What annoyed Steph most about Tim was that he always looked innocent, even when she knew for a fact he was hiding some bullshit.
“Timothy Jackson Drake Wayne,” she says, slow and dangerous, landing hard on the cafeteria bench next to him and promptly shoving her phone in his face. He pushes it away, mumbling irritably through a full mouth, and she holds it up again, an inch or so back this time. “What. Is thiiiiiiiiis?”
He stares at her, eyelids at a disinterested half-mast, chews, swallows, then says, “Your phone.”
“What’s on my phone, you ass!” she says, and he takes it out of her hands, rolling his eyes. She tears vengefully into her veggie burger as he scrolls down a little, then he huffs through his nose.
“‘Mysterious appearance at Wayne Manor last night’…” he mutters. “‘Gotham Gossip reports’- well, hey, fuck Gotham Gossip. And- wait, hashtag WhoIsSheTim? Trending? How have I not seen this?”
By the time he’s done reading, Steph has demolished her entire lunch. “A better question is, how have I not seen this?” she says. “With ‘this’ being the teenage girl who arrived at Wayne Manor in the middle of the night yesterday, in this instance.”
Tim’s mostly still distracted by her Twitter feed, but he does manage one smug smile in her direction. “What, you jealous?”
“You wish I was jealous!” she snaps. “I’m mad, because you know I hate it when you hide stuff from me! Hashtag who is she, Tim?”
With a reluctant chuckle, he gives her phone one more disgruntled look, then hands it back. “Well, apparently Gotham Gossip wants you to believe she’s the latest in my long line of clandestine sex slaves,” he says. “But she’s actually just my sister. Cassandra.”
There’s a long period of silence, and Tim starts to pick at his lunch again while Steph takes a moment to figuratively digest.
“Your sister?” she repeats, after maybe a minute and a half of mental math. “Hold up. Your sister? I’ve been friends with you for, what, three years- I’ve hung out with your dad and all of your brothers for three years, and I’ve never ever heard about a sister!” Her eyes narrow with suspicion. “Is she new? Did Bruce pick her up last night or something?”
Tim chokes a little on his juice, then wipes his mouth and laughs. “No, nah. Cass’s been around for nearly as long as me. Well, not around-around. The reason she’s all over the news is because she came back from Hong Kong last night, she’s been studying and training there for about as long as we’ve been hanging out. A little longer.”
Convenient Wayne-family-type bullshit. Hong Kong, typical. “That doesn’t explain why I’ve never even heard of her!” She looks around suspiciously, then lowers her voice. “Is she like, some dark family secret? Is it like Jason and the whole thing with-”
“Shh, no it isn’t like that you weirdo,” Tim says, looking around furtively then scowling at her. She grins, then forces her face into solemnity again. “And it’s not like we’ve been hiding her. She’s in family photos and stuff, like the one over the TV. Actually, everyone gets along with her pretty well. She’s cool. Quiet.” Then his frown turns thoughtful. “But, in fairness-”
In a cliché right out of any B-list teen comedy, Harper drops down on Steph’s other side just as Tim is about to tell her something that will probably be crucial to her plotline later. “Hey, losers,” she says cheerfully, swipes blue bangs out of her face, and crams a handful of fries into her mouth. “What’re we talking about?”
“Tim’s latest scandal,” Steph says, before Tim can answer. “Being a teenage celebrity must be so hard, don’t you think, Harper? I sure would hate to be the daughter of the richest man in the world, wouldn’t you?”
Harper nods seriously, eyes smiling, as Tim nearly shoves Steph off the bench. Then, her expression lighting up, “Oh, are you talking about the Cassandra Wayne thing?”
Another elongated moment of silence, then Steph rounds on Tim again. “Are you serious? How does Harper know and I didn’t? She doesn’t even follow Bruce on Twitter!”
“Gotham Reporter just identified her, that’s how,” Harper says, as Tim shrugs helplessly, and rustles around in her pocket for her own phone. “No need to get snippy. There’s a picture of her on the Wayne Manor front lawn, doing a- split?”
Ignoring Tim’s mutter of “showoff,” Steph snatches the phone out of Harper’s hand and glares down at the picture. Then she looks harder. Her eyes go very wide.
“Tim,” she says, grabbing for his arm without looking away from the screen, “I’m coming over to your house.”
Harper laughs, and Tim lets out his longest groan of the day.
It’s not weird that she’s coming over to Wayne Manor. She comes over basically every day. It’s totally chill and casual and Stephanie is totally chill and casual and it doesn’t have to have anything to do with Cassandra Wayne at all.
When Tim knocks halfheartedly on the door, the butler opens it and smiles to see Steph, clearly unaware that she has ulterior motives. “Ah, Miss Brown. It’s been a while.”
“It has, hasn’t it?” Steph says, patting him on the shoulder as she walks past and dropping her bag underneath the coatrack. “Two days is way too long of a separation between these hallowed halls and I, don’t you think, Alfred?”
She grins slightly at the butler’s agreeable response of, “Certainly, Miss Brown,” and then wider at Tim’s long-suffering, “Don’t encourage her, Alfred.” In her peripheral vision, she can see Alfred moving to pick up her bag, but she’s distracted from apologizing by another sign of life. She snaps to attention, but it’s just Jason, stumbling out a random door in the hallway and running a hand through his hair.
He scowls when he sees her but doesn’t immediately backtrack into the room from whence he came, which means he’s missed her in the two weeks or so they’ve been apart. “Oh, it’s you,” he grouses, hand falling from his hair and into his pocket. “You know, Timmy, one of the top rules of breakup etiquette is that you stop inviting your ex back to your house.”
Behind her, she can feel Tim aiming one of his darkest glares in Jason’s direction, but she just beams. “Hi, Jason, good to see you too. You finally finished terrorizing every teenager in every back alley in the city?”
Alfred chuckles as he passes Jason with Steph’s bag in his arms, and Jason elbows at him. “Funny,” he drawls. “So, you here about Cassandra?”
Just barely does she manage to keep herself from choking on thin air, but it’s a challenge. “What? I mean, I don’t- what?”
Something clangs behind her, probably Tim’s forehead against something hard, and Jason just rolls his eyes. “Whatever,” he mutters, along with something that sounds a lot like, “well, I’m not introducing them,” and he ambles away again.
Steph waves cheerfully as he leaves, then rounds on Tim, who’s rubbing his forehead. “What was that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing, you drama queen,” he says. “The manor doesn’t revolve around you. He’s just talking about the family dinner tonight, to welcome Cassandra back. Bruce and everyone’s coming.”
“Everyone?” she repeats dubiously. “But-”
A second black mop of hair peeks around the corner, and for half a second Steph thinks it’s Jason back again to complain some more. Then her eyes go wide, and she bounces on the balls of her feet. “Dick?!”
His baby blues widen in tandem with hers, and then he’s across the room and sweeping her up into a hug. “Steph! I didn’t know Tim was bringing you over!”
“Yeah, neither did Tim,” Tim mutters, but they both ignore him.
As Dick sets her back down on her feet, she says, “God, Dick, it’s so good to see you! I thought you were gonna be in Transylvania till the end of the time!”
He laughs easily and runs a hand through his hair. “Nah,” he says. “Just till the end of November. But Bruce did the flyby last night, picked everyone up to give Cass the full-family welcome home. Even Babs is coming later.”
Even Babs knew! Even Babs knew about Cassandra Wayne and didn’t tell her. She and Steph are going to have words.
She doesn’t say this, naturally, because she’s being super chill and casual. Instead, she frowns, and starts counting off on her fingers. “Wait, okay, so I’ve seen you, Jason, Tim’s here obviously, Bruce and Babs are showing up later, this Cassandra person is presumably around, so that leaves-”
As if on cue, a dark pair of eyes appears from the nearest corner, sees Steph, then disappears again within a millisecond.
“Demon!” Steph cries joyfully, and dives around the wall.
The boy jumps out of her reach, but she’s used to his evasive maneuvers and catches him by the wrist anyway. “It’s Damian!” he snarls, and aims a punch at her shoulder as she envelops him in the biggest hug she can manage. “Unhand me, witch!”
“Oh, Demon, I missed you too,” she says fondly, lifting him up of the ground with the force of her embrace. He yelps, then flails. “I agree, it’s been far too long.”
Dick is laughing openly, and she thinks she can hear Tim snort under his breath, very softly. She doesn’t blame him; just because she’s personally not afraid of Damian doesn’t mean others don’t have the right to be. She just squeezes Damian tighter, and he punches her under the ribs. “Let me go! Grayson, assist!”
“No need to be so aggressive, bud,” Dick says fondly, crossing his arms. “It’s not every day a cute girl like Stephanie is going to throw herself at you, you know.”
Stephanie beams at him, and swings Damian out of the way as he aims a low kick at her thigh. “Aw, Mister Grayson, thank-”
“I heard screaming.”
She drops Damian. He lands sure-footed, catlike and scowling, but she barely notices.
Cassandra Wayne is peering around a doorway, her eyes curious and a little wary. She’s shorter than she’d looked in the picture, and yet somehow even more gorgeous; lean and sharp-edged and with well-defined features, like a painting. Stephanie’s mouth goes a little dry.
Maybe Tim mutters, “Jesus Christ,” behind her, but her heart’s beating too loud to hear him anyway. Cassandra’s gaze has fixed on her, dark and a little suspicious and hot as hell. She’s a goner.
“Hey, Cass,” Dick says cheerfully, thankfully oblivious to what is surely the gayest revelation of Stephanie’s life. “No worries, just some playful banter. Have you met Steph?”
Even when she’s barely moving- hand on her hip, spine straight and legs still and poised- all of Cassandra’s movements are precise, practiced. The flick of her eyes between Dick and Steph is unnervingly fast. “Stephanie Brown?”
Steph swallows. “Uh. Uh-huh. That’s me. I’m, well-”
It’s miniscule, but Cassandra’s features seem to relax a little bit. “It is an honor,” she says, and extends her hand. “Tim has spoken highly of you.”
In that moment Steph forgives Tim of every wrong he’s ever committed against her, up to and including not telling her about the existence of Cassandra Wayne. She reaches out quickly and gives Cassandra’s hand a firm shake, which is returned in kind. Her hand is cold, and calloused.
Apparently ignoring Damian’s grumbled, “I can’t imagine why he’d do so,” Cassandra releases her hand and continues, “Will you be joining us for dinner?”
