The best thing about The Circus is the diner across the street. Twenty-four hour breakfast and it’s good. Good enough to risk her new boss catching her carbo-loading when she should be eating protein.
Sometimes a girl just has to have waffles.
Steph’s just breaking off the first corner with her fork when she looks up to see Cass sitting across from her. Her heart jumps, but at least she doesn’t drop her fork. Instead, she points it accusingly at Cass with a mock-glare. “Don’t do that. I could choke on a strawberry and then where would I be?”
“Here.” Cass cocks her head. Like a crow, Steph thinks. Not a Bat. “But I would be over there, performing the Heimlich maneuver.”
Steph rolls her eyes at her best friend over a bite of her waffle. She’s totally not going to answer that.
Eyebrow arched and eyes fixed on Steph’s plate, Cass asks, “What’s wrong?” at exactly the same time as Steph asks, “How was your scouting trip? Did we get her?”
Cass cracks a small smile (Steph’s only ever seen her smile bigger than that once) and opens her menu with her usual efficiency, but she takes her time reading it. Out of pride that she can, Steph’s pretty sure. “You first,” Cass says.
“No, you first. I’m eating.” Stalling.
Now Cass rolls her eyes. She doesn’t say Steph’s stalling but she’s probably thinking it. Creepy. Creepy. Creepy. The way Cass reads people. “Boulder is boring. Payson Keeler will stay at the Rock. Double Dare is behind bars.” She steals a strawberry off Steph’s plate. “Now you.”
“Work is totally a four letter word,” Steph says. “I haven’t been out since I got hired.” Hey, if Cass can mission-brief her, why can’t she do it?
“Seriously. It is. Savannah and Chelsey got into it again this morning.” The Circus’s prize junior gymnasts. “If ten year-old boys were into jello-wrestling, it would’ve been on Youtube before I could confiscate phones.”
This should be working. Why isn’t it working? “What?” Steph says.
Cass just points at her plate full of waffles.
Stupid giveaway stress foods. “Fine. I’m worried about the hearing.” Best interests of the child. Isn’t it obvious foster care isn’t it?
There Cass goes cocking her head again.
“Fine!” Steph throws up her hands. She tried. It’s not like she isn’t stressed about those things. It’s just... “Dick!” Her new boss who was supposed to be an overbearing jerk is actually really nice. And totally cute. Totally. “Are you satisfied?”
Cass smirks. “Uh-huh.”
Dick lets Steph run the warm-ups while he focuses on getting the judges and the Haven gymnasts settled in for the exhibition meet. She’s working out well, he thinks. A little rough around the edges, but tons of drive and a great attitude. Plus, she’s handling Savannah and Chelsey’s bitter nine year-old rivalry better than either set of parents.
“Um, hi,” another nine year-old voice pulls him out of his thoughts. The one whose parents took her out of his gym and placed her at the Haven where she’d be the star junior.
He glances down at Jordan and smiles. “Hey, princess. How’s it going over there at your new gym?” It’s not her fault her parents are both competitive and overprotective.
“Okay, I guess.” Jordan scuffs her toe at the ground, pointing it out in front of her.
Dick crouches down. “Something wrong?”
She shakes her head. “I like being the best. I’m going to win today.” That sounds stubborn, but Jordan always is.
“Then what’re you doing talking to me?” Her coach is glaring at him and probably wondering the same thing.
Head down, Jordan shrugs. Now she actually looks like a little girl instead of a mini-Olympian. “You always give me a hug for luck.”
“I’m not your coach anymore, sweetheart,” Dick tries out, but he knows he’s going to cave. He’s a sucker for dramatic rescues (and the not-so-dramatic ones).
“But...” Her mouth trembles and her eyes fill up and Dick doesn’t just cave; he collapses and Jordan steps into his open arms.
He hugs her gently, then stands and rests his hand on her head. Her new coach, Andrej Simeonov, crosses his arms over his chest and scowls. Eyes wide and smile innocent, Dick shrugs helplessly. What can you do?
“Thanks, Coach!” Jordan beams and yanks her ponytail tight with both hands. “Tell Savannah and Chelsey I’m gonna kick their butts today!” she says and then cartwheels off.
Not your problem, Grayson, he reminds himself as he glances across the gym at the girls who are his problem. Savannah Myles and Chelsey Astor-Adams. One once-in-a-lifetime talent and one really great gymnast from a ‘good’ family. They’re in straddle stretch together, tugging each others’ hands (Nice one, Steph), and at least they’re acting like they didn’t do Little Girls Gone Wild and get suspended for all of last week.
Savannah makes a face when she sips from her water bottle. The kind of licky-face cats make when something tastes bad.
“Damn it.” He’d told Joanna, her mother, to stop trying to give her supplements, but her mother refuses to listen. Now Savannah will go thirsty instead of drinking that water. She’s nine and stubborn. They all are.
Dick pulls his phone from his pocket and texts Steph. Get Savannah fresh water bottle. Stat. Seconds later, he gets back, On it, fearless leader.
Even though he should be concerned about the use of that familiar nickname, Dick can’t help grinning at her across three rows of practice beams. He pushes a hand through his bangs and nods, but, seriously, his Titans are spending way too much time around the Circus.
