Petra (petronelle) wrote in crackformary,
Petra
petronelle
crackformary

Story: If you're on fire - Steph, Cass, and Kon

Title: If you're on fire (7300 words)
Fandom: DCU (AU starting after Robin: Unmasked)
Summary: She can see it now -- Batgirl and Spoiler, taking down the hardened, nasty thugs of Blüdhaven, saving the city from itself, quick and fast and partners -- because Nightwing didn't have one, and it might make all the difference.
Rating: Adult
Notes: For sharpest_rose because she brings joy to those around her.
Thanks to jamjar for the beta.


Batman never made Steph Spoiler, and he can't make her stop. She may run out of supplies eventually if Robin -- Tim -- Robin doesn't come back, but she'll deal with that when the time comes. Now Spoiler is better than ever.

To hell with Batman, anyway. He may be the greatest whatever, but if he doesn't want her, she doesn't need him. There are other people who appreciate her. The girl she saves from the muggers. The prostitute whose pimp she takes out, when he gets abusive. All in a night's work for the Spoiler, and she's faster, now, with the actual Bat-training. Criminals beware.

She doesn't see anybody else on the roofs the first night, but a couple of hours into the second, there's the right kind of black shimmer in her peripheral vision. She chases after it until Batgirl stops to wait on a ledge. "Hey," Steph says.

"You're not Robin?" Batgirl asks, tilting her head to one side.

Steph feels her shoulders doing the sulky adolescent hunch. Batgirl starts laughing even before she blurts, "He fired me. But he can't make me stop."

Batgirl squeezes her shoulder gently. "Firing you -- waste of time."

"I know." Steph shrugs. "But he meant it. And he -- well, I'm not as bad as I used to be, but he could take me out if he wanted to." The idea of it makes her shudder. She's taken enough falls from Batman in training; a real one would hurt like hell. "And Gotham's his."

"Other cities," Cass says.

Steph blinks, remembers the cowl, and -- well, Batgirl got it anyway. "But my mom -- I don't have anywhere to go."

Batgirl starts stretching her leg muscles. It makes Steph remember all the training she's not doing right now. "Nightwing left Blüdhaven."

The hairs on the back of Steph's neck rise. "Jesus. I'm not that good. If he couldn't hack it, no way I can."

Batgirl spreads her hands. "We could."

Steph shrugs. "But you don't have a reason to go."

She gets up and balances her way along the edge of the roof. "Gotham is safe. Blüdhaven isn't."

"But you live here."

Batgirl shrugs. "I can move. Come with me."

She can see it now -- Batgirl and Spoiler, taking down the hardened, nasty thugs of Blüdhaven, saving the city from itself, quick and fast and partners -- because Nightwing didn't have one, and it might make all the difference.

Still -- "He won't like that idea."

"I won't tell."

Steph laughs. "He'll know anyway."

Batgirl shrugs. "Yes. Come with me."

She thinks about leaving her mom behind, and what might happen to her. What she'd say if she found Steph was gone, who she'd call. And she thinks about what Batman would say, and having him take her down and really, really mean it. Or being just Stephanie Brown, all fading bruises, with no capes, no escapes, just high school and -- whatever. Never ever jumping off a building with Batgirl, ever again.

"Okay," she says.

Batgirl laughs with her whole body and touches Steph's shoulder again. "Tomorrow."

Steph stares at her. "But I have school. And -- and stuff."

"Blüdhaven is getting bad again." Batgirl may not be a bass, but she's spent enough time with Batman to get the portentous declaration thing down pat.

Mom is going to flip. But there are GED programs, and that would be easier to work into a vigilante schedule than high school anyway. She has the great cover story of her dad in prison and -- and emotionally abusive, sure. She can get through. Besides, if she sticks around to deal with stuff, Batgirl will go without her. The 'haven isn't anywhere she should have to go alone. "Okay. Tomorrow."

~^..^~


Steph doesn't pack much. She doesn't have much worth dragging along, and it would freak her mom out even more than Steph's note will.

The note says: "I'm not taking after my father. I'm moving in with a girl friend. When we get settled, I'll call you. Love, Steph."

It's not enough, but she doesn't know what else to say.

Cass -- in civvies, and graceful as ever -- meets her at her bus stop with a little backpack. Probably there's room in for a Batgirl suit and two changes of underwear. It makes Steph's overstuffed bag with the books she couldn't leave and the jacket and the Spoiler suit and the clothes seem overwhelming. But Cass just smiles at her. "You're coming."

Steph takes a deep breath and doesn't, doesn't look back at her house. "Yeah."

"Tickets. For the train." Cass hands her a pass.

Steph checks the numbers under the streetlight. "Thanks. Hey -- how did you --"

"Alfred."