Steph reaches for a loose curl of her hair and gives it a slightly anxious tug. “I mean, I’d like to, but I haven’t exactly been invited-”
“You’re invited,” Tim pipes up. “I already called Bruce to tell him.”
That’s even crazier than the sudden appearance of a hot sister. Steph boggles her eyes towards him, at an angle that hopefully will keep her face attractive in Cassandra’s direction. “And he was like ‘yeah, okay’?”
He shrugs. “It’s been a while since he’s seen you. Maybe distance made the heart grow fonder.”
Considering she broke a probably priceless vase last time Bruce saw her, it’s unlikely, but whatever. She shoots a winning grin in Cassandra’s direction. “I’m staying for dinner!”
All she gets in return is a soft smile, but a really nice soft smile, so it feels like a fair deal.
Dinner is a fairly muted ordeal, considering how extravagantly wealthy and batshit crazy all the Waynes are. The cake is really, really big, and there’s like three turkeys, but that’s the most Rich People thing that happens.
Bruce sits at the front of the table, broad-shouldered and regal as always, and even gives Steph a cordial nod and an acknowledging “Stephanie,” which is better than she thought she’d get. Cassandra is at his right and Damian to his left, and while Cassandra does murmur quietly to Bruce and to Tim, who’s on her other side, she doesn’t really participate in any group discussions. Probably for the best, because half the group discussions end with Damian vaulting himself across the table at Tim and Bruce catching him in midair to plant him back in his seat.
Steph is one seat away from Cassandra, with Tim between them, and diagonal from Barbara, who’s chatting in a suspiciously animated way with Dick and therefore avoiding every single one of Steph’s glares. It’s a hard job, staring down Barbara and shooting pretty smiles in Cassandra’s direction, but someone’s got to do it.
No one’s face gets smushed in the cake, which a noticeable improvement from the last Wayne family private event involving a cake. Instead, Jason and Dick have a furious but relatively silent and bloodless battle over the top tier piece, Damien gets the second tier uncontested, and the girls and Tim split the last piece between themselves. Cassandra’s hand touches Steph’s when she passes her a slice, but it’s barely a big deal at all.
Dinner is over when Bruce stands up, domineering patriarch that he is. “Well,” he says, putting his hand on Cassandra’s shoulder. Steph can tell it’s a stretch for him- Cassandra is sitting down, and also short, and Bruce Wayne is a brick shithouse. “I think I speak for all of us when I say- it’s wonderful to have you home, Cassandra.”
“Hear, hear!” Dick says heartily, Barbara clapping along, and Tim taps his glass with a spoon like a nerd. Jason shoots a grin in Cassandra’s direction, and Damian gives a peaceable nod of agreement. Even Alfred hums pleasantly.
Cassandra looks up at Bruce, and smiles. A real smile, with teeth. “Thank you, Father,” she says softly, then smiles disarmingly at the rest of the table. “Everyone.”
No one in the Wayne family calls Bruce ‘father’ except Damian, which is fine because Bruce is actually his biological father. It’s strange to hear it come from Cassandra’s pale mouth. Still, Steph doesn’t mind. She just raises her glass.
She’s stretching a moment later, dinner completed and Bruce, Damian, and Jason having vanished into the dark offrooms like the mysterious jerks they are, and wincing at all the food in her stomach when Tim taps her on one shoulder and looks over the other. “You wanna stay over? It’s kind of late.”
“Nah,” she says easily, lowering her arms. “School night. Thanks anyway. Babs, would you drive me home?” She waggles her eyebrows in Barbara’s direction, where she and Dick are still talking like dumb teenagers. “Or are you staying over?”
Dick just chortles, then wheezes when Babs shoves an elbow in his ribs. “Brat,” she says, but ruffles Steph’s hair anyway. “Sure, I’ll drive you. But learn some manners, would you?”
“And what, lose my roguish charm?” Steph says, and grins when Alfred reappears in the room with her bag. “Thanks, Alfred. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“Very good, Miss Brown,” he says affably.
Babs and Dick have already disappeared in the direction of the garage with Tim on their heels, and Steph is about to follow when a low voice behind her says, “Stephanie.”
She jumps about a foot in the air, only to see Cassandra standing very still behind her. “Cassandra!” she says, then, “Jeez. I definitely see the Wayne in you. You’ve all got sneaking down, haven’t you?”
There’s a twitch in Cassandra’s face. It could have been a smile. “Thank you for attending the dinner tonight,” she says. “It was good to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” Steph says. This conversation is so normal. She can handle a normal, professional conversation. “Thanks for having me. So, I’ll be seeing you around here from now on? I mean, this is your house, obviously, but I’m here a lot so-”
That didn’t actually go great, but Cassandra just nods. “I expect so,” she says, looking pretty serious. “I plan on an extended period of training here. Besides that, I missed my family.”
“Mm,” Steph says. “Well, I understand why. Sort of.”
Cassandra actually chuckles at that, which is a total win. “And I will be seeing you?” she says. “Around the manor?”
Steph nods eagerly. “Yeah, for sure. Like, I know this is actually your house, but. This is basically my house.”
That makes something gentle happen in Cassandra’s cheekbones, and she’s about to say something when a car horn honks. From a distance, but with authority.
“Shit, that’s me,” Steph says, slings her bag over her shoulder, and gives Cassandra her most winning smile. “Bye, Cassandra! See you tomorrow!”
“Goodbye,” Cassandra says distantly, then, just as Steph is halfway out the door, “My brothers call me Cass.”
She has to double back a little to respond, sticking her head past the doorway. “Cass?” she repeats, and Cassandra nods. Steph can’t help the smile that builds up when she says, “So is that what I should call you?”
Cassandra nods again, a little uncertainly this time. It’s a cute look on her, less sharp, more vulnerable. Steph grins wide. “Cool!” she says. “Cass, then. You can call me Steph if you want. Anyway, gotta go, bye!”
So she misses Cass saying, experimentally, “Steph,” like the word is delicate in her mouth.
After giving the Wayne boys a friendly wave goodbye through Barbara’s car window, Steph waits until they’re completely out of sight to burst out with, “What the fuck, Babs?”
Babs, instead of immediately apologizing, just rolls her eyes. “It’s not my responsibility to make sure you’re keeping track of all the Waynes,” she says, without having to ask. “I assumed you already knew.”
“Hello?” Steph says. “Do you think if I knew about Tim’s super hot sister before this, I wouldn’t already be all over it? Come on, Babs, you’re supposed to be a genius!”
Taking the corner out of Wayne Manor’s super long driveway with pinpoint accuracy, Babs shrugs, like this isn’t a situation of the utmost urgency. “To be honest, I always thought you and Cassandra might get along well,” she says, “and not just as relief from all the testosterone around, but also because you’d play off each other well. But I was also worried that you would start crushing on her-” She rolls her eyes at Steph’s indignant sputter. “Yes, Stephanie, because as little regard as I know you pay to etiquette, it’s typically bad manners to start dating one of your ex’s siblings.”
There’s a lot of civil things Steph could say about that- that she and Tim have been broken up for a long time, that dating was always strange anyway, that Tim is fully aware that Steph thinks Cassandra is a hot piece and only responded with mild indignation so it’s whatever- but instead she just decides to go right for the jugular. “Yeah, thanks for that lesson in civil graces, Babs. Coming from the woman who slept with her boyfriend’s dad while they were ‘on a break’, that really means a lot.”
Babs nearly crashes the car.
After the dinner, Steph is at Wayne Manor a lot. Like, she was there a lot anyway, but now she’s basically there all the time.
Tim’s eyes boggle out of his head, missing the bite of apple he had gone to take before Steph had finished her sentence. “You really said that to her?”
“Yep,” Steph says, half-pride half-guilt. Her legs swing as she perches on the kitchen counter, and Alfred keeps reaching around her for cooking appliances. “It was bad. I had to walk the rest of the way home, and I think she blocked my number.”
He whistles, low. “Jesus. I don’t think she’ll forgive you real quick after that one. Pretty brutal, Steph.”
In fairness, yeah, but Steph just shrugs. “Well, she can’t stay mad forever. Besides, it’s not like it’s not true.”
“I mean, yeah, but it’s not like anyone wants to acknowledge it-”
Steph jumps, but Tim just rolls his eyes and tosses the apple core into the trash bin across the room. “Hey, Cass.”
“Hey, Cass,” Steph echoes, glancing over her shoulder. “Damn, you really are so good at sneaking.”
“Thank you,” Cass says, and goes over to the fridge to withdraw a water bottle. She’s wearing a hoodie tossed over some sweatpants, and her collarbones and the back of her neck are slick with sweat. When she looks back at them, over the lip of the bottle, her eyes are bright with energy. “What were you talking about?”
Tim literally just taps out, taps the counter twice and looks at Steph expectantly. Steph shakes her head exuberantly. “No, no, nah, if she doesn’t already know I’m not telling her.”
“You seemed perfectly fine bringing it up with-”
Cass interrupts, after downing all the water in a few seconds. “If I can guess. An inappropriate sexual exploit?”
That shuts them both up. “Uh,” Steph says, and winces when Tim kicks her under the table. “Ye-yes?”
“Hmm,” Cass says thoughtfully, throwing the bottle expertly into recycling. “One of… our eldest brother’s, maybe?”
While this isn’t an entirely out-of-bounds expectation, Steph bites her lip and shakes her head as Tim snickers. “Uh-uh.”
“Father’s, then,” Cass says, with finality, and Tim laughs out loud as Steph nods, still chomping down on a smile. “Well, I don’t need to know the details.” Then she looks at Steph again, and Steph’s surprised by the playful glitter in her eyes. “But you needn’t feel any urge to shelter me. I know several scandals that many in the family would prefer to keep under wraps. Even from you, Stephanie.”
Cassandra Wayne is a literal treasure trove with an ass that won’t quit. Steph’s eyes go huge. “Like what?” When Tim coughs, her eyes go even wider. “Are there any about Tim? Cass, tell me!”
Smiling mysteriously, Cass just shakes her head. “Later, perhaps,” she says, and disappears back out the swinging door, ignoring Tim’s whine of “Cassandra!”
After watching her go, Steph turns back to Tim. “Your sister is very easily the best person who has ever lived.”
Tim throws a half-empty Vitamin Water at her head. “Quench your thirst.”
