Cassandra wasn’t in the mood to stop punching Jervis. He had passed out a long time ago, but she continued pummelling him. She could kill him quite easily, but she didn’t want to. She wanted to keep going until he was on the very brink, only then would she stop and dump him at Arkham. Robin stood to the side, just watching. Oracle wasn’t speaking either, letting Black Bat try to work through the anger.
Eventually Damian spoke. It was small and timid, but it was enough to pull Cassandra away.
“I want to join Batman and Nightwing. I want to find her.”
Cassandra blinked, allowed herself one more punch, then asked Barbara to inform the police.
Damian stared at the little man on the ground. It wasn’t enough. He should be dead.
“We won’t kill him.” Cassandra said, not looking back at him as she stalked off. With considerable difficulty, Damian followed her. “It’s not our job.”
“However, we will beat a man until he suffers permanent brain damage. I am not sure one is superior to the other.” His tone was snarky, and Cassandra stopped halfway down the alley, turning to look at Robin.
“He hurt her.”
“He should be dead.”
“He should. I am not stating we must be the ones to do the deed, but the fact remains. He should be dead.”
Cassandra couldn’t bring herself to argue with him. She looked back at Jervis on the ground. She knew Bruce had insisted that he and Dick be the ones to bring him in, perhaps because he thought the two could control their tempers better than the others. It seemed with the revelation that the Court of Owls was involved, he thought himself solely capable of bringing her back. The sight of the man with a crushed skull, broken limbs and a shattered spinal cord made Cassandra think that maybe he was right.
They all loved Stephanie too much. And love could make monsters of people, as often as it could save those from he dark.
“He should.” She admitted. Pulling out her a grapple, she fixed it to the stairwells climbing the dirty apartment walls. “Let’s help Batman how we can.”
Barbara’s voice came on, having heard the stilted conversation. You can help by getting the cave ready for them. Alfred will need to see to her when they get back. We still don’t know if she’s alive.
“She is.” Damian insisted. Cassandra said nothing in response. “She is.” He said again, quieter, but no less sure of himself. Cassandra shot up the side stairs, ready to head towards the Manor. Damian went to follow her when the sound of police sirens came into range, and he froze. Cassandra looked down at him, and he shook his head. With a reluctant sigh, she let him be, shooting off amongst the rooftops. Pulling out the trackers, Damian checked the location of his eldest brother and father and decided to pursue them instead, heading out to the centre of the city.
Tim didn’t get much peace with Stephanie. Later the elderly man and lady from earlier entered, a Talon behind them. Tim’s tantrum had made them nervous. He couldn’t bring himself to look at the trio. He remained where he was, kneeling on the bed, holding Stephanie’s hand.
“You know we’re patient Tim. We can wait another twenty years if need be for you to realise this is your home.” The old man stated. There was no argument to be had, Tim saw he was speaking the truth. “However, your brothers have arrived, along with the Bat. I’d very much prefer it if he didn’t blow up another one of our homes.”
Tim looked up at the man, sneering defiantly. “Bring them here then.”
“We’d really rather keep them outside.” Said the lady. Her voice shook from fear as she said it, but if she hoped it would endear her to Tim, she was foolish. He knew he owed them nothing.
“Then they’ll wreck everything in their way to get through to us.” Of that Tim was also certain. Bruce had ways of just ploughing through, like a sledgehammer, when he knew one of his Robin’s was in danger.
It seemed the Court also knew. A small pause ensued, and he turned to his wife as they muttered back and forth between themselves. The door to the suite was soundproof, but Tim could imagine Dick screeching and smashing around outside, Damian generally causing havoc, distracting and smacking anyone who caught his eye, and Bruce, no doubt, holding one hapless man up by the throat. For a family that struggled so much with verbal affirmations, the physical violence that ensued with one of them was harmed was oddly, disturbingly, comforting and reassuring.
