Bruce figured it out first, of course. And, of course, he let her know in the best way possible - by calling her in to the Batcave and telling her she was fired.
“This isn't up for discussion,” he told her when she tried to argue. “You're no longer fit for duty.”
Several thoughts ran through Steph's head, including the incredibly mature, “Your face isn't fit for duty!” but she ran with, “I don't recall asking you to make my decisions for me.” That would have scored a hit with some people, but not Bruce. He simply stood, arms folded, face impassive, foreboding as always.
It wasn’t Bruce’s call, she knew that. Batgirl was hers, and even if she could no longer be part of Batman Inc. - so what? She had more than enough equipment to keep her in action until… until she did whatever she was going to do. But past experience told her there was no point saying any of this to him, and that the best she could do was flounce from his Batcave with dignity.
Bruce calling her name made her stop, surprised that apparently the conversation wasn’t over after all. “What decision would you have made?” he asked roughly.
“If you’d waited for me to actually tell you-” she started, and then sighed. “I don’t know, OK? I haven’t actually made any decisions. But bricking people in the face isn’t my only skill!”
There was a flicker in Bruce’s face, a very slight suggestion that the corners of his mouth might have been curling upwards if he wasn’t an expert at suppressing any approaching a smile. “You’re still off your current cases,” he told her.
“Does that mean I can still-”
“I’ll be in touch,” he said curtly, and the interview was, clearly, over. The really infuriating thing was that, in his own messed up way, this was probably Bruce looking out for her.
She told her mother, first, of course. That turned out to mean a lot of crying, but really that was a good thing since it got it all out of the way. Even better, while she’d been secretly imagining that words like Really, Stephanie? Again? would take a prominent role in the conversation, it turned out her mom was more understanding than angry, and words like Just let me know what you need floated around liberally instead. “I’m ridiculously lucky to have you,” she told her mother when they’d both dried their eyes, and Crystal pulled her into one of those awesome mother-daughter hugs that came so much easier these days.
She was lucky in her friends, too. Of course, she already knew that – how many people had two BFF, after all? But she still wouldn’t have guessed Cass would offer to drop everything to be with her, or that Kara would fly to Hub City and pick Cass up, so that minutes within her somewhat embarrassed text confession to both of them they were both there, sitting in her tiny apartment, each with their hands wrapped around large mugs of herbal tea. “You guys really are the best,” Steph said, her voice wavering.
“Of course,” Cass said, her eyes soft and smiling. “You should know that… we’ll help you with everything we can.”
“Even if you just need someone to talk to,” Kara added, as earnest as ever. “Or to help you shop for new clothes! Or to hold your hand while you yell ‘You did this to me!’” Kara never had gotten over her habit of using movies to navigate the bits of human life she couldn’t wrap her head around.
“But I haven’t even really made up my mind yet…” Steph began.
“That doesn’t matter.” And Cass picked up one of Steph’s hands and gently squeezed it. “We’re here anyway.”
Telling Babs was a lot harder, not least because while Mom and Cass and Kara would never asked whose and wouldn’t care, anyway, Barbara was more – well, a thirst for knowledge wasn’t, in Steph’s opinion, always a good thing. But Babs deserved to know why Batgirl was going to be making rather limited appearances for a while, and Steph wasn’t going to wait until she heard it from anyone else.
It went about as well as could be expected.
Babs didn’t yell. It would have been far better if she had. Because each short, controlled icy sentence that Barbara Gordon allowed out of her mouth was perfectly designed to pierce the armour of self-confidence that had taken years for Steph to build, and it wasn’t fair, because Babs knew she wasn’t the thoughtless kid she used to be, should have known that this was the last thing that Steph had wanted to come out of a little steamy stress release, and that dammit, this wasn’t about you anyway.
While it wasn’t exactly news that sometimes Steph forgot to internal monologue, Babs had obviously never considered that her former protégée might have a temper.
“Sorry,” she said, after a moment of her mouth hanging ever so slightly open (which under normal circumstances Steph would have enjoyed. How often was Barbara Gordon stunned?)
“I know,” Steph returned, her moment of anger already ebbing away. “I never meant to hurt you-”
“You never meant for me to find out,” and Babs’ voice was desert-dry. “And I wouldn’t have, if you hadn’t…” she gestured, and Steph nodded, feeling guilty despite herself. “But I don’t really have any right to be angry with you. Things are good with Nick. And it’s not like I can’t trust you to – make the right decision. For both of you.”
She didn’t say which both of you. It was probably better not to ask.
After that, Steph barely even had the energy left to worry over what Wendy would have to say. As it turned out, not much.
“Really?” she asked, swivelling her chair around so she could actually see her partner.
“Yeah,” Steph answered, inwardly cringing.
“Awesome,” Wendy said, and went back to her computer.
Over the next few days there was a flurry of doctors’ visits, and Steph slept badly, dreaming of a little girl lost in the dark, crying out for her mother. She was lucky that Damian was away on a mission of his own; it gave her a few days’ reprieve while she figured out what she was going to say to him. “This is kind of ridiculous,” she told Cass and Kara. “I mean, this should be all about me, right? But I’m busy worrying about everyone else’s feelings.”
