“Huh. That’s interesting.”
Steph looks up at Babs, sprawled as she is on the cold, hard floor of the Batgirl Cave, trying very hard to make sense of her statistics homework and failing utterly. Babs is squinting at an alert that’s come up on the screen with one of her unreadable facial expressions that could mean anything from “there’s been a minor altercation” to “aliens are invading the Earth and we’re all screwed.”
“Are aliens invading the Earth? Because if that got me out of stats, I could learn to be okay with it,” Steph says.
Babs turns around and arches an eyebrow.
“What? Sure, the life without basic amenities would be hard at first and yeah, I’d miss the maple syrup, but the thing about alien invasions is everyone gets to find out if they really do have an inner Will Smith,” Steph says, mostly because she knows that if she takes it a few steps further, she can get Babs to crack.
“No, uh. Tam Fox has been arrested on assault charges. Would you mind going down to the precinct and checking that out?”
Steph looks from Babs to her stats homework and sighs. “If I fail this class, let it be known that I blame you completely.”
The thing is, she doesn’t know Tam at all.
She’d be the first to admit that she didn’t take the news of Tam Fox’s faux engagement to Tim as well as she could have but you try riding the roller coaster of being in an on and off relationship with Timothy Jackson Drake-Wayne, it is not as easy as it looks.
But she has nothing against the girl. She seems pretty alright, for all intents and purposes. Smart and driven and pretty game about the whole my boss is an urban vigilante thing, which can be kind of a tough pill to swallow.
That said, there’s no way this whole thing isn’t gonna be awkward as fuck.
Steph takes it back.
Tam is not pretty alright. Tam is pretty fucking awesome.
“So, rewind. Tell the story again. Why did you get arrested?”
Tam runs a hand through her dark hair, letting out an annoyed sigh.
“I was walking by the Planned Parenthood on my home back from work when I saw some fucking huge right wing nutjob harassing this fourteen year old girl trying to go inside and she just looked so small and scared, you know? So, uh. I hit him upside the head with my work bag.”
“You hit him upside the head with your work bag. That fancy designer work bag at your feet, that work bag?”
“Yup,” Tam says, and she grins and it’s a whole lot sharp and a little proud, and yeah, Steph likes this girl.
“Did he cry, please tell me he cried.”
“Cried, screamed, and brought the attention of the nearest GCPD patrol car down on us. He was the one harassing a minor, I wouldn’t have even been arrested if it weren’t for institutionalized racism,” Tam calls out loudly, tossing a glare at where her arresting officer is writing her up.
He squints at her and shuffles from foot to foot uncomfortably.
“Mister Hucklebee has agreed to drop the charges, Miss Fox, you’re free to go.”
Steph snorts. “Hucklebee.”
“I know, right?” Tam says. “Christ, I’ve been here for hours, I’m starving.”
Steph makes a snap judgement. “Hey, Tam, how do you feel about waffles?”
Tam hops up behind Steph on her motorcycle without so much as a complaint, although she makes a little squeaking sound that almost gets lost in the wind as Steph takes off around a blind corner.
She pulls up to the curb at her favorite diner and Tam lets out a laugh that sounds mostly like relief. “I get a feeling that with the way my life is going, I’m gonna have to get used to going fast like that.”
“Probably,” Steph says, swinging open the front door to the diner, “the situations that we all tend to find ourselves in, usually completely on accident and don’t let anyone tell you differently, tend to require a certain amount of high velocity fearlessness.”
“You call it fearlessness, I call it a complete lack of a self-preservation instinct,” Tam says, as they settle into a booth all the way in the back.
“Hey, I hear you handled ninjas all right. That’s pretty hardcore. Because ninjas.”
Tam nods in agreement because yeah, ninjas, that one requires no explanation.
They sit in silence for a few minutes and yup, typical Brown luck because there’s the expected awkwardness, the realization that outside of ninjas and hating misogynistic so-called activists, the only thing that they really have to talk about is Tim, and there’s a mood dampener if there ever was one.
“Look -- “ They both start at the same time before breaking off.
“It doesn’t matter to me if it doesn’t matter to you,” Steph says firmly.
“Good, ah, right there with you. Let’s just start over, okay?” Tam says, reaching a hand out over the table. “I’m Tamara Fox. You can call me Tam.”
Steph takes Tam’s hand, thinks that she has a firm grip that could be good for handling weapons and wow, where did that thought come from. “Stephanie Brown. You can call me, oh shit look out behind you! Because most people do.”
Tam snorts loudly. “Oh shit, look out behind you! An army’s worth of waffles are headed our way.”
