Tim and Stephanie stood in the furniture store, staring hard at two grey couches which sat in front of them. They stared and stared as if one of the two sofas would jump up and down to be picked by the young couple.
A store employee noticed their frustrated stances. “Need any help?” She asked.
This seemed to bring them both out of a trance, as they started and gawked and the woman in a purple polo shirt. After a moment they managed to compose themselves, smiling awkwardly.
“No thank you,” began Stephanie
“We’ll be sure to shout if we need anything,” finished Tim. Their smiles turned taught and pained as the lady left them be. Reluctantly, they both turned back to the couches.
“…I don’t like either of them.” Stephanie admitted.
“Good thing you’re not buying it then.”
“I could help though? Maybe if we looked for something second hand.”
“I am not buying a used couch for the apartment.”
“Then can we at least get –”
“Yes. We. You asked me to come.”
“You invited yourself!”
“I did not! You were moaning about having to go shopping and I asked if you wanted company and you said ‘Oh yes please Stephanie light of my life how you make everything so much more enjoyable and life worth living’… Or something to that affect.”
“Hardy har har.”
“Look, I have stated my opinion. You can choose to entertain that opinion. If you don’t, please know that any make out sessions will be standing or in the bed only, no more Netflixing and Chilling or whatever the kids are up to these days.”
“You’re 20. You aren’t a crypt keeper yet.”
“Give it time.”
Tim huffed and crossed his arms, never once taking his eyes away from the furniture. After a moment, he sucked air between his teeth and sneered.
“Yeah you’re right they’re both ugly.” And with that he whirled away, chasing after the employee lady asking if she had anything in a lighter colour and with more cushions.
Stephanie inhaled deeply and pulled out her phone from her backpack. Shopping with Tim was always something of an ordeal. The boy had more money than sense and relied on others to decorate his seemingly growing number of properties throughout the city. The most recent, a modest (for the Wayne family at least) two bedroom apartment near Gotham Uni, was bought under the pretence to Bruce that he needed somewhere at that end of the city in case travelling back to the financial district or the manor was too much of a stretch. To the general public, it was just another property being added to the large list of homes owned by the Wayne family. To Stephanie, it was the two of them trying to move in together, with as little fuss as possible. Tim could get to Wayne Tower relatively quickly for work hours that suited him (and his lifestyle) best. Stephanie’s 8am seminars cared nothing for her time as Batgirl nor her ever elusive eight hours of sleep.
He had insisted on buying everything. From the paint for the walls to the tea spoons in the kitchen. He had the money and time she didn’t, but to be frank it almost made her feel like she was exploiting him. Heaven forbid what Ms Vicki Vale and her ilk would think if the news escaped that Timothy Jackson Drake Wayne had bought a flat solely for his girlfriend to inhabit.
His poor, not particularly noticeable in looks or personality, girlfriend who came from such good stock as a father who was on death row and a mother who had been to rehab on more than one occasion. A very suitable match indeed.
She felt tears abruptly sting her eyes and she grumbled to herself. No point thinking about it. She’d proved her worth to the city and its people a thousand times over, both in a mask and out of it.
Still, emotions weren’t rational, and her ego took a hit thinking of what cruel comments people would cook up for posting online for all to see.
Tim returned then, looking a little more than frustrated. “Never mind.” He huffed. “We’ll try somewhere else. This stuff is all for yuppies.”
She was about to snark that he counted as a yuppy, but then he took her hand then they left the shop together. He seemed to catch her mood, and began childishly swinging their arms back and forth, exaggerating their steps together.
“I’m sorry for being such a grump.” His tone was deliberately light. The words made her smile, and in return he smiled back. “I appreciate you coming with me, honest. It’ll be your home too. I want you to like it.”
She was touched by the sentiment, but the nagging feeling remained. She waited to mention it until they ended up in a small desert bar, sharing an oversized sundae, hidden in a booth right at the back of the shop.
“I would like to help with the apartment.” She said, spooning a large slab of strawberry ice cream half-heartedly. “If only for my own ego Tim. I know you can afford to buy us everything we’ll need a dozen times over. And even if you couldn’t, Bruce would happily foot the bill another twenty times. It’s just… it’s a bit unequal you know?”