“Very well. I guess it is time for you to leave.” Tim refused to sigh from relief, not until they were back in the Manor. It was a good thing he didn’t relax, because the man continued. “However, a word of warning. Your father, Jack, lost the plot a little with the death of your mother. To crash and burn all that money just two years after her death…to settle for his physiotherapist as a second wife, to prefer spending all his life digging up worthless dirt… We all very much hope you take more after Janet. You have ambitions Timothy. Ones you cannot do alone.”
Tim’s eyes had migrated back to Stephanie during the man’s monologue. “I’m not alone.”
“You really think Bruce will ever make more than a cosmetic change to Gotham’s corruption? Where else will you turn? The League of Assassins? We know how interested in you they are currently. What a good puppet you’d make. Or maybe you’ll give up your grand ideas, move to suburbia with your broken girl, and live out the rest of your days as un-noteworthy as the other ninety-nine percent… How disappointed Janet would be. Don’t be weak like your father was.”
“He isn’t.” The lady answered for him. “Even if it takes another decade, he’ll come home. Him and Richard both. I promise you that.”
In that moment Tim really couldn’t care less what his dead mother of seven years thought of him, and he was in no mood to defend his father’s honour. He’d never really known his parents, not truly, and unlike Dick and Bruce who knew of the inherent goodness of their parents, what few ideas and concepts he had of his own as people had been stained by the people in white masks standing nearby.
Seemed Dick and Bruce were in the minority of ‘having parents who aren’t complicit or actively involved in murder’.
What a low bar.
Tim didn’t deign to give a response. He got off the bed and stood ready for Batman, Nightwing and Robin to arrive. He was ready to go home.
“Send them here.” Tim insisted. The lady with a sharp inclination of her wrinkled neck, gestured the Talon out of the room. Silence passed, but then Stephanie grunted. She was waking up once more. Tim backed up against the bed, unable to take his eyes of the Owls. He hated the idea of either of them being able to watch her. His cape was large enough her face would be hidden behind them at the very least
Stephanie awoke to find herself in the same room as before, Tim standing in front of her, one hand holding his bo staff, the other reached back, resting on her shoulder. A grounding touch.
The pain was lesser now, but she knew it was temporary, she was still very much drugged to high heaven. Her eyes felt loose in her skull, and they rolled around uselessly, seeing nothing important.
“Fuck.” She swore. Tim twitched at her groan but kept his hand on her.
“Nearly done.” He told her, still facing away. She couldn’t see what he was looking at.
There was sound of commotion from outside then. Stephanie couldn’t make out much, but then Tim pulled his cowl back on. Her head lolled to the side, instinctively trying to follow her boyfriend, and nearly fell off the bed for her efforts. He caught her, returning her to the centre of the mattress. He threw her cover off, letting the cooler air hit her bare legs and arms. She heard a distant aggressive yell, like someone steeling themselves to do some heavy lifting. She saw two others then, two old people wearing the white blank masks of the Court of Owls. She felt like they were watching her, but she wasn’t sure if that was the drugs messing with her perceptions.
Tim extended his staff all the way, and held it behind his back, ready for when something would burst through to them.
Oh. Help was here. Tim was getting ready to leave now. That’s why they were waiting. The sound of something being slammed against the wall repeatedly made the curtains hanging over the bed stir.
A crack appeared on the wall. Whatever was on the other side was very angry.
Tim threw a small explosive at the crack to help whoever was on the other side break through.
A Talon crashed through the wall then, body broken, dark dead blood oozing out of cuts. Nightwing threw himself into the room, looking for something else to wreck. Stephanie blanched as she saw the dark blood dripping from Nightwing’s face and hair. It wasn’t his blood. He stared at the couple that had moved to the corner of the room, daring them to move. Tim imagined they were salivating at the sight of him under those stupid masks. How easily he took out half of their army of undead soldiers without a scratch.
Robin and Batman followed a moment later. Damian ran to Nightwing, acting as his little bodyguard. He saw that Stephanie was alive and conscious, and she saw his little puffed up chest relax. Nearly home.
Bruce stalked past the Talon and Owls, past Tim, straight to Stephanie. She cried openly in relief. He’d come for her again. She managed to lift her arms. Seeing as she was already sobbing, the pain could only do so much to debilitate her, and she wrapped her hands and arms around Bruce’s shoulders. He held her tightly.