The next week, Cass finds her and Tim together again when she walks in on Steph pinning him underneath her on a basement mat.
“Uh,” she says, and Tim lolls his head to look upside down in Cassandra’s direction. “Hey, Cass.”
This situation is unfortunate for a couple of reasons, the first being that Cass looks distinctly attractive in a sports bra and a pair of knee-length workout pants. The second is that Steph and Tim are in a position that looks more than a little sexual, when the reality is that Steph was beating his ass right up until Cass walked in.
Tim, being a boy, disregards these social delicacies and just groans, tapping Steph’s thigh. “All right, let me up, this is embarrassing.”
Steph hurries to her feet, reaching down to tug Tim up after her. He comes up grumbling, brushing off his knees. “Hey,” she says quickly, brushing off her own ass and realizing too late that acting guilty makes it seem like she has something to be guilty about, which, other than being a better fighter than Tim, is nothing. “Hey, Cass. Sorry, were you coming to work out?”
“Mm,” Cass says, vague assent, but she’s eyeing Steph with new, straightforward interest, that makes Steph feel a little warm in the cheeks. “I didn’t know you could fight, Stephanie.”
She says it like Steph has a talent for painting, or singing, or something else artsy and impressive, rather than knocking out teeth. Steph reaches back, adjusts her ponytail with restless hands. “Come on, it’s just Steph. And yeah, well- yeah. I’m okay.”
Cass nods towards where Tim is inspecting his kneecaps. “Better than Tim?”
Tim scowls at her, but Cass’s expression is fairly neutral, and Steph shrugs. “I think we’re pretty well matched. What about you, Cass? I mean, you’re- fit.” Well, she can’t un-say that. “Do you fight?”
At that, Tim straightens up and just starts laughing so genuinely it’s like Steph’s told a really superb joke. Steph glances at him, startled, and he just waves her off, and when she looks back in Cass’s direction Cass is wearing an amused smile. “Yes,” she says, “I can fight. It seems a prerequisite for this family, does it not?”
The way she says family, like Steph is indubitably a part of it to her, is so casual and so striking that Steph’s response is half blinking and half, “Uh, yeah, seems so.”
“We will have to have a round together sometime, then,” Cass says warmly, then, “I’ll let you finish your bout,” and disappears back upstairs.
Once she’s gone, Steph whaps Tim on the chest. She forgot he wasn’t wearing a shirt, and so taps him again sympathetically when he winces. “Sorry. But! What was so funny, chuckles?”
That gets him laughing again, and he just shakes his head. “Asking Cass if she could fight,” he says. “I mean, you wouldn’t know, but- all Cass does is fight.”
Well, it’s not like she doesn’t have the rock-hard bod to prove it. Still, Steph raises an eyebrow. “Everyone in this house is nonstop fighting. Constantly on alert, right?”
“Not like Cass,” Tim says, with enough fervor to get her to believe him. “She’s fanatical about it. And she’s good. Like, I wouldn’t take her up on that offer of going a round with her if I were you.”
That is such an uncharacteristic thing to say, from any boy in the Wayne family, that Steph pauses. “Well, how good is she?”
“Too good,” Tim says, managing to sound fond and grim at the same time, and of course that doesn’t explain anything.
Wayne Manor movie night is a week after that, which has the pro of letting Steph cozy up with Cass in the dark and the con of having to watch a movie with the rest of active Wayne Manor.
“This film’s logic is horrendous,” Damian says through a mouthful of popcorn. “The likelihood that this plane would still be in the air after sustaining such damage is less than one percent.”
“Yeah, I was, like, just about to say that,” Harper says, from where she’s sitting on the floor between Steph’s couchbound legs. Cullen has already fallen asleep, his head in her lap and legs stretched across the floor, underneath the side of couch that Steph, Cass, and Damian have claimed for themselves.
Popcorn comes flying in their general direction from the other side of the couch, but in the dark Steph can’t tell if it’s Jason or Tim that threw it. It’s Tim’s voice that says, “Ugh, shut up, you guys always talk through the good parts.”
“This is the good part?” Jason’s voice says, and then grunts. “Ow, hey.”
Finally, the plane starts its downward descent, and there’s a collective sigh of relief across all sides of the couch. Cass shifts a little underneath Steph’s arm, and leans more steadily against her side, but thankfully not close enough to sense a rapidly beating heart. Steph had pulled the classic yawn-stretch-arm over your girl’s shoulder move about five minutes into the movie, and so far it’s been working out quite well. “Stephanie,” she murmurs, “was it established that the protagonist could fly a plane earlier on and I forgot?”
Steph looks upward, trying to remember. “Uh,” she says. “I don’t… think so? I think he’s just going for it. And when are you going to call me Steph?”
“Hmm,” Cass says, and her head settles on Steph’s shoulder, her frown lit soft blue and shadowed against Bruce’s humongous TV screen. “That is hardly a foolproof plan.”
“Well,” Steph says, unsure of whether she means flying without experience or referring to Steph by the nickname. Briefly she considers leaning her own head atop Cass’s and then deciding against it, “I mean, it’s crashing into the Alps anyway, so.”
The plane actually explodes when its nose nudges the mountains anyway, so there was no apparent point to the protagonist attempting to pilot anyway.
“He’s dead,” Harper says, with finality.
“Nah,” Jason says. “But the girl in the back is dead, and he’s gonna cry about it for like ten minutes.”
There’s a groan from beside him. “You told me you hadn’t already watched this!”
“I haven’t,” Jason says, “but I have watched more than one movie in my life, so.”
The girl in the back is dead, and the guy cries prettily about it for about four and a half minutes. Jason stands up, stretches, and crosses the screen. “Told you. I’m getting another beer.”
“Wouldn’t the man be more likely to be dead out of the two of them?” Damian says, sounding genuinely frustrated. “The woman was wearing protective material. He was without a seat buckle in the cockpit.”
“Mm,” Steph says. “Misogynistic and illogical. Good movie night pick, Tim.”
Tim sputters, but it’s drowned out by the sound of Harper laughing, and Cass’s soft chuckling right next to Steph’s ear.
The October nights in Gotham are cold and raucous, but Wayne Manor is soothingly soft in noise and the movie is playing a slow sad piano tune, and Harper is a familiar weight against her calves and Cass a new surprising one against her side. It’s comforting and warm and it feels like a small home, and Steph is so enveloped in it that she barely notices herself drifting off to sleep.
Credits are rolling when she wakes up, and Cass is still under her left arm but she’s moving around. When Steph sits up a little and looks around blearily, she goes still. “Did I wake you?”
“No,” Steph says, and looks around, “no.” Everyone else is asleep too- Harper’s head is lolling back onto Steph’s lap, Cullen still passed out in hers, and Damian is sprawled all the way across Cassandra’s, face down and stretched out. One of his hands is clutching, childlike, at the fabric of Steph’s sleeve. Faintly, Steph can make out Jason and Tim on the other side of the room, Tim nestled against Jason’s side with Jason’s arm draped sleepily over him.
Mollified, Cass carefully uncouples Damian’s hand from Steph’s sweater and lifts him up in her arms without waking him, a feat Steph never thought she would see performed successfully in real life. “I’ll bring him upstairs- what are you doing?”
Steph’s stood up too, and crossed the room to crouch a little in front of Tim and Jason. “Blackmail material, Cass,” she murmurs, and snaps one, two photos of them cuddling before withdrawing. “It’ll come in handy later. Could be a good Christmas gift for Dick.”
“Diabolical,” Cass says, and it’s dark but Steph can hear the grin in the voice. Then, “It’s late. Will you be staying over?”
It doesn’t take a ton of considering. “Yeah. Me and Harper and Cullen can just tag along with Tim to school in the morning. I’ll keep the couch.”
Sounding doubtful, Cass says, “If you’re sure. Will no one be missing you?”
“No,” Steph says, more automatic than anything. Anyone who ever might miss her is in this room, excluding Dick and maybe Babs if she isn’t over the whole Steph-brought-up-that-she-slept-with-Bruce thing yet.
“All right,” Cass says simply, then turns and heads up the stairs, Damian’s legs swinging as she deftly climbs upwards into the dark.
Steph assumes that’s the end of that, so she curls back up onto the couch, pillows her head on the armrest, and is pretty much fetal position and ready to sleep when she feels a blanket being draped over her. She opens one eye, half expecting Alfred, only to see Cass over her again.
“For you,” Cass murmurs, offers her a pillow, then tosses a second blanket over Cullen and tucks another pillow under Harper’s head. “Next time I’m sure there will be a bed available to you.”
Sleeping in guest rooms is weird, and sleeping in Dick’s room is weirder, so Steph’s going to stick to the couch for now. She chuckles anyway. “Thanks, Cass.”
Cass comes back to a standing position over her, lips pursed. She looks like she’s halfway to saying something but not sold on it, and Steph has closed her eyes again when Cass says, “Why don’t you live here?”
That gets both of Steph’s eyes open. “What?”
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Cass says, looking a little unsure, “but the manor seems to be your home, to me. You spend your days and most of your nights here. Why not live here with us?”
Because you can’t just start living in the home of the wealthiest man in the world, that’s why. As much as Steph’s thought about it.
“Well,” she says, deciding this might be a good question to deflect rather than joke off. “No one’s ever asked me to.”
Eyebrows knitting just slightly, Cassandra kneels down, apparently under the guise of just slightly lifting Cullen’s head to drape a blanket over Harper’s lap, but the way she maintains eye contact with Steph the whole time suggests it’s no coincidence. For her part, Steph watches her back, unblinking and feeling fragile in the still dark.
“So,” Cass says, her voice soft and even and careful, “if someone did ask you. Would you?”
“If it were that easy,” Steph whispers back, “sure.”
That makes Cass’s eyes crinkle, but her mouth is in shadow so Steph can’t see its curl. “That’s good to know,” she says, then stands again. “Good night, Steph.”
“Night, Cass,” Steph says vaguely, and then she’s alone in consciousness.
It’s a while getting to sleep after that.
“I heard everything,” Harper says smugly.
Considering it’s more than twelve hours later and she and Steph were having an entirely separate conversation up until this lead-in, Steph just frowns in confusion and snatches a handful of chips from the bag in Harper’s lap. “You heard everything of what?”