“That’s because you’re you,” Kara said helpfully. She was knitting, and Steph was interested to note that her needles were clacking together a lot more slowly than usual. “It’s a new pattern,” Kara told her, seeing her look. “And I could always tell him for you.”
“No – no. It’s too important.”
“He’s not a… child anymore,” Cass murmured. She smiled in response to Steph’s questioning glance, and went on, “He still has a… temper, but he’ll be more hurt if you don’t tell him… now.”
And Damian really wasn’t a kid anymore, Steph realised as she waited for him between his classes at Gotham U. He was almost 19, and only a couple of semesters off graduating. He seemed to get taller every time she saw him, too. “Father told me,” he said tersely, as soon as they were alone.
“Uh… what, exactly, did he tell you?”
Damian clicked his tongue impatiently. “All he’d say was that you’d no longer be working with me. Are you quitting?”
“I’m not quitting, little D.”
“Is he making you quit?”
“No!” She wasn’t about to be the cause of another bust-up between Bruce and Damian. “I’m-”
“I thought we were partners!”
“I’m pregnant.” So much for pretty speeches.
Damian stared. “You mean… pregnant, pregnant?”
“What other kinds of pregnant are there?” Despite her tiredness and her nervousness, amusement crept into Steph’s tones, and Damian flushed.
“How long – ” he clicked his tongue again, and changed his words to, “But you’re – healthy, aren’t you?”
“Doctor says I’m in perfectly amazing condition, as is the tiny collection of cells in my womb,” Steph assured him. Damian nodded, his eyes round. It was a situation he was completely unprepared for, and he was probably trying to figure out what he was supposed to do. It was actually kind of sweet, although she’d never tell him that. “Don’t worry,” she said kindly. “I won’t ask you to massage my swollen feet.”
Damian’s horrified expression told her exactly what he thought of that suggestion, although it turned into a reluctant smile when Steph started to giggle. He still wasn’t very good at being teased, even gently. Better let it sink in, she thought, and helpfully turned the conversation to his classes, his last mission and Nell’s progress. Damian was predictably bored, proud, and sullen in turn. “She thinks she knows everything,” he groused.
“She is a woman,” Steph joked. Damian gave her a bemused look and stood to go.
“Thanks for telling me,” he said, seriously. And then, “Have you told – him yet?”
“N-o,” Steph admitted. “I need to – sort it out in my own head first. You won’t say anything, will you?”
“Of course not,” Damian said, and he was only scowling a little bit. Steph watched him go with a sigh. Damian was clearly as disapproving as an eighteen-year-old could be, and while his approval was hardly something she needed, she knew he had the right of it. It was one thing to be pregnant and know that the father would probably never show his face again, that even if he did he wouldn’t want anything to do with her or the baby. But this time – if she did keep the baby, if she did decide that this time it was going to be her child, there was almost certainly going to be paternal involvement. And that was why she needed to know for sure what she actually wanted before she talked to him.
When she got in to work she found that Damian had already sent her three different highly scientific journal articles on which vitamins and minerals were most important for pregnant women, and a brief and stilted message to the effect that his mother was an excellent breeder and would probably be happy to pass on any effective tips. “I think we can safely say that that is a road I won’t be going down,” she said out loud.
Steph yelped and spun around in her chair. “Dammit, Tim,” she breathed. “You used to knock at my front door like a normal person.”
“I used to climb in through your windows,” he corrected her. “And you used to…” he trailed off, and then gave her a hesitant smile. “Actually, no, you’ve never been normal.”
Steph crossed her arms, grinning in spite of herself. “Are you just here to annoy me? Because I already employ people to do that.” Tim grimaced, and glanced around for somewhere to sit. The other chairs were stacked with paperwork, the table top cluttered with stationary. “Just dump some of that stuff,” she suggested. He did so, and sat, his face becoming serious.
“Um – don’t take this the wrong way…” he began. Not a promising start. “But I just thought – I know the circumstances have changed, and that we’re not as close as we were, but you’re still important to me, so if you need any help…”
“You already know?” Tim faltered, and nodded, and actually, when Steph thought about it, that wasn’t much of a shock. Tim probably had alerts set up for everyone he knew at every doctor’s surgery and hospital around the world. Hell, this was Tim. He’d probably seen the two of them at it on some kind of rooftop micro-camera, and she should probably thank him for not blabbing about it sooner. “Thanks for the offer, Tim, but I don’t even know-”
“What you want yet,” Tim finished for her. “Yeah, I figured. But last time around you were so alone, and this time I wanted to remind you that you’re not… and anyway, a mutual acquaintance wants me to pass this on to you.” He pulled a dull pink envelope out of his jacket pocket and offered it to her. It looked all the world like an invitation to a bridal shower, but Steph knew a Batman Inc mission when she saw it.