Nightwing, still staring at the couple, went to Red Robin’s side, cradling his face. “Okay?” He asked. When he moved his hand away a bloody hand print on Tim’s cheek remained.
Red Robin could only bring himself to nod. He turned away to Bruce. “She’s okay to lift. They did a good job of healing her.” Bruce didn’t acknowledge him, still holding Stephanie. Her tired sobs were muffled, but Tim could hear them all the same.
“You’ll forgive us if we don’t trust that.” Robin snapped. His tone was furious, angry with dread and fear, but Tim found himself glaring at him regardless.
Batman curled his way under Stephanie, picking her up under her knees and back. She cried out in anguish as he did so and was left with a solid ache that incapacitated her. She noted with some numbness that she needed the bathroom.
“All of you stay close to me.”
Dick nodded and began to lead the way out, sparing one last look at the Owls, who had never looked away from him and not yet spoken. He suppressed a shiver. The family had agreed to return later. No doubt the Court would have moved on to another location by then, but he would find it, as he had found this one.
It seemed the Court knew they had no intention of blowing the place up. A stream of incapacitated Talons lined their way back out. Nobody approached them as they left.
Tim came up the rear, watching for anyone that would maybe change their mind. The grandmaster and his wife followed for a moment, but they were discouraged by Robin nearly charging at them until Tim grabbed the boy, reminding him to watch for genuine threats to the group.
“Remember what we promised Timothy.” Was all the grandmaster said. Tim didn’t respond, knowing that this would cause Bruce’s paranoia to spike. He’d have to find a way to reassure him later.
They safely left the Court’s hole and made their way back to the Manor in a way that felt far too easy for the group. An uneasy silence filled the journey back to the Manor. Withing the car Tim sat in the back, Stephanie lying flat across the seats and his lap.
Cass gave a broken cry when they reached home, immediately moving to help get Stephanie out of the car and onto a gurney. Stephanie practically begged to be put back under when she arrived, partly to Cass’ disappointment. She felt useless in her inability to comfort her best friend, as she had always relied on solid holds rather than words. Having seen Stephanie in as much pain as she was, she knew touching her would only add to it. She kept her distance, only agreeing to hold Stephanie’s hand when she reached out for Cassandra’s own bony grip. She continued to hold it long after Stephanie was anesthetised for an inspection by Alfred. Barbara had arrived back at the Manor by then, helping Alfred set up assorted monitors to watch Stephanie’s breathing and heart rates.
Bruce had pulled off his cowl to watch her. Babs rolled next to him and sighed sadly. Tim had been sent upstairs to shower and change. A furious lecture was coming, to him and Dick both. For now, until Alfred gave him confirmation that the Court had told Tim the truth over their treatment of Stephanie, they weren’t in the clear. Not yet.
“Jervis is back in Arkham, considerably bloodier and more broken than when he left.” There was no condemnation in her tone for Jervis' treatment at Cassandra and Damian's hands.
“…It could have been worse. She...” Barbara said, looking up at him. The wheelchair she was sat in finished one version of the sentence, Jason’s Robin costume across the cave another.
Bruce was silent. Alfred laid Stephanie back flat on the cot and began to move down to her legs.
“I told her mother.”
He groaned. Of course, Barbara did. “What exactly did you tell her?”
“…Just the Jervis… stuff. She was found by Batman and is healing now with the help of her boyfriend’s family’s immense wealth and resources.”
“No Court reasons.”
“No. What good would it do? A man hurt her daughter; the man has been punished. The daughter needs her mother now to help her heal. She’ll be round soon.”
Alfred sighed, pulling away from his patient.
“All immediate injuries have been treated. I would recommend Dr Thompkins to look at her to see about further recovery. Stephanie will feel better with a female doctor. There is much to be done for her physical trauma.”
Alfred removed his gloves and began to roll his sleeves back down. He did not answer the question.
“Move her upstairs ready for her mother and Leslie to visit. They can consider what painkillers to put her on then. Maybe Dr Thompkins can repeat her post Black Mask course of treatment.”
