Chapter 1: Celebration
Stephanie’s eating one of those tiny little cakes that absolutely is not enough in any way whatsoever when Tim walks into her line of sight, head craning this way and that over the crowd of people Bruce has invited into his home for yet another gala-party-thingamajig. And—dear god, the boy is short. He’s on his tip toes.
“Timmy, dearest,” Steph says, only a little bit mockingly, and Tim’s gaze snaps to hers, eyes wide and owlish, like he hadn’t even seen her standing next to the dessert table. Which. That’s not that worrying, considering that Tim works on like, less than two hours of sleep a night.
Maybe Steph can get Cass to arm wrestle Tim into going to sleep instead of patrol tonight. And she can casually suggest a movie night to Dick. Dick will jump on anything that involves family bonding time, and Tim’ll be out cold in no time.
“Steph?” he asks, and now he’s giving her a weird look, like he hadn’t even known she was here at the gala-party-thingamajig. Again, very possible. For a person who’s supposed to be one of the best detectives, Tim can miss the most obvious things. He blinks a couple times, seems to accept that she’s not some sleep deprived hallucination, and walks over to her. “Did you need something?”
“No,” Steph says, shoving the rest of the tiny—tiny. Steph is going to have words with Alfred later—cake into her mouth. She swallows and raises an eyebrow. “Did you need something?”
Tim shrugs, head swiveling to look out over the crowd again. “I’m looking for Dick.”
“He was over by Damian earlier,” Steph says. “I think the brat brought his sword, and Bruce refused to deal with it. By default, it was Dick’s problem.”
“No, I know that,” Tim says distractedly. “I was standing right there when Damian started swearing at Dick. It was hilarious.”
“Yeah, you sound like it really changed your world,” Steph snorts.
Tim wrinkles his nose. “That was almost an hour ago, Steph.”
“Mhmm,” Steph says, debating whether it’d be a good idea to stuff the brand new purse that Bruce had gotten her the other day with the entire plate of mini-cakes and how much she’d get yelled at if she was caught. “And?”
“I saw him after that, though,” Tim tells her, following her gaze. He rolls her eyes when he catches on to what she’s planning on doing. “You know you can literally have Alfred make you bigger portions later, right?”
“It’s the principle of the thing, Timmy,” Steph says sweetly.
“It is not.”
“Is, too,” and then Steph finally makes her decision and starts grabbing a few of everything. Because if she’s going to stuff her purse, then she’s going to go all the way. Maybe Cass would be willing to share with her later. If not Cass, then definitely Dick. Speaking of, “Why are you looking for Dick, anyways?”
Tim blows out a heavy breath and sort of deflates, and it has enough umph to it that Steph stops raiding the dessert table to stare at him.
“Um,” she says.
Tim runs a hand down his face. “Sorry. It’s just—He went to go grab something from his room. Said it was important and just left.”
“And?” Steph prompts. “What’s so bad about that?”
“It’s been almost a half hour since I’ve seen him, Steph. And I’ve been around the room twice,” Tim tells her, and he leans back against a nearby pillar. He looks exhausted—well. More exhausted than usual, and Steph has half a mind to find Dick herself and tell him to tell Tim to stop worrying. And when he talks again, his voice is small. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Of course, it just so happens that that’s when the lights go out.
Steph drops her dessert-filled purse and grabs Tim’s hand, pulling him close. People start murmuring and muttering, and Steph has a feeling that Bruce’s gala-party-thingamajig has gone south real fast.
“Should we grab our uniforms?” she wonders, her voice soft enough that she’s sure only Tim hears her.
“No,” Tim says. “We don’t know if this is an attack or—”
The lights flicker. On, off. Someone screams bloody murder, and people start running for the exit as quick as they can. Someone shoulder checks Steph and she stumbles, but Tim tightens his hold on her hand and pulls her upright.
She whirls on him a second later, raising an eyebrow and shouting in order to be heard over the cacophony of panic, “You were saying?!”
“We still don’t—” He stumbles forward as someone bumps into him, too, but he stays on his feet. Pity. It’d have been funny to see him faceplant. Probably not the best time, though. He pulls her closer. “We still don’t know what’s going on!”
Tim nods. “Bruce.”
Somehow—holy shit, somehow—they make it through the throng of panicked people crowding the exits to the back of the room and over to where they can see Bruce standing with Damian, Cass, and the Commissioner. By the time they make it to them, most everyone is gone, and the lights are back to normal.
Dick’s nowhere to be found, though, and Tim and Steph share a look.
Bruce is staring at them. Steph knows that there’s no way he didn’t catch that, but he doesn’t comment on it. Yet, at least. Maybe it’s because the Commissioner is still standing there, or maybe it’s because they’ve got bigger things to worry about.
“Are you two alright?” he asks instead.
