A soft, warm bed. Starchy potato goodness in her stomach. Sugar within arms reach. Sounds that weren't just insects, or the wind in the trees.
It should have felt good.
So why was she so restless?
She didn't have any need to be out on patrol. No responsibilities
per se, yet she felt compelled to be out.
Was that a residual defence from growing up in her household, or was that the guilt, saying she should be going out and making up for blood spilled on her account?
It could be both.
It was probably both.
Along with just habit
. Gotham meant patrol, right?
Letting out an aggravated growl, shifting the plate with remnant mash to the floor, Stephanie flicked on the TV, to try to distract herself. She had missed a good chunk of pop culture while she was gone, after all, there was some catching up to do.
More news. click
Holy sh*t how much news did there have to be?!
'It is that time of night, dipsh*t. You'd remember that if you ever stayed in.'
Scowling, turning the TV off, her itch to hit the street was not lessened by the few seconds of hearing about how bad the turf wars were.
Leaning forward, resting her elbows on her knees, her eyes narrowed at the dark reflection of herself on the dimming screen.
"If 'Matches' is at the Lounge at night while this is going on, who is answering the Bat Signal? Robin? Batgirl?"
'Go to them. They're so close now…'
Shaking her head at her inside voice, she stood up, digging through her bags for a shirt and jacket better suited for a Gotham night.
"I just… how? How is he still doing this? Selfish. Selfish, thoughtless a**hole. I oughta–"
'Oughta what? Slug him? What would that accomplish? He gets hit all the time.'
"... find out what he wants… and go from there. If Cass or… anyone else get hurt again because of him, I'll never forgive myself."
'Your plan is to go to war with Batman?'
Stuffing her arms into her sleeves angrily, she snatched up her phone and the key to her bike, jamming the phone in a pocket with a growl.
"I DON'T KNOW! I JUST NEED TO THINK! I NEED TO HIT SOMETHING!"
'Good solution… go see your new boss. He might have something for you. Kitchen entry, remember.'
Grumbling to herself as she slammed the door on her way out, Stephanie very easily tore across town with her new little road bike, weaving through traffic and darting down alleyways, just like she used to.
It was almost like being back–
'Don't go there, Stephanie Brown. Not right now.'
The inside voice again. That ever present menace. Was that meant to be her conscience? It did a horrible job if it was.
The night air was still as good as it ever was on her face, regardless. Taking a moment before securing her bike in the staff parking lot of the Lounge, Steph looked at the staff only entrance near the loading dock, and let herself in. Moving with purpose, eyes forward she found no-one even questioned her passing though.
Pushing out onto the club floor, she moved into a cluster of people before glancing around, not wanting to cartoonishly check to see if the coast was clear from the door. Seeing a man in a tacky suit, with a skeezy moustache, a toothpick in his mouth, sunglasses on at night, inside, and built like a brick sh*thouse coming down the stairs from the direction of the office. It may have been a year, and the last time she had seen him may have been when she was laying under a cot, hiding, but she knew that stance. That figure. However she couldn't even muster the energy in her disgust to be angry.
Of course that's what Matches Malone looks like. A slimy d*ckweed.
And he was in here, while Batgirl and Robin were out there, in the actual danger.
Hands balling into fists at her sides, she made to push through the crowd, to get to him, to–
'To what? What will you do when you get to him? Swing at him? Cause a scene? Get both of you caught and killed? Think for once.'
Stopping and turning away, looking up towards the balcony tables, towards anywhere but 'Matches' and his stupid face, she took in a breath, counted to three, and let it out. Counted to ten, took another breath. And started up the stairs. Enough time had passed for him to have moved from them, but she didn't want to look for him. Out of sight, out of mind. Get a job to do. Redirect the anger. Don't blow it. It hasn't even been a day.
Knocking on the office door she waited, hearing voices inside. A man and a woman. After a moment, the door opened, the woman motioning her in.
"Crissy, my dear, what brings you back so soon?"
The Penguin squawked, startling some of the smaller birds awake. With a wry smile she shrugged a shoulder, trying her best to not imagine the relationship between the pair, or where the woman was trying to get wearing a dress like that in the private office at this time of night.
"Oh, you know. Thought I'd get a head start on being busy. Got anything you need done?"
After shifting the cigarette holder from one side of his mouth to the other, rolling it around like a thought on his tongue, inspecting her through his monocle, Oswald leant back in his seat, hands folded on his plump stomach.
"As a matter of fact, I do. A shipment, small, needs moving, from Chinatown to the Narrows. The Dragons are in on it. My connection will give you the drop off. If you do as you did last time, everything will be perfect."