There was disdain in Alfred’s tone, and guilt. She had been through too much, and always as a pawn to hurt others with.
“She’ll have more support this time.” Bruce stated, taking off the cape that weighed him down. He picked up Stephanie once more, and made his way to the lift. “We’ll all be here.”
“Indeed sir.” Alfred affirmed, switching off the machines.
“Can Oracle keep an eye out for Talons and Owls?”
“She can. Happily.”
Stephanie quickly became bored in Tim’s bed. He came in at one point, hair wet, wearing a thin grey t-shirt and a pair of thick black sweatpants. He curled under the covers with her. He had a big bed, bigger than any she had ever slept in. This room was more boyish than the one in his own apartment. She didn’t particularly enjoy spending time there. It was too sterile, even with the tempting piano in the corner of the lounge. She wasn’t sure if it was even tuned though. She suddenly got the ache to start practicing again.
This bedroom, however, was messy, and stank (in the nicest way possible) of Tim. Of comfort. She sighed, almost happily. It was warm with him under the thick covers. No threat of crazy men bursting through the door at any given moment wielding guns and knives, Damian aside.
Time passed, no-one came into the room, and it was eerily silent as neither of them slept. With nothing of substance to distract her, her mind inevitably began to wander to places she didn’t wish for it to go. She decided to swap one grief for another.
“How?” He asked, his voice barely more than a whisper. It was rough, like he had been crying over her. He was feeling guilty.
“Why did the Court help you find me?” She pushed once more.
“It’s hard to explain without sounding… glib.”
She choked on a laugh. “Give me glib. Give me the truth.”
“…My parents were members before they died. The Court feels like I belong with them, as one of those people under the white masks. Mom and Dad took me to the circus to see Dick perform because they knew that he was supposed to be a Talon, one day. I wasn’t told… but why I don’t understand. The Court don’t know either. They were trying to do me a favour, looking after you.”
“…Is that why…Is that why your dad didn’t like me?”
“What?” He asked, thrown out of his brooding. He reached out to her. “Steph…”
“Sorry. Weird. Just… insecurity coming out. He hated me.”
“Well… turns out he was full of it, so –”
She jumped in before he could get too self-pitying. “You said they had Jervis on their payroll.”
“To watch me. Ever since Bruce first confronted them, they’ve been watching, waiting for me to learn about my parents. You were…” He couldn’t lie to her about this. But the truth sucked. It was an awful dismissive bitter truth, no less than what was expected from the Court of Owls. “You were part of the deal. They underestimated how upset I would be. That room, the Talon grabbing you, the doctor… It was them saying sorry.”
“Oh.” A pause as she processed her supposed worthlessness to a corrupt ancient organisation. What little worth she had came from being tied to a rich boy. She knew she didn’t matter to them, and to be under their radar would in any other circumstance be a blessing, but still, her ego took a hit. “And do you accept it? Their apology?”
Something in his body language shifted then. He looked out the window, back towards Gotham, eyes filled to the brim with loathing. His lips twisted, then he smirked, looking down at her. He seemed to have reached a conclusion.
“Not even close.” He leant close, giving her a quick peck on her cheek. “Doesn’t matter now, though, my parents, any of that. We’re back home now.”
The word settled in her and even through the pain and cloudy thoughts, she smiled.
Home was the Manor, with Alfred giving her menial tasks to make her feel helpful, home was the cave sitting alongside Barbara testing her problem solving skills, home was the top of Wayne Tower where she and Tim would go and flirt like they had done ever since they were fourteen. Home was her living room sofa, home was her bedroom window, where Cass would come and go as they pleased. Home was supposed to be their new apartment, home was the place she would return to once she had finished her studies. Home was her mom’s endless mugs of teas and shared breakfasts…
“I want my mom.” She admitted out loud. Tim’s hand shook in her hair. He moved so he could be behind her, with endless gentleness and softness, raising her upper torso so she could rest on his lap.
“She’ll be by in a while. Leslie too.”