Tim nods and finally lets go of Steph’s hand, and she shakes it out, flexing it a few times, too. She hadn’t realized how hard Tim had been gripping it until he’d stopped, and she shoots him a concerned look he only grimaces at.
When she realizes that Bruce is still looking at her, waiting for her answer, she makes a face. “I’m fine, you big worrywart. Tim saved me from landing on my face, and I was disappointed by not seeing Tim land on his.”
“I regret that it did not happen, as well,” Damian says, and he sounds seriously sad about it. Sheesh. Steph had forgotten that the brat had it out for Tim.
“Come at me and you’ll regret it,” Tim says, not a hint of teasing in his voice.
“Like you could take me down,” Damian scoffs.
Tim tenses, but backs off when Bruce clears his throat purposely, his eyes flashing dangerously. It’s so unsubtle and—God, after years, Steph still can’t believe Bruce Wayne can act like he does in public when all he seems to be is a big pile of brood and dad. She can see where Tim gets it from, at least. The brooding and acting part, not the dad part.
Next to Bruce, Jim Gordon sighs. “I’m going to see if I can round up a few of my men, Bruce,” he says. His rake over all of them, before they meet Bruce’s again. “I’ll be back soon, but it’s better that all of you stay together. Just in case.”
Bruce smiles, and Steph wonders if it’s painful for him. It certainly looks painful. “Thank you, Jim.”
And with that, the Commissioner’s gone, Bruce drops the smile, and it’s just the five of them standing there. Nobody says anything for a few seconds, and so Steph steps up. It’s like, her thing by now. She could probably major in it if she wanted to. She’s surrounded by so many emotionally stunted idiots that she’s got enough practical experience, after all.
Except Cass. Cass is great.
“So?” Steph says, folding her arms over her chest and raises her eyebrows. “Whatever’s happening, it better be good. I lost my dessert purse for this.”
Cass giggles, and Bruce pinches the bridge of his nose. Tim doesn’t react much, but Damian scowls at her in confusion. It’s great. So many different reactions in so few words. She should get an award.
“I don’t want to know,” Bruce tells her. “Did anyone see anything?”
“Dick disappeared,” Tim says.
Steph elbows Tim. “You don’t know that. All you said was that Dick left to get something from his room. And technically that’s not seeing anything.”
“It’s the lack of seeing something,” Tim argues.
“Grayson is probably playing a prank,” Damian says, a somewhat adorable scowl on his face and—good god, does this child not know how to smile? Did he inherit Bruce’s gene of feeling pain while smiling? Someone needs to teach Damian how to have fun, and soon.
Cass frowns. “I don’t think so.”
Well, Cass’s word is law, after all. At least, it is to Steph. It’s a rare occasion that Cass has been wrong—though, it has happened before, Steph’s sure. She just can’t remember—and Steph doesn’t think now is one of those times.
Damian’s scowl inches closer and closer to a worried frown. “Then where is he?”
“Kidnapped?” Tim suggests weakly.
Steph grimaces. Dick’s a slippery one, especially when it comes to kidnapping. He’s got acrobatic skills he can use in self-defense, curtesy of his circus roots, and it’s an advantage that none of the other kids really have.
Something shatters upstairs, and the five of them freeze. And then, before Steph realizes it, Tim’s darting for the stairs, the rest of them just a beat behind him. They stop at the top of the stairs, and Steph gapes at what she sees.
“I think that I’m going to be sick,” she says, staring in horror at the giant puddle of blood soaking into the carpet. “Like, someone find me a toilet to throw up in, kind of sick.”
“You’re not,” Cass tells her, and Steph sighs.
“I’m not,” she agrees, but she can’t take her eyes off of the puddle. “But that is still disturbing. I sleep here, Tim.”
“Yeah, but you don’t live here,” Tim says, and Steph manages to take her eyes away from the scene in front of her to glance at him. He looks pale, and he’s got that look in his eyes, where his thoughts are racing a mile minute. It’s a little disconcerting, actually.
“I sleep here enough that I basically live here,” Steph says.
“Enough,” Bruce says, his eyes hard and unforgiving. “Cassandra, go get Jim. As of right now, this is a crime scene until we rule out otherwise.”
Cass nods, and she’s just about to leave when Steph hears a voice from down the hall. She frowns because—that was from Dick’s room.
“You guys heard that, right?” Steph asks. “Because if you didn’t, I’m out. Outtie 5000. Good-freaking-bye. Stephanie Brown has left the building and isn’t coming back. All that jazz.”
“I heard it,” Bruce says. And Steph can only watch as he makes his way down the hall towards his son’s room, Damian and Tim not even hesitating—or arguing—before following after him.
Steph shares an uneasy glance with Cass and she bites her lip. “What do you think?”