Tim glowered into the ice cream, pensive. Stephanie waited patiently as he gathered his thoughts. Finally, he spooned up some ice cream and held it out to her. The affection in his expression was too sweet to be denied, so she obliged and leaned forward, letting him feed her. Sometimes they liked to pretend they were any other young couple out on a date, and not two young adults up to their eyeballs in mental and physical trauma trying to find some level of normalcy. Tim enjoyed being physically sweet on her, to which she very happily received all touches, nuzzles, kisses, and cuddles. The use of the L word tended to remain private, however, for her ears alone. She wasn’t sure why words seemed more intimate than a touch, but for Tim, verbalising it made it real in a way that a kiss on the cheek couldn’t convey.
This time he worked up the courage to say in public, “I guess so. But… I love you and I wanna take care of us. You have enough on your plate already Steph without worrying about money. This is something I can do.”
Stephanie brought her arms up to cross on the table. “I know sweetie. I just…If people find out that you’ve bought us an apartment…”
That made Tim angry, albeit not at her.
“That’s their problem, not yours. We should be able to go wherever and do whatever we want. God, you could stop going to college tomorrow and it would be nobody’s business but your own.”
She rested her chin on the palm of her right hand, her left hand reaching out to grab Tim’s own. Despite everything, idealism still ran through the boy’s veins, and it broke her heart every time reality came crashing down on him.
“You know the world doesn’t work that way. Especially for one of the sons of Bruce Wayne.”
He stared at their clasped hands, her thumb running soothing circles over the veins on the back of his hand. He ground his teeth. “It should be.”
She heavily exhaled again, trying to bring the conversation back on track. “Let me help buy things for our home. It’s ours. Not yours with a permanent tenant sleeping in your bed.”
She had a point, Tim knew, and they were both vying for control over their home life. It was something every couple would bump up against in the course of a relationship. This was their turn. Compromise. They could do that.
“Let me sort the furniture. And the appliances.”
“What? And I do the lamps and cutlery? Tim I’m not that much of an idiot, if something is too much or out of my budget, I’ll ask for help. Deal?”
He nodded, squeezing her hand tight. “Deal. Maybe you’ll have better luck finding a comfy sofa.”
She laughed and pulled her hand away, grabbing her spoon. “I have my ways.”
Stephanie’s ‘ways’ consisted of browsing eBay and Facebook to see what second-hand couches were available that would also deliver to the apartment (on the sixth floor additionally). She had managed to narrow it down to two potentials when one offered to deliver in a week or so’s time. “Yes please.” Stephanie muttered and wrote back a positive response.
She was hunched over in her bed, her mum downstairs getting ready for her nightshift at the hospital. Taking a large gulp of the tea Crystal had made for her earlier, she opened a new tab to begin research on one of her college papers.
“I’m off now sweetheart!” Called her mother up the stairs.
“Bye mum! Have a quiet night!” She yelled back.
“You too! I’ll see you in the morning!”
And with that, the front door opened and shut, and Stephanie was alone in the house. A good two hours passed, with Stephanie just about to hop up and head out for the night, when her messenger tab pinged.
Would you like to see the couch in person first? Just in case. I can do the day after tomorrow after lunch if that suits?
She stared at the message for a moment, trying to decide if she wanted to go to a stranger’s property to view anything when a gentle tap tap at her window distracted her. She jumped over, pulling the bottom frame up, to find Cass, fully in costume, smiling at her.
“Hullo!” Cassandra sang. Her good mood made Stephanie’s anticipation for patrol triple. “Oracle has paired us tonight. Nightwing and Red Robin, Batman and Robin, Batgirl and Black Bat.” Cass was clinging to the windowsill, her feet up high, perched ready to push off at a moments notice.
Steph moved away, stripping down to get into her suit whilst Cassandra patiently waited. “Anything major?” She asked her best friend.
Cass gave a nonchalant and unhelpful shrug. “Maybe. Odd bits and ends. Electronics being smuggled. Of all things.”
Stephanie pulled on her cowl, pulling her long (too long recently, it needed trimming) blonde hair free to fall down her back. “Huh. What kind of electronics?”
“Motherboards. Wires. Bits and pieces.”
Stephanie placed one foot outside the window ledge, Cass shifting to let her pass. She swung out onto the nearby tree, sliding down with less grace that she wished. Cass neatly jumped down, landing perfectly next to her.
“So, someone’s looking to build something?”
“Something is nothing good.”
“Then where to?”
Stretching back, hands touching the grass of her back garden, Stephanie kicked up and over, giggling as she corrected herself. “The docks then?”
Cass just smirked. “To the docks.” She shot off, as always three steps ahead of Stephanie.
They tended to stick up high, swinging from house to apartment block, then skyscraper to warehouse, before finally resting up on a flat roof, looking down.
