Looking at the satchel being handed to her, she sighed heavily, hanging her head. Reluctantly, she looped the strap over her head, and cautiously adjusted the pouch to sit against her hip under the cloak. She couldn't bring herself to say anything. She felt sick to her stomach.
Why was she agreeing to this?
"You're clear on the plan?"
Raising her head enough to give dear old Uncle Eddie the dirtiest look she could muster, before pulling her cowl roughly on, and flicking the hood up, he held his hands up defensively.
It had taken him two days to make the 'goods' she would be delivering today, likely from the same damn sh*t she handed him to begin with, and now here she was, about to–
'Don't think about it right now. Just get in. Place them. Get out. Maybe you can find a fire alarm or-'
Not even her internal monologue could push through with that line of thought. She was in some deep sh*t.
She knew the Whale cut all the corners possible. There weren't proper fire safety standards in place for that building. There weren't appropriate exits. So did Eddie. That's why the plan was–
'Maybe his crew will spontaneously desert? Maybe you won't have to–'
Balling a hand into a fist and pushing herself from the apartment, the base of the horrid planning and pouring over blueprints, she made for the Whale's restaurant, cloaking five blocks out.
All she had to do was get in, plant the devices in the spots that had been drilled into her (maybe drilled was a poor choice of word, considering the current climate and potential outcomes should she fail) and extract. Reset to the skylight – seriously, Gotham, get rid of your skylights if you don't want Bats crashing through them – and await the signal.
She didn't have to worry all that much about potential contact with people either, because there was the cellar entrance.
Easy peasy, right? So what was the problem?
Bringing a building down on people was the problem. Sure, they were scumbags, but. So was she. What if they were only trying to get by? What if they had no choice.
Already slipping into the cellar, creeping with her back along the wall, she could barely move.
'You have a choice. You could not do it.'
Shaking her head at herself, teeth gritted, normally, she would argue aloud with herself. This time, she had to make do with the inside voice being inside.
'I don't do it, the people I kinda know die and it's my fault. I do do it, people I don't know die, and it's my fault. Either way. This is all my mess, and I should clean it up…'
With hands shaking only a little, she started placing the devices, trying not to listen to gathering voices above her.
Once they were all in place, and still tuned to the frequency of the detonator, like Riddler showed her, Steph made her way slowly, reluctantly, to the roof.
Sinking down next to the skylight, she looked down on the standard. A 'Family Gathering'. A lot of talk about Johnny Stitches and Intergang, offing the traitor Stitches, killing Penguin and ending the Masks, which didn't exactly line up, since Penguin didn't wear a mask, but since when did criminals in Gotham make sense?
Wearily taking her phone from her pouches, she rang through to Penguin's number. It was, however picked up by new night man, that she never bothered learning the name of, passing the phone off.
"Phone call, Boss. It's… Her."
"I take it everything went according to plan and all preparations have been made?"
God she hated this. Steeling herself, she simply huffed
Some shuffling of paper. He was looking at something. She felt uneasy. More uneasy.
"I expected no less, coming from you. But remember what I said… not a word about what you learned regarding Intergang's imminent arrival to the others. I don't want them distracted from tonight's bit of business. Interbank is your agenda and your agenda alone… beginning with the assassination of Johnny Stitches."
Closing her eyes under the lenses of the cowl she ended the call silently, bile rising up her throat.
She had to move. Things were about to start. Deal with the Stitches situation when she wasn't on a building that was about to–
A white sedan flew through the wall of the building. She was falling behind.
Six of the fellow New Rogues stood outside the restaurant, in their hand chosen suits. Launching herself over their heads from the roof, cloaker still in play, she could hear behind her the voices saying.
"So… The Penguin sends only six costumed peons to face my army? I truly hope Cobblepot can muster a better showing than this, or our war will be a short affair indeed."
"And I truly hope Spoiler did her job."
Hanging her head, she activated the detonator.
The explosions were simultaneous.
Spoiler dropped the receiver and ran.
As the dozens of other New Rogues decloaked and began to swarm on whatever remained, if anything remained, of The Whale and his crew, she wasn't going to stick around and be a part of it. She wasn't cleaning up her mess. She was just spending it everywhere. Again.
She couldn't breathe. She couldn't think. What was she doing?!
Not that far behind her, really, the sounds of struggle broke out. Then the true gut kick.
She almost stopped.
'Oh god Cass. She deserves better than this. Than to still be cleaning up my mess.'
Instead, she kept running. Her mind made up.
Fear? Guilt? Self-loathing? Maybe all of them. They pushed her back to the Lounge. Writing another note, this time only containing three words, 'I'm sorry. Spoiler' and handing it to No-name-night-man to give to the Boss before taking off, her plan to… do something. She didn't know what.
She was on the verge of breaking down into frustrated, desperate tears, with the city about to, no, already plunging into another gang war, this time with 'supers', Batman AWOL because she stopped the brains of the operation finding where he went because she selfishly didn't want to get caught fo–Batman just grappled between those buildings in front of her.
She didn't even want to start thinking about how he wasn't in Blackgate right now. She was so done. Just done.
She was out. No more capes. The more she tried to help, the more she made things worse anyway. She was just… better off staying away from it.
She retreated to the hotel with her tail between her legs, closing the curtains tight.
"Everything doesn't have to be about fear. There's room in our line of work for hope, too."
If Steph had a dollar for every time she said she was out, she'd be as rich as… well, maybe not the Wayne's, but she'd be getting close.
Of course she wasn't out. She was never out. The suit sat idle in the closet for two days maximum, while Stephanie tried to function. But then someone made the mistake of trying to hold up the convenience store on the same block as the hotel.