“Everything between you and Gotham’s most eligible bachelorette, last night,” Harper clarifies, and smacks Steph’s hand when she tries to double-dip in the chip bag. “Get your own. And anyway, homegirl is asking you to live with her? And you expect me to believe nothing’s going on? What the fuck?”
Steph has to do a hard swallow on the chips, which causes at least two to scrape painfully down her throat and induces a mini coughing fit. “Harper!” she manages, through some hacking. “You were awake that whole time?”
Looking a little too pleased with herself to properly pull off an annoyed look, Harper takes a loud bite of apple and says around it, “Uh, no? But it was kind of hard to sleep through the obnoxious flirting happening right next to my head. Honestly, I deserve an Oscar for my sleeping performance through that whole scene. And I also deserve like twenty bucks for not bringing this up while Tim was around.”
Even if Harper is evil, at least she’s not that evil. “True, even though I’m not giving you twenty bucks,” Steph says. “Besides, I don’t know, Harper, I’m not sure she-”
“If you’re about to say you’re not sure she likes you like that, I’m going to kick your ass right here,” Harper says, and it sounds like she means it. “Disregarding that, again, she literally asked you to live with her, you two were getting pretty cuddly last night. Some gay shit, in my opinion.”
“Everyone gets cuddly past eleven on movie night!” Steph says despairingly. “Damian fell asleep on top of me! Once Jason fell asleep on top of Bruce! Movie night is a scientific anomaly of Wayne family affection!”
When Harper nods in slight disgruntlement (she’s witnessed this conundrum herself, so), she continues, “Besides, she didn’t ask me to live with her, specifically, she asked me to live in Wayne Manor, probably because Tim’s told her my home life is shit and she feels bad for me. Or she’s starting to have sisterly feelings for me, which, you know-”
They both shudder, and Harper pats her on the back sympathetically. “Well, if you want my opinion-”
The marimba theme suddenly starts dancing in Steph’s pocket, and she shoots an apologetic look in Harper’s direction and pulls her phone out of her pocket. “Hello?”
“Stephanie Brown?” says a familiar low voice. “This is Cassandra Wayne.”
Immediately she makes five different but similarly panicked hand gestures at Harper, widening her eyes, and Harper scoots next to her, pressing her ear to the other side of the phone and looking intrigued. Stephanie covers the receiver with one hand, clears her throat, then says in a totally Chill and Relaxed voice, “Oh, hey, Cass. What’s up?”
“I am calling to ask you for a favor,” says Cassandra, her voice as even and expressionless as a businessman closing a deal. “Damian is having a friend over from school on Saturday and my father has asked me to supervise. I would very much appreciate your assistance.”
There’s a lot of crazy happening in those three sentences, including but not limited to Cassandra using the telephone, Cassandra asking Stephanie for a favor, Bruce letting anyone supervise Damian without his own supervision, Bruce supposedly letting Stephanie supervise Damian. Still, the first thing that comes sputtering out of Stephanie’s mouth is, “Damian has friends?”
“So I have been told,” Cass says. Her voice is so quiet that it’s hard to tell if she sounds amused. “Specifically, a girl named Mia from Gotham Academy, who, I have been informed by Father, is charming.”
Harper has her hand pressed so hard over her mouth that her fingers are turning white, and is visibly shaking with suppressed laughter. Steph elbows her. “Literally how is that possible?” she says, switching the phone to her other ear and shoving at Harper when she lets out a protesting whine. “I have it on good authority that Damian lasted like five minutes at Gotham Academy.”
‘Good authority’ was a series of increasingly-unintelligible texts from Tim back in September, the first reading DAMIAN GOT KICKED OUT OF SCHOOL ON DAY ONE LMAOOOOOO, the second sent three minutes later (tim: ok he may ahve brken my nose but i stil can’t stop laughin this s hysterical), and the third and final reading BRUCE IS HOME and then a bunch of unreadable texts that left Damian’s fate uncertain.
On the other end of the phone, there’s a small noise that could either be a cough or a laugh. “Well, I believe he made a friend in those five minutes. As reluctant as he is to say so. Now, are you free-”
“Oh, yeah!” Steph says eagerly, then drives a hand into her forehead, and continues in a much Calmer and Professional tone. “Yes, Cass, I am free on Saturday and would be happy to help you babysit your demon baby brother and his charming friend.”
She could be totally mistaken and probably daydreaming, but now Cassandra’s voice sounds like she’s smiling. “I appreciate your assistance,” she says. “I will see you on Sunday. Goodbye, Steph.”
“Bye,” Steph says, smiling like a lovestruck fool probably, and waits for Cass to hang up first. Then Harper nearly shoves her off the bench.
“Dude!” she cries, elbowing all up Steph’s arm and looking positively thrilled. “Dude! You’re in!”
Maybe it’s a little too hopeful to think so. “It’s a joint babysitting job, Harper, that’s not exactly the epitome of sexy.”
“But she wanted you to babysit with her!” Harper says, shaking her a little. “If it didn’t mean anything, wouldn’t she have asked one of her eight hundred siblings?” Before Steph can point out that having four brothers isn’t that large of a number, and one of them is the one being babysat anyway, she continues, “No! She called you with a phone like a fellow plebian and asked for you! You are in!”
It’s true that no one’s actually called Steph since she was maybe twelve, and it’s cute and antiquated and so Cass. Maybe it’s okay to be a little charmed by it. Maybe it’s okay to be a little hopeful. “Yeah,” she says, and Harper gives her cheek a little poke until it bunches up into a full grin. “Maybe.”
“Nice,” Harper says, sounding satisfied, then leans back, folding her hands behind her head. “Now the biggest issue is how you’re supposed to babysit the spawn of Satan.”
In hindsight, Steph probably should have suspected something was up with this whole ‘babysitting’ thing, but it only becomes an apparent scheme when she opens the heavy Wayne Manor door and Damian immediately shoots past her at top speed.
“Damian!” Cassandra’s voice shouts, and Steph stands aside as she appears next to the door, looking chastened. She halts there, as if waiting for something, frowns, and then smiles pleasantly as Steph. “Hello, Stephanie. Thank you for coming.”
Steph looks back over to where Damian is tearing across the yard like he’s being pursued by the fuzz, then back to Cass, who’s looking at him with amused chagrin as if he’s not trying to book it out of Gotham forever. “Um, I think I’m missing-”
Then in a flash, Bruce Wayne appears out of absolutely nowhere and snatches Damian up bodily. Damian yells, half in surprise and half in fury, and kicks and shouts relentlessly as Bruce carries him back to the doorway.
“Hello, Stephanie,” Bruce says politely, holding Damian out at arms’ length so he doesn’t accidentally kick one of the girls in the head. “I appreciate you coming to help out Cassandra today.”
“Hi, Bruce,” Steph says, a little dazed. “Sorry, but I think I may have been misinformed? What’s happening?”
Cass ushers Steph in, and the three who can walk do walk in. Over Damian’s loud tirade of being manipulated and betrayed by his own blood, Bruce says, “What Cassandra told you is true. Damian is having a friend over today.”
“She is not my friend!” Damian yells, and aims a kick at Bruce’s upper thigh. “I barely know her!”
Looking pained, Bruce hoists Damian up higher and continues, “Unfortunately, Alfred and I will be out today, and only Cassandra was available to supervise. I’m glad that she’s asked for you to help her, Mia is sweet but can be a handful. And Damian-”
“This is insulting,” Damian hisses. “I do not need to be forced into socialization- as if I were a toddler-”
“Given your current behavior, and the fact that you haven’t left the manor in two weeks, it seems that’s exactly what you need,” Bruce snaps, then sighs, sets Damian on his feet, and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Anyhow. She’ll be arriving soon, and leaving a little before dinner. Just- lunch, a tour of the manor. Entertainment. Can you manage?”
Damian isn’t trying to escape anymore, but he is just standing there, glaring at his dad and stewing and pretty much looking like definition tyke bomb. Steph eyes him, then turns to Cass. “I can handle the girl if you handle the demon. Deal?”
“Deal,” Cass says readily, then looks up at Bruce again. “We’ll be fine, Father.”
At that, Bruce’s face softens, and he touches Cass’s shoulder. “I have faith in you,” he says solemnly, nods to Stephanie, and then exits in a fittingly awe-inspiring and broad-shouldered manner.
Once he’s gone, Steph turns on both Cass and Damian, the former looking just slightly guilty and the latter murderous. “Okay,” she says, “okay. In retrospect I should’ve absolutely expected this. Still.”
“I didn’t intend to manipulate you,” Cass says formally, and bows her head a little in recompense. It’s such a natural motion that Steph barely registers how old fashioned it is. “The truth is I do need your help. I don’t have much experience with children other than my youngest brother, and he is-”
Damian scowls. “You and Father apparently had no qualms about manipulating me,” he grumbles. “And the both of you deserve whatever troubles you encounter trying to handle Mizoguchi. She’s-”
There’s a smart one-two rap on the door, and all three of them freeze.
“I refuse to answer that,” Damian whispers, and Steph touches her nose. Cass sighs, straightens, and walks back over to the door, opening it way too easily for two hundred pound oak. “Hello? Mia Mizo-”
A girl maybe an inch or so shorter than Damian speeds in and immediately starts hopping on one foot. “Hi, Cassandra Wayne!” she says, fixing Cassandra with a megawatt smile for maybe a second and a half before hurrying over to examine one of the lobby paintings. “Thanks for having me, I know I’m a little early but I just happened to be hanging around the gates and I saw Mr. Wayne leave just now so I thought- oh my crap, is this a Picasso? Like, a real one?”
“Naturally,” Damian sniffs, and Steph suspects it’s less to be informative and more because he can’t help himself. It backfires on him, though, because Mia’s eyes land on him and brighten considerably.
“Damian!” she says, and skitters over to where he and Steph are standing to peer at him, without a trace of self consciousness. “It was way cool of you to invite me, I can’t believe this is your house! I can’t believe I’m standing in Wayne Manooooor!” She does a little spin in place, as if to take it all in. When Steph glances sideways, she sees Damian standing very still, watching Mia carefully as if she may jump him at any moment. “Whoa, is this painting of you? Why are you so tall?”
Damian doesn’t respond, so Steph takes it upon herself. “That painting’s going to be there a while,” she says. “So they made Damian look taller for when he looks older.” When Mia turns to her, she continues, “Hi, Mia, I’m Stephanie Brown, but you can call me Steph.”
