When Steph broke into the Cave and begged Bruce to take her on as Robin… she'd never really expected it to end up like this.
Oh, not being fired and kicked out entirely, or being tortured to near death by a sadist or failing the entire city due to her own demons and coming back from it to become a symbol for hope. No, those were outcomes . Those were predictions . This? This was eight kinds of bizarre all layered on top of one another.
Firstly, Batman was dead but Bruce remained a live. He had no memory of any of them, yet nobody seemed to mind.
Secondly, Nightwing was dead and Dick Grayson went with him. Yet he'd been rebranded as a sexy super spy and nobody had a problem with it.
Thirdly, at the absence of any Batman on the streets and Robin 5.0 going AWOL; a bunch of kids had risen up and formed a vigilante street gang under the mantle of Robin. And now they were all at war with Gotham City.
And lastly, they were all standing in the middle of an abandoned train station looking at her for leadership with the same respect they showed the other boys. She was a Robin, and now: so were they. Dick had instructed them all to teach the kids something that would help them survive out there. Something only they knew how to do.
Tim and Damian were focussed on combat techniques. Jason had broken the rules and taken them thieving. Dick went for integrations disguised as sparing. Steph wasn't a fighter. She wasn't a thief. And she was certainly not a spy. So what did she have that she could teach these kids? Most of them were still wet behind the ears! But… hadn't she once been one of them? A Gotham Kid trying to turn her life around and help those in need. Desperate to prove herself in a world that rejected her at every turn. Maybe what she had that the other Robins didn't, was empathy.
She took a deep breath, and began her lesson.
"Batman once told me, that being Robin came down to one thing: Obedience." the kids all looked at her with scepticism and disappointment. She persisted in her lesson though, it was perhaps the most important one they'd learn today. "The thing is, my Batman wasn't very good at being Batman. He had a lot on his plate, I see that now. Luckily, I'm Batgirl now and being Batgirl comes down to one thing: Knowing that Batman is full of shit."
There was a good range of sniggers from the group, along with a loud whoop. A few were still looking around nervously. They'd obviously been the ones to train with Tim and Damian already. Poor bastards. She held up a hand for silence, and they let her continue with her lesson. "So that means I can tell you that being Robin really comes done to one thing: Trust. You have to trust yourselves and each other. Your Batman is somehow even more crap than mine was. That means you must rely on your fellow Robin to have your back, and have their back in return. Do you understand?"
They all nodded, a few whispering about when the actual training was going to begin. One of them raised a hand, not bothering to wait to be called upon to talk. "So what does that mean? We already know all of that! That's why we're a we. That's why our Robin is made up of a team of people, and not just one kid who got lucky."
Steph raised an eyebrow at her and cocked her hip. "Despite the whole nearly dying part, I'll agree that being Robin was one of the best experiences of my life. But if you think it was just down to complete luck… sure, anyone can be Robin. You're proving it right now ! But it comes from hard work and experience. I was Spoiler for 3 years before I got to put on the red and green. Being Robin isn't easy. It takes complete dedication, you have to want it more than anything else in your life, and be willing to work every day to become a better person for it. But you already knew that, that's the easy part. The hard part is the trust."
"So what, we're just going to do trust falls from rooftops or something?" asked another kid, who was trying desperately to sound sarcastic and brave, but really just came across as terrified. Bless him.
Steph spotted Jason walking past the back of the group, idly spinning his guns. A smile spread across her face as an idea came to mind. "Trust falls you say? You mean something like this? Red Hood! Catch!" She screamed as she made a running jump across the room, flying up over their heads. Jason gave out a loud bellow of protest. He had a split second to choose between her or his guns. She grinned as she saw him drop them to the floor and readied to catch her instead. He caught bridal style, just as she knew he would.
"Like I said," Steph beamed, her arms loosely wrapped around Jason's neck. "It's all about trust in your fellow Robin! I had to know that not only would Hood here catch me, by that he'd also drop his weapons with the safety on. I trusted him to not accidents shoot me, or you. Also it was fun, and being robin means having a bit of fun, right Hood?"
In answer Jason let his arms go and she dropped to the floor, only just landing on her feet. Ahhh Gravity. Always one step ahead of her. "I hate you so much." he told her, walking away from the scene.
"See! Trust!" Steph beamed raising her hands in the air in triumph.
"He said he hates you." pointed out one of them. Steph rolled her eyes.
"He means 'I love you'. God do none of you have siblings? Regardless, that was just a fun time demonstration to get your attention. The actual exercise is going to be much tougher. It involves sitting in a circle like you're in Elementary School, and speaking the truth. She settled down on the floor and indicated for everyone else to do the same. Cautiously they all joined her, a few looking put out by the gross floor, others embarrassed by the whole situation. But they'd joined in, and that was all that mattered. Next, came the challenge.
"I want you all to tell the group a secret. One you've never told anyone else. Something from the heart. It doesn't have to be big, it doesn't have to be life changing. It could be something totally embarrassing like how Red Hood used to wear a domino underneath his helmet just for dramatic effect."
"Fuck off Little Miss Superboy Poster!" He bellowed from across the room.
Steph shrugged, feeling no shame at her teenage self's choice of decor. So what if she still kept them up once dating his best friend? A girl still had needs, after all. That was in the past though, some things weren't though.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I'll start. My name is Batgirl, I was the fourth Robin though most people say I didn't count. When I was sixteen years old, I gave my baby up for adoption." Suddenly the room seemed much quieter, and she knew everyone was listening "That's the bit everyone knows, it's hard to keep that kind of thing a secret. What they don't know though, is that every year on their birthday I write them a letter. I tell them of everything I've done that year, all the things I hope they've achieved too. I tell them how much I love them, and how I think about them every day of my life. Every time I cry so hard the paper gets soaked and the ink blurs so you can barely read it. I have now written six letters, and even though I know their exact address… I've never sent a single one."
There was silence amongst the group of kids, then the one next to her started his story. About the time he'd pushed his sister down the stairs and blamed it on the dog, who'd been sent to a kennel as a result. The girl next to him talked about the time she'd been on her period at the cinema and when she'd stood up to leave there was a big blood stain there. The next told them about the time they'd used their epilepsy as an excuse to get out of doing an exam. And so on and so on it went.
The next twenty-four hours tested Steph's lesson to the limit. Dick Grayson had betrayed them, and had Robo-Batman them lock them up in cages; Damian had agreed to join the Court of Owls because he thought it might save them and Tim tried to order everyone to give up and go home where they'd be safe. Only Jason and herself remained loyal even if they did have their doubts… and then that Duke kid had stood up. He'd held his head high and spoke his mind, and every single Robin went to his side.
Perhaps that was it. The so called REAL Robins were all trying too hard to be Batman. Trying too hard to take the lead and shape the kids in front of them into something that they deemed correct. That they'd deemed acceptable. But that wasn't the role of Robin… Robin was meant to keep Batman in check. Robin was about reminding everyone what you were fighting for, and holding Batman accountable when he failed.
So as far as Steph could see it, the only Robin that really counted; what the 367 kids who put their lives on the line for something that mattered more than themselves. The kids who fought against an oppressive regime because it was the right thing to do. The ones who fell down and got back up again.
They were Robin.