It wasn't unusual for people in the superhero community to have nightmares. No matter the brave faces they put on.
In Gotham, where metas weren't allowed because regular nutcases are hard enough to deal with as it is, the reactions to nightmares differed greatly. None as strangely as Stephanie Brown.
Death follows all of Gotham's vigilantes around like lost dogs, it occurred frequently in dreams, but none of them reacted in quite the way the Girl Wonder ever did. If one was particularly gruesome, realistic or plain just too much for her, she'd seek out whoever died and, no matter what, come hell or high water, would give them a hug. Just to make sure they were okay.
The first time it happened - at least memorably - was with Dick. She'd been half-asleep, dressed in Pizza Print Pyjamas, still bruised from patrol. Dick had been having dinner with Barbara at the manor. Bruce was away on some kind of business meeting and Tim and Cassandra were asleep, and they'd thought Stephanie was at her place, until she jumped down on the patio.
She'd had tears streaming down her face as she crawled into Dick's lap, buried her head in his soft T-shirt and clutched onto him like an oversized koala as sobs racked her frame.
Dick and Barbara exchanged a look before the latter put her fork down and wheeled back inside with a small mutter about checking the perimeter.
Dick gently began rubbing Stephanie's back, calming down crying teens was not something he did often but he still knew how. "Shhh" he soothed, "it's alright" he almost laughed the words as she shook her - still buried in his T-shirt - head. She only held on tighter. "Do you want to tell me got you so worked up?" She shook her head again, "Okay" they sat there like that, silent apart from a few sobs that managed to be louder than she was obviously forcing them. An hour must have passed, or at least what felt like it, before she finally spoke.
"I just needed to make sure you were okay" her voice was small and horse if there were any other sounds Dick might have missed it.
"And why did you need to do that?" She lifted her head to look at him, before looking away again, returning to her curled up position.
"It's dumb" she murmured, wiping away the snot from her running nose.
"It's obviously not if you took time out of your tight sleep schedule just to come here and cry. Kiddie, come on, you gotta tell me what's wrong"
It took a few minutes as she regained air. "It was just a dumb nightmare" she finally mumbled, voice hardly even a whisper but his ear was close enough that he was able to catch every syllable.
"Oh, Steph, it's never just a dumb nightmare, trust me, "
"But it was nothing unusual!" She protested. "I shouldn't have come here, I ruined your dinner"
"Dinner happens every night, you running all the way over here in your PJ's doesn't" he sighed and pushed her up so she was facing him. "Look, if it makes you feel any better you were hardly awake when you got here, I doubt you conscious made the decision."
"So I subconsciously run twelve miles for a hug?" Wow, that really did sound dumb, all he did though was shrug. She curled back into a ball, "Why can't I do something normal?"
He smiled at the young girl's antics "Do you think this is the first time this has happened?"
She shook her head, "no, I think I've done it with Cass and Timmy before but that normally ends with me asleep, "
"So that's how you ended up curled up in Cassie's bed last month, Bruce couldn't figure it out"
She snorted. "He was stumped even with the excessive amount of security? Some worlds greatest detective" she hardly got the last word out before a yawn was interrupting her. She snuggled impossibly further into his chest, the cold Gotham air sending goosebumps up her arms. "Hey, Dickie?"
"I think I might sleep"
And if she woke up the next morning in her room at the manor, with a steaming hot cup of tea next to her bed, well, she could thank Dick and Alfred later, but she was late for school, shit.
The next really memorable time anything happened was with Bruce.
No matter what, the billionaire did not, at five in the fucking morning when he had an hour left of sleep, expect to find one of his kids that didn't live in the manor in his room. To say he would have broken her too thin arms was an understatement. But he didn't have the chance as he hadn't even sat up before her soaking wet body from the storm outside was wrapped around his, his silk pyjamas were soaking before he even realised she was crying.
"Steph?" There was no reply, just more sobbing as lightning struck outside illuminating the room enough for Bruce to see the tel-tale blonde hair. Okay, Batman, come on, you've calmed down crying kids before, surely this will be just the same as it was the boys, right? "Stephanie, calm down" maybe a bit more forceful than what we were originally going for but nothing we can't work with. "Just breath" that's better, maybe you aren't as bad as this as your thought.
"Sorry" she managed to get out through hiccupy sobs. Not the desired reaction but it's better than nothing. "I didn't mean- I just- I need to know that you're... You're real." She mumbled into the silk, gently he pushed her back by her shoulders, they were frail and far too breakable. Her blue eyes shot downwards, evading his own. Hooking a thumb beneath her chin he forced her to look up at him, surprise seemed to shadow her eyes for a minute. Lighting struck again and the dark circles under her eyes were made prominent before thunder cracked open the sky. "Sorry" she whispered this time.