There’s no time to flirt or worry about how she heard that, though. Before Savannah even needs another drink, she gets up on the bars for practice and misses her grip on a release move she’s been doing for two years already. Dick drops everything to sprint across the gym to her. He’s at her side before the sickening thwap of a tiny body hitting the mat even dies away.
Savannah’s conscious but the tears in her eyes are damning. “It hurts,” she whispers, and while he finger-signs Steph to get the EMTs and looks her over (pupils dilated but not uneven, pulse quick but strong, no obvious breaks and she’s curling her toes tight against the pain), he brushes his fingers against her cheek and assures her, “Breathe, Savannah. You’re going to be okay.”
Steph’s sneaker squeaks on the floor in the hall and Dick and Cass both stop talking and swivel their heads in tandem as her hand hits the door. That’s freaky. Crap on crap toast in a crap house with crapcicles on the windows and roof. She’s late to a meeting about one of their star gymnasts being injured and her eyes are probably red from the call with her lawyer.
They cock their heads in tandem too, both looking her over like they can see right through her. It’s freaky enough when Cass does it, but at least she’s Batgirl and not just a dangerously hot guy with the bluest eyes she’s ever seen and--
Get a grip, Steph. Focus. “Hi, sorry, phone call.”
“Everything okay?” Dick asks and she completely knows why every single gymnastics mother in the country wants their kid training with him. That’s so not fair.
Cass just arches an eyebrow and frowns. That’s not freaking fair either.
“Yeah, fine.” The last thing she needs is her new boss finding out about her situation and the new job that gives her a shot at the custody hearing drying up because she was stupid when she was fourteen. He doesn’t need to know about this. Not now. “Is Savannah okay?”
Dick gestures for her to sit. There’s a chair next to Cass which she slides into and folds her hands on her lap. He’s still watching her and she’s not sure she likes the way this is going.
“I was just telling Cass,” he starts out and his lips press together in a tight, trembling line(she’s not watching his mouth, really, it’s just not a normal expression for Dick. He usually smiles, that’s all). “Mild concussion, a cracked rib, and she wrenched the muscles in her back pretty good but she’s going to be okay.”
“That’s good.” Steph fidgets with a seam on her team trackpants. They don’t look that happy. Cass has that intense silent-shadow look and Dick still isn’t smiling. “Isn’t it? Why don’t you look like that’s good?”
“Drugs,” Cass says and acid flashes cold and bitter through Steph’s system.
“Oh,” she says. That’s bad. Always. And then a beat later, she frowns because it might always be bad, but she realizes she has no idea what Cass is talking about. “Wait. What?”
“They ran a standard blood panel and found oxy in Savannah’s system,” Dick clarifies, but the way his knuckles are white tells Steph she’s still missing something.
“So she was injured before the meet?” It’s the only thing that makes sense, even if competing with narcotics in her system was just stupid. Joanna Myles stagemoms Savannah like an ex-regional beauty queen, but she wouldn’t do that. God. Would she?
Cass shakes her head and she looks pissed, eyes dark and mean the way she only gets when it’s Batgirl-and-Spoiler time.
“Joanna swears Savannah was fine. Savannah swears she was fine. Her sister Kylie, her dad, even Caroline Astor-Adams--” Chelsey’s mom. “Swears Savannah was fine.” Dick flips a hand through his hair and pushes to his feet. Fidgeting isn’t a good sign. Sign of what, though?
He paces and Steph glances at Cass to see if she’s thinking what Steph is thinking, but she can’t read people the way Cass can and Cass doesn’t have any tells anyway. She’s as still as Dick is twitchy.
“Caroline’s almost as upset as Joanna,” Dick says from the window he’s looking out of. Steph notices his hand’s pressed against the sill in a fist. Tell. But what does it mean? “She thinks Jordan’s parents or coach drugged Savannah and Chelsey’s next.”
Damn. Steph’s eyes go wide. Yeah, she was a little behind on that. A lot. She cuts another look at Cass, eyebrow up, and Cass shakes her off, just a tiny movement of her head.
Okay. Not Batgirl-and-Spoiler time.
Steph chews at her bottom lip and then asks, “What do you think?”
Maybe Dick did it. Why would he do it? Why would Cass work for a brother who might do something like that? Maybe he’s a black sheep and Cass is babysitting him. That could be. Steph’s dad’s a criminal, so she gets that. It’s how she got into the whole Spoiler thing. Well, him and campus patrol and meeting Batgirl, but yeah. Maybe that’s how Cass got the Batgirl gig to start with. She always did kind of blow it off when Steph asked.
Dick’s talking. He’s saying something. What was he saying? Crap. She really has to learn to pay more attention. She nods like she understood and agreed and hopes that’s the right response.
It seems to be, since Dick turns to face them and folds his arms over his chest. “So we’re going to send Cass over to the Haven pretending to be a recent immigrant with possible eligibility for the Olympic trials. She can spy on Jordan and if Simeonov figures out who she is, he’ll just think we sent her to spy on their routines.”
That’ll work, Steph decides. Cass doesn’t look a day over sixteen unless she tries and she still has the body of an Olympic gymnast. Steph can’t even hate her for that. She knows how hard she...
Trains. Hey, why is Dick totally down with this? Steph knows Cass can pull it off but...
Cass gives her a ‘duh’ look and says, “I convinced him.”
Ohhh. That makes sense.
