Stephanie Brown mentally re-evaluates her life, her choices, and everything that’s led her to this spot.
When Cass had set the terms for their late-night roof tag game last night, Steph had agreed because usually Cass’s terms were things like “buy me a milkshake” or “help me break into a ballet studio so I can leave flowers for the cute Prima Donna.”
But last night?
Cass had, after thoroughly trouncing Steph as usual, asked Steph to “not-babysit” Damian’s trip to the zoo.
“He’s almost eleven,” Steph had said, squinting at Cass. “Why does he need a babysitter?”
“Because last time he went to the zoo... the tiger pavilion is now named “Wayne Pavilion.”
Steph wasn’t sure if Bruce had been forced to pay an inordinate amount of money to cover up for Damian’s antics, or if Damian had managed to fund it using his ludicrously large allowance, but either way, she could see the point.
Which is how she’s ended up here, in her civilian clothes, escorting Damian Wayne, who had to be talked into normal kids clothes, around the zoo.
He squints at her, suspiciously. “I don’t need a babysitter,” he reminds her, for approximately the fifteenth time since she showed up at Wayne Manor to pick him up.
“I know,” Steph says cheerfully. “Ooh, look, seals!”
Damian is actually kind of cute in a zoo setting, Steph realizes. It makes sense, given his love for animals. He’s memorized all the signs and the speeches by the zookeepers, and also all the feeding times so he keeps them on a tight schedule, making sure that they don’t miss a single one.
He tries to give her the slip at the Meerkats while Steph takes a selfie, so she retaliates by forcing him to take selfies with her, and immediately sends them to the group chat she has with Harper and Cass, and the one she has with Tim and Cass, and the one she has with Babs and Wendy and Cass, and the one she has with Duke and Jason, and then she texts it to Bruce, Dick, Alfred, and Kara for good measure.
He tries to steal her phone to delete the evidence after that, but Steph has not spent the past year hanging out with Babs and Wendy for nothing, and has already uploaded it onto the Cloud, safely out of his reach and safely on her laptop.
To make it up to him, she buys him a popsicle shaped like a lion, which he’s been trying really hard to pretend he doesn’t want. She also buys him a hat with an elephant on it, and convinces him to buy a stuffed one as a present to Dick.
Honestly, this is pretty fun.
Steph had never been able to go to the zoo as a kid, except once when she was six and her dad had just scored big. He’d taken her and then ditched her by the giraffes while he and his buddies had gone to case the bank nearby.
It wasn’t the worst of his “take the kid on an outing so I have an alibi” plans, but it was still a pretty shitty one, in Steph’s opinion.
She triple checks where Damian is when they get to the giraffes, just in case, and listens as he explains giraffe vertebrae in detail.
“You ever thought about studying this stuff when you go to college?” She asks him as they start to wander out of the Africa section towards the India section, where the infamous Wayne Tiger Pavilion is.
Damian looks surprised. “I am supposed to study business in order to take over my father’s empire,” he reminds her.
“What, are you saying you’re not smart enough for a double major?” Steph says. Damian immediately bristles, and Steph keeps going. “I suppose you’re right. Zoology is a hard major...”
“How dare you!” Damian shrieks, and Steph laughs, throwing an arm around his shoulders.
“Hey, if I can double, you can,” she says.
He pauses. “I thought you were pre-medicine?”
“Biology and music,” Steph corrects lightly. “Pre-med’s a concentration. Music makes me more interesting to med school.” And she loves it, but that’s step two in this conversation.
Damian goes quiet. “I wasn’t aware you were cultured enough to play an instrument, Brown,” he says stiffly.
“Piano,” she says, surprised. “I guess I haven’t played in the Manor since--” since she was Robin. Whoops. “For a while,” she says, doing her best to recover. “You do violin, right? Cass says you’re really good.”
Damian looks pleased that Cass complimented something he did. The puppy hero-worship is absolutely adorable, and Steph is practically obligated to buy him a balloon of a tiger’s head wearing a Batman cowl after that.
It’s always great when she can get Damian to act like a normal kid, instead of the crabby, snobby, sometimes-violent angsty teen he likes to pretend he is.
She also immediately takes a picture of him staring up at the balloon in barely masked delight and uploads it to the Birds of Prey locked Facebook group Dinah invited her to join last month.
After viewing the tigers and listening to Damian rant about several now-extinct sub-species of tiger for half an hour, Steph drags him to the cafe near there and orders him an environmentally friendly fair trade ice cream with extra whipped cream and sprinkles, and herself one too, because they’re having a day off, and she can’t be fucked to keep track of her calorie count, no matter how much Babs has been pushing her onto the new work-out routine that’s supposed to give her better abs than Helena.
Also, it’s really hot outside, and they haven’t turned on those thoughtful looking misters that Steph remembered running through as a kid and getting absolutely, delightfully soaked.
Damian is interrogating Steph about the advantages of remaining in Gotham for college versus attending his dad’s alma mater (which Steph thinks is either Yale or Princeton, but can’t remember which), when their delightful afternoon becomes less so.
“Hey, is that Brown?” She hears someone say behind her, and Damian stiffens up.
Steph glances out of the corner of her eye, and spots a group of kids from her Chem class. Frowning, she ducks her head lower, because she’s with Damian , and she’s not exactly supposed to advertise her friendship with the Wayne Family, even in the age of Batman Inc.
“Hey, that’s a kid with her!”
“Oh my god!”
“He’s old !”
“Um, what? He’s like, nine.”
“Yeah,” the voice has gotten conspiratorial. “But she’d have to have been, what? Thirteen when she had him?”
“Wait, he’s hers ?” Someone who hasn’t spoken yet gasps, and Steph breaks the recyclable plastic spoon in her hand.
“Haven’t you heard? She was a teen mom ,” someone else sniggers. “Mom was a druggie, dad was a crook, and she was a--”
Steph is this close to throwing her ice cream in fucking Cynthia ’s face--she recognizes that voice now--when Damian acts first.
By which she means, he disappears from right in front of her, reminding her, once again, that Damian Wayne was trained by literal ninjas since birth.
By the time she gets to her feet and gets ready to start yelling for him, Cynthia lets out a shriek , and she pivots on the spot.
She sees Damian Wayne perching on top of one of the sprinklers with a furious expression and a screwdriver, but no one else does, too busy staring at the screeching college students, who have just been soaked with, instead of a delightful mist of cool, refreshing water, a torrent of ice cold water, enough to make mascara run, ruin hair, and soak through shirts.
Steph claps a hand over her mouth and tries hard not to laugh as she watches Damian vanish into the nearby tree, and reappear across from her as if nothing happened.
“You should go to a school with higher standards,” he mutters, stabbing his ice cream with his spoon.
Steph grins. “But then I’d be too far away for you to insult,” she reminds him.
He pauses, considering this. “I suppose you better stay,” he finally concedes. “But you should apply for more advanced classes, so you don’t have to see those imbeciles again.”
Steph smiles and eats her ice cream before dragging Damian off to visit the petting zoo.
Damian only complains three times, and doesn’t try to escape her once.
He even agrees to take a single selfie.