“You want me to join Young Justice?” Stephanie stared at him and, even behind the mask that should have hidden everything, Tim knew her eyes were widening, knew what emotion he'd see in them if the mask were gone. Hope. This was what she'd always wanted – recognition. Belonging. Being part of something greater.
But there was no time for it, no time to either let her bask in it or for him to worry about disappointing her. “We need your help.”
Whatever she felt, Steph had at least learned a few things. He could still see the excitement in her posture, but her tone was all business. “I'd be happy to.”
“Come back with me to meet the others. I'll brief you on the way.” He led the way to the Super-cycle, not even pausing to let her examine it. “Time is of the essence. We need to rescue someone – someone who once told me that she admired you.”
“Me?” It was enough of a surprise that she got in the cycle without any quips, behaving better than most of the others would have under similar circumstances. Maybe this would work out after all.
“The first thing you have to understand,” he began, “is that we're not supposed to be doing this. I'm serious, Spoiler. There could be major consequences. You can still back out.”
Just as he expected, just as any of the rest of them would have done, she set her jaw stubbornly, completely ignoring the warnings. “You said someone's in trouble. What's going on?” It didn't show on his face, but mentally, Tim was shaking his head, maybe even smiling a little. Spoiler wasn't a natural and she was inexperienced, but she had the heart of a hero. Wasn't that a major part of what he found so attractive about her? And wasn't that why he'd chosen to ask her instead of someone more experienced?
Tim explained about Secret on the way back to Young Justice headquarters. He was already so used to dealing with the frustrations of working with the team, particularly Impulse, that he didn't even mind her interruptions as he told the story.
“They were doing experiments on her? And they've captured her again? Of course I'm in!”
“The Senate just created a subcommittee to consider closing down Young Justice,” Tim pointed out. “You could get caught up in it if you help us now.”
“Don't be stupid!”
And that was that. He didn't try to talk her out of it; if he'd really not wanted her involved, he wouldn't have asked in the first place.
Under the circumstances, introductions were necessarily minimal, merely a brief, “Team, this is Spoiler. She's going to help us out.” After that, he left the others to introduce themselves to her on the way to the A.P.E.S. facility where they were keeping Secret.
As he drove, he could hear Wonder Girl introducing herself to Spoiler, but he mostly tuned her out, even after he heard her ask, “So, um, you're a friend of Robin's?” This wasn't going to be easy; he'd have to plan. Spoiler gave them another member, but she wasn't an exact replacement for Arrowette. He'd have to make a plan that didn't involve archery.
In the end, however, her position in the plan wasn't so different. When he split them into teams, he left her with Superboy and Wonder Girl. It wasn't necessarily the best choice – Spoiler was stealthy, not a powerhouse, better suited to scouting. And she was new to the team, which put her at a disadvantage when working with heroes she knew only by reputation. But he trusted her more than the other two to spot any pursuit and not get distracted.
What he didn't expect her to do (and therefore wasn't surprised when she couldn't) was control Superboy when he decided to completely ignore Tim's plan and act on his own. But Robin could hear her yelling at Kon before he saw them. That didn't surprise him either; while Stephanie was a little inclined to hero worship, she wasn't exactly shy.
“That was stupid! What were you thinking?” As he'd suspected – right up in Superboy's face, completely unafraid, though he could hear the echo of lectures she'd received in her words. “We had the element of surprise until you ruined it!”
And Superboy, of course, was defensive, as he always was when he knew he'd made a mistake. “Who are you to tell me I'm stupid? Just because Robin brought you here doesn't mean you get to tell me what to do!”
Sometimes he wondered how Dick used to do it. Had it ever been this hard to keep the Titans focused and together? Maybe it had, but it was hard to tell it now. Tim had to hope that it just took more time, but the way things were now with the subcommittee, Old Justice, and A.P.E.S. breathing down their necks, ready to leap on any mistake they made, Young Justice might be dismantled before he got a chance to find out.
“Hey, guys? I hate to interrupt, but you might want to pay a little more attention to getting out of here.” At least they actually listened this time.
Tim wondered how Steph would handle this: she'd never been in a situation quite this intense and she hadn't spent time fighting beside metahumans. Would it bother her that she was now the weakest member of the team, that she couldn't quite keep up with the rest of them? Even he felt it sometimes – the weight of his limitations, his merely human abilities – and he had both more training and more experience than she did.
If it bothered her, however, she at least had the sense not to show it while fighting. Spoiler fought well. She had something to prove and she lived up to it, even giving Fite a good punch in the jaw that gave them an extra second or two to head for an exit. When they escaped, he was actually feeling pretty good about the whole thing. But that lasted for less than a minute, 30 seconds tops – just until he saw the news crews.
After, while they were waiting for word from Red Tornado, he went to talk to Steph. She was sitting off by herself, uncharacteristically quiet, clearly feeling the awkwardness of a newcomer. It was worse now, of course – not only were the rest of them at least somewhat used to being a team now, but she couldn't join them in missing Cissie, nor feel the possible loss of the team in the same way as someone who had been a part of it longer.
Tim knew how she felt. He was one of them and yet he wasn't; he deliberately kept himself separate, maintained a distance none of the others seemed to feel a need for. It was only partially because of the secrecy Batman required of him, that strict injunction not to reveal his name, even to his teammates, nor to ever appear in such a way that his existence could be definitively proved. As hard as he found it to keep that up, he had to face the fact that some of the distance came from him, too. He'd spent so much time alone as a kid that it just seemed part of him now; he never quite felt a part of any group. Like most of the Gotham heroes, he was always the outsider looking in.
Steph felt that, too, he knew, but it was different for her. She wanted to belong far more than he ever had. This couldn't be easy for her. And it wasn't helped by the fact that it wasn't the only thing on her mind.
She turned her head when he sat next to her and he saw that her mask was already off, though the hood of her costume was still up. He should have criticized her for it, but that could wait.
“I'm sorry. It looks like you're stuck here for awhile.”
“That's all right.” But it wasn't; he could see that. Someone else might have been fooled by her smile; Steph was good at faking things like that, but Tim knew better. “My mom probably won't worry too much.” A lie, but he didn't call her on it.
They sat there in the silence that came so naturally to him, though not for long. Whatever her mood, Tim sometimes thought Stephanie had never met a silence she didn't want to fill.
“... I'm glad I was able to help out.”
He nodded, waiting to hear the rest. She obviously had more to say.
“And after this is all over...” Stephanie paused, glancing over shoulder at the others. “I'd like to do it again.”
Tim nodded once more. Despite the current situation, he'd thought she'd feel that way. She wasn't someone easily discouraged. He put one gloved hand over hers and squeezed briefly. “I'd like that.”