Bringing My Children Home
Disclaimer: I am only borrowing the Bat Family to practice my art.
"What are you doing here?" Batman thundered.
Spoiler looked up from her task of tying the hands of the robber she had just taken out. Her full-face mask hid her face, but Bruce could picture the proud grin the blonde had on her face. He scowled at her, hating the fact that she was on the streets. Despite her parentage, she had the means to escape the poverty she grew up in. He had failed to keep his children out of his vigilante life; he was not going to give way to her.
"I am tying up a robber. He was trying to get into that apartment there," Stephanie barked back at Bruce. Familiar, happy memories of Jason as Robin, audaciously leaping into this life, rose as they were wont to do around Spoiler's audacity. Jason had never showed fear of Batman's authority either.
She had to get out of the streets before she met a similar fate, one she might not come back from as Jason had.
"That robber was going to lead me back to his thieves' hideaway!" Batman growled.
"Well how am I supposed to know that when some jerk won't let me know what else is going on?" Spoiler yelled back.
"You aren't supposed to be out here in the first place! You are a little brat who thinks she belongs in ranks that are far above her, go home and stay out of Gotham at night!"
"That is not fair. None of the robins had any real training before they worked with you. You know I can do this. I am just as intelligent as Batgirl and Phoenix!" Spoiler hissed.
Batman seized her shoulders firmly and spun her around, before pushing her a few steps down the road. He braced himself for further argument, and she was drawing herself up to do so, but then she stilled, turning her face to the roof top. It was easy enough to guess what caught her eyes. Robin was perched on the nearest roof top, where the Dark Knight had told him to wait when he saw Spoiler's brief tussle with the would-be robber.
Her fight died away. The purple cape fluttered outward as she turned and ran. Batman did not show desperation, but in the sturdy armor he wore, Bruce Wayne wanted to give chase, tell her to be safe, tell her she had so many other options. Instead he turned to the wide-eyed robber.
After his interrogation of the teenager was over, Bruce freed the boy, giving him enough cash for a few meals and sending him to a shelter supported by Wayne Foundation, hoping he would go. There was little the boy could tell him that the Bat did not already know. Bruce had hoped to follow him to the hideaway location where the ring of thieves met. That was not to be. It was possible that Robin might need to go undercover after all.
Speaking of Robin, the teenager had rappelled down to the street and was approaching his mentor.
Bruce did not need to see the set to Tim's shoulders to know that Robin disapproved of the way the man had dealt with Stephanie. Tim never said anything on the field about his disappointment with Batman's methods of discouraging would-be vigilantes who were only going to get themselves crippled or killed. Back in the cave Tim would speak, urging for a gentler handling, or occasionally asking the Bat to give Spoiler a chance.
Of course, nothing was said until patrol was over, when they were back in the cave, removing the costumes of the dynamic duo.
"Bruce, she's only going to fight harder now for your attention and approval," Tim sighed, laying off his cape and then pulling off his upper armor. Bruce, as he had for a year now, automatically scanned Tim for bruises that should not be there. It did not matter that Tim's abusive parents were out of the country and rarely came to see their son, and would never dare touch him again for fear of what Bruce would take from them. Bruce had failed for two years to see the bruises for what they were. He had yet to forgive himself.
"She doesn't belong out there," Batman answered, removing his cowl. Alfred and Cass were in another part of the cave, but both Nightwing and Phoenix had made personal bases. Nightwing was on the edge of the Haven, formerly Bludhaven, now part of Gotham. Phoenix was in the city proper, though he was in and out of the cave more than the first Robin. Jason had recently set up his own apartment, determined to be his own man. Bruce was grateful that Cassandra had decided to move into the Manor permanently instead of dividing her time between there and Barbara Gordons. The patriarch had become used to having teenagers in the house again. They also drew their older brothers home more often. It would not be long before his two adult sons would be spending more time in Bruce's home than their own apartments.
"But telling her that is just making her take more risks. There must be a better way. Couldn't you try offering her an out? Maybe give her a better place to live, help her mom out…" Tim said.
"I know you've asked if you could help her with that and she refused it," Bruce retorted. Tim's face fell. Robin, for once unable to figure the situation out, changed slowly, distracted by his thoughts. He and Bruce were both sitting at their stations, typing up reports for the nights patrol when Oracle called in. Bruce answered.
"Bruce, was Stephanie out tonight? Cass doesn't know where she is," Oracle demanded.
"Yes, unfortunately. I sent her home."
"We need to tell her to keep away from her apartment. Arthur Brown made a plea deal with the DA, to get out of prison early in exchange for some information. Crystal Brown picked him up from Blackgate five hours ago. Stephanie's in danger!"
Bruce could not breathe. Had he sent the child into danger by refusing to work with her? Was his family about to have another member harmed by their own parent?
"GO HOME!" Batman picked Stephanie up by her shoulders and shoved her down the road. She spun around and braced her black gloved hands on her hips. Of course, Batman was not proud but was furious with her. He seemed to have two modes when it came to her, angry disapproval and apathetic ignorance. Of all his partners, and yes, Stephanie was the only one to call herself his partner, Stephanie was the one who could not break down his walls.