This is one of those Bat-things that drives Steph nuts. She's definitely going to have to grill Cass for secrets. Not that Cass will talk unless she sees the value in sharing, but Steph's curious. "Oh."

"He helps with words," Cass explains, and shrugs.

"I can do that, now," Steph says, and smiles at her. "I mean -- I can help you learn how to read."

Cass bounces on her toes. "Yes. And I'll teach you to move."

The idea of being able to be even half as smooth as Cass makes Steph shiver with excitement. "Cool." The bus comes, and she gets on it, thinking about every step and how to make it Cass-like, until she forgets to look at her house one last time. "I got this," she says to Cass, and pays for both of them.

They snag two seats together in the smelly bus. "Man," Steph says, "we need a -- whoevermobile."

Cass tilts her head to one side. "Okay."

"I mean, not that I have money."

"He does." Cass puts her hand on Steph's knee. "And he will help me."

Steph smiles. "Cool. Very cool. Our own car. Guess I'll have to teach you to drive. Where are we staying, anyway?"

Cass pulls two sets of keys out of her pocket and gives one to Steph. "I know where it is."

"And he set this up overnight?" Steph frowns. "Two sets of keys?"

"Alfred knows." Cass leans back in her chair. "He takes care of things."

Somehow it's easier to take cryptic from the big boss. "Okay. You've gotta tell me who he is."

"He's -- Alfred." Cass moves her hands in a way that must be really meaningful to her but is totally lost on Steph. "He will visit us. You will meet him."

"Okay. I guess. As long as -- as he's not coming with someone else." Steph shakes her head. "I don't really want to deal with, you know. Him."

"Only if we need him." Cass squeezes her knee again. "Relax."

~^..^~


The house Alfred -- whoever he is -- found or already owned is decorated in white, black, and steel, really functional and kind of inhuman, except for the posters on the walls. Steph stares at the one over what's apparently supposed to be her bed. "Damn. I haven't had Superboy watching me sleep in -- a long time."

Cass puts her head in the door and smiles. "You should talk to him."

"Yeah, we should say thanks to Alfred."

"No, Superboy."

Steph wrinkles her nose. "I have. He doesn't like me."

Cass raises an eyebrow at her. "He doesn't know you."

"I don't think he wants to." Steph shrugs. "He seemed pretty pissed off when I was Robin."

Cass gives her the look that means there's something really important she's totally failing to get. "That wasn't you. He doesn't know you." She thumps Steph on the chest, above the heart, probably near a whole bunch of places that could be a nervestrike, but this is just to get her attention.

"I guess." Steph makes a face at the poster. "I'm not sure being me is all that impressive."

"You're Stephanie," Cass says, "Spoiler." She smiles. "My partner."

"Yeah." Steph takes a deep breath. "Partners. I guess that means we'd better go train, huh?"

Cass grins at her. "Yes. Downstairs."

Downstairs means underneath the normal basement, and right now it's got two computers and a bunch of gym equipment. "So -- what're we going to call it?" Steph asks.

"Home," Cass says, and she throws her first punch.

Steph still can't dodge more than one out of six strikes, and she knows Cass is taking it easy on her. By the third round, she's gasping for breath, but she manages to actually trip Cass. "Gotcha!" she says, and offers her a hand up when she doesn't roll to her feet immediately.

Cass pulls her down onto the mat, too, and rolls on top of her. "Good job."

Up close, she's just as gorgeous as she is from far away, but she looks a lot more vulnerable holding still than she ever does in motion. Steph tries to push her off and Cass pins her hands -- so much for that illusion. "So you got me, too," she says, catching her breath. "Big shocker there."

"We have each other." Cass leans in a little bit and Steph reaches up like she does this every day, feeling the heat of Cass's breath for a second before they're kissing. Cass's lips have got to be the softest part of her body.

"Oh man," Steph says, and Cass laughs, shifting so one of her thighs is between Steph's. Steph grins and rocks her hips up. Batgirl may be the super body language guru, but Steph doesn't need a translation of "I want you so bad." Her heart's pounding in her ears from the workout, and she's already all tingly from the adrenaline and endorphins and everything.

Plus Cass is kissing her again and moving, squeezing her thigh and rubbing against her all determined and gorgeous. "Steph," she says, between kisses, and Steph realizes she closed her eyes. When she looks again, Cass is all flushed and watching her with that intensity that's scary in a fight.

Right now it makes Steph's spine shiver, and she twists her hips to get a little more friction right where she needs it, hard enough to make her moan. "You're goddamn beautiful, B. G., you know that?"

"So are you," Cass says, and she's not making a sound more than those words, but her hands tense a little on Steph's wrists. Her eyes squeeze shut and she looks totally focused, totally unguarded, and totally mindblowing.

Maybe even mindblown, but Steph can't figure that out with Cass rocking against her faster, grinding just right to make her throw her head back against the mat and groan. "Oh god, that's good -- fuck, yes." She squeezes Cass's hands and lets out another groan as she comes.

