“Hey,” the girl said, standing up. He was pretty sure she'd had her feet propped up on the coffee table before he entered the room. “I'm Steph. You're Tim, right?”
Tim, who'd been pondering the “Miss Stephanie” Alfred said was there, made an awkward wave. There was something in the way she was standing that bothered him, like he'd forgotten to turn the oven off before leaving home. Maybe it was just that she'd had her feet on the table. “Hello.”
“I'm Damian's babysitter,” she continued, imperturbable.
He blinked, and her face cracked into a grin.
“That... must be quite the job,” he managed, as he tried to imagine ways to pry a retelling of Damian learning he was going to have a babysitter from Alfred's discretion. “I must a little out of the loop, I didn't know.”
When had Bruce recruited her?
More to the point: why? That was a secret identity risk if Tim had ever heard of one.
“Yeah, you're out of Gotham usually, right?”
“Dick told you?”
She shook her head, sending loose strands of blond hair flying. “Damian,” she said. It sounded both simple and meaningful.
“Ah.” He grimaced. “Hum. Sorry?”
“That's okay,” she assured, plunking down. “Usually I'm the one he's ranting about, so that was a nice change.”
What was Bruce thinking, Tim wondered as he followed Steph's suite and sat in an armchair. He could read the title of the book she was reading before he'd interrupted her upside-down on the coffee table, a classic edition of The Grapes of Wrath. For school, he guessed.
Resting his forearms on his knees, Tim leaned forward, as if for an interesting conversation – or an interrogation.
“Damian's not here,” he noted. Damian had been utterly, obnoxiously smug at the prospect of spending the afternoon with Dick, tweaking Nightwing's bike. No chance of Tim forgetting that, which of course had been Damian's goal all along. Tim wasn't proud of it, but he couldn't help but begrudge Damian's bonding time with Dick, because – Tim was in Gotham seldom enough.
Steph shrugged, and something about the movement, again, tickled at his memory. “Mr Wayne – Bruce asked me to come early. I dunno why.”
“He asked me to drop by, too.” Bruce hadn't told him why, of course, but her being here at the same time meant that whatever else Bruce intended, he'd set up their meeting on purpose. As for the purpose, that was best left for late-night speculation. Whatever Bruce had in mind, it'd only make sense when Tim was sleep-deprived and eyeballs-deep into tactical reflection over how to dismantle a drug empire.
He'd meant to talk to Bruce anyway. Over the past few days, he'd found signs of a new costumed vigilante in town. So far they'd restrained themselves to breaking up muggings, but clearly something would have to be done. He'd studied the map of where they'd been active, and sprinkled their most common routes with cameras; the footage he'd recorded showed that the person – the girl – while unlikely to commit crimes or to cross the line, was painfully amateurish. Someone had to be done before she got herself killed.
“He didn't tell you?” Steph asked, but she didn't sound like she expected him to say yes. She couldn't have been working for Bruce for long, and she already had his number.
“No, not really.” His lips quirked, embarrassed.
“That's okay,” she said, flopping back into the sofa. She eyed the book on the coffee table. “Hum, you mind if...” She gestured at the book.
“Not at all.”
“Thanks,” she reached over for the book, explaining, “I've got an essay in two days and I'm not the greatest at time management.”
As she settled to continue reading, sprawled on the monstrous sofa, she crossed her legs, right ankle propped on her left knee, displaying violet Converse. Tim watched her foot moving up and down, to the rhythm of a song only she could hear. In the back of his mind, something was – bothering him.
He was still staring when a remark in the book made her snort, the exact sound his recording devices had picked up, and he knew at once why Bruce had arranged this meeting, why he'd picked her for Damian's babysitter.
Her foot was dancing like purple spots in the night.