Stephanie Brown had 99 problems and costumed vigilantes were every one of them.
She'd complain to the world at large, but right now the world at large consisted of her boyfriend, her two best friends and the girl crashing on said best friends' couch and they'd been listening to her vent for the last hour and a half, so.
"Batman was bad enough," she finished.
Couch-crashing girl reached over to pat her awkwardly on the shoulder.
"Wow," Klarion said. "That's Jordana Spence on Valentine's Day levels of rage."
Steph snorted. Klarion was never letting that go, ever. "I wish. She might have been evil, but she's never killed anyone."
"That's what you think." Klarion scratched Teekl behind his ears, in true Bond-supervillain form.
Couch girl was still patting Steph.
"You can stop now, Cass. I think she's comforted enough," Gwen said.
Jason ate the last of the Doritos and licked his orange-stained fingers. Her boyfriend was utterly classless. "You gave her a name? You're keeping her, then? Why Cassandra?"
"Why not? There are worse names," Klarion said, "like Klarion."
"Zing!" Gwen punched him lightly in the shoulder. "You got to stop taking pot-shots at yourself, it takes all the fun out of it."
Klarion shrugged. Teekl purred. In the dim light, Klarion's skin looked almost blue. Steph had known Klarion since college. They'd bonded over a mutual dislike for Johanna Spence and a love of pranks. He had no legal identity that he didn't make and used to be utterly, utterly baffled by technology. He'd enrolled in Bab's computer class, where he met Steph. He'd grown up in a cult and ran away. Steph never asked for more and he never volunteered.
"You want us to run a scan on that shell casing? Might find something," Gwen said.
"You can do that?!" Jason startled, almost sending Steph sprawling on the floor.
"Klarion's a bona fide tech witch," Gwen said. She held out her hand to Steph.
"Wizard," Jason said and Steph winced. There they went again. Klarion had a real thing about being a witch -- "or witch-boy, if you absolutely have to" -- but at least Jason hadn't called him a warlock.
Gwen waggled her hand at Steph as Klarion went on and on and on and Steph gave her the shell casing.
Gwen invited Steph to stick around until the results are in. It would most likely take all night, so Steph declined. She always got the weirdest dreams sleeping around Gwen, places she'd never been, lives she'd never lived.
Once, Steph had asked Gwen why she didn't exist. Klarion had made sense because he had grown up in a cult and his parents before him and their parents before them "and so on and so forth since Roanoke", by his own admission.
Gwen had looked - sad, mostly and a little angry too. "Some people just fall through cracks."
Steph hadn't argued. She'd lived in Gotham long enough to know how true that was.
Steph bid Gwen, Klarion and the girl on the couch goodbye. She went home with Jason. They had sex before going to sleep and he was gone when she woke up for her shift at the station.
His new job had odd hours. He refused to tell her what it was, preferring to make her guess. Steph's current guess was "Jedi knight".
Steph dove for the coffee as soon as she got to the station. It was too weird seeing her desk half empty, but her partner was still out from his encounter with the masked nut-job.
"Yo, Steph," Demato said from her desk. "All hands on deck meeting in 10 minutes. Grab the coffee, please?"
Steph brought the coffee.
Demato was hoarding the donuts. Montoya's continued attempts to somehow manage to snatch a donut from her was the only bright spot of the meeting, which only recapped what they knew about the masked vigilante on the street. Which was to say: a fat load of nothing. The chief managed to stretch that nothing to an entire hour and a half. By the time the meeting ended, Steph was starting to which the nut-job had put her under observation at the hospital.
She got out of the meeting to find her dad had left her several vocal messages on both her work and her personal phone. He'd also sent her one text on each.
Like her day wasn't enough of a shit-show already.
She knew she really really shouldn't -- and at least she managed to delete the voicemails without listening to them first -- but she opened the text on her work phone.
This is a mass text.
Nobody comes into my city. NOBODY.
Let Cluemaster's fate be a warning.
Was the nut-job going after her father? Of course he was. It said so right there. Arthur Brown was probably already dead.
Cluemaster was a two-bit con artist, though. His profile was completely different from the mob bosses Red Hood had previously gone after. He wasn't a warning.
He was bait.
The text included an area code Steph knew by heart -- it was where she'd grown up. One of Gotham's most run-down suburbs, where fathers were absent, mothers had drug problems and daughters where pregnant at sixteen. Not that Steph knew anything about any of that.
Her dad had to be in her childhood home. It made sense. He'd gotten the house in the divorce.
Steph shoved her phone into her pocket, grabbed Demato, grabbed Montoya and dragged them both to the smoking area, where no one was smoking, on account of the rain and the lack of roof. She showed them the text.
Demato offered Steph a donut. When Steph took one, she said, "I'll run interference. Go."
"I'll drive," Montoya said.
Demato walked back in, box of donuts still under her arm. Montoya shoved Steph in the passenger seat and drove like a bat out of hell -- ha ha ha. Steph pointed out which way to go.
There was a giant graffiti all over Arthur Brown's front door, but the rain had washed away the details. Steph would have liked to know what the hell it had been supposed to be. Had it been regular graffiti or had Red Hood gotten in touch with his artistic soul?
She unholstered her gun. Montoya did the same. They circled around the house, going for the backyard door. Steph counted down from three under her breath, one hand on the handle.
Between her count of two and one, there was crash of crockery followed by a gunshot.
Steph and Montoya burst into the kitchen, guns drawn. "Everybody freeze. Hands in the air!"
There were three people alive in the kitchen and another two dead on the floor -- both much bigger profile known associate of Cluemaster. The three people alive were Steph's dad, tied to a chair -- she breathed a sigh of relief -- and two masked nut-jobs. One of the nut-jobs was masked in red, the other in black.
Steph had her gun on the one in red, Montoya on the one in black.
"Officer Brown," the one in black said. "How did you find us so fast?"
"That's my father you're threatening, you sick fuck," Steph said.
The one in red, presumably Red Hood, swore. Steph knew that voice. No way.
Montoya's radio crackled. "This is Demato. Back-up's on the way."
The vigilante in black raised his hands and took off his mask. It was Blake, from the next precinct over. What the fuck.
Steph walked over to Red Hood and ordered him to take off his mask. He did so reluctantly, revealing Jason's mulish face.
Everything that happened after that was kind of a let-down. Sawyer showed up as back-up. Blake, Jason and Steph's dad were all arrested. Demato gave Steph and Montoya two donuts each. Gwen texted Steph that Jason had done the thing. Montoya kissed her girlfriend when they all got back to the station. Steph went home and screamed into her pillow.
Worst. Day. Ever.
Gwen and Klarion both texted her, almost at once. "We have another couch."
This time, Steph did take them up on their offer to spent the night there.