Cass kisses her again, more softly, and lets her wrists go. "Yes. Very good."

Steph laughs and hugs her. "We still have to train. Or, um, I have to, or I am going to be a really lousy partner."

"No," Cass says against her ear. "You can't be lousy."

It makes her think about what a rush it was to be Robin and her stomach goes from melty afterglow to twisty. But she doesn't have to be Robin to be good backup, and that lets her relax again. "I have to be good enough for you, though."

This time when she tries to roll them over and get up, Cass lets her. "So we practice."

Steph nods and gets back into a ready stance, gesturing with her hand. "Let's go."

~^..^~


Sparring and sleeping and kissing takes up all of the hours when they're not actually patrolling. It takes Steph two nights to remember to call her mom, and her mom's at work when she does. She leaves a message and says, "I'm okay, I promise. Love you."

The next day, she wakes up at noon and finds a correspondence GED program. They need her basic info, but she's old enough to enroll in it, and she brings home textbooks. She also stops at the library and gets Cass some simple books to work on.

They spend the afternoons practicing and learning all the things there are to learn.

When they've been there three days, a little package arrives in the mail addressed to Stephanie Brown. They haven't told anybody where they live except for the mysterious Alfred, who apparently shows up when they're out patrolling. The fridge is never empty, anyway.

The package has two gold bird-shaped earrings and a choker, plus a note that says, "They'll fit under your cowl - O." Steph puts them on and shows Cass, who smiles.

"Pretty."

"I'm not sure this thing's on, though," Steph says, tapping the earrings, then the choker.

"They're always on," Oracle says in her ear, and she jumps.

Cass laughs at her. "Miss you," she says, smiling sadly.

Steph's not sure how Oracle hears or sees what she's saying. Maybe she's got the place bugged, because she says, "Same to you, little sister, but Gotham's no place for you right now." Oracle sighs and then clears her throat. "You two have to work out a more efficient way of covering your territory."

They've been following Nightwing's routes, as best as they could figure it out, and as much as Steph can hack it. She's got gymnastic skills, but they're nowhere near as advanced as his are. Cass could do the routes alone, probably, but if they're sticking together it slows her down.

Steph feels really guilty about that, but every time she thinks it Cass makes her spar again.

"And you've got suggestions?" Steph says.

Oracle says, "That's my job." Steph rolls her eyes at Cass and Oracle clears her throat. "If you're interested in improving the way you do yours, Stephanie --"

"'course I am." Steph bounces a little on the balls of her feet. "Let me find a pencil."

"The plans are uploading to your computer," Oracle says, a little testily. "Go look at them."

"If you want to do things the easy way, sure," Steph says, jogging for the stairs. "C'mon, Cass. Oh, and hey -- how come you didn't send her earrings?"

"There's a comm in her cowl," Oracle says.

"But for around the house?" Steph swings into the computer seat with Cass looking over her shoulder.

"I doubt it will be necessary, but there's a speaker system in case of emergencies."

Steph raises an eyebrow at Cass, who shrugs. "Speakers."

"Yes." Oracle sounds smug, even through the voice synthesizer.

"And who put those in? The mysterious Alfred?"

She can hear Oracle choke. "He's not that mysterious, and a lady has to keep a few secrets, Stephanie. Go over those plans."

Steph opens them up and compares the map to what she knows of Blüdhaven so far. "These are better than what we've been doing."

Cass traces the line on the screen with her finger. "The street names --"

"You can recognize them, right?" Steph says, and Cass nods.

"Yes." She reads one of the routes, in order.

Oracle says, "Good work, Steph," softly, and Steph can't help smiling.

~^..^~


A week later, Oracle uses the speaker system to say, "The Mad Hatter's out of Arkham, and he hasn't been seen in Gotham yet."

Steph jerks awake from a post-sparring and sex nap, lifting her head off Cass's shoulder to look at the clock. Six PM, and it's probably time for all good little girls to get up and patrol, but she still resents it. "The Mad Hatter? What's his deal, dressing people funny?"

Cass tousles Steph's hair. "Listen," she says.

"That's more Batman's M. O.," Oracle says. "I'll get you Hatter's dossier -- he may be bright enough to keep out of Gotham and head more toward your neck of the woods."

"So no goofy hats, then," Steph says, swinging her legs out of bed and putting in her earrings before she stretches.

"Mind control hats are more his style."

Cass shakes her head. "It makes people look strange. Like they're two people."

"Awesome." Steph gives her a high-five. "So we've got a secret weapon -- B. G. spots 'em, and I kick 'em in the knee."

"That would be one strategy," Oracle says dryly. Sometimes Steph misses her real voice, but that could be dangerous to stuff like secret identities. "Avoid getting under his control at all costs."