Cass doesn’t speak for a moment, but then she nods her head in the direction the boys had gone, and Steph can’t help but deflate in disappointment. Just a little. This is a little different than being in uniform, and she’s not happy that she’s doing this in a short sparkly dress Cass had picked out for her.
Cass looks at ease, though, and Steph appreciates it when her best friend holds her hand and squeezes. Steph smiles back.
“Guess we should go watch their backs, huh?”
“That’s what we’re here for,” Cass replies, and Steph’s smile grows a bit more genuine.
“Right, right,” Steph breathes. And then they skirt around the puddle. “Well. Might as well get on with it, right? I can totally use my heels as a weapon, right? That’s somewhat socially acceptable? Actually, don’t answer that. If it comes down to it, I’m doing it anyways. Watch out, thugs, I’m armed and dangerous with heeled shoes, and I can attest that getting hit in the face with one really freaking hurts. So watch out for—”
Steph stutters to a stop, both physically and mentally. She’s standing in the doorway to Dick’s bedroom, but—but.
“What happened?” she whispers to Tim, who looks about as clued in as she does.
His wide eyes flick to her helplessly before they’re back on Bruce, who’s checking Dick’s pulse. Dick, as it turns out, has been passed out on the floor of his bedroom, blood oozing sluggishly from a cut on his forehead. Bruce is trying to gently rouse him, but besides the steady up-down motions of his chest as he breathes, Dick doesn’t move.
He’s dead to the world.
Steph shivers at the mental image that brings up.
Damian scoffs softly, and Steph glances over at him, watches as he watches Dick with worried, but angry eyes.
From somewhere else in the manor, there’s another crash, and the lights flicker again.
Bruce finally looks up, meeting each of their eyes in turn, and says, “There’s someone in the house.”
And yeah. Steph’s done.
This is going to be longer than I planned.
When Steph had agreed to go to Bruce’s gala-party-thingamajig, this is absolutely not what she’d had in mind. She’d thought cakes—regular sized cakes. She should have known better—as well as dancing and fancy clothing and rich snobs she could make fun of. But this? She’s so done, it’s not even funny. Like, she’s ready to bounce and leave these losers to their hijacked manor and their puddles of blood and their strange voices—
“Oh my god,” she whispers, feeling a little bit weak in the knees.
“Don’t say another word,” Bruce snaps, and he’s so obviously on edge. He’s not looking at any of them, instead keeping his gaze on Dick’s oozing cut, but Steph’s having exactly none of that.
“You’re kidding, right?” Steph hisses, her heart thumping loudly in her ears. “I heard—”
“Enough.” The word is powerful, almost commanding, and Steph has been out in the field far too long to know that this isn’t really Bruce anymore. This is Batman, taking charge of the situation. And usually Steph would have no problem contradicting Batman, but this isn’t usually.
Because usually they aren’t being watched in their own house.
Steph catches Cassandra’s gaze, and Cass shakes her head at her before her dark eyes break away from Steph’s to scan the room. Steph knows that Cass probably heard exactly what she had, and there’s no way that whoever had been in here could have left.
And Dick. He’s passed on the floor, and he looks like he has been for some time. Steph doubts it had been him speaking.
But Steph had heard someone, same as everyone else. And they’d come straight here when they’d heard it, so that means the five of them are going crazy, or there’s more than one person in the house.
Steph doesn’t like that thought, either. But Bruce must know that someone is still potentially in here, so she doesn’t disobey. Not this time. And besides, that’s more Robin’s job than hers.
Speaking of Robin, though. Both Robins are frozen, still staring at Dick on the floor, and it’s only when Steph nudges Tim and Cass lays a gentle hand on Damian’s shoulder that they seem to come back to themselves. Damian crosses his arms and hunches in on himself while Tim takes a deep breath, seemingly readying himself for something.
Knowing that big brain of his, it could be anything.
Tim looks up at Bruce. “I’m going to get a towel so we can stop the—”
“No!” Steph says, her hand clamping down on Tim’s wrist before he can get further than a step, and Tim freezes again.
“Stay,” Bruce says, his eyes deadly serious as he gets up from his crouch, “in the room. Do not leave. Do not speak. Do not—”
“It’s Jason,” Cass interrupts, and the room comes to a collective halt.
If Steph hadn’t known Jason’s story, she would have thought that someone had just socked Bruce in the face with rubber dodgeball in the middle of one of his galas. Instead, Bruce expression makes Steph think that maybe Mr. All-Knowing-Bat hadn’t thought about that one.
Steph hadn’t, either, but that’s not the point.
A sigh is heard, and Steph spins around, just in time for the closet door to open and Jason to pop his head out, a disgruntled look settling on his features as he looks at all of them in turn.
“Um,” Steph says, feeling absolutely flabbergasted.