She didn't even think about it. She just did.
They even tried paying her off with wads of cash.
"Why would I want your money?"
Was out of her mouth before she even thought of it. She didn't want money. She never wanted money. That was so… Dad of her. Doing things that were right though? Actually right?
She could handle that. Maybe doing enough good…
She had been buzzing so much on the doing good high all day that she had been sloppy in her cat and mouse game at school. She didn't keep her head down long enough in her locker.
In her peripheral vision, Stephanie saw Tim's head whip around in her direction. Keeping as casual a pace as she could manage, she pushed through the masses in the hallway and out into the stairwell, spinning and tucking herself behind the door, pressing herself into the corner as tightly as she could.
Apparently she moved just fast enough, because the door burst open, and through its little frosted window she could see the warped form of a dark haired male look up the stairs, then down the stairs, pausing as if thinking then returning back into the class hall.
Letting out a heavy breath she didn't realise she had been holding, she left down the stairs, deciding to cut the rest of the afternoon. What were they gonna do, call her mother?
The close calls with the ex-Boyfriend Wonder weren't confined to the school halls though.
A case, her first case back, you know, from the Dark Side, seemed to also be his case.
Because of course.
Except he was getting stuck on the girl, and not the money. And they were walking into a trap.
The freezer. The same freezer she not long ago thought she was going to be locked up in and go missing permanently was going to be where where she got caught because she had to go and save her dumb ex because he's dumb when it came to do with anything about girls.
If there was anything that summed up Steph's life more accurately…
Dropping down onto one of the crates, she straightened up slowly.
"Come on Robin. You're smarter than this."
The look on his face said otherwise. He just looked hurt, and confused.
Behind him, the other girl, the case they had been working, a thief going by Violet tried to make a break for it. Steph wasn't having any of it, launching her boot into her face.
"It's the girl, right? Always a blind spot for you."
While Violet was gathering herself from a crate of ice, Stephanie looked at Robin, expecting him to start moving.
"Robin, you followed little miss attitude here into a trap. There's a lot going on here that–"
That seemed to stir some life back into him. A snarl crossed his face, pointing, closing in on her.
"That I don't like. I don't want to hear it. Not from you. What gives you the right to wear that outfit?"
'Oh here we go.'
"We don't have time. We need to get out of here."
"I'm not listening to this!"
Robin hissed. She could feel it. The urge to find a brick was strong.
"You have to!"
The roller door sprang open, car headlights illuminating the figures of men standing there.
Then the melee began. A wild clash of Steph definitely not listening to Tim, Tim not listening to Steph, threatening her, both having to save Violet's dumb ass, and a South Korean Mafioso attempting to stab the Red Bird – repeatedly – lead to a fantic, separated escape.
Robin with Violet thrown in Red Bird, Spoiler taking off on foot.
Pulling herself back through her window, she was tired, and sore.
Moving to start taking off the suit and return it to its daytime home of the closet she started to unwind. She just wanted to sleep. She–
Got bugged. Staring at the tracker on her shoulder she could see, now she had taken her cloak off, she groaned. At some point during the fight, Tim must have slipped it on her.
"I told you this was your last time. Whoever you are, this ends tonight."
Whipping around to see Batman and Robin standing at her balcony door, she felt a wave of anger. Puffing up indignantly, she ripped the cowl off.
"Who ever I am? That's you all over, isn't it? Always so sure you're right."
Batman was in stunned silence.
She glared, hands on hips.
Until Tim scooped her up and kissed her, which rightly shocked her from the indignation. Being set back down she half smiled at him.
"Slow down there, Tim."
"I'm glad to see you too, ok?"
He shuffled backwards slightly, rubbing the back of his neck. Batman spoke.
"I have a lot of questions, Stephanie."
"I'm sure you do. But will you answer one of mine first?"
She doesn't wait for a response, pressing on. She's already been found out. It's too late now.
"I'm back, but am I welcome back?"
"If you want it."
"I want it."
She blurts, before it can be taken away from her, a grin spreading across her face.
"Maybe some time to think—"
"I've had all the time I need."
She cuts Batman off. But now she notices Tim looking between the two of them.
"Wait… you knew Steph wasn't dead."
"I suspected. Everything about it felt wrong, and until I had done enough digging… now you know why there's no memorial in the cave."
'Yeah, OK, Bruce. Whatever you say…'
She rolls her eyes.
On the return to the cave, the official return, was definitely worth it.
"Dear lord… Miss Stephanie! I never imagined–"
The clatter of the tea tray and breaking of china stopped Steph from hearing anything else, breaking into a wide grin, linking her hands with Alfred's.
"Good to see you too, Alfred."
"How is this possible?"
"Gotta say, it's worth coming back to see you lose that British cool. But you're keeping it together better than some of us."
She grinned slyly in Tim's direction, who refused to make eye contact with her.
"Leslie faked your death. Why?"
Trust Bruce to ruin any form of fun.
Just as blunt, she fired back
"To protect me. To get me away from all of this. Doctor Thompkins thought I'd suffered more than enough. But I kept feeling like I'd run away, and if I didn't come back to Gotham, those feelings would own me."
Tim speaks softly.
"And your mother?"
She pauses, bringing her arms around herself, shaking her head.
"No… that one's going to be tough…"
When it reached reasonable people hours, functional human hours of the day, and the vigilantes had changed, Stephanie, with a moral support Tim, went to the hospital, to find Crystal.
Seeing her wheeling a medication cart though the ward, Steph waited for her to be by a row of guest seats before approaching.
"Ok Steph, there's no easy way to do this… Mom..?"
As predicted, Crystal immediately collapsed into the seats, looking, appropriately, as if she had seen a ghost.