'Sketchy. Love this for us.'
Nodding in agreement to the 'terms' of the job, she turns to leave with a wave.
"You got it, Boss."
"Everything doesn't have to be about fear. There's room in our line of work for hope, too."
Pulling the door shut behind her, taking a quick look over the floor below from the balcony and seeing the floor clear of the specific a**hole she was steering clear of, she began moving back towards her bike through the kitchen.
'No specific address given, but Chinatown and Dragons mentioned, small shipment. I'm still being tested. Mother f***ers are always testing me. God damn it… do I even want to pass this one?'
There was no need for her to answer herself, the answer was yes. Of course she did. Put a hurdle in front of her, she was going to clear it, regardless of who put it there, just to say she did. F*** your test.
Kicking the bike to life she tore along the waterfront to Dixon Docks in Chinatown, making a mental note to get herself a helmet on the way 'home from school tomorrow. Slowing to a crawl, she looked around for the tell tale signs of the Dragons kicking around. Spotting a cluster in the greens and golds of the gang colors, she got off her bike far enough away to approach on foot, to not have any mistaken thoughts of attempts at drive bys. Once they spotted her, the men and women circled her, like jackals. Stephanie's heart began to race, trying to keep as many of them in her line of sight as possible.
"What do you want, Britney? You lost?"
'don'tbeasmartass, don'tbeasmartass, don'tbeasmartass.'
"I'm here on behalf of Penguin. To deliver something to the Narrows?"
Two began talking to each other in Mandarin… or maybe Cantonese… Steph didn't know Chinese. She barely knew English half the time, before one pulled out a phone and broke away from them. While what she assumed was a confirmation call was under way, she sighed, folding her arms across her chest. One of the women in the circle toyed with the blonde waves hanging loose with a switchblade in a fairly effective intimidation attempt, but not for reasons she would have liked. Instead of straightening up and showing it worked, Stephanie jerked her head in the opposite direction, scowling.
The longer she stood, surrounded by the Dragons, with a blade leveled at her, adrenaline coursing through her, forcing herself to remain neutral, the longer she was forcing back thoughts of the last time she had a blade pulled on her. The last fight she was in. Ro–
'Do NOT. If we ignore it, it'll go away.'
Returning to the group, with a backpack in one hand, looking somewhat defeated, Stephanie had something to focus on. The bag. Not the blade. Anything but the blade.
"Ok Britney, your story checks out. Take it to the park off Finger River in the Narrows. They'll handle it from there."
At the word that her story checked out, the circle dispersed, the blade clicking away. Snatching the bag away from him unceremoniously, forcing the most sarcastic smile possible, Stephanie couldn't even find a way to respond that wasn't the threat of her throwing up. Slipping the backpack on, returning to the bike at what she felt was a casual pace, she tore out of there.
Skidding to a stop on the Upper East Side of the Brown Bridge bypass, scrambling off the bike and hearing it crash to the ground behind her, she doubled over, losing her mashed potato to the concrete.
Sinking to her hands and knees, panting, she allowed herself this brief moment of weakness, before getting back to her feet, sniffling sharply, wiping her face on her sleeve.
'At least you know what to expect. Lesson learned. Go in expecting that again. React accordingly.'
Nodding at her own advice, she picked the bike up, inspecting it, before pressing on.
The park stood empty of human life. Frowning as she pushed out the kick stand, she scanned the shadows harder, before seeing the dim glow of a lighter, or a cigarette in the alleyway off the park. Shaking her head slightly, she braced herself, before heading over. Her arrival hadn't gone unnoticed, the motorcycle was loud, after all, and the four young men, not much older than her, if she had to guess were already watching her make her approach.
"You from the Dragons?"
One asked, before being clipped upside the head by one of the others.
'Street level distributors. New ones too by the look of them. Great.'
Positioning herself in the mouth of the alleyway, she took stock of them quickly. One visibly had a wooden baseball bat. Odd were the others were armed too.
'Was everyone always this armed?'
"I'm here to make an exchange, if that's what you mean."
She says flatly.
"Well, we have a better idea. You're gonna give us the goods, and then leave."
The one with the bat points it at her, which she narrows her eyes at.
'Here we go. We can do this. They're nobodies. You didn't start it.
"Yeah… about that… over my dead body."
'Poor choice of words right now. But I appreciate the spirit.'
"That can be arranged."
The one that slapped the other upside his head reached for the back of his pants. Stephanie wasn't going to wait for the rest of the motion to act. Grabbing the garbage can to her left she flung it down the alleyway at them, before following it.