"I'm real," he told her firmly, a finality to his tone as he wiped away a tear streak. "How much sleep have you gotten this week?"
She rubbed her eyes. "Uh, college is kinda pain and suffering and um" she closed her eyes before talking in a rush. "They've gotten worse, the nightmares, they, uh, yeah, I might be a little bit too scared to sleep, it's stupid, but, uh, yeah" she gave him a weak smile. "Anyway, sorry for barging in here like this, now you're all wet and uh- yeah- sorry, heh" her eyes once again shot downwards.
"Stephanie" he waited until she glanced up at him before continuing. "You need sleep"
"Well, I mean, yeah, but this is wholly unnecessary for just some stupid hallucination, " she yawned before adding absently "Or did I pass out?" She glanced back at the open window as if it would tell her.
"You're staying here for the night" her head snapped back around, eyes wide in obvious shock.
"What? But- I- you can't make me stay!"
"On the country" he smiled a little at the disbelief still etched across her face as he pulled the blankets back on the bed and with one strong arm pushed her into a lying position next to him. "I'm Batman I can do whatever I want"
If Stephanie burrowed a little closer into his chest then was necessary, and if she woke up at seven in an empty bed with fresh clothes on the end, well, she could apologise to Alfred later for leaving the window open.
The most life-threatening time it had ever happened was with Jason Todd, Gotham's very own Red Hood.
Nobody knows how she found him, just that he was taking care of a human trafficking ring, it may or may not have gone slightly south, when she'd shown up in nothing but bunny slippers and Pizza Print pyjamas.
The gunfire at the time had been heavy, about twenty kids from the ages of four to sixteen burrowed in a corner in an oversized lion cage, when the normally wide awake and joking vigilante jumped in through the warehouse windows with a massive yawn.
She hardly took a step towards Jason before a bullet had grazed her bare arms, she didn't pay it much mind, only rubbed it a little like would after knocking into a door frame. Jason had bearly registered her presence through the chaos before her arms were wrapped around him and she was crying silently into his jacket.
"Stephanie" he grumbled, "now really isn't the time for one of your nightmare hugs"
"Now is always the time" she mumbled into the fabric.
"Kid" he grunted, shooting two bullets, three people went down.
"Right, " she pushed away from him glancing around. "I'll help"
"Steph, you're in your fucking Pyjamas"
"Why does, everyone, " she yawned. "Always feel the need to point that out?"
"Just-" he took a deep breath and prayed for patience, "-don't-" a weight leaned against his side, "-pass out" he glanced down at the exhausted girl next to him and grunted. Bruce so needed to keep a better eye on his brats. With a few more bullets the rest of the human trafficking goons were taken care of and it was only the terrified children left.
Throwing the blonde over his shoulder he broke open the lock on the cage to see wide-eyed kids. One of them, maybe about eleven, pointed at the girl borrowing herself further into his side. "Who's she?"
"Emotional support, " one of the older kids snorted. They'd be fine. "Cops are on their way, they'll get you home" and with that, he grabbed a spare grapple of his and went through the window 'Emptinal support' had broken.
Stephanie woke up in a dingy apartment, on a surprisingly comfortable couch and a plate of waffles on the side table next to her, passed out leaning on the couch, was Jason Todd head dropping dangerously close to his own plate of waffles.
There was, of course, the times when someone was thought to be dead.
When Dick found Stephanie sobbing into an old Batman mask, he didn't say anything, her shoulders were haunced over, her sobs nothing more than strangled gasps as she struggled for air, her body shaking with the weight of everything. And if he came back an hour later to find her passed out, still clutching the mask to her chest, Damian didn't need to know. If she woke up in Cass's room in the manor, then the other girl wouldn't mind.
Patrol was slow, they were starting to head back, Brown had already turned in for the night an hour ago, the others about two, it wasn't unusual at the moment for him and Bruce to stay out later than normal, getting in about an hours worth of sleep.
So, that's one of the main reasons that neither of them excepted to see a figure in Pyjamas running towards them. Batman didn't seem to mind but Robin was fighting to keep his confusion out of his face.
He certainly didn't expect the girl to be familiar or for her to all but skid to a halt on bare feet before hugging him all the span of three seconds. "Brown! What are you-?"
"Don't question it" she told him squeezing tighter as tears dripped down her face, shaking shoulders making it obvious that she was trying not to sob.
What would Jon do? Probably hug back, maybe he should try it?
Hesitantly, Damian put his own arms around her, letting her bury her face in his hair. "It's okay" he whispered hardly audible in her ear. "I'm here" and if she started sobbing? Well, Bruce could tell Alfred they'd be a little late.