“Great, well, what do you want me to do?” Steph asks, sitting up straighter and not looking at Cass so she doesn’t give anything away. Besides investigate you, Hotty McHotpants.
“I’m going to talk to the parents. You’re going to talk to the kids. Watch them. See if they do anything weirder than usual. And, you and I are going to do a complete sweep of all of our equipment, toss all of our water bottles and buy new.” He claps his hands together decisively and says, “Let’s move.”
Cass gets up, but rolls her eyes back Steph’s way. Steph can practically hear her over late night hot chocolate saying, My brothers are such jerks. They always think they know best and always tell me what to do.
Maybe this one’s more than just a jerk. Steph doesn’t want to believe it, but that’s the first thing Batgirl taught her. Look with your eyes. Not your heart.
After they’ve done their sweep and found no obvious signs of sabotage or tampering, Dick takes off to visit with the parents. At least, that’s what he tells Steph. He hates to even think it, especially of someone Cass cares about as much as she does Steph, but the telltales are pretty obvious if you look and he’s been looking.
What? He and Kory aren’t married and aren’t getting married. They’re not even really dating. They just haven’t called a halt on this round of glad-you’re-alive sex yet. Besides, he likes Steph. She’s sweet and funny and good with the kids and she makes him laugh.
You’re not in the market for a girlfriend, Grayson. When would you even have time for an actual girlfriend? And--hey, focus here.
Instead of talking to the parents - he’s got O running their financials and connections to see if there’s anything he doesn’t know about them and talking to them all is a waste of time - Dick’s listening in on Steph, watching her through the security cameras, up in his lair above the gym.
She’s on the phone, toying with the mouse cord beside her computer, and she’s crying. Even if he didn’t have four different variants of a superhero costume in a concealed closet behind him, and he hadn’t been trained by the world’s greatest detective, that would ping Dick’s radar.
Pretty girls with bright futures shouldn’t cry every time they’re on the phone.
“I know,” she’s saying to whoever it is. “I know. I just need a little more time.”
And even without Savannah confined to bedrest, that would ping Nightwing’s radar.
“I don’t have anything yet,” the computer-generated voice supplies.
He tries a cheerful, “This isn’t a--”
“It better be a work call. I’m still not speaking to you from the last social call.”
Sighing, he kicks back at his desk, listening to Steph with one ear and watching her on the screens. She’s getting more and more upset and so is he. “Fine. I need you to look into Stephanie Brown for me. Dig deeper. Someone’s leaning on her. I want to know her vulnerabilities.”
The voice that comes back is Barbara’s and worried. “You don’t think she had anything to do with it? Cass would be devastated.”
“I don’t want to think so, but it doesn’t look good. Make this a first priority,” he tells her just as Steph says, “I’ll have money soon and everything will be okay then, right?” and Dick sits up, anger in his voice and the curl of his fingers. “Damn it. She’s in trouble. Trace her call for me, too.”
“On it. Oracle out.”
That’s the best thing about Barbara, Dick decides for the hundredth time as he suits up. She knows him well enough to know when ‘now’ means now.
He’s plastered to the side of the building, hidden in shadow so he can hop his bike and follow her, when Steph rushes out. She’s scrubbing furiously at her eyes and fumbling with her keys, but her body posture scans more pissed than scared. Huh.
Dick’s not sure what it means yet, but it is interesting. So’s the fact that a twenty-two year-old college graduate still uses what smells a lot like drugstore strawberry shampoo.
No closer to an answer about Dick than she was yesterday, Steph crouches at rail of the “VIP booth” above the gym. “VIP” in quotes because they call it the “Penalty Box” because it’s where they put the parents for timeouts when they start getting up in the coaching staff’s grill about their kids. Which, is pretty much all the time.
She’s twisting her strawberry-scented (it’s better than loading up on perfume to cover how much she sweats) damp hair into ringlets while watches Hotty McHotpants training with a spot from his super-hot redheaded...friend...question mark. There’s a lot of gratuitous touching going on, but the snatches of conversation she hears between tumbling passes (oh shit, he just totally landed a quad...that is so cool) are all about a ‘her’.
“She’s getting on my last nerve,” Red says as Dick powers into a three-step run, skips a round-off for a barani, and somehow has enough momentum when he lands to throw a double-twisting double back passthrough to a back extension.
When he comes upright again, Dick shrugs and rolls out his hands at the end of his wrists. It’s just a stretch, but the muscles in his arms and chest bunch and flex and it’s incredible to watch. “So, do something about it.”
“Like what, Robbie?”
Robbie? Why is Red calling Dick ‘Robbie’? That’s not a nickname for ‘Richard’. Steph misses Dick’s answer because he puts his back to her, but Red grimaces and flips him off. “Yeah, no.”
“It worked with Donna.” Dick scrubs his hair with a white towel and then snaps it out at Red. Red grabs the end of it, yanks it away and snaps it back at Dick, catching him in the thigh. “Don’t even. You do not want to go down that path with me tonight, Roy,” Dick says and it’s sort of low and threatening.
Okay, so Red’s name is Roy. That’s something. But not much. Steph scowls at how much she’s missing and presses closer to the edge of the booth. Something’s going on and it’s not just boys being boys now. She’s pretty sure about that.
