"So, no lies? You're actually introducing us to your boyfriend today?"
Jordanna snatched at Steph's wrist, asking the question for what was the fifteenth time in the last hour, and almost jarring the funnel cake from the blonde's grip. Scowling slightly, recovering her hand from the brunettes wrist, she shook her head, rolled her eyes and smiled wryly, nudging Francisco in the ribs.
"Next thing she'll ask is if she looks ok, watch. More worked up about seeing him than I am…"
With an indignant huff, folding her arms, and pouting, Jordanna looked down to Stephanie's well worn sneakers, to her own fairly new, fashionable ankle boots, puffed out her cheeks and slunk over to Francisco's side.
"As long as I'm better dressed than you Freakazoid, I guess."
Rolling her eyes again and shaking her head, catching a shared look that read 'Oh Jordanna…' with Michael, Francisco took up the brunette's hand. Stephanie took a bite from her powdered sugar coated treat, then said thickly, covering her mouth with her hand as she spoke.
"I don't think we will ever have to worry about me being better dressed than you, Jor, don't panic."
As if to try to defuse the situation, or out of his own curiosity, Michael pipes up, Steph holding the plate of sweet, deep-fried, carb-loaded goodness out to them to share as he does, the boys accepting the offer, Jordanna abstaining.
"When exactly will Mr Man be getting here? You aren't exactly the best at sharing. You know. Anything. At all. Ever."
Averting her eyes, shading them from the sun and making as if she was looking across the thriving quad, currently brightly colored and filled with tents and stalls, streamers and banners, even a main stage with speakers and what would later likely be a band, she grimaced slightly at being called out like that. Is that what it felt like? No wonder people didn't like her too much…
"He's coming from Blüdhaven, so soonish, I guess? He'll find us. Well. Me. But by extension, us."
Flashing a grin after seeing the eyeroll from Jordanna, they all froze, hearing a cackle from the center of the quad, and immediate screams.
Stephanie's immediate reaction was run towards whatever the issue may have been. Craning her neck to see over the already scattering merry-makers, any remnant of the dumb blonde collage student facade had dropped, catching sight of the sackcloth mask of one of the former alumnus, Scarecrow.
She may well have been wearing her cowl now. Face set in concentration and determination, she grabbed the wrists of Michael and Francisco, who still had Jordanna's hand, now gripping his arm, yanking them roughly between two of the brightly colored stalls, dumping her funnel cake on the ground in the process. He was going to have canisters around, for sure. It was likely they were already being dosed. She needed to keep them together long enough to get them to the Compact. It's ventilation could keep them from the worst of it. Right? Right. That was the plan she was gonna work with. If not that, the security system would take care of them.
"What are we doing? We have to get out of here?!"
Jordanna yelped. Giving her a withering glare she may or may not have picked up from a pointed cowl wearing mentor that never actually worked on Stephanie herself, she yanked her jacket off.
"I'm working on it. We gotta stick together, or you're gonna get seriously hurt. Or worse. Just trust me on this, and we should all be ok…"
"Trust you with what?"
Steph sighed heavily, explaining as she began to enact the plan.
"That's Scarecrow. We're probably already being drugged. You're gonna see and hear all sorts of horrifically frightening, nightmarish bullcrap, but this.."
Francisco eyed the jacket wearily, squeezing Jordanna's hands in what he felt was a reassuring manner. With a quick glance through the ever present messenger bag, to snag the fear gas inoculant from one of the many pockets of her utility belt as quickly as she could, without allowing the other three seeing the contents of the bag, clasping it between her teeth, and beginning to tear her jacket to strips, looping it around all of their wrists, binding them all together, with thicker strips being hastily measured up for their eyes. Seeing the plan coming together, Fransisco asked softly, almost as if he already knew the answer.
"...you've only made three blindfolds…"
"Someone's gotta lead us to safety, right?"
She grins tightly, before jamming the injector of the inoculant into her thighs, probably harder than necessary, just to be sure she pierced her jeans.
"What was that?!"
Michael yells, as she begins ensuring the blindfolds are secure, the makeshift bonds firmly in place, and slowly starts to guide them through the panicking crowds.
"Everything doesn't have to be about fear. There's room in our line of work for hope, too."
"Epi-pen. Adrenaline. Anything to help, right?"
Lying came so easily, even now. She could feel her chest tightening, breath shortening. Did it not work? Did he change his formula again?
No. No time to panic. No time to let fear get the best of her. People depended on her. If she was starting to fight panic, knowing what she was experiencing, the others were going to be in a worse condition.
Edging her way along the backs of the stalls, trying to ignore the nightmares creeping into the corners of her vision, the monsters whispering to her, pulling her blind, but not deaf, occasionally struggling charges along.
Fishing through her bag again, this time for her earbuds, whipping them a few times in a half hearted attempt to untangle them, she holds them in her teeth, before snagging her phone from her back pocket, jamming the plug into the headphone jack, and dialing 'Sweetcheeks'.