"Well duh," Steph says. Cass pokes her in the shoulder, right in a pressure point, and makes her thumb go numb. "Sorry, Oracle. I mean -- ten-four."

Oracle snorts and says, "If the Hatter surfaces, I'll inform you. Oracle out."

"Maybe we could get a little more shut-eye," Steph says, doing her best slinky walk up to Cass and batting her eyelashes.

"Oracle does not call unless it's important," Cass says, frowning. "We should go."

"If we have to." Steph sighs. "You're such a good little Bat."

Cass shrugs. "We have to keep people safe."

"Right, yeah, I know." Steph stretches her arms. "Can I get a smooch first?"

Cass wrinkles her nose. "Eat. Brush your teeth."

"Okay, okay."

They're out of the house and hitting the rooftops in twenty minutes, which is just about long enough that breakfast-supper isn't hitting the pavement. "So -- hats," Steph says. "If you were a hat wacko, where would you go?"

"Malls," Cass says. "Stores."

"Maybe," Steph says. "But that's kinda obvious."

Ten blocks into the route, they stop on top of a building for a quick stretch break. Steph works on her front split and watches Cass put her ankles over her ears. But that's a thought for later, because there's another thought right now -- a billboard advertising season tickets to the Blüdhaven Blasters, the local baseball team, opening night --

"Oh man, look," Steph says, pointing. "Oh -- how many of the words do you know, now?"

Cass gets out of her fancy stretch and looks. "Blüdhaven. And -- the date. Today."

"Yeah," Steph says. "Ten thousand people in baseball hats."

They don't have to say anything else before they head for the edge of the roof and the heart of town. As she's swinging stadium-ward, Steph says, "Oracle, you there?"

"What's up, Spoiler?"

"The Blüdhaven baseball team has its opening game tonight. Thought you might like to know."

The click in her ear would be interference if Oracle's tech ever had interference. It's probably Oracle sucking her teeth once. "I'll make sure to catch it on ESPN. You want backup?"

"Not yet," Cass says on the same frequency. "We fight together."

"Your call, B," Oracle says, "but I'll have someone on standby."

"Thanks," Steph says. "I'd hate to need it and not have it."

"Be careful out there, little birds. I'll be listening."

"Are we birds, now?" Steph asks.

Oracle doesn't answer. Cass says, "No."


"You don't think so? I've got the earrings."

"I don't," Cass says.

"Got it."

~^..^~


The stadium is as full of people wearing Blasters hats as any merchandising person would ever want to see. Steph and Cass perch on the rim with a sea of baseball fans below them, the smell of hot dogs and crappy beer nearly overpowering even from the ultra nosebleed seats.

"I don't know what you could get these guys to do," Steph says, as the announcer introduces the teams. "They don't look like a bunch of guys who could just break into banks or hand over useful wallets or anything."

"Many men together have strength," Cass says, and she sounds like she's quoting.

"That something the big boss man told you?" Steph kicks her feet.

"Yes." Cass scans the crowd. "I do not see any problems yet."

A singer comes out and starts butchering the national anthem. "Should we stand up?" Steph asks.

Cass shrugs. "If you see better."

"No, I meant the song." The singer hits a high note and Steph winces. "Okay, maybe not."

"Stand? The singer can't see."

Steph shakes her head. "It's a patriotic thing. Never mind."

Cass raises an eyebrow at her so far Steph can tell through the mask. "All right."

The game starts and nobody's bleeding yet. Steph yawns and says, "I wish we had popcorn. Maybe I could go down and get a hot dog."

"Bad for you," Cass says.

"Yeah, I know, but we'll get a lot of exercise whether or not the the big bad shows up, right?" Steph makes a fist at her. "If he doesn't beat the crap out of us, we'll beat the crap out of each other. Or, um, you'll beat me up, anyway."

Cass leans over and squeezes her knee. "Getting better."

Steph rests her cheek on Cass's shoulder for a second. "I know, but I still suck compared to you."

She can see Cass's grin, too. "Batman, too."

Steph laughs. "Oh, you're bad."

Cass shakes her head. "No. Very, very good."

"Geez, B. G." Steph hugs her. "Just when I think I can't love you any more, you know?"

There's a roar from the crowd. Not a happy roar, like a home-run roar, but a bad thing. A group under them starts chanting, "Kill the umpire!" Another group of fans across the stadium picks it up, and then everybody's doing it.

It wouldn't be so freaky if they weren't in perfect unison.

"I think we've gotta get down there," Steph says.

Then the chant changes to "Kill the police!"

"Trouble, Oracle," Cass says.

"I don't see him," Steph says, using the comm.

"The people are all him," Cass says, scanning the crowd. The fans wearing hats are all getting to their feet.

Oracle breaks in. "The Hatter may not even be in the stadium. B, can you see any center to the movement?"