Roy flicks the towel at Dick again. It looks playful, but he sounds kind of ticked. “Your new girlfriend’s trouble.”
“She’s not my girlfriend.” Dick walks over to the parallel bars and Steph totally has to remind herself that he’s her boss and possibly evil when he bends over to chalk up his hands. “Why? Are we still being watched?”
Damn. Being watched is never good. Worrying about being watched is even worse. Why would it matter if they weren’t doing anything they didn’t want anyone to see?
“Want me to take care of her?”
Double damn. That is so not good. She needs to call Cass. Like now.
“Sure,” Dick answers and Steph’s seriously pissed. How can he be so completely casual about someone’s life like that?
He’s way too hot to be that kind of evil.
“Want me to take care of her?”
Roy’s picked up a water bottle and Dick rolls his eyes. He can’t see Steph, but he knows she’s still there. She’s been watching them since she got out of the showers. It’s not that he cares, ever. Dick loves an audience. But it’s hard to tail her to see what she’s up to if she won’t leave the gym.
“Sure.” He rubs his chalked grip over the parallel bars and kips under and between them. “Just go easy on her.”
Seconds later the water bottle’s winging toward Steph up in the VIP booth. If it were anyone else in the world, Dick wouldn’t even bother watching. It’s Roy, so he’s pushed up to a handstand, upside down, eyes on the booth as Steph tries to open the door to the stairs without making noise (he can tell; she’s got that cute, intent look she gets when she’s really focused on something).
The bottle splats against the plexiglass guard. Steph pops up, eyes comically wide, and mouth a round ‘O’. And the bottle, now broken, hits the ground along with the remains of the water.
Dick laughs his way out of his handstand (he really hopes she’s not doing what he thinks she’s doing, now that he knows why she might be doing it, because she’s super-cute but he’s not going to take it on faith) over top of Steph’s, “Sorry, sorry, totally sorry, I just... Ohgod.” Her cheeks are strawberry pink, her hands pressed to them as she backs out of the booth and down the stairs. “Sorry!”
“Next time, just join us,” Roy calls out, voice low and mouth twisted in that smirk that makes it an innuendo.
Dick swings out and knocks him in the chest with a foot, and they’ve trained together long enough that Roy takes the fall instead of grabbing for a (relatively fragile) ankle. “Jackass. What was that for?”
“She’s my employee. And Cass’s best friend.”
Roy glares at him from the floor and rubs his chest. “That hurt. Also, girlfriend.”
While he’s rolling over his arms (ow), he manages, “Not. My. Girlfriend.”
“Yet, asshole. That really hurt.” He’s still rubbing his chest and if it were anyone but Roy, Dick might be worried he’d actually hurt him. But a, there’s so much muscle on Roy’s chest, at best, he might have bruised him, and b, Roy’s faking to try to get him over there.
“Quit whining and go see if she’s leaving.” Dick has trackers on her, but he doesn’t want her to get too much of a head start, just in case she’s in real trouble.
“Girlfriend,” Roy taunts as he gets up. Dick goes one-handed to flip Roy off and Roy grins, sharp. “So you won’t mind if I ask her out then.”
Dick flips off the bars and gives Roy a don’t you dare look.
“See?” Smirking as he slouches off to find Steph, Roy adds one last crack. “The next Ex-Future-Mrs. Grayson.”
A second later, Dick’s water bottle hits him in the back of the shoulder. Roy’s not the only one in the room with great aim and he never did know when to quit.
Dick’s just looking out for her. That’s it.
Next time, just join us. God, why is she such an idiot around guys? She quipped her way around campus patrols. Always had something smartass for the bad guys. Give her two guys she might want to date (if they’re not evil and after that she’s almost sure they’re not) and suddenly her tongue stops working. Great.
Headset on, Steph calls Cass as she pulls into an alley to wait for Roy and Dick to leave so she can follow them.
“Busy. Be fast,” Cass says without even a hello. The sound of bones breaking in the background a few seconds later explains it.
“Uh. I can wait?”
Cass doesn’t answer, so Steph picks at a torn cuticle and watches over the steering wheel.
It’s not rude. It’s just Cass. “Two things. One, I’m an idiot. Two--” Steph takes a deep breath and spits out all the words at once. “I’mkindofworriedyourbrothermight’vedruggedSavannah.”
“Not two. Just one. You’re an idiot. Why the first time?”
Steph makes a face. “Are you sure? I was going to follow him and Roy to see if--”
“You’re an idiot. Go home.” That’s Batgirl talking, Steph realizes. Spoiler’s kind of pissed about it, but he is Cass’s brother. She’d make Cass stay home if she was going after her dad. So. Fine. As she’s easing out into traffic again, Cass insists, “What’s the first thing?”
The whole story comes spilling out and Cass...laughs...when Steph’s done. “Hey! It’s not funny.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Okay, you’re right. It’s totally funny if it happened to someone else, but seriously Cass, is he going to fire me? I can’t afford to lose this job.” Steph kind of freaks out at the thought and slams her hand on the steering wheel. The horn is so loud she jumps in her seat.
As if that didn’t happen, Cass says calmly, “He won’t fire you.”
“How do you know?” Steph whimpers, slouching down into her seat at a red light, to avoid the looks from the other drivers.
“Because I know. Go home, Steph. Good night.”
It should be annoying but somehow Steph actually feels better.