Snagging the trash can lid off the ground by its handle, she targeted the one reaching for his pants first, driving the lid into his face twice, stepping into the swing arc of the baseball bat as she did, to be hit by the arms across her ribs instead of the bat.
Crouching and scooping up the handgun that was lost in the surprise offensive, she moved on instinct, instead of what was the smart move in the moment, and popped the clip out, cleared the chamber of a round and pulled off the slide, flinging them in different directions, before flicking it around in her palm and whipping the handgrip across the bat wilders jaw, letting it go in her swing and snagging the bat from the limp grip, eying the other two, one who was holding a kitchen knife, the other with nothing.
Breathing heavily, adrenaline high again, a grin started creeping across the blondes face.
"I almost forgot how good this was…"
Pulled off balance by the one that had been wielding the gun grabbing the backpack as he got up, she spun, shortening her grip and driving it into his stomach. More hands grabbed for the bag. She got cocky. Got sloppy.
'Where was the knife? Refocus!'
Driving her forehead into the bridge of no-longer-gun-wielders nose, leaving him to slump against the wall, she slipped out of the bag, turned to give herself some space, and swung for the fences.
Hands, and the bag, raised defensively, deflecting what could have been fatal. Pushing forward, kicking low, focusing on the one with the knife, Stephanie baited him into swinging at her with it, before driving the bat down on his wrist, kicking the knife away.
"Please what? Don't hurt you? Where was that sympathy when you were planning on jumping a girl, huh?"
She spat, driving a balled up left fist into his face. As he dropped to the ground holding his face, like it was the first time he had ever been punched in the face (it was), Stephanie rounded on the last man standing. If he had any brains, he would have taken the backpack and ran while she was busy. But he didn't have any brains. He was trying to deal drugs in Gotham without a weapon, or knowing how to fight. And trying to steal those drugs from Penguin to do it.
She watched as he looked from her to the remnants of the handgun back to her, and rolled her eyes as he dove for it. As he rolled and pulled it on her, she walked over to him, discarding the bat, and scooping up the backpack.
"You stay right there, you bitch!"
If she had ever been more sarcastic before now, she couldn't remember it.
"Oh no. You've really got me now…"
Walking over to him as he pulled the trigger to no effect, she put her hands on her hips.
With a small, sad nod, he dropped the gun. With a sharp kick across his face, she rolled him over and bound his hands behind his back with his jacket, before bringing her bike over to the alleyway.
Loading up the moron across the body of her bike, she made the rise back to the Lounge an exercise in balance, the temptation to let his face hit the road rising as he woke and struggled.
Dragging him through the kitchen, her non-complying companion became all too happy to follow directions once the blonde that kicked the unholy sh*t out of him and his friends faster than he knew what happened snatched up a knife and held the point of it between the back of his legs.
Forcing him through the crowd, up the stairs to the office she rapped on the door with a hiss of pain.
'Oh yeah, split knuckles are back in.'
Not waiting for someone to respond, she spoke.
"Boss, it's Cris, with a special delivery."
The door clicked open. Shoving her idiot through before her, she offered an apologetic smile to the 'date', kicking the guest chair under her idiot's legs, knife still pointed in his direction as she dropped the bag on Penguins desk.
"So, funny story. I thought I'd bring back one of the jokesters themselves to have them tell you it. C'mon now Chuckles, tell him what you told me."
Eyes shifting from the blonde to The Penguin, that the blonde was able to walk right in to, the idiot swallowed hard, realising that perhaps mistakes were made.
"Uh, we uh… were just going to take… it."
"Take what, Chuckles, c'mon?"
Stephanie circled him, tapping the blade on his head. Maybe three days with Roman had stuck with her in more ways than one?
"Uh. The goods. The coke. We were gonna roll the courier and take the coke."
Murmuring in agreement with the statement Steph stood back, Penguin leaning forward to inspect the contents of the bag to find it was all there, he looked to 'Cris'.
"His friends are in the alley off the Finger River park. Or they were. Could have come to by now. I'm sure Chuckles could answer any more questions you have. Even if he doesn't, I didn't think you'd want some street level nobodies getting away with trying to rip you off."
Leaning back in his seat, Penguin grinned at her. Stephanie didn't like it.
"It hasn't even been a day, and you get this business like you've been in it a lifetime. I like you, Crissy. Let's get you paid for a job well done. I'll get Chuckles here dealt with."
Flicking the knife over in her hand she sat it down on the desk.
"That was from the kitchen… I sorta… snagged it on my way up. Hey, if you don't have plans for it, can I have that backpack?"