"They're leaving," Cass says, frowning.

Steph shakes her head. "It's no good. We have to keep them all here or they're going to tear apart some cops."

"Back-up?" Oracle asks.

Cass looks grouchy with her entire body. "Yes."

Steph squeezes Cass's knee. "Good call, B. G. Let's see what we can do before she gets here."

They dive over the back wall of the stadium, sailing down on grapple lines into the crowd. "He, actually," Oracle says. "Power Girl's not available." Outside, the people are moving much more randomly than they are inside.

One of the baseball fans, a hot dog in hand and an extra large jersey stretched tight across a spare tire, runs into Cass like she's not there and says, "Cops."

"Freaky," Steph says. "It's like zombies, except with a thing for police instead of brains." She knocks off the guy's cap and he blinks and stares at her.

"What the hell are you supposed to be? Batgirl?"

Steph shakes her head. "No, that's her." She points to Cass, who's knocking off baseball caps with her toes. "Hey -- actually, buddy, could you give us a hand, here?"

He rubs his eyes. "What?"

"These baseball caps are controlling people's brains. Start picking 'em off people's heads, and tell the guys to steal people's hats, too."

He squints at her. "You sure?"

Steph picks off another guy's hat and he turns around like he's trying to swing at her, but then stops. "What the fuck?"

"See?" Steph says.

The first guy nods. "Got it, Grape Girl." He starts grabbing people's hats off, yelling, "Take off the caps, guys, they're fucking you up!"

"Actually," she says, "it's -- not important."

The chant starts to break up around Steph while the first two guys steal hats, and the next two guys steal hats. It's exponential, and she never really got that part of math until right now.

The wave of hatless guys spreads through the crowd like ripples in a pond with one centered on Steph and the other on Cass. Here and there somebody gets hit for trying to take off someone else's headgear, but mostly they keep stealing hats and hats until there are several thousand fans milling around, outside the stadium, looking confused but healing. The chant about the police is gone, replaced by a bunch of murmuring about hats.

"Hey," somebody says from above Steph's head, "what'd I miss?"

She looks up, and Superboy's hanging there in a t-shirt and jeans, looking windblown and confused. "Oh, hey," she says, and tries for the short-short version. "Um, all these guys were mindcontrolled by their hats a couple minutes ago."

Superboy raises his eyebrows. "And I thought Gotham was freaky."

Steph laughs. "The guy who did it is from Gotham, not Blüdhaven."

"And -- hey, you're not Robin anymore." He lands, crunching down on a hat or three. "Where's -- the old guy?"

Steph shakes her head. "I don't know. Can we not talk about this right now? We have to find the Mad Hatter."

"The Mad Hatter," Superboy says. "That's worse than the Toyman. Can I give you a lift? You here by yourself?"

She puts an arm around his neck and he picks her up by the waist. It makes her feel like a ballerina or a cheerleader -- or like she's got really good backup. "Batgirl's out there -- heading for the door." She points, and they're there, with really little time in between, and Superboy just picks Batgirl up, too, like together they weigh about as much as a cat.

"Evenin', pretty lady," Superboy says.

Batgirl lifts her mask enough to kiss his cheek. "You're backup."

"Yes, ma'am, I am. Where to?"

"Back inside. Try the dugout." Oracle says over Steph's comm.

"Let's hit the dugout," Steph says.

"No problem," and they're swooping over there. Superboy sets her down carefully. "Now what do I get to hit?"

One of the players-- Blüdhaven, number 72 -- comes over, a bat on his shoulder, and he takes a swing at Superboy. Batgirl takes his hat off with a leap and Steph, true to her earlier words, trips the player. Superboy's slower -- not really up on this hat-removal thing, yet -- and he pins the guy with one finger. "Not so quick now, huh, hat-hair?"

The player blinks at him. "What're you doing here, Superboy?"

"Hangin' with Blüdhaven's protectors, taking in the local color --"

Steph ducks another player's bat and tries to get his hat off with no success. She can see Batgirl fighting off the outfielders, but she's busy. "Superboy, little help here?"

"'scuse me." He's airborne in a second, over the guy trying to bash Steph's brains in. He kicks the brim of the player's hat and it goes flying, leaving him waving his bat for another second until his hands catch up with his brain.

"What happened?"

Superboy shakes his head. "Ask Blüdhaven's finest down there. She knows. I gotta go stop a shortstop short." He zips away.

"It's a mind control thing," Steph says, and then she shouts, "Duck!"

The player turns around and gets clocked but good by one of the opposing team with a bat of his own, who shouts, "Die!"

"Damn," Steph says, flipping up to her feet and then picking off the guy's hat with a flying kick. "I know rivalries are rough, but this is ridiculous."

"What?" the guy says, and she rolls her eyes.

"I'm so sick of that question. Stay low and out of trouble." She runs toward center field, but between Cass and Superboy, everybody seems to be bareheaded.