Following Steph turns out to be a bust. It looks like it might get interesting when she stops in an alley, but she must just be doing that girl thing of hiding until her embarrassment fades because she goes straight home. Nightwing and Arsenal watch her place for a couple of hours, but all they see is her covering her face with a pillow and screaming.
Steph’s reaction to them catching her has Dick about 90% sure she had nothing to do with Savannah getting hurt, anyway. It’s not that he thinks she’s too inept to pull it off or anything. Not at all. It’s just instinct. That blush and stammer aren’t the hallmarks of the kind of person who could do something like that.
90% isn’t good enough for Nightwing. Desperation is a powerful motivator and O discovered that Steph’s own daughter, Charlotte, is in a bad foster care situation, so he texts her first thing in the morning (Dick and Steph’s morning, not Nightwing’s) to invite her to visit Savannah with him. If she’s guilty, he’ll know.
Steph texts back to say that she’ll meet him there. It’s not ideal, because he won’t be able to see how she acts on the drive, but he’s got no reason to insist.
In the end, it works out well. He’s already sitting with Savannah in her room when Steph comes in. It gives him a chance to watch her face across the little girl’s bed. Steph never looks away or shows any other signs of guilt. She plops right down on the chair Joanna brings in for her, glances over at the nightstand that has a bowl of half-melted ice cream on it, and then grins at Savannah. “All-you-can-eat-ice-cream. Niiiiiiice.”
Savannah grins right back at her, even through a coughing spell. “I know, right? I never get ice cream! I’m almost sick of it.”
Dick gets in on the action, lifting an eyebrow at her and giving her a really skeptical look.
“I said almost, Coach!”
It’s really good to see her laughing and smiling. Really good. She’s an incredible talent and it would be a shame to lose that, but even more importantly, he loves her to death, like she’s his own daughter, and he’s just...relieved. More than he realized he would be.
Steph picks up the slack in the conversation with a cheery, “If you’re not eating that, can I have it?”
“It’s mint chocolate chip. Coach’s favorite. Moooooom!” Savannah yells and then winces. Dick catches her hand and holds it while he’s still wondering how she knows that about him. He guesses that happens when you train someone for four years.
“Don’t yell, Savannah. You need to rest your ribs,” Joanna says when she appears at the door to the bedroom again.
“I’m tired and they want ice cream.”
So it’s said and so it’s done. After forehead kisses and careful hugs, Steph and Dick are ushered into the kitchen to have ice cream (Joanna insists) with Savannah’s older sister, Kylie.
Where Steph wasn’t nervous at all, Kylie’s worried about something. She’s never as friendly as Savannah, but usually she’ll at least talk to Dick. Today she chews at her bottom lip, won’t meet either his or Steph’s gazes, answers questions about Savannah but won’t talk about anything else.
It’s pinging Dick’s radar. Hard. Steph’s leaning against the kitchen counter, trying to look casual and pulling it off if you’re not a Bat. She’s as interested as Dick is, and he has no idea why.
“Kylie...” Dick moves closer to her, not crowding, but close enough to be supportive with a hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, fine,” she says and Dick doesn’t believe it for a second. Steph’s giving him a solid headshake of don’t believe her. It’s cute. Really cute. He nods.
“I know your mom can be kind of intense--”
“No, no it’s totally not mom. She didn’t do anything. Seriously, everything’s fine, Coach Grayson.” She lifts her head and bleach blond hair slides into her face, but it doesn’t stop her from giving him an oddly intense look. Back off is completely clear in her bottle green eyes. “I know you’re trying to help, so thanks. But just don’t.”
Before he can say anything else, she’s barging out of the kitchen. It’s not the first time anyone’s been immune to his charms but... “That was a little extreme, don’t you think?” he asks out loud.
“Yeah, totally,” Steph agrees as she sets her ice cream bowl in the sink. “I wonder what’s going on there.”
Dick puts his bowl with Steph’s and fills them both with water. “Maybe we should go have a talk with Dad and see if he knows anything.”
It’s a little weird how quick they’ve fallen into step here, but only a little. She does work for him and one of the things he likes about her is that she has good people instincts. Not from reading them, like Cass, but she knows when the kids need discipline and when they need hugs, and that’s important. He also likes that she thinks for herself but doesn’t ignore his instructions just because he gave them to her. It’s kind of like working with Tim, actually.
Which is a weird thought, since it’s Dick and Steph in the Myles’s kitchen. Not Nightwing and Robin.
Dick smiles and leads her out of the kitchen with his hand on her shoulder. It’s not that weird. And it bodes really well for the team this year.
They get about five steps into the hall when they hear George Myles in his den. The door is cracked open a bit and he’s clearly on the phone, but Dick can’t quite make out what he’s saying. It sounds like...huh. Russian. He thought George was Serbo-Croatian.
Dick frowns and moves closer. He can only make out snatches of the conversation but it has something to do with Kylie and with him. Words said. Different words. He glances at Steph and she mimes don’t look at me, hands up by her shoulders and shrugging.
Then there’s a slam of a hand on a desk followed by, “Nyet! Nyet! I said she will not and she won’t. End story.”
Steph’s eyes widen and then a few seconds later she pulls a cell phone from her pocket. It must’ve been on vibrate, because Dick didn’t hear anything.