The safety she felt with his presence flickered. Leslie was a touchy subject. One they avoided. Stephanie remembered her dreams under Jervis’ control, and shivered. Her head felt stuffed with cotton wool, her hearing was muffled, and her eyesight was blurry. An emerging pain in her lower torso began to make itself known. She felt her eyes sting. Shit. Her comes the pain. Might as well acknowledge it.
“I was raped by Jervis.” It felt oddly cathartic to say it aloud. “He put me under by one of his devices… I don’t know what he made me do.”
Tim seemed less ready to talk about it than she was, but he held back from interjecting, and let her mumble out what she could.
“I don’t want to know what he made me do… But the things I saw whilst I was held under… I can’t forget.”
“Tell me.” He encouraged.
“Every time I’ve been hurt. Black Mask, the Black Mercy, being shot in the head, everything my dad did, everything my mom didn’t do, Bruce, my uncle, old boyfriends, my dad’s friends… Our arguments, us hurting each other. Honey…I’m so sorry.”
“I forgave you a long time ago. You forgive me?”
She nodded with her lips pressed together.
“Then we’re good.”
“Mmm… But. But… the dream that woke me up.” He voice croaked from not enough breathe to verbalise the words entirely. “You said that I should be afraid for you. And I am. Sometimes.”
Tim hands, which had never stopped stroking her hair, paused and then fell away.
“I worry about you. Not for us but…”
She laughed then, for the first time since she woke up. Despite how grim the situation was, Tim’s dry tone made her smile. Maybe it was the opiode. “…If I don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t exist right? And I can keep going, keep moving forward, prove I belong with you with the family –”
“You do belong –”
“But there are still problems. My mom and I… we just don’t talk about what happened, what I do. You and I… me and Bruce… I mean... And I just ignore it, always moving forward, because the minute I stop I think and look back… I just feel so lost… And what if I am? What if I just lie and lie and lie to myself, about myself, about my mom about you…” Tears slipped out, and she apologised again, cursing internally that she wasn’t strong enough to wipe them away. Tim did it for her, endlessly patient.
“Stephanie… of course there’re problems. We’re a messy family. But that doesn’t mean there’s like… a core fault with you as a person. Please don’t think that of yourself. Not anymore.” He slid further under her, laying her partly on top of him. It hurt, but she was okay with the pain. If it didn’t hurt, if she couldn’t feel the pain in her joints, then the damage would be too severe for her to handle.
“All I know is… we deserve a lot more in return from what we give Gotham. I’ll get us there one day. I guess we’ll have to be a bit more patient now, let you rest up a bit more.”
“We don’t do this for a reward!” She wasn’t sure what they were talking about anymore. She was getting lost in her own head, and she still couldn’t see properly. The bed was red, she knew that much, and there were three skateboards in different places around the room. Once or twice she had gone with him skating, but she wasn’t very good, and had opted to roller blade alongside him instead. What a pair they must have looked. So young. He hadn’t ridden for a long time. An abrupt spasm in her leg made her cry out, to which Tim held her hand and she gripped it painfully, waiting for it to pass. Eventually it slid away, and her breathing returned to normal. She was partially blind with everything a blur, and she was unable to control her volume and tone whilst speaking. She felt like an overly tired three-year-old.
“No. We do it because it’s the right thing to do.” Tim finally spoke once she had relaxed, restarting the conversation. “I just want the world to stop being so cruel in trying to dissuade us.”
They were talking in circles now, but Stephanie didn’t mind too much as they were killing the time. And Tim said they had to wait until her mom arrived.
“Wanna go back to sleep.” She mumbled. Moving her legs sent a stabbing pain through her thighs and back. One that made her gasp and clench up in agony every time. Couldn’t she sleep more?
He put his lips next to her ear again and breathed, “You keep trying.”
“Don’t leave me.”
“I am not ever leaving you. We’ll get through this together, yeah?”
She gurgled a laugh. “Turning my own words on me Timothy…diabolical.”
“I am a little, aren’t I?” He sounded entirely too smug and proud of the fact. She loved it. They settled in for a bit, though Stephanie was unable to get comfortable.
“This is gonna suck.” She muttered.
Despite everything, they both managed a laugh.