“Lucky for you, I’ve never met a stack of waffles that I’ve let defeat me.”
“Teach me your ways, oh brave conqueror,” Tam teases.
“Okay, step one. Correct application of maple syrup...”
There’s a moment, after their stomachs have stretched full from waffles and chocolate shakes, after they’ve exchanged numbers and after Steph has taken Tam home, the wind blowing through their hair and the din of a Gotham evening whipping around them, when Stephanie makes a decision.
And she realizes, even as she makes it, that it was the decision she’d been waiting for all night.
Tam stuffs her hands inside the pockets of her coat and looks up at the murky Gotham skyline, and shivers noticeably in a way that has nothing to do with the cold.
“What happened today. That probably happens all of the time, huh? It’s just that someone’s not always going to be there to stop it,” Tam says.
“Probably, yeah,” Steph says, shrugging a little, the bright purple of her motorcycle jacket moving with her, highlighted by the street lights.
“I like to think that what Tim and I do, with the Neon Knights - I like to think that it’s helping but it’s all -- well, you know? It’s all long term and long term is good but it doesn’t do a whole lot in the here and now. Sometimes, I feel like - I have no right to live here and not do more.”
“Hey,” Steph says, reaching out and catching Tam’s hand, drawing her attention. “What if you could?”
“Are you asking what I think you’re asking? Because I would have no idea what I’m doing out there.”
“Neither did I,” Steph says, “and look at me now. It’s not about what you can do -- it’s about what you know you’re capable of doing.”
A mixed expression crosses Tam’s face but Steph knows the exact moment when she sees it, sees it in the way Tam sets her shoulders, all vulnerability and determination warring for balance, and it’s a familiar feeling, one she’s seen in the mirror countless times over the years.
“Yeah. I’m capable of it.”
Steph grins. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“So, what’s our policy on Team Batgirl recruitment?” Steph asks the next day, halfway through a training session with Cass.
Cass looks at Steph coolly, abandoning the wrappings around her knuckles that she was fiddling with to raise a single eyebrow. “Nell is too young.”
Steph waves a dismissive hand at Cass. “No, that’s long-term recruitment. We’ll have that conversation in like, five years. I’m talking a little more immediate than that.”
“No! No more of you!” Proxy calls from her usual spot next to Babs at the screens.
“One day, you’ll find it in your heart to admit how much you love me!” Steph calls back.
Steph hears grumbling that sounds a little like “fat chance,” and smiles brightly because Proxy is so full of shit, and not-so-secretly thinks that Steph is a goddamn ray of sunshine and everyone knows it.
Babs makes her way to the edge of the training mat. “This about Tam Fox?”
“Yup,” Steph says.
“Any particular reason you want to recruit her?” Babs asks, and Steph thinks of how she’s really learned to hate that blank, assessing face that she’s never been able to pick apart or see behind.
“She’s awesome and fun to hang out with?”
“We can’t recruit everyone that you think is awesome and fun to hang out with,” Babs says, clearly fighting a smile.
“A,” Steph says, huffing a little. “Contrary to what you all think, I don’t actually meet a whole lot of people that I genuinely like so that pool of people is not exactly as big as you seem to think it is. And B, she already knows The Secret. She survived ninjas. You don’t think that’s worth a second look?”
“Take Cass with you to meet her and we’ll see what she thinks,” Babs says. “If Cass says there’s nothing there worth pursuing, you drop it, we clear?”
What happens next unfolds a whole lot like a rom-com meet-cute in slow motion, guest starring Stephanie Brown as the baffled third wheel.
But hey, at least Jason Segel will probably play her in the movie adaptation.
Steph had texted Tam to meet her at a coffee shop right next to Cass’s apartment building so they could meet and head up to Cass’s gym, but her Psych 101 lecture got out late because this one know-it-all pseudo-intellectual held it up with his increasingly incoherent questions, and so by the time she all but hustled into the shop, Cass and Tam were already seated at a table with some coffee.
And they look, well -- they look like they’re on a date. Their hands are not quite touching on the table, wrapped around their coffee mugs, and Cass’s neck is flushed from the back like it always is when she’s nervous, and wow, holy eye contact, Batman.
Steph makes her way over to them, wincing as her giant book bag keeps bumping into people as she winds her way through the archipelago of tables. “Hey, guys. I see you’ve already introduced yourselves.”
Tam nods, not quite looking away from Cass. “Yeah. You could’ve told me I’d be meeting with Bruce Wayne’s daughter, by the way.”