"The battle is not over!" comes over the PA system, booming loud and tenor.

Steph looks around and says, "The press box!" into the comm just as Oracle does. She could use her grapple, but if she has to break the glass. "Superboy --"

"I'm on it." He grabs her around the waist and they're heading for the box. "I mean, on you. I mean --" the windows shatter and there's a sad, strange little man sitting in the press box, a top hat on his head. "This your guy?"

The Mad Hatter -- it's got to be him -- says, "I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, Sir, because I'm not myself you see," and makes a dash for the door.

Steph tosses a bolo and gets him around the knees. He falls flat on his face with a big Oof. "Yeah, that's him."

Superboy slings the Mad Hatter over his shoulder just as Cass comes through the window on her grapple line. "So what do we do with him?" Superboy asks.

"Police," Cass says.

"It's kind of a long way," Steph says, looking out the wrecked window. "And the Spoilermobile's in the shop getting detailed."

"Isn't it the Batgirlmobile?" Superboy asks.

"Can't drive," Cass says. "Need a ride."

Superboy takes her hand and offers his other one to Steph. "Easier done than said."

Steph frowns. "You can carry all three of us and not drop the hat guy? I mean, okay, he'd be no great loss to society, but the big scary boss gets pissed if you make psychopaths into pavement pizza."

"What, I never told you about my tactile telekinesis?" Superboy asks, grabbing her hand and heading out the window.

~^..^~


Captain Rohrbach is less than thrilled when they drop the Mad Hatter on her office floor. "You're working with Superboy now, too?" She gives them that look that's half police officer and half tired mom.

"Only on a case-by-case basis," Superboy says, and then adds, "ma'am."

She shakes her head. "That doesn't make me feel any better about this."

Steph frowns behind her cowl. "You didn't see the baseball game."

Captain Rohrbach snorts. "Some of us were at work."

"Then you missed all the excitement," Superboy says, "'cause it was a heck of a game. This guy stole all the bases." He nudges the Mad Hatter with his foot.

"The Mad Hatter," Steph says. "He's got to be in your files, somewhere. Or the Gotham police department can tell you about him."

Rohrbach runs a hand through her hair, sighing. "So now we've got a whole set of Gotham masks, we're going to get the full set of Gotham nutbars, is that it?"

"No," Cass says.

"We'd better not." The police captain sighs again. "I'll run the paperwork on the March Hare over here. Get outta here, kids."

Steph says, "Mad Hatter."

"Whatever." Rohrbach points to the window. "Go on."

Superboy takes them back to their house -- Steph gives him the first couple directions, then says, "B. G., you know the streets."

"Yeah?" Superboy says.

Cass gives him directions, looking for the signs. "There," she says. Steph grins -- it's great to see her actually using all that reading practice.

"Make it quick," Steph says. "We don't get flying company all that much."

They zip in and land in the upstairs bedroom where Steph's been sleeping. Superboy blinks at her poster and says, "Nice décor."

Steph punches him in the shoulder and hurts her hand, but it's worth it. "Shut up."

He raises his hands defensively. "Hey, I'm just saying. You stick cute guys on your wall, it's a conversation piece."

"It was a present. And -- shut up."

Superboy grins. "From who?" He raises an eyebrow at Cass. "I thought we decided to just be friends."

Cass laughs and thumps him on the chest. He winces.

"Yeah," he says, rubbing the spot ruefully, "didn't think you wanted a picture of me in your boudoir."

Cass ruffles his hair. "It's late."

"Not for you guys," Superboy says. "But yeah, I guess." He puts his shoulders back and puffs his chest out. "Us solar-powered dudes had better get back home before we peter out over Iowa."

Steph giggles despite herself. "That would be a heck of a place to get stuck. And -- thanks."

He tips an imaginary hat to her. "Anytime, Batbabes. Catch you on the flip side." He's out the window again and gone in a second.

"He is cute," Steph says after she closes the window.

Cass puffs her chest out, imitating him.

Steph kisses her. "No, no way. You're much cuter."

Cass grins and kisses her back.

~^..^~


Cass does a lot of reading lessons by working with practical stuff on the couch. After a month of intense work, she can make it through the basic parts of a dossier without help, and she demonstrates it by reading some of the ones Oracle sends them. "Awesome," Steph says. "You're really doing great, you know?"

Cass smiles and kisses her. "You, too."

Steph shrugs. "You're getting better a lot faster than I am."

With a twist, Cass makes as if to push her over, but Steph ends up pinning her to the couch. Cass's grin deepens. "No."

The reading lesson degenerates into a makeout session and Steph's shirt is up around her neck when somebody outside the window says, "Hey, Batbabes -- whoops."