Mia nods eagerly. “Okay! You guys can call me Maps, nobody calls me Mia but my brother and my mom if she’s mad at me. You too, Damian, nobody at all calls me-” She lowers her voice, in a slightly accented but otherwise spot-on impression of Damian’s forced low voice, “‘Mizoguchi’ except you. Maybe because that’s my brother to everyone at school. Even though most people call him Kyle. Anyway, it’s Maps!”
Steph bursts out laughing, and Cassandra’s expression is as warm as Damian’s ears look when she comes over to join them. “It’s good to have you, Maps. Are you hungry? We have lunch prepared.”
Nodding eagerly, Maps trails on Cassandra’s heels like a puppy. “This is amaaaazing!”
That leaves Steph and Damian in the hallway, the former watching Cass walk away with pretty badly concealed longing and the latter carefully eyeing the retreating Maps with a mix of wariness, uncertainty, and something like gentle curiosity. Steph, noticing the lattermost, throws an arm around his neck. “She’s cute, Demon! I see why you like her.”
“She’s not,” he says stiffly, followed by a reluctant, “I don’t,” that’s drowned out by Maps’s distant but distinctly delighted cry of, “Strawberry cream cheese? That’s a real thing?”
Twenty minutes in, and Steph is starting to think she got tricked into the harder end of the babysitting deal. Maps is like a bottle of Five Hour Energy personified, bouncing around the halls with wide eyes, and Damian just trails behind her, looking mostly annoyed but slightly uneasy.
“Whoa,” Maps breathes. “This place is so huge. Like, it looks huge on the outside but inside it’s like a black hole. And why are there so many swords everywhere?”
“Most of them were gifts to Father,” Cass says. She’s leading the tour, and Steph is trailing at the back, like the teacher on a school trip. “Or they’re art pieces. This particular one-”
She pauses, appropriately, just in time for Damian to fill in with, “It belonged to my grandfather.”
Suitably impressed, Maps spins on her heel to face him, hands clasped behind her back. “No way! Is your grandfather, like, Captain Hook?”
Damian’s nose crinkles. “Who is that.”
Even Cass looks a little horrified, but that’s nothing compared to the spasm that crosses Maps’s face. “What?”
“Sorry, Maps, I know, we’ve failed him,” Steph says hurriedly, grabbing the girl by the shoulders and steering her forward, past Cass and Damian. “Hey, you wanna see something cool?”
That immediately brightens Maps up, and she grins at Steph over her shoulder. “I live to see cool stuff.”
Over Damian’s conspicuous murmur of, “Who is Captain Hook and why is he significant?” to Cassandra, Steph says loudly, “Okay, so! In the basement we have, like, a mini gym. Well, I say mini gym because it’s in a house, but it’s actually like a regular gym. And we use it for-”
Even though it’s totally impossible for it to happen in the real world, she’s pretty sure Maps’s eyes turn into stars for at least a full three seconds. “I knew it! I knew you guys had a secret fighting room! Is it true you have a huge supercomputer that lets you fight holograms of yourselves?”
Well, Steph’s never heard of it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t exist. She looks questioningly at Cassandra and Damian, and Cassandra just makes a small noncommittal noise and Damian says dismissively, “If such a thing did exist, you certainly would not be at liberty to know about it.”
“That means it does exist!” Maps says triumphantly. “So is the thing in Gotham Gossip about your dad-”
“Whoa, hey, I’m gonna stop that sentence right there,” Steph says hurriedly. “Um, what do you guys think about-”
Cass cuts her off, looking over Damian’s head. “Steph. Would you consider going a round with me?”
That takes a second to click in Steph’s head, half because it came out of nowhere and half because Cassandra had just finally called her Steph. “What, right now?”
“Yes,” Cass says, looking down to address the smaller two. “Damian, Mia, if you’re willing, Stephanie and I could give you a demonstration of our practice.”
Damian says yes even faster than Maps does, which visibly surprises everyone. When he’s stared at, he just shrugs, unrepentant. “I have not seen Cassandra spar in a long time. It is a sight to be seen.”
“Huh,” Maps says. “Now I really want to watch!” She turns to face Steph, her whole face lit up, and how can Steph say no when she’s one against two cute girls and one scary preteen?
“Okay, sure,” she says, and three faces spread in smiles. “Just let me suit up.”
Ten minutes later, Mia- Maps- sits on her knees next to Damian on the basement floor, who glances at her with the corners of his eyes then looks away. Her eyes stay fixed eagerly on where Steph and Cass are stretching a mat away. “Do you always fight down here?”
“It’s a place to practice,” Cass answers, which in Steph’s opinion is a smooth evasion of the genuine answer that they fight anywhere and everywhere. “The whole family uses it.”
Steph nods in agreement, touches her toes. “I spar with Tim down here a lot,” she says. “If Dick’s around, he’ll go for a round or two sometimes. Jason might if I’ve pissed him off enough. Who do you usually go with, Cass?”
Cass smiles the smallest, sharpest smile Steph’s ever seen. “Father,” she says simply.
Damian sniffs disapprovingly, but Steph can barely hear it over the pop of her own jaw dropping. “You?” she says dubiously. “And Bruce. Bruce Wayne?”
“We are closest matched in ability,” Cass says, as if it’s a straightforward answer, but Steph thinks she can hear a little pride under her neutral tone. “If he is busy, then I fight with Jason.”
There’s a sound of shuffling, and Steph glances over to see Maps has turned on her knees to face Damian. “Who do you practice with the most?”
“Drake, usually,” Damian says shortly. “Sometimes Grayson, if he’s here.”
If Stephanie’s not wrong, he seems a little embarrassed to not have his dad as his chief sparring partner, to be one-upped by Cassandra. But Maps doesn’t have any sort of standard, just says, “Cool!” happily and turns to face the girls again.
Charming, for sure. Just like Bruce said. Even more so when she turns her sparkling gaze on Cass. “So,” she says, innocently, “what’s the awesomest move you can do?”
It’s worth the childish antics and having to put up with Damian’s wrath later, just to see Cassandra’s face soften. “The awesomest move I can do,” she says, Maps’s bright words sounding funny and sweet in her even voice, “would probably kill Stephanie, so I’m afraid I can’t show you.”
“What!” Steph says. “You haven’t even fought me yet, how do you know that –ngh!”
Because suddenly she’s flat on her back and winded, with no memory of having gotten there, and Cass has one knee pressed on the center of her chest. Her right palm is flat against the mat right right next to Steph’s left ear, and her face is close. Close and grinning, dark hair coming out of its ponytail.
“Bad sportsmanship, Cassandra,” says Damian’s voice, from a farther distance than it had been at before, but he sounds amused. Stephanie turns her head to see him, horizontal and smiling his little smile, and Maps, whose face is glowing like she just witnessed the Second Coming or something.
Then the knee comes off her chest, and Cassandra slides lithely back onto her feet. “That,” she says, and reaches down to help Steph up, “is the ninth awesomest move I can do.”
“Whoa!” Maps says, all genuine thrill and wonder and sparkly eyes, and Steph is glad Maps is here and outwardly expressing what Steph’s holding in check inside herself. Then she turns back to Damian again, glittery eyes still in full-force, and he straightens up a bit. “Can you do that, Damian?”
He bristles a bit, like she’s insulted his pride by suggesting he couldn’t. “I can do something similar,” he says, “because Cassandra is built differently than I. If you like, I can-”
“Show me, show me,” Maps says eagerly, and then they’re on their feet and doing their own thing.
Now that the kids are distracted, they don’t have to play for show anymore. Steph rubs her wrists. “Brutal,” she says to Cass, who is rolling her neck and squaring up again. “You didn’t have to do me like that.”
Cass just smiles, looking amused, and raises her fists again. “Sorry,” she says simply. “It was for the children’s sake. Are you prepared to go again?”
“Sure,” Steph says, even though it’s been made pretty clear that she’s not, and she puts up her dukes.
Fighting Cassandra is nothing like fighting anyone else. Tim is agile and Dick is quick and practiced and Jason is ruthless, but Cassandra is all these things and way faster, way more. It’s obvious she’s holding back, the way her muscles strain in her arms and the way her eyes dart around, but even holding back Steph’s no match for her. It’s so amazing to watch her go at it that Steph isn’t even embarrassed by how thoroughly she’s getting her ass whooped.
After the fifteenth time her back hits the mat, this time with Cass holding her legs up in the air with one hand, Steph realizes that not only is she not embarrassed, she’s actually a little turned on. A lot turned on.
This kind of terrible S&M revelation is tremendously awkward to have, even inwardly, with two middle schoolers in the room, so Steph coughs a little, pats the mat, and says, “Can I, uh, tap out for a second? Starting to get a little dry- thirsty. Thirsty, you know.”
Eyes bright with energy, Cass lets her up, reaching out one hand to pull her to her feet. “Have I hurt you?” she says, as Steph reaches for the water bottle.
Steph shakes her head and swallows a large gulp of water. From what feels like far away, she hears Maps’s voice bellow, “Hi-ya!”, a thud, and then a resulting whine of, “aw, man.” “Nah, I’m fine,” she says. “Taken a lot worse. Still, Cass, you’re unbelievable. Where’d you learn to fight like that?”
Cass just smiles mysteriously, taping her knuckles over again. “Many places,” she says. “I have been training for a long time.”
“Is that why you were in Hong Kong?” Steph says, reaching for the tape. “Training?”
That sombers Cass’s expression, and she hands the tape over without looking at Steph. “I was in Hong Kong for many reasons,” she says. “Training being one of them.”
And Steph is about to open her mouth, about to ask a question, when there’s a sudden, more masculine grunt, and then a squeak. When they look over, Damian still has perfect posture but his expression is slightly ruffled, and Maps has both her small fists tucked into her chest, eyes wide.
“Did I get you?” she says, a little nervously, then, when Damian gives the faintest noise of disgruntled assent, “Oh my crap! I totally got you!”
“Good one, Maps,” Steph says, amused, as Maps does an impromptu but elaborate victory dance on the mat. “She didn’t hurt you too bad, did she, Demon?”
Damian straightens up, shooting an irritated look in Steph’s direction. Obviously Maps’s hit was more surprise than strike, but she knows he puts a lot of stock in being the untouchable Damian Wayne. “I’m fine,” he snaps. “And stop calling me that.”