Oracle’s mechanized voice rumbled through Stephanie’s earpiece. She gave a mock salute, kicking her heels.
“Yes ma’am. What’s the full damage?”
Not much I’m afraid. Wait for now. I’ll let you know when you should move out. Be alert ‘til then. And with a click, Barbara moved onto one of the other pairs she was acting as mission control for.
Stephanie huffed and collapsed onto the roof. “My favourite. The waiting game.”
Cassandra spun around on her left foot, falling to sit next to Stephanie, their shoulders touching. “It’s not so bad.”
“I suppose there are worse things.” Stephanie agreed. She hugged her legs to her chest, resting her chin on her knees.
Cassandra and Stephanie sat for a long while, whilst waiting for a shipment to arrive. It mostly passed in silence, Stephanie commenting anytime she thought she saw something, only for Cassandra to shoot it down. Several hours went by.
“Girl talk for a sec?”
Cassandra looked up from her resting position on Stephanie’s shoulder and sat upright. “I am not much use for that.”
“You listen better than anyone.”
“You need to vent?”
Cassandra nodded encouragingly. She watched as Stephanie worked up the nerve and words to say what she was thinking.
“Okay, so, what would you say, hypothetically, if Batgirl were to…not stop being Batgirl, but…be Batgirl…elsewhere….for a year…or four…?” Stephanie stopped, glanced at Cassandra whose expression was deliberately neutral.
“You want to leave Gotham?” She asked carefully. Stephanie bit her lip, pulling at her hair incessantly.
Taking a deep breath, Cassandra shook her head. “I would say… every bat leaves Gotham at one point, for their own reasons.”
“I already left Gotham.”
“Not through your own choice.” Cassandra’s tone was harsh and brokered no argument. Stephanie’s near death and recovery period was not something Stephanie had explicitly consented to, therefore it did not count. “Nightwing left for New York, Bludhaven, Chicago, then came back, Red Robin has left for Keystone, San Francisco and further abroad, and returned, I left for Hong Kong but came back. It is not a crime to want to see more than our little corner of the world. Even if Gotham seems like the centre of the universe.”
“It’s not for…a journey of self-discovery or anything. I know who I am.”
“And you need to be you out of Gotham?”
“The college I’m thinking of applying for…” She trailed off, and Cassandra tilted her head. “I wanna help people like my mom does. And I want to do it well. New York or Philli have great Nursing Schools. I could do a lot of good Cass, during the day and night.”
Cassandra smiled sweetly and hugged Stephanie tightly. “You would be tired off your feet. Never a chance to rest.” Her arms were wiry, taught and hard. She wasn’t the softest of huggers, but her enthusiasm more than made up for it. Stephanie squeezed back.
“I’m already tired off my feet. Besides, I’m sure Leslie would appreciate an extra pair of professional hands at the clinic when I get back.”
“Your mom, does she know?”
“Mmhmm. To be honest I think she’d be happy if I left Gotham and never came back, started a new life elsewhere. She’d leave with me if she didn’t feel responsible for every poor person who crashes through A&Es doors every night.”
Cassandra was silent for a minute or two, rubbing Stephanie’s back while she thought. “I would miss you.” She said finally, “But if you promise to visit, and to return one day… Then it is good. And besides, I did worse.”
“Mm. Well stripping to your undies and jumping off a roof to go to Hong Kong was never a goodbye I was expecting ya know?”
Cassandra laughed, pulling out of the hug. “Don’t make me a hypocrite. I think, if you can go, you should go.”
Stephanie exhaled, a compression of anxiety and worries lifted. Her mum approved; her best friend approved. Only two people left. If Bruce counted as a person. And no, not like that – she was still unsure around him, what his role in her life actually was. Not her father, never her father. She didn’t need a father; she had gotten along just fine without a good one. Bruce seemed now to hold her in high regard anyway, after six years of back and forth on the subject of her costume. Tim had always insisted that he had like Stephanie Brown fine, just hated the idea of Spoiler. He seemed to have gotten past this with his trip through time and Stephanie donning the batgirl costume (their excursion to London had him utter the words “outstanding” in reference to her work had caused her to feel a lightness she hadn’t felt in a long, long, long time).
The point was, she didn’t need his approval. She never did. There was still a part of her, however much she denied it was there, that still wanted it. And as for Tim…
Tim was another kettle of fish.
Okay girls, you’re up. Came Babs’ voice. Cass split away, shooting off to a higher perch. Stephanie, slower to rise, slid down a gutter, staring at the vans pulling into place.