Steph raises both eyebrows and mentally pictures the rest of the family’s reaction to this, and it takes every effort she has not to burst out laughing. “You already knew they were all in on it together,” Steph says quietly, leaning in a bit. “Now are we gonna go see what you’re made of or should I leave you two alone?”
Tam meets Steph’s gaze head on with exactly zero embarrassment, another mark in the plus column because if you’re gonna make eyes at Stephanie Brown’s best friend, you better damn well not be embarrassed about it. “All right, let’s get to it.”
Cass and Tam abandon their mostly finished coffees to make their way out and up into Cass’s apartment building, a penthouse floor complete with gym that Bruce bought out in the hopes that he could get Cass to stay for good. It’s one of those things about Bruce that Steph hates - because he knows that he did wrong, making Cass feel as if she should find her home elsewhere, but he won’t ever come out and say it, working around the issue instead in half-hearted gestures and money thrown at the problem.
But Cass fell back into patrolling with Steph and Tim as if no time at all had passed -- all dumb jokes and breathless running from rooftop to rooftop, easy fights played out back to back like they could pretend they were still sixteen and stupid.
It was that, more than anything else, that had kept her here in Gotham.
If Tam could give Cass another reason to stick around, Steph sure as hell won’t be complaining about it.
Tam whistles lowly as Cass lets them both into her apartment. “High ceilings and everything. A girl could get jealous.”
“Tell me about it,” Steph says. “I’ve been thinking about converting her closet into a bedroom and moving myself in whether she likes it or not.”
“I would kick you out,” Cass says, making for the gym. “You never clean up after you cook.”
“Hey, at least I can cook, little miss instant noodles and frozen dinners. You and Tim are lucky you have Alfred, or you’d both die from malnutrition.”
“I’m not Tim, I don’t burn toast,” Cass teases, and yeah, a seriously valid point there. Tim and cooking is a nightmare combination unless he has liberal amounts of help.
“He probably gets too caught up in what the exact perfect temperature in Celsius is for good toast to pay attention to it, right?” Tam says, shrugging off her jacket and purse and dumping them on the ground just inside the door of the gym.
“Yup,” Cass and Steph say, in unison.
“We’re going to do basic moves, just to get a feel for movement and instinct,” Cass says, folding herself into a stretch. Tam raises an eyebrow and tilts her head a bit, causing Steph to nudge her in the ribs.
“Ogling her ass isn’t gonna make you a good vigilante,” Steph hisses.
“I know that but I can’t look away, it’s like a fixed point,” Tam hisses back.
Cass’s neck flushes again and Steph hides a wide grin behind her hand because wow, did she not see this coming or what.
“Can we get started?” Cass says, covering up nervousness with her usual brisk to the point attitude because fighting is Cass’s domain in a way that it’s no one else’s, and once they move into it, Steph knows the nervousness will fall away.
“Try not to kick my ass too badly?” Tam says weakly.
“Oh no,” Steph says. “She’s totally gonna kick your ass.”
True to her word, Cass starts Tam off with some easy warm ups to test for instinct and fitness, but when Tam pipes up to remind her that she’s taken some basic martial arts courses, it goes pretty quickly downhill from there.
Downhill for Tam that is. For Cass, it’s pretty much business as usual.
Thirty minutes later, Steph is halfway between thanking every higher power in the world that she’s worked herself to the point where she can stand toe-to-toe with Cass and not want to vomit anymore, and wondering how many chocolate milkshakes she owes Tam for putting her through this.
“You’ve got potential,” Cass says, running a hand through her closely-cropped hair, and giving Tam a lopsided grin.
Tam lies prone on the gym floor, sweaty and flushed. “That’s what you call potential? I’d hate to see what you do to the people who you think are useless. Oh god. Where is it that starts hurting when you think you’re gonna have a heart attack?”
“No pain, no gain, Fox,” Steph calls cheerfully from the sidelines.
“The fuck have I gotten myself into,” Tam says.
But, as with all things, it takes time. Time and a whole lotta practice. Tam has the bug - she left Cass’s apartment that day with a glint in her eye that promised bull-headed stubbornness, and Steph knew that she’d keep coming back to it.
Even when Steph would get texts in the middle of class that varied somewhere along the lines of, “oh fuck I’m dying, I don’t know whether to kill her or kiss her,” she knew Tam wasn’t giving up any time soon.
Slowly, she gets introduced to the Batgirl routine. The cave, Babs and Proxy, the gear. Bo staff and shuriken and batarang. A few months go by and it’s like Tam was always there, popping by after work to get in some training sessions and setting herself up as a permanent fixture over the weekend, working through routines and pointing out mistakes in Steph’s statistics homework.