Still, his face is softer when he looks at Maps again, who pauses in her dance to look at him uncertainly. “Commendable,” he says to her, stiffly, then yelps when she squeals and throws her arms around his neck.
“Ah, kids,” Steph says fondly, watching Damian attempt to wrestle Maps off him without seriously damaging her. The girl’s got quite the grip. “Gotta love ‘em.”
She’s surprised by the sudden sensation of Cassandra’s elbow leaning against her shoulder. When she looks over, Cassandra’s expression is so gentle, gazing down at the two on the mat below. “Indeed,” she says.
Maps is gone by the time evening rolls around, a grouchy-looking girl with white hair coming at five to pick her up, who looks around Wayne Manor with barely concealed distaste. Steph and Cass both join Damian to see her off, and she gives both of them very energetic high fives. “Thanks for showing me your fight room and also your fighting!” she says, and has to jump to reach Steph’s high five. Wisely, she transitions to a fist bump for Damian, which he rejects anyway. “And thanks for having me over! Your house is literally the coolest, like obviously I expected it to be cool but it is the coolest house, of all time probably-”
“We have to go, Maps,” the white-haired girl says impatiently. “I told-”
“Yeah, yeah,” Maps says cheerfully, and aims a punch at Damian's arm with her still-balled fist. “Anyway, it was awesome to hang out! Bye, Damian!”
Having narrowly dodged her assault on his shoulder, Damian mutters, “Goodbye, Maps,” then immediately goes still.
They only get to enjoy the unbridled joy that lights up Maps’s face before the other girl rolls her eyes and starts tugging her out. “We’re leaving. Bye, Waynes.”
The doors are heavy and take a while to swing shut, so all three of them get to hear Maps whisper, delighted, “I got him to call me Maps!”
“Come on! Aren’t you a little happy for me? You and I at least won the bet with Col-” And the doors are closed.
The tips of Damian’s ears are red, and Steph thinks he genuinely considers biting her hand off when she ruffles his hair. “That was precious, Demon,” she says. “Calling her Maaaaaps.”
“Maps is her name!” he says, swatting her hand away. “Do not blow things out of proportion!”
Even Cassandra is grinning. “She is very charming,” she says, touching Damian lightly on the shoulder. “I understand now why Father thought the two of you compatible.”
Damian gives her the look of utmost betrayal, and shrugs her hand off. “I cannot believe Father brought her here without my foreknowledge,” he mutters, and begins to stalk off, presumably to stew. “He and I will have words.”
“Good luck with that one, kiddo,” Steph calls after him. She can’t recall an instance where anyone ever had Words with Bruce Wayne and came out on top. Other than grumbling, Damian doesn’t offer much of a counter-defense before disappearing into the hallway.
Shrugging, she turns to Cassandra, stretches her arms over her head, and continues, “That was fun. She really was cute. I forget sometimes that not all kids are terrifying rude aristocrats trapped in tiny bodies.”
Cass inclines her head in agreement. “I’m very glad you were here,” she says. “I have very little experience with children other than Damian, and as you already know, he-” She struggles for adjectives for a moment, and Steph laughs. Grinning, she shrugs and continues, “Anyhow. I’m not entirely sure I would have functioned as well with here. So thank you.”
“Looks like we make the perfect team,” Steph says offhandedly, which is good because she’s finally becoming cool around Cassandra but also bad because this probably means she’s going to be in love with her forever. “Anyway, I can clear out if you’re-”
“Please, stay,” Cass says, and her expression is so sincere it doesn’t seem to be just a gesture. “For dinner, at least, but you’re welcome to stay over tonight. It will just be Damian and I eating, and Father and Alfred will be sleeping here, but the rest of my brothers are out, so-” She hedges here, and bites her lip, and Steph knows it’s a habit she’s picked up from Steph herself and that is just insanely cute and tingling.
Normally Steph would refuse, because Cass is apparently the only Wayne who ever learned manners and so it’s not as easy to tell if she genuinely likes Steph or not, but now she looks vulnerable and real and Steph says, “Yeah, sure, I’d love to,” without having to second-guess herself too-too much.
Dinner isn’t anything to write home about- Steph’s never been a lasagna kind of girl- but the relieved smile that lights up Cass’s face when she says okay is easily worth a thousand nights of being by herself.
Cass makes Steph sleep on the enormous, pristinely made bed in her room, and insists on taking the floor. Steph was going to suggest they share, but then decides there’s only so much gay she can push on the girl in one day.
So they lay in darkness and in silence for maybe half an hour, then Steph decides it isn’t quite a classic sleepover yet.
“Can I ask you something?” Steph mutters, and Cassandra’s eyes snap open. It’s like she’d been waiting for Steph to speak; her body had been still but not relaxed, and when she meets her gaze in the dark her eyes are sharp. She waits for the question, rather than giving permission to ask it, so after a belated moment Steph says, “Why did you leave Hong Kong halfway through the year? Why come back to Gotham?”
Cass’s eyes flick away, apparently in thought. It’s a quick, practiced movement, and Stephanie thinks, not for the first time, how every single move Cassandra makes looks practiced, perfected.
“That’s a hard question to answer,” Cass says after a moment. “It is… complicated, I think is the best thing to say. I think the closest truth I can give is-” She pauses, then she looks at Stephanie again, and her eyes are serious and shining in the dark. “I love my family. I wanted to come home to them. Can you understand that?”
As with all of Cassandra’s straightforward sentences, Stephanie feels like she’s asking more than what was said. She shifts uncomfortably in the bed, rolls over to face the ceiling. “Of course I understand,” she said, and her voice feels too loud in the dead silence of the manor. “I mean, I-”
The words cut off in her own mouth, and she closes it, feeling stupid. Cassandra waits for a moment, then says, “Can I ask you something?”
When Steph looks over, Cass is looking at her again. She has to look away, back to the ceiling. “Sure,” she says. “Anything.”
“Why do you stay in Gotham?” Cass says. “I know there are many hard memories for you here. This is not a kind place. I know you’ve run away before, but never… out of the city. Why?”
There’s a lot of reasons, the easiest to explain being that, simply, she’s not rich and not an adult and cannot just up and leave Gotham. Still, the answer that comes out of her mouth is, “Because… because my family is here, I guess. Same as you.”
“Tim said the Waynes were your family,” Cass says. The response is so quick and unstuttered that Stephanie suspects she’s been waiting to say so since before Steph had even spoken.
Steph turns her head to face Cass again, surprised. “Tim said that?”
A quick, singular nod of the head. “That was how he described you to me,” she says. “The night before we met. When I arrived in the city.”
Part of her wants to know the rest of what Tim said, what Cass’s first impression of Steph was. Still, in the dark, it’s like only their conversation exists, and she doesn’t want to let any wrong words out in the still air. Instead, she huffs out a quiet laugh. “That must have been weird for you,” she says. “Hearing this girl you barely know is a part of your family. Your actual family.”
There’s a silence that nearly confirms Stephanie is right. Then Cass says, “I didn’t think so.”
She’s looking at Steph. Steph is looking back. “No?”
“No,” Cass says, definitively. “My family is strange, and always changing. When I left for Hong Kong, it was very fragile. I think your addition to it helped my brothers. And my father.”
Stephanie snorts. “Your father? God, if Damian can’t stand me, you should see how Bruce acts around me, it’s like-”
“They love you,” Cassandra says firmly. “I have fought with my father before. I have fought with Tim and Jason more times than I can count. But that does not change the fact that we are a family.” A faint smile plays on her small mouth. “You and I have fought, Stephanie, but that does not mean I am not fond of you.”
Steph’s own mouth goes a little dry. “That’s not real fighting,” she protests, vaguely. “That’s sparring. It’s different, it’s not like I’m mad at you.”
“You might be someday,” Cassandra says, and yawns. “And then we will fight, and then we will forgive each other, because we are family. Isn’t that right?”
She’s gorgeous and small and ethereal with the moonlight stretched across her, and Steph is half-speechless, which almost never ever happens, and wholly in love with her. “I guess so,” she says hoarsely.
“Good,” Cassandra says, then closes her eyes. “Good night, Stephanie.”
Barely, Steph manages to choke out, “Night, Cass,” and lies awake for at least an hour, watching Cassandra’s thin stomach rise and fall.
When Steph wakes up, Cass is already gone, neatly folded blankets left on the floor in her wake. Steph looks around, yawning, then shrugs, stretches, and rolls out of bed to head towards the kitchen.
She’s already mapping out a plan for which cereal she can consume without attracting someone’s ire when she hears Cass’s voice coming from the kitchen and stops in her tracks.
Then a second, more mature feminine voice, sounding amused. “Well, honey, you might not want it, but from what I’ve heard you sure do need it.”
Selina Kyle. Bruce’s on-again off-again girlfriend, who Steph prefers over most of his other girlfriends because she’s funny, and gritty. She’s no airy socialite, which in Steph’s opinion explains why Bruce likes her so much, and at the same time, why they’re so consistently off again. Apparently they’re back on for the moment.
Cass speaks again, sounding slightly annoyed. “I have no idea what my father has told you-”
“Please,” Selina says, and laughs throatily. “As if Bruce tells me anything to do with you kids. He thinks I’ll corrupt all of you. Mostly it’s hearsay from your brothers. And what I’m hearing them say is that you’re having some… romantic troubles?”
Steph inhales sharply, and holds her breath. Cass, in the other room, is notably silent. Selina snorts. “Thought so. Well-”
“I do not think your seduction tactics are pertinent to this situation,” Cassandra says, a little sharply.
What situation, Steph thinks in her direction, very loudly, but Selina laughs in real life and drowns out her telekinesis. “Oh, kitten. For the record, my seduction tactics worked very well with your dear old dad.”
“You stole his wallet,” Cassandra says stiffly.
“And his heart,” Selina says, and Steph can so easily imagine the wink that accompanies the comment that she has to cup her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh. “But seriously. I’ve found that there’s really no use beating around the bush with you Waynes. You’re all far too straightforward. If you really like this girl-”
Somehow, despite years and years of perfecting balance and subtlety, Steph loses her footing on completely even wooden floorboards, and the ground squeaks in betrayal. Both voices in the kitchen go silent.
No use trying to sneak around now. Maybe she can try to salvage the situation by acting like she wasn’t there the whole time. She walks around the corner with purpose, and gives both women her most convincing style. “Good morning!” she says, as chipper as she can manage. “Hi, Selina, I didn’t know you were back in rotation.”