Better not to think about it for a while.
Tim and Dick were whirling around Gotham, no obvious destination in sight. Dick had quick enough reflexes to notice if something was off, whilst Tim drove the car, Redbird, round the streets. It was a tense silence, neither really speaking, which for Dick meant something was truly eating at him. Around Tim he was a chatterbox, something which Tim knew know was something of a front. Sometimes he wondered if he actually knew his big brother.
Dick eyed him, his head still facing the left window. He seemed to remember himself, and what he was meant to be presenting to Tim, and asked, “Something on your mind Tim?”
He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “When isn’t there?”
“True true. Let me rephrase then. Something you wanna talk about?”
He did want to talk about it. He wanted to speak for hours on the phone like they used to. Dick would never confide a thing to Tim. He wasn’t supposed to. An elder brother was an ear to talk to, never one to dump any problems back. Dick rarely confided his problems to anyone. He felt responsible for the family, for the Titans, for the world, and for Bruce most of all. It seemed he used the others issues to distract from his own.
I know you and Bruce have found something recently that neither of you want to share? Something about our ever present creepy organisations?
Are we ever going to discuss the whole letting me go from Robin position?
How long are you going to stay in Gotham this time round? Why are you torturing yourself being around Damian when you now your guardianship status is no longer needed? Do you resent Bruce for coming back? For me bringing him back?
Tim humoured him, settling on a lighter topic.
“Steph and I are moving in together.”
Dick whistled, cracking his neck. “All going smooth?”
“She wants to buy stuff for the apartment.”
“…I would hope she does?”
“Well yeah, but…I was gonna get it all. She’s as broke as a –”
Tim gripped the wheel of the car tighter, “Um, yeah.”
Dick stretched his fingers, pulling them flat against the back of his hand. Tim resisted the urge to baulk at his fidgeting. “You should probably let her.”
“It’s supposed to be a gift for her.”
“A whole furnished apartment? Ooft Timothy. Is spoiling her rotten the endgame here?”
“No… I just want to make her life a little easier. We’ve gone back and forth together so many times.” He sighed hunching his shoulders. “Buying stuff is easier than saying sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
“I don’t know…everything that happened when we were sixteen.”
“You blame yourself? Each other?”
“No. Not anymore. To be honest… I blame Bruce more than anything. All those lies… We trusted him, the both of us, and he…” His voice trailed off, frowning at the road. Dick stared at Tim for a long moment, then sighed sympathetically.
“You cannot buy someone a home as an apology for someone else’s actions. Tim that’s not rational.”
“Emotions aren’t rational. Otherwise life would be a lot simpler.”
“True.” Dick shifted, crossing one his ankles flat up under his ass, his leg bent outwards at 90 degrees. He stretched his arms up, touching the roof of the car. “Look, you wanna make your girlfriend happy? Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Listening to what she wants is usually a good way to start. Compromise! Does a relationship and a sense of self good. Look at Bruce, he’s never compromised a day in his life and look at how successful his relationships and sense of self are.”
“He’s a mess.”
“Exactly. Oh but we all love him to death and love to imagine strangling him at three in the morning when he says something belittling.”
“Oh? You’ve felt that too?”
“Only for the past fifteen years or so.”
Tim laughed. As much as there was a gap now between him and Dick, Dick still understood him better than most. Dick always had an answer for everything.
“…I want my girlfriend to be happy.” Tim finally responded. Dick smiled, but it was slightly patronising.
“Trust her to know what makes her happy then Tim. That’s all you can do.”
Tim nodded tightly, grip not loosening from the steering wheel. Dick’s smile fell. “That wasn’t the answer you wanted was it?”
“No.” Tim admitted. “But I can’t be mad at the world if it doesn’t go my way one hundred percent of the time, right?”
Boys. Junction of Fifth and Harrison. Growing fire at the south facing apartment block. Fifth floor. Barbara’s voice came through the car. Tim whirled the car around, neatly avoiding a passing white van.
“On it, O.” Dick responded. He looked at Tim. “Oh, you can be angry if things don’t go your way Tim.” He undid his seat buckle, bringing both legs tucked under, coiled tight on the seat, finger reaching up to open the car roof. “Just don’t grow resentful of it. See the difference?” And with that he sprung up, firing a grapple to get inside the burning building.
Tim spun the car into a parked position, climbing out the side door, ready to lead people out from the ground floor. “Not really.” He muttered to himself, already setting aside their conversation for the more immediate and pressing issue of helping people until the overworked fire department arrived.