“Damn it, Cass,” Jason grumbles, and finally comes out of the closet, bringing a slightly bloodied towel with him and throwing it at Tim. Tim fumbles with it, but seems to catch on quicker than everyone else—well. Everyone else but Jason and Cass.
Which brings Steph back to her previous statement. “Um?”
Jason waves her off as Tim crouches down to press the towel against Dick’s head. “Calm down, Steph. You too, Demon Brat.”
Steph finally swivels her head enough to catch sight of Damian’s face and—oh. Oh. Oh, man, is someone going to get it. And if the brat still has his sword, then Steph sure as hell doesn’t want to be the poor sucker who finds themselves on the other end of Damian’s wrath.
She’s lucky that it seems to be Jason quickly headed for that position and not her. If Dick weren’t unconscious, he’d probably be able to save Jason. Unfortunately, that seems to be the reason for Damian’s anger in the first place.
“Did you do this?” Damian hisses, and the room goes quiet—well. Quieter.
Steph swears her heart stops for at least a second as she focuses in on Jason and realizes that he could have knocked Dick unconscious. It’s been a long time, and Steph had thought she was over the “killing the Robins” phase. She’s thought it had been pit madness, or whatever he’d called it.
He’s even following (most of) Bruce’s rules.
“What?” Jason says, and he seems kind of thrown by the question.
Bruce has careful eyes on Jason as he repeats Damian’s question, “Did you knock Dick out, Jason?”
“That’s crazy,” Steph finds herself saying. Jumping to Jason’s defense. The more she thinks about it, the more it doesn’t make sense that he’d break into Dick’s bedroom during a gala just to hurt Dick. She turns to him and asks, “You didn’t, did you?”
“No!” Jason yells, looking pissed. He gestures vaguely at Dick. “I found him like this, and then the lights start flipping out and I started hearing some shit. I thought it was whoever did this coming back to finish the job, so I was gonna surprise them.”
“Why didn’t you come out right away?” Tim asks, his brow furrowing.
“Maybe I thought I’d immediately get accused for attacking the golden boy.” Jason bristles, and so does Tim.
“Hey!” Tim snaps irritably. “I didn’t say you attacked him, Jason. I just want to know why you didn’t come out when you knew it was us.”
“Fuck off,” Jason says, because he’s an actual twelve year old.
God, how do they even function when Dick’s not around?
Steph massages her temples with her fingers. “Okay,” she says, because everyone else has fallen quiet and for once, no one is stepping up to take charge—Bruce isn’t stepping up to take charge, despite how much he loves to boss them all around. But it looks like Jason’s thrown him for a complete loop, and Steph can do this. “Okay, okay. So someone’s in the house, there’s a big puddle of blood in the hallway, Dick’s unconscious, and—”
The lights flicker a couple of times before stabilizing.
“—the lights keep doing that,” Steph finishes. She puts her hands on her hips. “This is officially classified as a problem, right? So we need to do something.”
“Downstairs?” Jason wonders
“Too risky,” Cass says.
Tim looks at everyone in turn. He looks kind of nervous. “The thing is, is it a Wayne problem or a cape problem?”
“And who’s blood is that in the hall?” Steph says, shivering. “There was so much of it.”
“That’s not the biggest concern right now,” Damian snaps, his arms still crossed over his chest, and he looks about ready to either tear someone’s throat out or break down crying. Since the latter is something that Steph thinks wouldn’t happen in a million years, she’s going to bet on the former.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Jason sneers.
Damian gestures irritably at Dick.
Steph cringes. “He’s got a point.”
Bruce sighs, his face scrunched up in his Migraine Face. The Too-Many-of-His-Own-Children-Are-Around-Him-And-He-Needs-Dick-to-Mediate Face. Too bad for him that Dick’s not really available at the moment. Guess he’s just going to have to deal with this on his own.
“Call Jim,” Bruce tells Tim, his hands replacing Tim’s as he takes the towel and presses down on Dick’s cut. Tim scrambles to his feet and pulls out his phone, dialing. Bruce turns to Steph. “Call Alfred. Figure out what he already knows. We’ll take the situation from there.”
Steph nods and scrambles for her own phone, only to realize that it was most definitely in her desert purse, which is now lying downstairs somewhere, abandoned. “Um,” she says, only to catch the phone Damian chucks at her. She blinks down at the expensive device and says uncertainly, “Thanks.”
Bruce moves on as she starts looking for Alfred’s contact—which. Why can’t Damian just be a normal boy and put Alfred’s name under “A” instead of “P” for his last name like everyone else. Whatever.
“Cassandra, Damian,” Bruce says, looking the two over, and Steph listens in while she waits for Alfred to answer. Tim murmurs softly in the background. Bruce nods to the door and then the windows. “Close the curtains and lock the door. Then search the room.”
The call goes to voicemail, and Steph hisses out a quiet, “Holy fudge cakes, why now,” before redialing and waiting for the butler to answer. Bruce doesn’t even spare her a glance.