Richard had simply joined Bruce, Barbara had demanded to be a part of the mission, Jason had been chosen from the streets, Timothy had forced Bruce to accept him, and Cassandra had been so well prepared for the mission that Bruce did not even blink before he offered her his colors. Stephanie on the other hand, Stephanie was the loud, sometimes reckless, sometimes ill-planning, Spoiler who had first gotten into this hero gig because she was mad at her b-grade supervillain father. Even if she could be helpful, and even though she was dating Timothy, and was Cassandra's best friend, Bruce refused to accept her as worthy of his mission.
Spoiler took a deep breath to continue the argument for her worth, but she caught sight of her boyfriend on the roof above the two. She froze. Tim had likely heard the whole conversation. He had probably been standing there, watching the whole time.
Tim never said a word in her defense. Not just tonight, but he never stood up to Batman for her. Batman chewed her out whenever he found her as Spoiler in Gotham after dark, and Robin had never stepped in. She was not allowed codes to Batman's caves, she was not allowed access to his computer network, and she was barely tolerated on a good day. Yet her boyfriend had never stood up to the man who would listen to him, not for her sake.
Hot tears burned her eyes as she stared at the black cape that fluttered in the growing wind, allowing a glimpse of the deep red armor beneath the cape. Tim stepped in for every other bat, but her. Not even he thought she was worthy of the bat. Just as her dad had never thought her worthy of his time.
Batman had already started his interrogation of the robber she had stopped and tied up.
Spoiler turned and ran away, refusing to let Batman or Robin hear the sobs she could not stop. Her booted feet pounded the pavement in time with her racing heart. Tears poured out of her eyes, soaking the black nylon mask that she used to cover her face and making it stick to her skin. As always, no one found her worthy.
She stopped running only after she had put several minutes between her and the intolerant commander of Gotham's heroes. No one was supposed to move in his city without his permission. Even if Nightwing, Phoenix, Oracle, Batgirl, and Robin did disobey him at times, and were hardly scolded for it, Spoiler felt the full weight of his wrath. A stack of empty cardboard boxes in alley way made a good practice dummy. She punched and kicked her way through until they were strewn about in a wild mess.
Everyone told her she could not rise above her circumstances as an inner-city kid, that she could not be anything other than a poor brat with a criminal for a father and an alcoholic for a mother. Well Stephanie Brown had never listened to anyone when they told her she could not do something. When the neighbor boys told her that she could not play basketball with them, she had shown them up after hours of work. When a teacher had told her that she was stupider than the average kid in Gotham, she had crammed her head full of everything and won a scholarship to a better school (and made that loudmouthed teacher look like a fool). When her dad had told her that she could not hang out with him, she had discovered his criminal activities and led Batman and Robin to him.
Perhaps Batman was the strongest, smartest, greatest person who had ever told her she could not. So what? He had not taken the time to know her. He did not know about the brave, fierce little girl who was determined to make her father notice her. Cluemaster had noticed her after all! But Cluemaster was no longer her concern, sitting in his Blackgate prison cell. She had decided to be a Bat. She had decided to be Batman's Partner (daughter, please) and just because the stuck-up Bat could not see that she was worthy of his regard and instruction did not mean that she was not worthy.
No one told Stephanie Brown she could not do something. She would do anything they told her she could not.
Every time Jason came home to the Manor he felt a rush of gratitude and amazement. For two and a half years he had believed that the Manor, with strong, silent Alfred, fierce, but loving Bruce, and the hugging octopus named Dick had been closed off to him forever. Under the influence of the Lazarus pit he had nearly murdered the new Robin, attempted to murder the Joker, and had tried to force the Batman to break his sacred personal law of no killing. Yet during the time of his insanity, a new brother had been added to his family, a brother who had refused to accept that Jason was lost to the pit.
Said little brother was not in the upstairs portion of the manor. It was late, so this surprised Jason. He had ended Phoenix's patrol and headed over to the manor when he knew Tim and Bruce were home. In fact, no one was upstairs. Since Jason had doubled checked the network to be sure that everyone had come in without injury, he was puzzled. He hurried to the secret entrance to the cave.
Down in the vast cave network that was Batman's primary headquarters, Alfred was busy Alfreding, but Cass was leaning on Tim's chair, an anxious look on her face. Bruce was hunched at his station, graver than normal. Phoenix's chest tightened with concern.
"What's wrong?" He demanded.
"Arthur Brown got out of prison tonight and no one can find Stephanie," Cass answered, glaring at Bruce's head. Jason was not blind to the contention Stephanie brought to the family. Bruce did not care if she dated Tim, since she encouraged his self-esteem, and her loquaciousness was a blessing for Cass, but put Stephanie out in the field as Spoiler, and Bruce grew angry and tried drive her away.
"Bruce was mean to her," Cass informed Jason, after a moment of silence.
"And she's not at her house, and she's shut her phone off," Tim added, young face growing lines when his worry pushed his brows together. "We need to warn her."
