She arrived at the appointed rendezvous out of breath and freezing. The costume was made to withstand worse things than rain and although it did a good job of keeping the wetness out, her face and hair were drenched and it just added to the overall dread she was feeling since she’d gotten the message.
The dark alley did nothing to make her feel better. She liked the rooftops. All of them did. The rooftops were where you could tell yourself you had a good position, where you could swoop down and take whoever was ready to commit a crime right in front of you by surprise. Batman was the one who worked the shadows of backstreets and alleys just as much as the rooftops, because he was as dangerous as the worst of the worst in this city. The old Batman.
Who was dead.
Nervously she slunk deeper into the shadows. There was no sign of the annoying twerp who had called her here and she was beginning to think he might have led her on. She would not put it past the little monster to worry her like this just to wind her up. Although she hoped he would not know how much the thought of Dick being in danger actually got to her. It wasn't like he and Steph shared much of a connection. Finally,n she saw him, standing near a corner, also keeping out of sight like a pro. For a kid of only ten years of age he moved like a seasoned warrior and sometimes that was more scary than to watch Cassandra when she got in the fighting zone. Damian wasn't just his father's son, but also very much a son of the League of Assassins.
“Robin,” she said curtly and was very much surprised when he winced and whirled around like she had actually managed to surprise him. Stephanie jumped back, her arms coming up in a defensive position, because clearly this Robin was ready to strike her down. And that would just be embarrassing.
But Damian pulled the punch mid-air when he recognized her. With the green mask hiding part of his face it was hard to tell, but apparently he was nervous and had been startled into action. Not that he would admit it or apologize for it.
“Wow,” she said, when the awkwardness of both of them standing there with their fists in the air became unbearable. “Someone is in a mood again. Did I interrupt your brooding?”
Insults were not usually her first choice of comforting kids, but with Damian a certain amount of normalcy came with the exchange of what for them were niceties. And the boy looked like he would not take coddling well right now. It seemed to work, because Damian scowled at her. He let his arms sink and growled: “You’re late, girlblunder. We need to move.”
“I’m here. Now stop acting all high and mighty and tell me what exactly we are dealing with.” She hoped she sounded as calm and cool headed as all that. His call for “assistance” had rattled her more than she was letting on.
And there was the tension in the boy’s shoulders, the nervous twitch of his fingers until he formed a fist to hide it. “Yes,” he said, sounding collected and older than his years. But it were his next words that made her nearly run in fear. “Thanks for coming.” It was the unmistakable truth that Damian was out of his depth here, that there was something that he couldn’t tackle alone.
Batman was dead.
The other Batman was all they had left. Dick was the only family Damian had, even though he always made a point of denying any such connection. And Stephanie was not going to admit how much she liked Dick, how much she wanted not to lose another Batman less than a year after they had lost the one they had all secretly thought invincible.
He shook his head as if he was trying to shake some of the drizzly rain out of his eyes and hair. But that wasn't it. And if Damian, who was usually unshakable, was this shaken, then that was bad.
“You’re welcome, I guess.” She sniffed and shrugged sheepishly. Working together in what could pass for relative harmony was new territory for the both of them. “I brought gear and I have Oracle at my back. We’ll find him.”
Even without saying it she could hear the “before it’s too late part” hanging in the chilly, wet autumn air between them. She was not going to ponder that. They had things to do and a Batman to save.
One who might even be thankful and not grumpy about it. That was a nice thought. She tried to hold on to it and smile at Damian.
Damian, finding his footing in this situation suddenly, straightened visibly and nodded. “I know where to start, Batgirl. Follow my lead.”
* * *
Steph was not particularly concerned with the details. And Damian wasn’t either. They were here for one part of the mission only.
Perching on a windowsill outside they watched the proceedings, waiting for the best moment for a surprise attack. There were only about 20 people in the room and hopefully they were not trained to fight. “Should be easy enough,” Damian spat. He had found back to his true form, hiding his anxiety under the exterior of the arrogance he usually wore like a shield.
“Walk in the park,” Stephanie agreed. “Just don’t try to kill all of them.”