“Jason,” Bruce says.
“What?” Jason snaps.
“Help me with Dick,” Bruce says, and before Steph has time to figure out how that conversation is going to turn out, Alfred finally answers the phone.
“Master Damian?” Alfred asks.
“Nope,” Steph says, popping the ‘p’ as she skips away from the others. “It’s Stephanie.”
“Miss Brown,” Alfred says, and he doesn’t sound the least bit phased. Steph thinks it’s from far too many years dealing with both Bruce and Dick and then the others on top of them. Nothing seems to surprise Alfred anymore. “I assume you want to know what’s happening with the manor?”
“Please and thank you.”
“I’m afraid I’m at as much of a loss as you, my dear,” Alfred says, and he sounds a little more tired. Enough that Steph bites her lip and her stomach flips funnily. Alfred’s supposed to be this immovable, all-knowing butler who can verbally—and probably physically, too—kick anyone’s ass if they piss him off enough. But hearing Alfred sound just as human as the rest of them—it puts things into perspective.
“Well, let’s figure this out,” Steph says, trying her best to stay positive. “From your perspective, what happened? And where are you now?”
“Master Bruce had me monitoring the streets, since the Riddler escaped and Miss Gordon was unavailable. So I am currently downstairs on lockdown.”
“Do you see anything?” Steph asks. “On the cameras?”
“I’m afraid it’s not possible to see anything at the moment,” Alfred tells her, sounding grave. “The camera are currently disabled.”
“An EMP?” Steph wonders.
“No,” Alfred says, and Steph can imagine him shaking his head, that little frown on his face when faced with an unpleasant situation. “Unless it was a specific EMP that only disables security cameras.”
“So a hack job, then,” Steph concludes.
“Perhaps.” Alfred doesn’t sound convinced. “I would say to just keep an eye out for anything strange. Something is off about this situation.”
“Right.” Steph licks her lips, frowning as she tries to wrap her head around it all. “Can you at least call Babs and see if she can get into the system. Or at least help us figure out this tech thing with the cameras?”
“I was just on the phone with Miss Gordon, and she says she’s on her way back to Gotham now with Miss Lance. They’ll be back online within a few hours, but until then, it looks like I will have to see if I can handle this from my end.”
Steph sighs. “Okay. Thanks, Alfie. We’ll call you once we figure out a game plan.”
“Thank you,” Alfred says. “I would wish you good luck, but in this business, I’m afraid there might not be such a thing.”
A laugh is startled from Steph’s lips, and she smiles. “Oh, maybe not. But who needs luck when you’re good at improvising?”
“Indeed,” Alfred says, and Steph can hear the small smile in his voice. “Please be careful, then.”
“Will do, Alfie,” Steph, and then she hangs up Damian’s phone and spins around. Tim is still murmuring into his phone, Cass is peering through the keyhole of the door, Damian is peeking through the curtains at the window, and Bruce and Jason are both sitting on Dick’s bed, where they’ve laid Dick into a more comfortable position. Steph blinks, a bad feeling in her stomach. “Was it okay to move him?”
Bruce looks over at her, before standing up and giving her a full view of Dick and—oh. He’s awake, blinking at her in confusion with hazy eyes, so they must have checked if he could move his limbs on his own, then.
Steph plasters on a smile. “Welcome to the land of the living, Dick.”
Dick grins back at her easily, always unable to resist a smile being thrown his way, but he doesn’t seem to catch on to what she’s saying. And that’s fine. No matter how much of her smile feels fake, it’s fine. At least he’s awake now. He’s had worse, so he can get through this.
Tim walks over to them, nervously juggling his phone between his hands. “Um, so we have a couple of problems.”
Jason snorts. “When don’t we?”
“What problems?” Bruce asks, ignoring Jason.
Tim bites his lip for a moment, before he takes a calming breath and seemingly shakes off whatever he’s feeling so he can accurately relay the new information. The way he’s been trained.
“Jim says that when he left to get more officers, the front door was open, but when he came back, the door was locked, and they can’t find a way in. Our security measures are online and preventing anyone from getting into the manor. We’re essentially on lockdown.”
“Alfred’s downstairs,” Steph chimes in. “Like, downstairs, downstairs. He says he’s locked in, but he’s practically blind down there. Something’s knocked out the cameras. Babs is on her way, but she’s a few hours out, so we’re on our own for now.”
“Everyone else from the party has been accounted for, too,” Tim tells the room. “As far as Jim knows, we’re the only ones in the manor. So whoever’s in here with us wasn’t invited into the party. The most likely theory if the cameras are down is that someone hacked into our security and snuck in through the window, all without us knowing.”
“Through Dick’s window,” Steph says. “While he was in the room, probably.”