“I guess I should warn you,” Tim added, “that it’s probably a test.”
It was definitely a test, and not for the first time Steph wondered when Bruce would ever stop testing her (likely answer: never) and what exactly this test was meant to prove. But it couldn’t be coincidence that the organisation she was meant to be investigating, the one probably acting as a smokescreen for drug smugglers, was a school for kids who were ‘between’ foster homes.
“I used to go to school here,” her companion merrily informed her. She’d never actually met Jason Todd – Red Hood – before, although she’d heard plenty about him, none of it good. She wondered if he was part of the test, or if she’d actually got it all wrong and this was his test and she was part of that. At any rate, she’d never heard that he was particularly obsessed with killing Batgirls, and surely she could trust Bruce enough to think he’d pair her up with someone who was likely to hurt her – not now.
“When it was Ma Gunn’s?” Steph asked.
“Helped make me the man I am today.” He was being sarcastic, but Steph suspected that he was right. In her worst nightmares, her daughter had ended up in a place like that. But fear wasn’t the right reason to have a kid; if that’s what Bruce was trying to tell her then he could just go fuck himself. “C’mon, if these really are the sellers” – Red Hood’s voice took a turn for the grim – “I want to find them as soon as possible.”
Her cover was simple enough, the secretary of a philanthropist interested in making a donation to the school. It let her ask probing questions – and it let her keep the management distracted while Red Hood did the real snooping. He seemed to be taking his time, though, and she found herself rapidly running out of questions and had to ask, in desperation, if she could take a tour of the facilities.
To her surprise, she didn’t hate what she saw. Yeah, pumping some more money into the place couldn’t hurt, but it was clean, the colours didn’t make her nauseous, and the kids she saw were mostly pretty absorbed in the games they were playing. True, some of the games seemed to involve hitting each other, and her guide hurried her past those kids, but given that most of them had life pretty tough, they seemed surprisingly OK. Not happy, maybe, but definitely on the verge.
She met Red again a few blocks away, where he was cheerfully checking his knuckles for bruises. “They’re not all in on it,” he told her. “Most of those suspicious crates down there are exactly what you’d expect to find – donations, sort of thing. There’s paperwork, it’s all legit. But in one of the containers –” and he pulled out a small plastic sample bag, now filled with white powder. “I made some inquiries,” he said darkly. “One or two of the employees are supplementing their wages. Not even close to being lynchpins, but- hey, you OK?”
He obligingly held back her hair as she threw up tea and biscuits into a nearby skip, and gave her a swig from his water flask when she was done. “He’ll probably ask you to marry him,” Red Hood told her helpfully.
Seriously, did everyone know?
It was still another week – another long week – before she finally worked up the courage to have The Conversation. It was less than ten minutes between her flicking off a determinedly off-the-cuff message and him replying by tapping on her window, and she wondered momentarily if he’d just been hanging out nearby, on the off-chance that she’d get in touch. He was wearing his Nightwing outfit, though; maybe he’d just been near, on business. She gave him a bright smile as he entered, and tried not to notice how tight-fitting his costume was. That was kind of how she’d got into this mess in the first place.
“You’re looking well,” he said. Well, shit.
“You already heard?” she said in what could only really be described as a squeak, and Dick de-masked, looking unusually sheepish.
“I sort of figured it out,” he said. “Babs has been giving me the cold shoulder – Tim’s been unusually quiet – Bruce has been giving me these looks – and, well, Damian told me you were pregnant and that if I did anything to hurt you he had the League of Assassin on speed-dial.”
Steph bit her lip, irritated that little D had gone around her like that; but maybe it was better, after all, that Dick could have had a chance to corral his thoughts into order before they talked. There was no way this was ever going to be easy; at least this way he might know what he wanted. “So what do – what do you want to do about it?” she asked.
Dick sat down, on the end of her bed. It was the same place he always sat; first, not that long ago, when he’d started dropping by to talk about Nell and Damian with her ; later, he’d be perched there in the early hours of the morning, tugging his boots back on before dropping a quick kiss on her lips or forehead and leaving. “I’ve always wanted to be a dad,” he said. “And if that’s what happens I’ll be happy. But if it isn’t, it isn’t.”
Steph didn’t even know she’d been holding her breath until she let it out again. “I’m keeping the baby,” she said, and she was surprised to hear her voice come out clear and steady and certain. “You don’t have to – I mean, money isn’t an issue for me, or anything. If you want to be involved, you can be, but-”
“I definitely want to be,” Dick said, and his voice was just as determined as hers. “We’ll do this fifty-fifty, Steph.”
“Great,” Steph said, “I’ll let you know when it’s your turn to have a tiny person growing inside you. I was thinking I could do the first four and a half months, and you can take the second shift.” And then, somehow, they were holding hands and grinning at each other and it really did seem like everything was going to be OK.
Sometime in the night Steph realised that she hadn’t, actually, told everyone the news. But judging by the large parcel of Beatrix Potter books and home-baking that arrived at her office the next morning, Alfred hadn’t taken her omission to heart.