She doesn’t mean it as a bite, not necessarily, and the slow smirk that creeps up Selina’s mouth tells her it wasn’t taken as one. On the other side of the kitchen counter, Cassandra’s face has gone defensively stiff.
“It’s a recent development,” Selina says, and slides her pert butt off the counter and back onto her feet. “Good to see you too, Stephanie, but you know something? I think I prefer breakfast in bed.” She waggles her eyebrows a little too suggestively in Steph’s direction and winks at Cass, then saunters out, tossing a casual salute over her shoulder. “Have fun working out your issues, girls.”
Steph winces. “Ugh. Old people sex.” When that doesn’t do anything to loosen Cass up, she sighs and heads for the cabinet. She’s eating Special K, and Jason can deal. “Cass, you want any-”
“How much did you hear?” Cass says, and it’s really kind of scary how well she can shut the emotion out of her voice.
Placing the box and a bowl on the table across from where Cass is sitting, Steph shrugs and heads for the refrigerator. “Uh, nothing?” Then, “Ew, is the Muscle Milk yours? That stuff is so gross.”
“Stephanie,” Cassandra says, firmly, and Steph shivers a little bit. The fridge door swings shut. “How much did you hear?”
In all honesty, Cass is hot and sweet and even kind of funny, but she is frightening, in a primal way. So Steph doesn’t turn around. “I don’t know?” she admits. “Something about advice, and Selina stealing Bruce’s wallet- and I don’t know how long you’ve known her, but she uses that ‘and his heart’ line every single-”
There’s a scrape of chair leg against tile. “So, everything then,” Cassandra says, her voice entirely even and closer than before. Her hand appears over Steph’s shoulder to grab the Muscle Milk, and Steph swallows, watching her fingers close deftly around the carton. But she doesn’t say anything else, just retreats back to the counter and begins pouring the milk into a glass.
After a moment of frozen uncertainty, Steph moves beside her to empty the orange juice in her own glass. “Um,” she says. “Cass, were you talking about… you weren’t talking about- me, were you?”
Cassandra just closes her eyes.
“Oh my god,” Steph whispers. “Oh my god, Cass-”
“Please believe that this wasn’t my intention,” Cass says, her eyes still closed. “For you to find out this way. To find out.”
Steph gives a laugh that’s more hysterical than it is amused. “What are you talking about? I-”
Cass drains the milk glass, sets it down, then stands abruptly. “I have to go,” she says. “I’m sorry.”
And she exits, at a powerwalk that just barely escapes being classified as a run, leaving Steph in the kitchen, unsure of whether to feel thrilled or terrified.
The correct answer turns out to be terrified.
When Tim finds her at lunch the next day, he’s pissed. Tim hasn’t been well and truly pissed at her in eight months, and she’s briefly disappointed about breaking her streak before she sees how mad he really is. “Steph. What the hell did you do to Cass?”
It’s certainly the question of the hour, leading just slightly over ‘why won’t Cassandra answer any of Steph’s texts’. “Fuck if I know!” Steph says, frustrated and throwing her phone dramatically back into her bag. This turns out to be the wrong answer, as Tim’s eyes get narrower, and she throws her hands up. “Tim, I didn’t do anything! Not on purpose, anyway, I swear.”
“Hmm,” Tim says, and if he squints any more he’s not going to be able to see her. “Then why is my sister, after being back in Gotham for two months max, planning to head back to Hong Kong next week with no explanation, especially after she promised everyone she’d stay for-”
It’s a cliché, but Steph genuinely feels like someone’s just poured ice water down her back. “What?”
Maybe it’s the blatant horror in her face, but Tim eases up a little when he continues, “Yeah. So, the only logical thing is that something happened between the two of you, because no one else knows what happened and she’s only been interacting with people in the manor and with you, and so therefore?”
After taking a minute to breathe some deep breaths, Steph says, “Okay, cards on the table, and don’t make any accusations. So, I stayed over on Saturday, after we spent the day watching Damian and his little friend, and then when I woke up, I just went downstairs to eat Special K, like a normal person does-”
“You’re the one who ate the Special K?” Tim says, aghast. “Jason nearly murdered me over that!”
“What did I just say about making accusations!” Steph says indignantly. “Anyway, so I’m going to go do that, and I hear Cass and Selina talking about romance, and Selina mentions something about Cass liking a girl, but then they heard me coming in and Cass freaked out and I’ve been texting her like crazy and she won’t answer and now apparently she’s leaving the country? I thought she was an exception to freakish Wayne flairs for the dramatic but I guess not and also I think I’m having a heart attack?”
That sentence ends on more of a hyperventilation than a natural pause, and Tim puts a startled hand on her back. “Okay, whoa, Steph. Breathe.”
“I don’t know how to fix this,” she says, burying her face in her hands only to lift it up and look at him desperately a moment later. “She’s your sister, Tim, help me.”
She can count on one hand the number of instances she’s asked other people for help, and the number of times she’s asked Tim for help on one finger. Besides, this isn’t just about her. His mouth presses into a solemn line, and he nods. “We’ll figure something out,” he says. “I promise. I’ll talk to Cass. And to Bruce.”
“Ugh, God,” she says, and buries her face in her hands again. “This is so embarrassing, and terrible.”
“It’s going to be okay,” he says determinedly, and rubs a small circle into her back. “The problem here is that she likes you and you like her back. That’s not even a real problem. It’s just miscommunication.”
Despondently, Steph shakes her head inside her cupped hands. “Yeah, that, and the fact that she’s leaving the country.”
“But that’s not really going to happen,” he says. “We may be a fucking mess, but no one’s gonna let Cass leave like this. Everyone loves Cass. It’ll be okay.”
This is the reason Steph lets Tim stick around. Sure, he can be annoying, but he can also sometimes be a really good best friend.
It’s eleven thirty the same night when she gets a phone call, after spending five hours illegally loitering outside a 7-Eleven, and she’s so desperate for it to be Tim or Cass that she answers on the first ring, without looking at ID. “Yes? Hello?”
“Hello, Stephanie, it’s Bruce Wayne,” says a deep voice on the other end, which is disappointing but also puts the fear of God in her a little bit. “I assume you have heard about the recent goings-on in this household.”
It’s so typical Bruce that she can’t help a reluctant chuckle. “Straight to the point like always, Bruce? At least that way I know it’s you.” Then the amusement fades. “Are you calling to blame me too?”
“No,” he says, and it’s hard to tell over phone but he sounds sincere. “Tim has explained the situation to me. I think there’s not much I can do to directly impact Cassandra at the moment.”
A little hopefully, Steph says, “Are you calling to tell me what to do, then?”
She could swear she hears him choke back a laugh. “Sorry, but no. I’m calling for a different reason, though not entirely disconnected. Stephanie, would you like to live in Wayne Manor?”
Someone asking. Just like Cass said. Steph closes her eyes. “Cass put you up to this.”
“I wouldn’t say she put me up to it, exactly,” Bruce says. His voice is gruff and low and so familiar, so much like the sound of home. “That would suggest I’m averse to the idea, which I’m not. She just pointed out to me that while we have always considered you a part of the family, we never formally extended an invitation, which was thoughtless.”
“Not exactly,” Steph says. “I mean, nothing obligates billionaires to offer kids with a shitty living conditions sanctuary in their huge-ass manor.”
He even chuckles at that. “Some would argue that’s the only job I’m half-competent at.”
That startles a barking laugh out of her, and she quickly cups a hand over her mouth and looks over to where the 7-Eleven cashier is giving her a dirty look through the window. Bruce continues, “Stephanie, I’m offering you a real home here at the manor. A room of your own, your own personal affects. I’m not saying this because I feel obligated, or because I have an ulterior motivation. You are a part of this family. You belong here, if this is where you want to be.”
Steph’s never been much of a silent crier, so it’s hard to snuffle the beginnings of tears out of the phone’s earshot. She moves to lean against the cold cement wall, and croaks into the phone, “Yeah, well. If you’re begging like this, I guess I have no choice but to live in your enormous mansion.”
His voice is so warm when he says, “I’m glad, Stephanie.” As she tries to cough some hiccups into her sleeve, he continues, “Now, this in no way impacts your living here, but as, maybe, an added benefit-”
That makes her laugh again, wetter this time. “World-class businessman Bruce Wayne,” she says. “Always making a deal.”
He hums, amused. “I was just thinking, perhaps you could begin moving in tomorrow? I think your presence here might convince my daughter to unmake a hasty decision.”
Her grin curls all the way up to the phone. “I’ll do my best to honor your wishes, Mr. Wayne. Good night.”
So when Harper and Tim accost her at lunch the next day, she’s in a much better mood and also slightly confused as to why they corner her on either side of the bench.
“All right,” Harper says, with no preamble, dropping to sit beside Steph on her left with Tim following suit on her right. “So, in a dazzling collaboration between your two besties, Tim and I have compiled a list of ways to get you and Cassandra back together.”
Before Steph can say that the phrasing implies they broke up, which didn’t happen exactly, Tim nods and says, “There was also some input from Dick. He Skyped me while I was on the phone with Harper.”
Aghast, Steph says, “Wait, wait, so- forgetting the questionable decision to ask Dick Grayson for dating advice, you told both your dad and your brother that I want to bang his daughter-slash-sister?”
“Well, I mean, you told me you wanted to bang my sister,” Tim says fairly. “And after movie night, it didn’t really need saying. Anyway, back to the list.”
She doesn’t have time to say she doesn’t need the list before Harper begins, “Number one- her room has a balcony, so you could Romeo and Juliet it.”
“I could sneak you into her room somehow,” Tim says. “That would force you two to talk it out.”
“That’s sweet, Tim, but I feel like she would accidentally murder me in both those scenarios,” Steph says. “Anyway, I-”
Harper nods sagely and flips a page in her notebook. “That’s what I thought too! So, other options that don’t include the element of surprise include… walking by her room and talking really loud about how gone you are for her, setting that tiny child loose in the manor again and having the both of you chase her down-”
“Dick suggested you serenade her,” Tim says, “preferably with ‘You’re the One that I Want’, because, as he put it, she might not get it, but the staircase would be perfect for that song. Also, again as he put it, you would look ‘banging’ in a catsuit-”
“I hate him and I’m beating him up the next time I see him,” Steph says.