The room goes quiet, letting that information soak in, and only after a full thirty seconds goes by does Bruce speak.
“Dick’s too out of it to go anywhere,” Bruce tells them, and one glance to Dick confirms that Dick’s gaze is half-lidded at best, and it’s only Jason’s hand on his cheek, tapping it every time Dick’s eyes threaten to close, that keeps Dick awake. “He needs medical attention from Alfred downstairs. An MRI, stitches, and an icepack. That can’t happen until we can safely get him downstairs without alerting whoever it is that’s in the manor with us.”
“So what do we do?” Damian asks, his eyes sharp and bright.
He’d been quiet for a long time. So long that Steph had pretty much forgotten he was even in the room, which is kind of hard to do at the best of times. Damian doesn’t have that ignore me presence like Tim sometimes manages to pull off. Steph’s usually painfully aware when he’s anywhere close to her.
Bruce looks Damian over, and says, “We—”
“Be quiet,” Cass snaps, and the room falls into another hush. Cass backs away from the door, slow and silent, and then she pauses.
Nothing happens for a long while, and Steph feels like she’s about to burst from anticipation. And then—
Someone’s pounding on the door, and it takes everything in Steph not to scream out loud. She’s definitely screaming internally, though, and there are shadows moving underneath the door, blocking out the dim light from the hall, and a voice. Two voices. More bangs on the walls and the door. Someone’s not happy out there.
Steph holds her breath, and she waits. And waits and waits and waits. Until finally, whoever it is out there, decides that the door isn’t worth it, and leaves. Or, at least, she hopes they do. Steph and the others wait a couple more minutes, but there are no more bangs on the door, there are no more shadows, and there are no more voices.
And then Cass relaxes, and Steph lets out a sigh of relief.
“That,” she whispers, “was the scariest thing I have ever experienced in my entire life.”
“Stephanie, Damian, and Cassandra,” Bruce says in a low voice. “Stay here and watch over Dick. Jason, Tim, and I are going to reset the breaker and see if we can figure out who’s here.”
“We’re splitting up?” Steph wonders, arching a brow. “Have you not seen any Scooby-Doo episode ever?”
“And why is Drake going with you?” Damian demands, somehow having maneuvered himself over by Dick’s pillow on the bed without Steph noticing. “He’ll be utterly useless in a fight.”
“Even if that were true,” Bruce says, giving Damian a hard look, “which it isn’t, Tim is the only one beside Barbara who can hack into the security system faster than I can if it’s needed. And we’re going to need it if we can’t get to the breaker.”
“And Todd?” Damian asks, looking more and more put off. “Why’s he going? If this is you treating me like a child—”
Bruce’s face full-on twitches in irritation. This needs an intervention. Now.
“Look, Damian,” Steph chimes in. “He’s trusting you with watching Dick, alright? He put you with Cassandra to watch over Dick, just in case they come back for him, right?”
Damian looks a little less angry and a little more grudging. “I suppose.”
Steph nods at Damian, and then she looks over to Bruce, Jason, and Tim, who are already over by the door. “I still think splitting up is a terrible idea, but good luck,” she says.
Bruce nods to her. And then to Cass and Damian. “Take care of Dick.”
And then they’re gone. It’s just two teenagers, a child, and a half-conscious adult in a room, and Steph kind of feels like they’re racing against an invisible clock, here. She doesn’t know how much time they have left, but she doesn’t think it’s a lot, and the faster that Bruce, Jason, and Tim come back, the better she’ll feel.
Let's pretend it hasn't been like five months, shall we?
It's not two seconds later that Damian's stolen phone, still in Steph’s hands, starts ringing. Steph fumbles with it for a second, taken off guard by the noise, before she manages to answer it, even if it's just to silence it. She breathes a soft, "Hello?" not even knowing who's on the other line because she'd been too busy trying to shut off the ringing to check.
"Steph?" Tim whispers on the other line. "Don't come out of the room and don't unlock the door. Not for any reason. You understand me?"
"What?" Steph asks, her brow furrowing. Tim sounds scared. "You haven't even been gone a whole minute yet, what could you have possibly--"
She stutters to a stop at a thump and a curse from the other line that she can't hear from the bedroom. Which means that they're not in the hallway anymore. Which—that couldn't be possible, could it? Bruce had literally closed the door behind them just a moment ago. There's no way that they could have gotten far enough to be out of earshot already, even with crazy bat skills.
"Tim?" she asks.
There's a long pause where there's nothing but silence on the other end, and Steph's heart is about to beat right out of her chest with anticipation. She meets Cass's eyes from where her best friend is perched on the edge of the bed next to Dick and Damian. Damian's taken over Jason's old job of murmuring to Dick, keeping him awake, so he hasn't been paying attention. But Cass has, and Steph can see the same kind of fear she feels as her stomach drops down to her feet reflected in Cass's dark eyes.
