The thing about a really good exit line that they don’t tell you is that the next time you run into the recipient it just ends up being super awkward.
“So,” Steph says, rubbing a hand across the back of her neck and trying to focus on the dead body and not the five-o-clock stubble on Detective StillAHottie’s cheeks. “How’s life?”
Nick snorts, jotting down a couple of things in his notebook and signaling for the CSI to finish up. “No complaints,” he says, eventually. “How about you? Jumped out of any helicopters lately?”
“One or two,” she says, because, well, she has. He doesn’t look particularly surprised, and Steph briefly wonders if she might need to up her game to stop these work dates of theirs getting repetitive. Then she remembers that someone’s dead and she should probably stop worrying about her non-existent love life and start trying to work out who’s been killing people with something that looks like a cattle prod and an unnatural surge of adrenaline to the system. Because she is a professional.
“Isn’t this normally the part of the night where you say something witty and swing off?” Nick asks, and Steph would be offended if he weren’t smiling in that stupid, adorable way.
“Why, Detective,” she says, channeling her best Scarlett O’Hara, “are you sure you don’t just want to watch me leave?”
Nick laughs, quick and easy and like he’s as surprised by it as she is, and Steph grins, feeling the cowl tighten against her cheeks (which is such a typically Bat design flaw, seriously, she’s going to talk to Dick about it sometime when Damian’s not creeping around because at least Dick knows how to smile unlike…every other member of the family, to be honest).
“You’re right,” he says, tucking his notebook in his coat pocket and offering her a smirk that should be downright illegal. “We gotta make sure this partnership of ours is one of equal rights.”
Then he turns and walks away, and Steph would swear on every gizmo in her thigh holster that he saunters out of the room, suit pants clinging in highly distracting ways made all the tighter by the hands in his pockets, and she’ll be damned if she’s not going to take this for exactly what it is.
Because Detective Nicholas Gage? Is a freaking gift.
Steph’s so bored she’s actually starting to miss her Economics textbook, if only because it makes a pretty good makeshift pillow, so she practically cheers when the sky gets brighter.
She’s about ninety-eight percent sure the Bat Signal won’t be for her, but she goes to check it out anyway because there’s only so many times she can practice death drops before she falls, almost crash landing anyway when she finds Nick leaning casually against the wall, holding out a Starbucks cup with a grin.
“Well,” Steph says when her brain kicks back into gear, “I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting this kind of service. You sure you aren’t waiting for the Big Guy?”
“Sure,” Nick says, “but he doesn’t strike me as a salted caramel mocha kinda vigilante.”
“You’d be surprised,” Steph says, then: “Wait, you remember my coffee order?”
Nick shrugs, tugging at his ear, and Steph thinks he might actually be blushing, and wow. Her ego is going to have a field day with this later when she’s home and can pretend she hasn’t spent the last two minutes grinning like an idiot.
“We got a lead on a suspect,” Nick says, eventually, and Steph rolls her eyes.
“You couldn’t let me have this for, like, one more minute? Really?”
“Sorry,” Nick says. “Would it help if I said purple’s a good look on you? I mean, I don’t know how you look in any other color, but--”
“No,” Steph says, “that works. I like my compliments with a side of good, old-fashioned realism. Thanks. So, suspect, huh?”
“Here,” he says, throwing her a file, “I figured you can probably run this faster than we could.”
Steph grins. “You have no idea.”
“I’m thinking about quitting again just so I don’t have to listen to you two flirting, by the way,” Barbara says in Steph’s ear, and Steph laughs.
“You’d miss me too much.”
Barbara scoffs, but she also sends Steph the location of their murderer and about six different short cuts that’ll keep Batgirl off all possible cameras, so Steph knows she’s right.
“Just let me look at it,” Nick says, reaching for Steph’s foot and then pausing before his hand makes contact. “Wait, is this thing booby trapped? I don’t really want to blow myself up.”
“No, Detective,” Steph says, gritting her teeth, “my shoe is not booby trapped. Just click that thing on the-- yeah, and then-- see, you’re a natural.”
“A natural at taking your clothes off?” Nick says distractedly, and then freezes. “I didn’t mean that. I mean-- I didn’t. Oh jeez.”
“Detective Gage,” Commissioner Gordon says, and only the fact that her ankle still really hurts stops Steph from cracking up at the look of Nick’s face. “Batgirl.”
“S’up, Commissioner?” Steph says, schooling her face into her best casual and totally legal, seriously, college student and everything. She’s not sure it works because good old Jim is shooting Nick the kind of full blown judgey glare that Steph’s only ever seen Bruce pull of.
“Sir,” Nick says, letting go of Steph’s foot and standing up, which--
“Shit,” Nick says, wincing, “shit, sorry. Here, let me-- I’m just gonna go see if the paramedics have any bandages.”
Gordon pinches the bridge of his nose as Nick scarpers off, and Steph sort of wants to laugh again.