“Fine,” George snarls. “I will meet you. I will talk. Maybe, for the right price. Where?”
Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Someone on the other end of the phone wants Kylie to do something and George doesn’t want her to do it, but for the right price George might.
If it’s hurt Savannah, Dick has some pain for him. He needs to get out of here, into his uniform, and follow him. “I just remembered I--”
“Gotta go,” Steph’s saying at the same time, holding up her phone. “Cass needs me to come down and say I knew her from college gymnastics.”
It’s conveniently well-timed but he’s not going to look that gift horse in the mouth. With O listening in to him (always) and her hooked to Cass (always) it could happen. “Yeah, sure. Go on. I’ll say our goodbyes and catch up with you later.”
An hour and a half later, the sun’s sinking behind mounds of twisted metal and ripped apart cars in the scrapyard of Bodean’s Wrecking and Towing and Steph’s watching George Myles pace a ten foot square through a pair of night-vision binoculars she doesn’t really need yet. It’s a little early for Spoiler to be out, but it feels good to be back in the eggplant.
Myles keeps looking at his watch and tugging at his jacket, and Steph wants to tell him to watch his exits instead. It might be picturesque in a True Blood vampire justice kind of way, but it’s a True Blood vampire justice kind of way and what kind of idiot agrees to meet someone who might have drugged a little girl in a freaking junkyard anyway? It’s like an invitation. “Kill me and hide my body, please,” Steph mutters into her mask.
At least he’s got Spoiler on his side tonight.
There’s a blur across her field of vision and then her binocs are gone and she’s flat on her back looking up at some dude in domino with a blue V thing across his chest and--
Holy crap. What is Nightwing doing here?
Never mind that. Why is he attacking her? “Hey! What was that for?” She doesn’t bother to wait for an answer, just pulls in her legs, kicks out, and catches him in the thighs.
When she gets free, Steph gives a little victory “Nyah!” inside her head.
Nightwing moves so fast Steph can’t even follow what he does. All she knows is it hurts when his feet connect with her shoulder. A lot.
“C’mon.” She pulls herself up from the ground and she’s trying not to pant. Batgirl taught her not to show off her weakness unless she’s trying to draw her opponent in and she’s pretty sure Nightwing wouldn’t fall for it anyway. “I’m on your side.”
Steph has no idea how she’s going to do that, but at least he’s just doing his version of Cass’s scary Batglare (and it’s seriously scary, let her tell you) and not hitting her right now. “I haven’t attacked. I’m only defending myself,” she tries out.
His mouth moves under his mask. It might be some kind of a smile. “Try again.”
“Lost my Good Guys membership card, sorry,” she snaps, annoyed. What. Ever. She circles, looking for a weakness. Crap. Does he even have a weakness? “If you want, you can help me look for it.”
“Who are you?”
He’s closing on her, and she has no choice but to try out some of the moves Batgirl taught her. Nightwing springs backward and rolls away and there’s another “Nyah!” moment, because that went pretty well, but now Nightwing’s looking at her with those big white bug eyes, crouched on the ground and she thinks she might have made a mistake.
“Spoiler. I’m Spoiler.” She’s about to tell him to call the Bat concierge service or whatever they’ve got when she hears the scrape of tires on gravel.
He hears it too, she guesses, from the way he turns in his crouch so he can see both her and George Myles. From the ground, he pushes up straight into what would be a barani if they were in a gym.
“Look, can we settle this later? That’s my guy and he’s in--mmph!” His hand covers her mouth and he hisses, “Shhh,” in her ear while he’s got her pulled back against his chest.
Out of the light they were standing in, she notices.
It’s still tempting to bite those two blue fingers. So she does.
He doesn’t move his hand but he does give her the satisfaction of a grunted “Ow” until she realizes he’s humoring her. He probably couldn’t even feel her teeth through her mask and his gloves.
Five guys get out of a black car and start moving toward Myles. This is going to go to hell, fast.
“Stay here,” Nightwing says. “I’ve got this.”
“Sure,” Spoiler answers when he takes his hand away. She nods for good measure. Like hell I will.
He slips into shadow again and he’s gone. She gives him a three-second head start and then follows.
He’s seen those moves before, Nightwing thinks, as he takes out the first guy from the second car that just drove into his path with a foot to the back of the knee and a lock around the neck. The guy goes down and before his partner can shoot, Nightwing kicks the gun from his hand, and continues through to his jaw. It crunches, and there’s another mook-in-black on the ground.
Where has he seen them before? He’s trying to remember as he flips over the hood of the car, flowing like shadow, to take the guys on the other side. Batgirl, it dawns on him, when he hears a shout from the direction he was heading.
His head swivels to follow the sound, gaze focuses. Spoiler.
Damn it. He told her to stay put. Apparently she learned more than moves from Batgirl. Too bad she didn’t learn the moves as well as the I know better than you attitude. Fortunately - for her - she’s good enough to keep the focus off Myles for the time it takes for him to get there, leapfrog a hunk of scrap metal and take out two morons, one with each foot. They try to get up, but he punches one in the head and the other gets an invitation to dance that ends with his shoulder dislocated from a twist and a dip.
After that, it’s a pretty standard mop-up, complete with taped confessions, zip-strips, and Myles blubbering out the whole story when he’s stupid enough to pull a gun on Spoiler and she gives him a swift kick to match the ones he got before Nightwing helped him up the first time.