It's not reassuring.
"Crap," Tim whispers, and Steph's breath catches. Tim doesn't like to curse often, but when he does, Steph knows that means there's trouble. "Crap, I've gotta go."
"Wait!" Steph whisper-yells. Even Damian's looking over at her now. "You can't leave me with just that, you bimbus. What's going on? Where are Bruce and Jason?"
"Don't leave the room, Steph." Tim repeats. "And keep the door locked. I'll call back when I can."
And with that, Tim hangs up on her. Steph sits there, staring at the phone screen in absolute disbelief, because she cannot just believe that Timothy Jackson Drake-Wayne just did that to her, and the next time she sees him, she owes him a brick to the face.
Angrily, she switches the sound off on Damian's phone and throws it onto the bed within easy reach of any of them.
"Steph?" Cass prompts.
"'Stay in the room,' he says," Steph mutters under her breath. Cass cocks her head to the side, and Steph huffs, plopping down on the bed. She whispers, "I don't know what's happening."
"You're...scared," Cass says. It's not a question.
Steph snorts. "Understatement of the year. This is the most freaked out I've been since the Zombie Tim incident last year. And that was a literal nightmare, Cass."
Cass breathes a whisper of a laugh. "That was funny."
"To you, maybe," Steph scoffs. "You weren't the one who had to help strap him to his bed. You know he carries knives now?"
Cass's face is carefully blank.
Steph stares. "What do you know?"
"You said...now." Cass bites her lip, before she leans in and whispers conspiratorially, "Tim's carried a knife since he became Robin. You just...." She shrugs. "Never knew."
Steph moans pathetically. "And you did? What the hell, Tim?"
"Will you quit talking about Drake's neuroses?" Damian hisses. He gestures at Dick, who looks like he's losing the battle for consciousness pretty spectacularly. The sight of it has Steph snapping back to attention, a trill of fear flitting back into her stomach. Damian scowls at her and continues, "We've got other things to worry about."
A glance at Cass tells Steph that Dick's mental state is going to have to be up to Steph and Damian. Her eyes are in constant movement, now that she and Steph are finished speaking. It's probably just for show, and that just convinces Steph that if she had to trust someone with protecting the room, she'd more than likely always choose Cass.
Okay. She nods at Cass, and Cass nods back, stands up, and stands in the middle of the room, body deceptively relaxed. Steph leaves her to it and turns back to where Damian's fussing over Dick.
And yeah, he's fussing. And she thought Dick could be an overprotective mother hen.
"He still awake?" Steph asks.
"No thanks to you," Damian snaps.
And damn. Are his mother hen feathers ruffled. Steph holds her hands up in surrender and scoots closer on her knees to Dick's other side. Dick's bed is large enough for like, five people, so it's upsetting easily, and she spends a second on wishing that she could steal one of these mattresses for her apartment, because then she'd probably sleep like a baby.
Getting off track. Back on task, Brown.
Steph settles down on the other side of Dick's head and leans over him a bit. Dick's glazed eyes catch onto her face and he grins at her again. "Hi," he breathes.
"Hi, Dick," she says. "How're you feeling?"
"Head hurts," Dick tells her. His eyes drift to catch onto Damian's face instead, and he says, "Hi, Dami."
"Hello, Richard," Damian says. It's quiet, though, and it's soft and gentle. Oh god, is he a mother hen. She wonders who’s worse, Damian or Bruce. "Your wound has finally stopped bleeding."
Steph finally makes herself look at the cut on Dick's forehead. Damian's right. It has stopped bleeding, and even though the towel on the bed next to Damian is almost drenched in blood, his wound looks pretty clean. Which means Damian had been taking care of it.
"Has it?" Dick asks. "Was I hurt?"
"Yeah," Steph says. "Do you remember what happened?"
Dick stares at her for a long moment, before his eyes scrunch up. "My head hurts," he repeats.
Steph laughs lightly. "Yeah, concussions will do that to you."
"I think I remember Jason?" Dick murmurs. "Or was it Tim. I know I definitely...maybe saw Bruce. I think. He was saying something about Alfred. But I can't remember all of it. Was it important?"
Steph shares a glance with Damian. "No," she says. There's no way she's going to burden him with this right now. Not when he’s so injured and barely functioning. Heck, the guy was an unconscious lump on the floor not ten minutes ago. “Nothing to worry about, Dick.”
Dick frowns, and Steph can tell he doesn’t quite believe her, but he moves his head just bit towards her and winces, and that effectively ends that conversation.
They wait around the room for another five-ish minutes. Cass doesn’t move much, and Steph doesn’t distract her. Damian is keep up a stream of questions to gauge how bad Dick’s concussion is—it’s pretty bad, but Dick’s slowly gaining more and more awareness as time passes, which is a good sign—and when that fails, Damian starts insulting Dick’s “incompetence,” which just makes Dick laugh breathily.