The Tam and Cass Thing is a slow burn, which Steph saw coming, knowing her best friend as she does, but even still, when she catches them making out on the training room mats, she lets herself out quietly and proceeds to make significant hand gestures at Proxy to explain the situation.
Wendy totally doesn’t get it but that’s her problem, not Steph’s.
It’s a good thing they’ve got going. Steph likes it - she feels proud of the whole lot of them, for falling together and accommodating their space to fit in another.
Which is right about when she figures that a Wayne boy is gonna start butting in on their business.
“You stole my secretary.”
Steph rolls her eyes, juggling her books and her cell phone as she rushes out of a lecture to make for the nearest bench. “Pretty sure that we’re not paying her. Also pretty sure that she’s never compromised work hours.”
“She likes you better, doesn’t she,” Tim says, whining a bit in a way that’s mostly put-upon.
“You’re starting to sulk like your ten-year old brother, you might want to watch that,” Steph says, plopping herself down onto a bench.
Tim laughs and it echoes over the receiver. “Please, put me out of my misery if that ever happens.”
“I’ll head right over to your place with a throwing star, then,” Steph quips.
“Har, har,” Tim says. “How’s she doing, then?”
Steph doesn’t even try to pretend like they haven’t been doing exactly what they’ve been doing - Tim’s got about as many eyes and ears out as Babs, and there’s no use pretending otherwise.
“Honestly? Great. She’s working hard and she’s a fast learner. It helps that she’s taken a certain liking to her teacher.”
Tim clears his throat and she can just about see the blush staining his pale cheeks. “Yeah, uh. They’ve really taken to each other.”
“No. No, uh. They’re good for each other and I’m - I’m not really good for anyone right now, you know?”
Steph tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and nods before remembering that he can’t see her. “I noticed. So, this isn’t the part where you start lecturing me about bringing someone into the fold who can’t handle it?”
“Nah, I’m trying this new thing where I don’t act like a giant asshole in all of my inter-personal relationships. Don’t make the same shitty mistake twice, stuff like that,” Tim says, strained.
“You did go full Bruce for a while there,” Steph says. “You remember how there was a time when you said you’d never, ever do that?”
“Yeah,” Tim says, voice quiet. “Shit, I’m so sorry, Steph. I’m trying to be better and I know - I know that that’s not good enough, but -- “
“It’s a start, Nerd Wonder,” Steph says, voice just as quiet and a little teasing.
Tim blows out a breath. “So, she’s doing well?”
“She’s doing fucking phenomenal,” Steph says, and she means every word of it because it’s goddamn true to the letter.
“Awesome,” Tim says, sounding a little like his old self, and then, “I’ll try to help keep B off your back when she starts out.”
“See, now that’s the sort of apology I was looking for, Timbo,” Steph says and Tim laughs again.
“Good luck, BG.”
“Right back at ya, RR.”
“You still don’t have a costume,” Steph says, collapsing to the training mat after a session to do some stretches.
Cass and Tam exchange a look, and there’s worlds of conversation going on there that Steph isn’t privy too, but she doesn’t feel quite as left out about it as she would have expected.
“Actually, I was thinking about that. About who I could be,” Tam says, tugging at the end of her pony-tail, a nervous gesture if Steph ever saw one.
Cass reaches out and grabs ahold of Tam’s hand, entwining their fingers and giving her an encouraging smile. “Tell her. She won’t be mad.”
“Won’t be mad about what?”
“I want to be Spoiler,” Tam says.
Steph stares, blinks a few times, and then stares some more. She feels warm all over and she wonders, distantly, if this is what it feels like before fainting from shock. “You want to be Spoiler? Why?”
“See? She’s mad. I told you she’d be mad,” Tam says, and Steph can just see how her grip has tightened around Cass's fingers.
Cass shakes her head. “Not mad. Surprised. And honored, yes?”
“Never in a million years would I have thought -- come on, this is me we’re talking about, you want to take after me?,” Steph says, still a little incredulous.
Tam gives a half-shrug. “Gotham needs a Spoiler just as much as it needs any Bat.”
Steph feels a smile crack across her face, clear and wide as anything. “You betcha, Spoiler.”
The crunch of gravel on a low rooftop on a clear Gotham night. Three girls, two in the black favored by the Bat and one in a deep purple, make their way to the edge.
The stars are bright for once and it seems like a good a sign as any.
“There’s a robbery at the old art museum near the business district,” Cass says.
Steph nudges Tam in the arm. “What do you say, Spoiler? Sound like a fitting debut?”
“Ready for anything, Batgirl.”