He sniffed and then looked down at his hands as he opened and closed his fingers repeatedly. “I’ll try,” he agreed in a small voice. Dick had taught the boy much more than perhaps even he knew. Stephanie just wished she could have realized that in a less dire situation. Dick would be so proud.
They crashed the party via a window, shattering glass all over the stone floor of the old mansion, where men and women, dressed in dark black and brown robes, wearing masks that could have sprung right out of a horror movie, had gathered to watch the sinister wedding. Steph landed right in the fray without missing a beat. When she saw Dick Grayson from this new vantage point, still wearing the black cowl of Batman, stretched out on a stone altar with the strangest markings, her heart constricted with worry and fear. He wasn’t moving and his breathing was so low that it was hard to make out the slow up and down movements of his chest with the costume, so for a moment she even thought he was dead. There was blood drenching the white marble he was chained to and Damian, usually a solemn, fearless brat in a fight went sill beside her. But it wasn't Dick's blood. There were no signs of wounds on hos body at all and Steph could only guess at the horrible rituals that might have come before he'd been placed there.
She punched and kicked her way through the surprised mass of cultists to get to him. She asked herself how a group like this - even with superior numbers - had managed to get to a fighter like Dick Grayson, right before she felt the pull.
A weird feeling took hold of her, made her head hurt and her stomach turn so suddenly, that she nearly fell, nearly gave in and let herself be struck down by one of her assailants, when she looked up the eyes of a woman without a mask met hers. She had piercing green eyes and long black hair. Her robes made her look like a priestess among worshipers, but Steph recognized her as even more than that. She had magic. And that was what she would use to win this fight.
Steph had run into Klarion often enough now to know that magic was not that easily fought with conventional means. But the woman was staring at her and while the pull got stronger, like someone was entering her mind to whisper things at her, she did not feel overpowered. She couldn’t explain or understand it, but she focused and tried to shrug it off, just as Damian - with a cry and a well aimed batarang jumped towards the altar and knocked down a crystal that had been placed beside Batman’s head.
Nothing happened, but the witche's concentration broke for long enough for Stephanie to move again without feeling the dread and the power holding her back.
Damian fought like the little ninja he was, with precision and efficiency, not hesitating or pulling his punches. The crazy priests and worshipers were no match for him at all. It gave Batgirl room to engage the witch at the altar who suddenly had a ritual knife held high above her head, ready to strike down at an still unmoving, perhaps unconscious Batman.
She moved fast and her body acted even before she had made up her mind about what to do. She dove towards the fallen crystal and threw it as hard as she could, managed to hit the knife right out of the woman’s hands. The priestess, mumbling in some arcane language, fell back and the crystal, hitting the floor beside her exploded into multiple pieces, but she couldn’t look at it long enough to ponder the black smoke that was suddenly rising from the broken parts. She hopped over the altar, her arms taking her weight easily as she pushed herself over. The woman had scrambled across the floor to pick up the knife and the hate in her eyes was all for Stephanie. And the hate powered her slashes as she came at her. She shrieked like a madwoman. “Stupid girl,” she snapped, as Stephanie took her apart easily enough and knocked her out. Her magic seemed to be gone. Perhaps her monstrous goddess had lend her believer the power trapped in a now destroyed crystal. But there was no time to ponder.
She suddenly heard a shot ring out and spun around. Dick, finally awake now, was in a half sitting position up and had a man by the throat, holding him back with one hand, while trying to wrestle a gun from the man’s grip with the other. Robin released a Batarang at the same time she did and the man collapsed with a quite, pathetic grunt in front of the stone altar.
“Hi,” Batman mumbled, becoming aware of the pool of blood he was sitting in. “What the hell is this?”
She tried to hide her smile when Damian practically launched himself at him, hugging him even. “You’re safe now,” the boy said in a strangely solemn voice as Grayson patted his head, looking over at Stephanie in confusion.
“Apparently,” Dick said and smiled over at her. “My heroes.”
All in a good day's work.
And Gotham still had a Batman.
After all the tension it was good to laugh again.