"Is her dad abusive?" Jason asked, taking over another station. The surprised glances in his direction reminded him he had missed Stephanie's introduction to the family and had never actually heard the real story. Tim shook his head.
"Not physically. He neglected her. She was mad at him for ignoring her, so she helped Batman and Robin take him down. Only Arthur learned she had done so. He might be coming for her in revenge."
Bruce did not speak, but the tense set of his shoulders told his young partners all they needed to know. Despite his insistence that Stephanie did not belong, he was worried for the eggplant Spoiler.
When Tim had told Stephanie who he was in defiance of Batman, the only time he had ever defied Batman's rule, he had also told her about Batman's operations a little more. He had told her how there were multiple satellite bases. Tim had set up his own Safe house to run to if he needed to get away from Batman. Stephanie had liked that idea, and when all her efforts to get the Bat to accept her had been denied, she had set up her own small base in an abandoned building a few blocks from her mother's apartment. It did not consist of much, just a few essentials for when she needed to hide.
She spent the short remainder of the night there. Her mother would not miss her overnight, and she had shut her phone off after Tim had called a second time, without bothering to listen to his messages. His questions about how she was after the evening would simply add to her anger, and she had more than enough to fuel her into a new plan. If it took everything she had, she would make Batman see her as a worthy partner. Clearly her current route of trying to force his acceptance was not working. She needed a new way.
Leaning on the camp bed she had set up in her private safe house, she braided her hair and considered what it would take to truly be a Bat. Batman was Gotham's hero, a myth, and a living legend. Stephanie had grown up on tales of Batman, both good from those protected by him, and bad from those who would stand against his mission. When she had needed a father figure, she had chosen him.
He said no, but she knew she belonged. With her customary determination, she had attempted to be part of his family without his permission. Her crush on Robin helped a little, it had gained her entrance of sorts into the public family. Her friendship with Cass had begun as another attempt to get Bruce's attention, but for some reason Cass had liked her. Her relationships with Tim and Cass had expanded beyond a way to get into the bat family, but she was no closer to getting Bruce's attention.
If the situation was dire and she was already out on the streets, he would use her as an operative, always pairing her with Batgirl. Stephanie was not stupid. She knew this was because Cass was the best fighter in the world. Cass had been bred and born to be an assassin, with the most successful assassin Lady Shiva as her mother, and the legendary David Cain as her father. Stephanie could not be much help to Cass, except in speaking words, and over the last year Cass had become much more fluent in language.
All Stephanie wanted was for Bruce to notice her. Ok, she wanted him to accept her, train her, and make her his family like he had done with his other children. Jason and Dick's parents were dead, but both Cass and Tim's parents were alive, so it could not be that she had parents. It could not be Stephanie's father either, for David Cain was much more dangerous than Arthur Brown. The blond girl had no idea what drove the Bat to hate her.
"Bruce, I swear to you that I will make you realize that I am worth just as much as Tim or Cass. I can fight your fight and be your partner," Stephanie swore to her image in the dirty mirror before tending to her armor.
When Tim realized he could not stop her from going out onto the streets he had given her access to one of his bank accounts. Both pretended she did not use it, and Bruce did not know that Tim was hiding her relatively small draws from the account. She refused to purchase anything but protective armor for herself with the account, making the mask and hooded cape herself.
Her watch beeped the warning alarm as it approached eleven am.
Her mom would probably be wondering where she was soon. Crystal Brown drank too much, but her one joy in life was her daughter. She made sure to get up each day and make at least one meal, usually lunch on the weekend. Which meant that Stephanie had to show her face at least once a day. Crystal would occasionally ask where Stephanie was at night, but Stephanie had convinced her that her daughter had many friends who wanted to share their homes.
Changing into street clothes and grabbing her phone, she headed out. It was a little bit away to the apartment building she lived in with her mother, so she used the time to practice avoiding surveillance. Tim had shown her how to recognize Batman or Oracle's surveillance. Fifteen minutes later she was in sight of the ugly brown building. She turned on her phone as she ran up the stairs to her floor. She had eight messages from Tim, two from Cass, one from Jason Wayne of all people, and one from her mom. She scowled, but hit play on her voicemail as she trotted up the stairs to the third-floor apartment.
The first message was from Tim asking if she was alright, quickly cut off by Batman's orders to Robin. Sweet boy had called even before patrol was done to check on her. The second message was from Tim's phone number, but the voice was not Tim's.
"Stephanie," Bruce's voice made her flinch. He was still upset with her when he called. "You need to stay out of your apartment." Crazy man. She opened the front door and walked in to the apartment. "Your father was released on an early parole this evening."
There was more but Stephanie did not hear it. Arthur Brown was sitting at the kitchen table, big, blond, and sweet talking to Crystal, who managed to have mingled hope and doubt on her face. The apartment door swung shut behind Stephanie before she had a moment to digest this information. Her parents looked up.
"Hello, Stephanie. My homecoming felt spoiled by your absence," Arthur said.
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