“Noted,” Tim says promptly.
Grumbling, Harper flips a second page. “Well, if musical intervention is out, then we’re gonna have to move to Section 3c.”
“Guys,” Steph says, and slings her arms over both their shoulders to draw them close. “I really, really appreciate this. It truly was a dazzling collaboration between the two best friends ever and one of their halfwit brothers. But I actually already have a plan.”
They both gaze at her from an inch or so below her forearms, Harper disgruntled and Tim confused. “Yeah?” Harper says. “Well, are you gonna share or are Tim and I supposed to continue carrying this whole conversation?”
“It’s a really good plan,” Steph says, mostly to convince herself. “Step one involves me moving into Tim’s house, so I’m going to need you two’s help with that. The whole plan is very complex and intricate and it’s totally gonna work.”
“Cass! Cass, it’s me, open up!”
Her knuckles are starting to get a little sore, but the whole point of the plan is persistence, so she just keeps hammering. “Cass, I know you’re in there!”
“Oh, yeah, Steph,” Tim says dryly. He’s been standing behind her for the past fifteen minutes of her working through the wood of the door, her carryon bag slung over his shoulder. “This plan is so intricate and complex. I’m surprised you even had the peace of mind to come up with it.”
On his other side, Harper shifts from one foot to the other, her backpack layered over Steph’s. “Come on, Steph, my shoulder’s getting tired. Pull out the big guns already.”
“I’m trying, you two shut up,” Steph says through her teeth, and knocks harder. “You’re the ones who wanted to help anyway. Cassandra Cain Wayne! I’m going to stand here all day and break my hand on this door until you let me talk to you!”
There’s no response for another full minute. Then the door cracks open, just an inch, and one dark eye peers out. “What do you want, Stephanie?”
It’s been about a week and a half since she’s heard Cass’s voice, and now it’s low and throaty with irritation. Steph does her best to make her gulp inconspicuous. “I want to talk to you,” she says. “You can’t just- you can’t just avoid me and run away. It’s childish, and I know childish, and you- you’re not like that.”
Tim clears his throat. “So, uh,” he says. “Look, Cass, Harper and I are carrying Steph’s bags because she’s moving into the manor. Yay! Now that we’ve proven that point, can we go now?”
“Yeah, yeah, get out of here,” Steph says, not breaking contact with Cass’s one glittering eye. “You guys were so helpful, scram.”
The pattering of hasty feet is drowned out by Cass’s murmur of, “So you are coming to live here?”
It’s curious, fragile and soft. Steph’s answer is quieter than it means to be when she says, “Yeah, I am. Bruce called me last night. I said yes.”
“I’m glad,” Cass whispers. Then her eyes flit downwards. “So you understand, then, why-”
“Cass, I am literally so so glad you’re talking to me, but can I please come in?” Steph says, inching a little closer to the door. “This is a pretty serious conversation to be having through one inch of open door.”
Suspiciously, Cass’s eyes flicker about, then the door shuts, only for a chain to click and then swing open again a moment later. “Come in.”
Steph does as she’s told, nearly tripping over her own feet, and Cass shuts and locks the door behind her. Cass’s room is even more minimalist and dark than the last time Steph was in it, and now there’s a full suitcase and a half sitting in the corner, one shirt sleeve spilling onto the floor. It makes Steph’s heart ache.
“So like I was saying,” Cass says, bending smoothly to zip up the open suitcase, “you must understand, then, why I have to leave.”
Unless there was a sentence Cass muttered while locking the door that Steph missed, there’s nothing to understand that makes sense here. “Uh, no? The manor has like a billion rooms, there’s no reason for you to leave yours so I can-”
There’s a short, sharp exhale, and Cass glares at her. Steph stands up very straight and does her best to focus on anything other how hot Cass is. “This isn’t about space,” Cass says. “It is more important for you to have a home here than it is for me to force myself upon you and my father and brothers again.”
Obviously she’s still missing something. “Objectively, that’s not true,” Steph says. “I don’t deserve to be here any more than you do, that doesn’t even make any sense. And I still don’t get why we can’t both live here?”
There’s a sort of helpless look on Cass’s face, and she closes her eyes and takes a deep inhale through her nose. “Stephanie,” she says. “I have feelings for you, and they are real and valid. But they don’t take precedence over the importance of you having a home here, and it would be selfish of me to make you feel uncomfortable or- or as though I was forcing myself upon you if we lived here together. So, because of that, I must return to Hong Kong-”
Even now that it’s been explained to her point-blank, it still takes Steph a second to get it. “Wait, wait,” she says. “Wait, so- you think- you think you liking me makes me uncomfortable? To the point where you have to move out of your own house?”
Sounding irritated, Cass says, “There’s no use trying to talk me out of it, Stephanie, I-”
“Cass, you dope,” Steph says, and she can’t help it, the words are spilling out of her and she’s smiling so big. “I’ve had a crush on you for months, and you’re a moron, and it would be such a waste for you to move away just because the feeling’s mutual, and God I can’t believe this we’re both so dumb! Harper’s gonna murder me!”
Other than her eyes flying open, Cass has gone still as ice, and her gaze is searching Steph’s face so intently that Steph wants to pull some kind of solemn expression, but all she can do is smile. “You,” Cass says, doubtfully, “you… you also-”
“Yes!” Steph says, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “For so long! And everyone knew! Even your dad knew! I can’t believe you couldn’t tell!”
“That’s not possible,” Cass says, and now her arms are coming to cross in front of her, as if to hold her own body back. “You barely know me. We haven’t been in acquaintance for more than-”
Coming to land on her feet, the grin comes out of Steph’s face, and she does her best to frown, even just a little. “Hang on. How come your feelings get to be valid and real, and mine are impossible?”
“Because-!” Cass says, and one hand comes to touch at her own heart. Steph notices, vaguely, that they’ve come closer together. That they’re maybe a foot apart now. “Because how I feel doesn’t even make sense! It was just that I saw you, and I felt like- like I knew you. Like you already had a piece of my heart in you.”
Hoooooly shit. That’s so much more romantic than Steph’s initial thought upon meeting Cass for the first time, which was more along the lines of ‘hot damn’, but she can play off this. “Me too,” she says eagerly, “me too, Cass, I knew how I felt about you the moment I met you. But it wasn’t even just that, the more I got to know you as a person I thought- you’re so interesting, and cool, and goodhearted, and funny, and I might be a little in love with you? I think you’re amazing. Is the point.”
They’re less than a breath apart now, and Cass’s eyes are still a little guarded but they’re also curious and warm and pleased. “I’m glad,” she says. “Steph, I think I know exactly what you mean.”
“Awesome,” Steph breathes. “So can I kiss you? Or should I ask you out first? Or do I need to keep begging you to stay?”
Cass kisses her first, which resolves the other two questions.
The dinner to welcome Steph into the manor is a way less subdued event than Cass’s was. Someone gets shoved into the cake (Tim, by Jason, who’s apparently still not over the Special K thing) for starters, and that’s before anyone even makes a speech. Barbara even talks to Steph again for the first time in two months, even if it’s just a slightly stiff, “Congratulations,” before she hurries off to the side of the room opposite from Bruce.
It’s more of a party than a dinner anyway, so Steph dances- with Tim and Harper, with Alfred, with a more than reluctant Damian. She dances with Dick to ‘You’re the One that I Want’, and then punches him in the nose for the catsuit remark when the song’s over. But mostly she dances with Cass, who laughs and spins under her arm when Steph lifts it for her and even lets Steph dip her, briefly, and plant a kiss on her nose.
“This is so gross,” Jason says, who manages to sound genuinely disgusted even as he ruffles Cass’s hair in passing. “We’re celebrating the fact that we have to live with this now?”
“Indeed,” Damian says disdainfully. “Restrain yourselves. I’ve come to expect this from Brown, but you, Cassandra-”
Dick, appearing out of nowhere, comes forward to pull them both under his arm. Jason immediately grunts and tries to wriggle away, but Dick’s grip is ironclad. “Come on, you two. Young love is a beautiful thing. In fact, I’ve heard from Tim that you might be growing familiar with the concept, Damian.”
Damian’s gaze immediately goes molten and he may have smote Tim on the spot, but at least it takes the focus off Steph and Cass.
“So,” Steph says, tugging Cass close again by the hips, “I’m thinking first date. Not at the Manor. A movie that is not a movie Tim has suggested. Maybe in a theater. Maybe cuddling. Your thoughts and opinions?”
Cass grins. “I like movies,” she says. “And cuddling. Also, I would like to request you and I become regular sparring mates.”
Steph’s amenable to the suggestion, only because she likes Cass so much she doesn’t mind getting her ass beat regularly. “Why, Miss Wayne, if I didn’t know any better I might think you like roughhousing a little too much.”
The secretive smile she gets in return is almost enough to make her heart stop, but before she can pull on that particular thread Bruce’s voice comes on over the music. “-thank you, Alfred. Everyone, I would like to, once again, propose a toast-”
“No one’s drinking, Bruce!” Jason yells. “You kept the liquor cabinet locked!”
“Yes, thank you Jason. Anyway, I would like to propose a toast to several happy events, first and foremost the official moving-in of Stephanie to Wayne Manor-”
Faint cheering from Tim, Dick and Harper on the other side of the room, and polite clapping from Cassandra. It’s enough to feel good about herself.
“-and to the fortunate decision of Cassandra to remain in Wayne Manor. I know we’re all immensely pleased she’s chosen to stay here in Gotham. And finally-”
“To Steph and Cass getting laaaaaaid!” Dick crows, and Harper gives an enthusiastic “woot woot!” of agreement. Jason smirks, tapping Steph twice on the back of the head as he heads back towards the punch bowl, and even Damian pauses in his furious pursuit of a sprinting Tim around the room to give them both a grudging smile. On his way past, Tim pauses for a second to offer his hand for the fiving.
“Take care of each other,” he says, a little out of breath. “I can’t deal with any more drama, so be nice.”
Then he’s off again, Damian hot on his heels, and Steph turns back to grin at Cass. “I think our drama’s out of the way,” she says. “Don’t you?”
Cass blinks innocently at her. “Drama?” she repeats. “In Wayne Manor?”
That sets both of them off laughing, and it’s a little tough to smush a kiss in between giggles, but they’re both clever girls, and they find a way.