It turns out that George and Kylie are in witness protection (where the hell are the Federal Marshals?) after testifying in a major gangland trial. Kylie’s mother was murdered by some ‘associates’ of George’s and Kylie witnessed it. To keep her safe, he offered up the entire organization and they moved out here to The Boonies, Delaware. A year later, George married Joanna who had just given birth to Savannah - not his daughter - and never told her about being in Witsec because it was all over and done.
Apparently, no one bothered to tell him about appeals and new evidence coming to light. He wants to know what to do, Spoiler looks like she’d like to punch his teeth in, and Nightwing’s sharing that desire.
Because not only did he get Kylie in this mess, but now Joanna and Savannah are in it too. Not only is Savannah going to have to give up gymnastics, but she’s going to have to give up her entire life. Unless.
“Disappear. Call your marshals, and just disappear. Either that or tell your wife and divorce her. That’s the only way they’re ever going to be safe.”
Spoiler cocks her head at him and Nightwing finishes binding up the last of the enforcers.
“She’ll never be safe.You don’t under--”
“Oh, I think he does,” Spoiler interjects as she helps Myles mop up his cuts. “You’d be surprised what he understands.”
Nightwing’s gaze narrows, but he’s amused at how smooth it is. “As long as Joanna and Savannah stay here, or move to Manhattan--” Or Gotham, actually. “They’ll be safe. They’re not connected to you. They don’t know anything. And--” He quirks a tiny, nasty little smile. “They have guardian angels.”
Spoiler’s head comes up and she looks - from what he can tell from behind her mask and her posture - surprised, but pleased.
Sirens wail and Nightwing jerks his chin at Spoiler. “That’s our cue.”
They both bleed back to watch the authorities take over the situation. One second she’s there at his shoulder sweet-smelling even amidst the trash heaps, and he’s teasing, “I like how you good cop, bad cop,” and the next, she’s just plain gone.
Nightwing chuckles to himself. Learned that disappearing move from Batgirl too.
When Steph wakes up and peels herself off her bed to shower out the bruises from last night’s tango with Nightwing, there are already two texts waiting for her. One from Dick that says Meeting before practice. Good news. and one from Cass that asks Anything broken? She answers the first Yeah? Be there soon and the second Not even my pride. Why didn’t you tell me Nightwing was so hot? Neither of them answer before Steph’s out of the shower and on her way to the gym.
She’s strawberry-fresh and grinning (even if her shoulder’s never going to make it through half the routines she’s supposed to spot today) when she shows up. Her sneaker squeaks but she doesn’t even care that Dick and Cass both do that freaky immediate head swivel, because she’s back in the saddle, righting wrongs, kicking ass and taking names, getting credit from Nightwing last night and Savannah’s going to be safe. It’s a banner day to be Stephanie Brown.
Dick gives her an odd look when she slides into her seat next to Cass, but he smiles and shrugs and tosses her a bottle of orange juice. She catches it (with her left hand) and asks, “So what’s the good news?” as if she doesn’t already know.
“Savannah’s in the clear. Cass found some evidence to put away the people who hurt her.” From the way Dick beams at Cass, Steph has a hard time not believing the story. Especially when Cass makes that proud little I can read now smile back at him. And she knows what happened.
Damn. Cass is good.
“That’s not good news,” Steph says and she’s trying to be all kinds of serious about it, while she twists the top off her OJ. She can’t. She just can’t. Instead she grins, hides a wince, and hugs Cass. “That’s great news!”
It is. She doesn’t even mind Cass getting the credit in front of Dick. She and Cass know the truth.
“I think we should celebrate.” Dick pushes up from behind his desk. “Waffles?”
Steph blinks. How does he...maybe he doesn’t...does he? “Uh, sure. I can pretty much always eat waffles. And mashed potatoes, if you’re keeping score. But not together. That’d be kind of gross. Unless they were like chicken-n-waffles waffles, but I like the sweet ones better.”
Babbling, Steph. Just because his eyes are the bluest thing you’ve ever seen, that’s no reason to lose your head. It’s not a date. It’s just breakfast. A working breakfast.
Cass is already out the door of the office when Dick comes up behind Steph to hold the door open over her head. “I really like your shampoo. Strawberry’s my second favorite after mint chocolate chip. I’d know it anywhere.” She has almost no idea what those things have in common, but she’s pretty sure that’s because Dick’s standing as close to her as Nightwing was last night, and unlike Nightwing’s Kevlar, Dick is warm. “You should wear it on our next date.”
Steph tries to blink past the stupor, but she’s too busy grinning her way down the hall because maybe it is a date. Then it hits her. He said ‘next’ and that he recognizes her shampoo.
Oh crap. Crappity crap crap. She should have thought of that. Batgirl taught her better. She’s an archetype. An icon. An avatar of the night. A primal fear. Not a person. She’s Spoiler. Not Stephanie Brown in a uniform.
Well, crapdoodles on crap toast. She screwed up again.
It’s not until after breakfast that it hits her. If he knows, then he has to be Nightwing. Holy shit, Dick Grayson is Nightwing. Cass’s brother is Batgirl’s brother. Overbearing and bossy and...
Okay. Sue her. He’s super-hot, and she’s a little slow.
