost violently. "I have to go. Tell them I had an emergency. Goodbye." She put both hands over her face and was instantly swallowed back to Earth by a giant snapdragon, finally escaping the darkness and the silence after a battle that had gone on much too long.

Edited by Electra

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