Cass lets her go and she pulls her shirt down quick, but it's too late. "Jeez, Superboy, learn to call ahead." Steph turns to glare at him and stares. "Whoa, nice haircut."

He's blushing. She can see it all over his newly shaven scalp. "Sorry."

Cass shakes her head and beckons him in. "Why are you worried?"

Superboy lands on the couch and puts his bald head in his hands. "My -- my father made me evil. Programmed me to go evil. Point and click, evil."

Cass puts her hand on his shoulder. Steph raises an eyebrow at her and says, "Yeah? Join the club."

"I broke Tim's arm," Superboy says, "and I'm evil. Totally. Completely."

"No," Steph says, and she gives in to the urge to hug him. Cass is leaning on him on his other side. "You're not responsible for your dad."

"He totally put shit in my head to make me nuts," Superboy says, looking up at her. He looks a lot older than he did the last time she saw him. "So he's responsible for me, and any second he could hit the psycho button again and poof, I'd be evil, and you guys would have to take me down before I killed you."

"Easy," Cass says, and he laughs once.

"For you, maybe. I can't believe I hurt Tim. You think I'm evil?"

She makes a big show of looking him over, peering at his body language, when Steph knows it takes her a glance to know what somebody had for breakfast. "No."

"Not even a little?" Superboy runs his hand over his head. "I mean, I even look like Luthor now."

Cass shakes her head. "You don't." She pulls him into another hug and he ends up leaning against her breasts. "Not at all."

Steph bites her lip and tells herself not to be stupid and jealous. "Tim's not mad at you, right? I mean, he knows it was totally not your idea, and everything?"

"He knows," Superboy says, "but I -- what if it happens again?"

Cass nervestrikes him and he actually passes out, sagging sideways onto Cass's lap.

"Whoa," Steph says, laughing a little. "You're like Kryptonite. In a really sexy package."

"Not hard," Cass says, and smacks him again in exactly the right place. Superboy jerks awake.

He stares at Cass for a second and says, "I had the most amazing dream. And you were there -- and you --"

She leans over and kisses him. It makes Steph feel a little sick, because they haven't talked about exclusive stuff, but she was pretty sure Cass was over him.

"The kiss of life," Superboy says, grinning at her, when she lets him go. Then he slides off the couch and says, "I should probably get back to -- home. Before they think I'm laying waste to the eastern seaboard or something."

Steph doesn't know him very well, and she can't read people like Cass does, but she knows an apology when she sees one. It makes her stop resenting him faster than anything else would've. "You have to be where people can keep an eye on you," she says. "Somebody who can take you down. If they have to."

He blinks at her. "Well -- okay, yeah, point."

Cass waves her pointer finger at him and he wards her off with both hands. "You're safe here."

He scrubs his hand over his scalp again and says, "It's your city, I guess."

In Steph's ear, Oracle says, "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

Steph says, "Trust me," to both of them, and grins at Superboy. "You can sleep on the couch."

His smile back is crooked but real. "I thought it was the makeout couch."

Cass kisses his cheek and smacks him upside the head. Steph says, "Only on special occasions."

He leans toward her, waggling his eyebrows. She stops him by holding up her hand. "And this isn't one."

Nobody should be that cute when they pout. "No? I guess that's why they call you Spoiler, huh?"

She shakes her head firmly. "No. But if you're staying, I guess you can call me Steph."

"Kon," he says, and they shake on it.

~^..^~


Kon is hanging off the couch upside down when Steph gets out of the shower. He says, "We should get Tim to move in."

She pulls her lavender towel up a little higher over her breasts. "I haven't talked to Tim since -- well -- since he took my old job."

Kon twists around and looks at her. "He took your -- I guess you could call it that."

Steph sticks her tongue out at him. "I can. And I do."

"Crazy."

"And he's not going to leave Batman."

Kon floats over to her and uses that tactile telekinstuff to dry off her shoulders, one droplet at a time. "Even with temptations like you in the next town over?"

Steph wrinkles her nose and thinks of Tim's face if he was standing there watching Kon flirt with her like this.

He'd be totally impassive.

"I've gotten farther with you than with Tim, Superhorndog."

"Tim never slid into second?" Kon clucks his tongue. "Sad. Very sad."

"He didn't want to," Steph says defensively. "I didn't stop him. I -- I really like him. It's just --"

"Tim," Cass says, coming out of the bedroom in her jammies.

"We should call him," Kon says, poking Steph in her bare shoulder. "Especially if you haven't talked to him since the big scary Bat fired you."

"Before that," Steph admits. "And -- give me a second, I have to get dressed."

It doesn't take her much more than a minute, these days, though her hair is still wet. Then they have to find the videophone Oracle sent and plug it in upstairs.

Tim's number rings and rings and clicks. Then Oracle comes on the screen. "If it wasn't you guys, you wouldn't get through," the mask says. "I'm not an operator."