“Is this really a good idea, Batgirl?” he asks with a sigh, and Steph shrugs.
“Probably not,” she says, “but, hey, not exactly known for my stellar forward thinking over here.”
“True,” Gordon says, and he sounds a lot like Alfred when he’s trying to explain again why Damian can’t keep grenades in the limo. “True.”
Steph thinks she might be a little offended.
“This is such a bad idea,” Nick says, and, yep, it really probably is, except Steph’s not entirely sure how their lips ended up doing the tango as it is, so she’s just gonna roll with it. “Such a bad idea.”
“You’re killing the mood, doofus,” Steph says and then goes back to tugging his bottom lip between her teeth and trying to get him to stand still long enough to let her stick her hands down the back of his pants.
“There’s a very real possibility I’m going to get fired for this,” Nick says, and Steph would be annoyed except he sounds totally wrecked, which, yeah. “You’re definitely in college, right? Not that it matters since I can’t prove that, oh god.”
“Wow,” Steph says, “seriously, there are so many things you could be doing with your mouth right now and you’re choosing to freak out? I am totally legal, I promise. I’ll even get Batman to confirm with the higher ups if it’ll stop you interrupting what was a very promising make out session.”
Nick pulls away to stare at her for a moment, and Steph suddenly wishes she wasn’t wearing the mask. “Okay,” he says, finally getting back to the important task at hand (and also giving Steph just enough wiggle room to slip her fingers under his waistband), “but I’m holding you to the Bat thing.”
“Awesome,” Steph sighs, and man, this is totally worth the future embarrassment that conversation’s going to bring.
She’s not even thinking - was running late again this morning and forgot to grab her Bio homework on the way out, then had to deal with Jordanna’s snide comments all through lunch, then didn’t see the room change for her afternoon lab, and by the time she’s heading to Barbara’s office ready to get her rant mode on she’s just not thinking - which is the only possible excuse.
It doesn’t even register that this is Gotham U and not-- anywhere else. Nick just passes her in the hall and smiles, and she’s saying, “Hey you,” before she’s even aware she’s opened her mouth.
Steph freezes as Nick stops in his tracks, spinning to face her, and oh god, oh god, oh god, Bruce is going to kill her - or let Damian do it - and she can’t even complain because rookie mistake, Brown, wow.
“Hey you…look kinda lost?” she says desperately, and, no but really, how hard is it to keep a secret identity secret for crying out loud.
“Huh,” Nick says, tilting his head to one side and looking like all the puzzle pieces have finally slotted together into a picture he’s not totally surprised by.
“I don’t suppose we could pretend I didn’t just epically screw up rule number one of the superhero club, huh?” Steph asks, waving her hands a little frantically.
“Not really,” Nick says, and yeah, she’d figured.
“Fine,” Steph says, with a sigh, “then you’re taking me for dinner instead. Something with a ton of carbs.”
“I can cope with that,” Nick says with a laugh. “It’s Stephanie, right? Stephanie Brown?”
Steph grins. “The fact that you remember that? Totally worth the next week of crime scene puns.”
Nick looks suitably pleased.
Steph’s pretty sure he’s a keeper.
“You’re in trouble,” Damian says, gleefully, and Steph has to mentally remind herself that he may be a brat but he is also only ten and the most she can do is put itching powder in his underwear and tell Alfred where his illicit knife collection is.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Steph says, and doesn’t even glare. She can totally work this whole denial thing.
“Right,” Damian says. “You’re a terrible actress. Honestly, are you good at anything?”
“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Steph says, and ignores his protests all the way to Bruce’s study.
“Just out of interest,” Nick says, accidentally pouring way too much sugar into his coffee with a grimace, “is there a time limit on my life now?”
“Well,” Steph says, enjoying the fact that they’re out in public without the suit, “I’d like to say no, but--”
Nick looks alarmed.
“I’m joking,” she says, adding the ‘mostly’ in her head so he doesn’t stroke out on her. “I mean, Oracle will keep a closer eye on you now or something. I don’t know. You probably won’t wake up to a roomful of armed Bats. Black Bat’s not even in the country, and I’m pretty sure Robin thinks I gave you cooties, though Nightwing might want a ‘quiet word’ sometime.”
Nick’s foot finds hers under the table and she does a mental dance she’s made up entirely for these moments. “That’s a relief,” he says. “Now I just have to worry about the Commissioner.”
“Oh please,” Steph says, signaling the waitress for more pie, “Jim’s a softy. He would never have tried to set you up with Barbara that one time if he didn’t like you, like, a ton.”
“I’m banking on that,” Nick says. “I like my job. Especially the unexpected partner I ended up with.”
Steph knows she looks like a moron but she couldn’t stop smiling if she tried. “Wanna go make out in the back of a squad car?” she says. “It’s totally on my bucket list.”
“I am going to hell,” Nick tells her solemnly, but he calls for the bill anyway.
If that’s not love, Steph doesn’t want to know what is.