Hearing the line pick up, she opened her mouth to speak but was cut off, physically and verbally, her path interrupted by a man screaming about the flying spiders, swinging a commandeered tent post wildly, causing her to duck, almost dropping the phone as she reflexively jammed her foot into his knee, shooting it backwards, dropping him, and thusly, the threat of swung tent pole.
"Steph? Steph where are you?"
The urgency in Grayson's voice caused her to look around, as if she would see him around somewhere, swallowing hard, trying to not let her eyes linger on the wooden faces drawing closer.
"I got caught in a spot of trouble… I'm pretty sure the jab didn't work…"
Still aware enough of her situation to be vaguely coded, she hoped she would get the message across.
"You wouldn't be you if you weren't in trouble. Got your friends with you too, huh?"
Only grunting a response as she pressed on, tucking the phone into her back pocket, holding the microphone on the headphones with her already gritted teeth, she sniffed sharply.
This was stupid. Why did she call him why she was like this? So… useless, pathetic… always pathetic. Always worthless.
That's who she was. Worthless Stephanie Brown.
'They all see it, you know. It's why they leave…'
The shrouded face of Spoiler ran straight at her, grasping at her shoulders, to be knocked away with another knee-jerk, defensive maneuver, this time in the form of a savage 'Glasgow kiss', rearing her head back, and clashing her forehead into the center of 'Spoilers' face. Gasping reflexively, the smarting was enough to bring her back to the voice in her ears, over the ones in her head.
"What's your plan? Talk to me. We're on the way."
Biting down on the inside of her cheek to try to keep focus, refusing to look down at the unfortunate soul laid out at her feet, she dragged her friends around them.
"D-did you say we? I-uh. Sh*t. I'm dragging them to the Compact. Then shut the doors…"
"What else, Steph. C'mon. Stay focused."
Spotting the purple mini in the not to distant parking lot, she growled slightly, more in renewed determination, but also annoyance at the irony of what she was about to say.
"Can't say. Spoilers. Hearing still works."
After a brief pause, as if putting together what she said, in which two shadows passed over head, causing her head to snap up reflexively, catching sight of the enormous, terrifying Bat, and smaller blade wielding bird, she immediately looks away, reflexively yelping.
"Your plan involves something in the car. And they can hear you… you just saw B and Damian, huh?"
Whimpering in the affirmative, no longer in control of her breathing patterns, on the verge of a blind panic, and resisting the urge to break into a dead sprint to cover the distance to the car, wrapping the strip of fabric around her hand to remind herself what she was doing, listening for Michael, Jordanna, and Francisco.
"Hey, you're doing great. I screamed when I first saw B on the fear toxin. I'll be there soon. Just hold on."
'Just hold on. How often did you tell yourself that when He had you? How often did you think they'd come save you?'
She hissed, now within range to unlock the Compact remotely.
"Whatever you're hearing, Steph… you keep telling it. Fight it."
"Thank you for that brilliant insight, D*ck, I would have never thought of it on my own!"
She snaps, feeling Jordanna flinch behind her. After a beat, jaw clenching and unclenching, her father laughing at her from the corner of her eye, she sniffles, swallowing hard.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that… when I get stressed-"
"I know… you're ok…"
His voice was soft, reassuring. Safe. Taking a deep breath, she braced. If this damn dosing today had throwing all the other fears at her, even just a little, then any loud noise-
Squeezing her eyes shut, her hand now on the drivers door on the Compact, she unlocked it remotely. What should have been the usual beepbeep of central locking and alarm system disabling rang out as the whining of power drills, setting her teeth on edge, and turning her stomach. Almost doubling over, she instead reefed the door open, and starting from the end of the line, manhandled Michael, Francisco, then Jordanna into the Mini, before slamming the door shut again, and turning on the alarm system, before mule kicking the door as hard as she could.
The systems anti theft device, as rigged by Lucius Fox, was a powerful aerosolized tranquilizer.
"What was that? Stephanie? You ok?"
"Peachy keen. Just part two of the plan… putting them to sleep in the car…"
Her breaking voice told a different story. Another pause, as she slowly sank down with her back against the door, curling in on herself, resting her forehead to her knees, eyes closed.
'You're so easily replaceable. They wouldn't miss you if you vanished again. They didn't even notice the first time. You weren't ever really Robin. Just a tool, to be used until broken, or not useful anymore, and thrown away. Just watch, he'll take Batgirl from you too. Back to nobody Spoiler. Who cares about Spoiler? Who cares about Stephanie Brown? No-one. Don't you ever forget it.'
A light touch to her shoulder, quickly, wisely recoiled, as the reflexive jab went in its direction, head snapping up, interrupted the rocking, and repeated muttering of 'Shut up' and 'no'.
Seeing no-one on the side that touched her shoulder, feeling her headphones being pulled at, she whipped her head to the other side, to see- nothing.
A dark mass, obstructing her vision. Putting her hand up in a panic, she realized it was a hand. In a gauntlet. Another light touch across her forehead, the other hand, brushing her hair away.
"It's me… I don't want you to freak… I'm here."