When a week goes by and neither Steph nor Spoiler has shown up to call him out on being Nightwing, Dick figures either she missed it, or Cass beat it into Steph’s head she doesn’t know until Nightwing invites Spoiler to the secret. He wouldn’t mind if she did know - actually know, as in we can talk about it know, since he and Kory finally called it quits on so-happy-to-see-you, she’s back to swearing off men and he likes working with both Steph and Spoiler (the whole Robin, good cop-bad cop lockstep makes a lot more sense now, too).
That’s not why he’s wearing a bespoke suit and tie in a Gotham courthouse, hand on a Bible, swearing to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth (as long as they don’t ask about superhero secret identities) to a judge in family court in a best interests of the child hearing. That, he’s doing because he likes Steph, she’s Cass’s best friend and his best employee, and he’s looking out for her. At this point he’d do anything - including pay for a better attorney - just to stop the teary phone calls.
When the attorney asks him to state his relationship to Stephanie Brown, he simplifies. It’s not a lie. They didn’t ask about Nightwing and Spoiler.
When he asks Dick’s opinion of Stephanie Brown as a parent, he says, “I can’t speak to that. Not directly. But I can tell you that she’s a great gymnastics coach,” and then goes on to explain why that’s like being a parent, from encouragement to discipline to dealing with illness and injury and then he tells them about Steph and Savannah and all-you-can-eat ice cream. “So maybe I can’t speak to Stephanie Brown’s parenting skills, but I’m pretty sure living with her could never not be in the best interests of her child.”
There are questions from the child advocate and weird little glares from Steph and eventually the judge lets them all go with a promise to examine the evidence and present a decision by Monday.
Dick’s standing in the long, busy corridor with its echoing white marble floors and beige galleries and arches. It’s not the Cloisters where he interned one summer during college, nothing like it, but it has some gravitas anyway. Cass waits with him until Steph comes striding through the courtroom doors, marches right over to him and slaps him across the face.
He catches her wrist but doesn’t try to stop her. Neither, surprisingly, does Cass. He gives his little sister a look before he scowls at Steph. “What was that for?”
“You can’t just show up on the most important day of someone’s life and do something like that without even talking to them first. That’s... that’s...” Presumptuous is the word she’s looking for and she’s right, but Dick thinks it’s probably not the best time for a vocabulary lesson. It’s probably also not a good idea to tell her she’s beautiful when she’s mad. Kory taught him that. “Even if you can do a quad and are the best at junkyard leapfrog, you just can’t,” Steph finally sputters and pulls her hand away.
“You’re right. I should’ve--mmph.”
Steph cuts him off with a kiss. Neither he nor Cass stops that either. Well, Cass moves to, but he stops her instead with a hand on her forearm while the other slides up to pull the pins from Steph’s tidy bun. What Steph probably meant to be a fast hard smack of lips turns into something a lot more...eloquent, Dick decides, is the word he’s looking for.
He smiles into the kiss and draws it out, sweet and sexy and warm, affectionate and welcoming, until Cass knocks him in the forearm with the back of her wrist.
“What was that for?” he says to both Steph and Cass at once, rakes a hand through his hair and just grins when his bangs fall right back into his eyes again.
Steph’s the one who answers: “You can’t just do what you did, but you did and it was totally awesome and thank you because you have no idea how much that means to me and...” She’s babbling and her pretty blue eyes are wet and Dick wants to kiss her again.
But there’s a shriek and a tiny blonde in a pink dress launches herself down the hall at Steph. “Mommy did you see me? Did you see when I talked? Did I do it right?” Her mother scoops her up and hugs her fiercely, murmuring to her she was perfect and mommy is so proud, but the little girl, Charlotte, is staring over her shoulder with huge blue-green eyes at Dick. “Are you a prince? You look like a prince. Mommy, is he a prince?”
Steph turns to look at Dick and all the nerves and all the cute and all the college gymnast has melted away into someone grown-up and gorgeous and strong. “Not usually, Char. But maybe today.” She mouths a thank you to Dick and an I’ll call you, but he thinks that’s probably for Cass, before she says, “Wave goodbye and say thank you.”
Charlotte does, pretty as a princess, and Dick finds himself staring after them, a soft, quiet (stupid) grin on his face.
Cass pokes him in the arm and when he looks down, she cocks her head at him eyebrow up and the rest of her not moving.
Apparently, he’s in trouble. “She kissed me.”
“Uh-huh,” she says and pokes him in the chest.
“I didn’t do anything but kiss her back,” he protests, and it dawns on him that Steph said ‘junkyard leapfrog’ while he’s rubbing his chest. So Steph does know about Nightwing. Good. Really good.
He’s smiling again.
Cass sighs and pulls the hairpins out of his hand, then crosses her arms over her chest.
Okay, so maybe it was a little more kiss than Steph intended. She’s okay with it, he’s more than sure. It’s Cass he’s worried about and he actually stops grinning long enough to cup her shoulder and squeeze it in apology. “I know. She’s your friend. I swear, I was just trying to help.”
Now Cass just rolls her eyes at him and elbows him hard in the ribs. Her mouth twitches and then she smiles that wider-than-proud smile that means she’s okay and maybe even happy. “Tim made me watch Dr. Who. Help is like ‘hello’ for you.”