"Thank you," Cass says, smiling.

It takes another five rings before Tim picks up on his own version of the same setup. "Hey, Timbo," Kon says, pushing his dorky glasses up his nose. "How's it going?"

Tim looks like he hasn't slept in a long time and his arm is still in its sling. "Conner," he says.

"Hey, hey, we're all friends here," Steph says. "You can call him anything you wanna call him."

Kon pokes her. "She usually goes for 'butthead,' but I won't answer to it from you."

Cass squeezes Steph's shoulder and she leans back against her a little. "Anyway -- hi, Tim."

He doesn't smile. It hurts to watch him not smile quite that much. "Hi."

"You have to come visit," Kon says, taking his glasses off again.

"We've got an extra bed," Steph adds, "and the couch."

"That's my couch!" Kon says, and then he ducks away from the camera.

Tim still isn't saying anything, but he looks a little less pale.

Cass puts her hand over Steph's. "Miss you."

"Yeah," Steph says. "We all do, Boyfriend Wonder. Heck, you should come and stay. Forget tall, dark, and freaky."

Tim shakes his head. "I could visit, but -- I can't move to the 'haven. Batman needs me in Gotham."

Steph makes a face. "Someday I'm gonna find out that guy's name and I am gonna leave him the nastiest voicemail."

Cass pauses, looking at her. Kon leans over and makes little Bat-ears by his head at the camera. "Wait, whoa, you were Robin and you didn't know his name?"

Steph picks at her sweatpants, avoiding looking at Tim. "He's a bastard."

Tim says, "I thought you would know by now, Steph."

Cass puts her hand on Steph's shoulder. "I have a picture. From Oracle. I will show you." She goes to her room.

Tim watches Cass leave and looks worried. "I -- I guess it's okay."

"If I figure it out, it is, right?" Steph gives him an encouraging grin. Of course he knows best -- he's really Robin, and she never really was, but -- "You figured it out and he hired you."

Kon shakes his head again. "He didn't tell you? Superman told me."

"If she tells you, it's not figuring it out," Tim says, frowning.

Steph makes a fist and raises it at the screen. "Don't you dare stop her, Timothy Drake. I know where you live."

Cass comes back and hands Steph a picture reprinted from an old newspaper with the caption, 'Waynes Shot and Killed -- Survived by Son, Bruce, 8.' The little boy is glaring at the camera over his shoulder with a really disturbingly familiar determined expression. "Look."

Steph squints at it, reads the caption, and turns it sideways, then covers his eyes with her thumb. "Bruce Wayne? Are you kidding me?"

"You can totally see it," Kon says. "Check out the forbidding glare."

"It's really him," Steph says, looking at the whole picture again. "Wow. That's -- wow. I totally didn't know." It still doesn't make any sense, but if Tim isn't yelling that she's wrong, it must be true.

"That's the whole point," Tim says, his tone short. "Now can you please scream it a little bit louder so people in Siberia can hear you?"

"Bruce Wayne, though," Steph says. "He's -- he wasn't in Gotham during the quake, and Batman was."

"For part of it," Tim says. "And part of it -- it was complicated."

"That means he's totally a bazillionaire, doesn't it?" Steph says.

Kon says, "Man. You should get paid more for being Robin."

"No shit," Steph says.

Tim snorts. "I'm sure if I tell him you said so, he'll triple my salary. No -- he'll pay me ten times as much. Starting tomorrow."

"You get paid?" Kon says.

"No, dumbass," Steph says. "Or I didn't, anyway."

"Neither do I," Tim says tightly. "But I have to go, now, and get back to work. You guys -- look into places Ivy may be hiding. And wear your gas masks at all times." He gives Kon a stern look. "I'm not interested in having to save you from a woman twenty times your age again."

Kon folds his arms with great dignity. "She's only eight times my age now, thank you very much."

"We will keep him safe," Cass says. She blows Tim a kiss. "You, too."

Tim nods. "I'll do my best."

"Tell Bruce we said hi," Steph says, bitterly.

Tim smiles like it surprises him to do it. "Not in so many words, but -- I will."

"See you this weekend?" Kon asks hopefully.

"I'd better see you," Tim says, and signs off.

"That didn't go so bad," Steph says, leaning back in her chair.

Kon shakes his head. "He's so pissed."

Cass touches Kon's knee. "He's sad."

"That, too, but --" Kon shrugs. "You really never got to second base with him?"

Steph rolls her eyes. "No. I really didn't. Do me a favor and never, ever tell him I told you that."

"Dude, he has to come visit," Kon says, floating up toward the ceiling.

"Yes," Cass says.

"So he can score?" Steph says, making a face.

She's expecting Kon to say, "Hell yeah," but she's not expecting Cass's quiet, "Yes," too. Kon stares at Cass, open-mouthed, and Steph just laughs and laughs.
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