And holy wow, Steph thinks she caught a few half-smiles from Damian during that conversation. She’s glad that the kid knows how to smile around someone.
Steph’s just about to die of some combination of anxiety and boredom, and she finally whispers, “They should be back by now, right? Or at least have reset the breaker, right?” No one answers her. She sighs. “Right. Of course, it can never be that easy.”
Cass tenses. Steph grabs Damian’s phone off the bed and Dick’s nearest trophy, holding her makeshift weapon high up in the air as she walks towards Cass. She joins her best friend in the middle of the room, and they watch the door. Damian’s gone quiet, and the only sounds are the sounds of their breathing and light footsteps in the hallway.
“I swear to god,” Steph breathes, the trophy trembling in her hands.
She feels so naked and exposed in a dress and heels—without a mask. Without any real weapons—and her heart feels like it’s about to beat out of her chest. She has basically no info about anything going on, and there all split up from each other, and the anxious curl in her gut needs to go away.
“I swear to god,” she repeats. “If I die tonight, I’m coming back as a ghost and spray painting the car of whoever murders me. I’m gonna paint cuss words so bad even Jason will have to avert his eyes.”
“Steph,” Cass murmurs. It’s disapproving.
“Bite me, Cass,” Steph murmurs. She’s terrified, and Cass knows it. She talks when she’s scared. It’s not her fault.
Okay, alright. So maybe she could shut her mouth for right now.
“Sorry,” she whispers. Cass hums. Steph blows out a breath. “I didn’t mean it.”
“I know.” Cass’s eyes stare straight through the door. “He’s here.”
There are a couple of light taps on the door, and Steph’s gaze snaps to the locked wooden door. None of them move. Steph doesn’t even think any of them breathe.
“Steph?” Tim’s voice comes from the other side. Steph wavers, her brows furrowing upwards in concern. Tim sounds scared. “Steph, let me in. Now.”
Stephanie’s moving before she can even think about it. She only falter when her and is hovering over the lock. She meets Cass’s and Damian’s bright eyes, and they both nod after a moment. Steph opens the door.
Tim stumbles in. He’s alone.
“Close it,” Tim breathes when Steph doesn’t move. She’s too busy staring in shock at Tim’s disheveled appearance. His dress shirt is ripped, part of it tied over the bottom half of his face like a mask. Tim starts gesturing at her wildly. “Close it, close it, close it!”
Steph shuts the door and locks it.
“What happened to you?” Steph wonders. Tim rips the cloth away from his face. His eyes are wide and his hair is a mess, and there’s blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. “You were gone less than ten minutes, Tim! And where are Bruce and Jason?”
“I don’t know,” Tim huff out, his hands coming up to cover his face. “I don’t know where they are. We got split up.”
“How did you get split up?” Damian demands. He’s standing up now, and Dick’s sitting up halfway, looking terribly pale and pretty much like he’s about to get out of bed and find Bruce himself. “I knew I should have gone.”
“If you had gone, there wouldn’t have been anybody to come back here and warn you guys!” Tim snaps.
“What does that mean?” Dick asks quietly. Dick’s arms are trembling as they support his weight, and his bright blue eyes meet each of theirs as he searches for an answer. His arms give out a second later, and Steph tenses, but Tim beats her to him. He helps Dick into an actual sitting position against the headboard, and Dick’s hand becomes a vice around Tim’s wrist. “What—what’s going on?”
Tim looks like he’s about to cry, and Dick melts.
“Hey, hey. Timmy, you’re alright.” Dick pulls Tim towards him, because even concussed, Dick’s still a big brother. Tim miserably leans into the hug. “It’s going to be okay, Tim.”
“It’s not, though,” Tim says. His voice is hoarse, but there aren’t any tears. Tim takes a deep breath, and then, “We didn’t make it to the breaker. They’re smart. There are traps rigged around the entire manor, and one of them involved fear toxin. Jason got caught up in it. He ran away, and Bruce went after him.”
“Bruce’s phone,” Cass says.
Tim shakes his head. “No answer.”
Steph blows out a breath. “This is why we don’t Scooby-Doo.”
“So what do we do now?” Damian asks quietly. He looks—scared. There’s a set to his jaw that’s determined, but there’s something in his eyes that has Steph’s insides curling again.
Nobody has an answer for him, though.
She grits her teeth and digs the heel of her palms into her eyes. Who cares if she messes up her makeup. This situation is too crazy to even care at this point. With Dick barely able to sit up, Bruce and Jason gone, Babs out of town, Alfred locked up in the Batcave, and the police locked outside, it’s just the four of them.
Somehow, Steph thinks, they’ve got to figure out how to get out of this mess. All on their own.