After three months as a close part of the Batman's support network, Crystal was inclined to believe that the family was Metas, including her own daughter.
"Master Bruce and Master Timothy have both run gene tests on all of us," Alfred smiled. "None of them have the gene. They are all normal humans."
"I do not have a metagene," Alfred replied, continuing to work on a pair of Jason's gauntlets.
Crystal went back to restocking the main cave's medical station.
It was rare for her and Alfred to be alone in the cave as they restocked, cleaned, or fixed things. Stephanie had shown Crystal the secrets of her own suits, and Alfred was teaching her how to make minor repairs. Tonight, however, Damian had been sent to bed earlier than normal after several sullen arguments about how he could be used in the streets on nights when the greater part of the Bat clan was on a Justice League Op.
Batgirl and a couple of members of the Birds of Prey were watching Gotham.
Crystal tried to change her thought track. Spoiler had gone with Batman to the Watchtower. Her seventeen-year-old daughter had gone to space. That was hard to wrap her mind around.
A gust of wind took her full attention and she spun around with a first aid kit in her hand. There was no wind in the cave without a vehicle shooting into the bay with the doors open. Three months had taught her several things, the most important was how to notice subtle changes in her surroundings. This was something wrong.
A skinny, beanpole man in a red suit with a yellow lightning bolt stood in the cave gaping at her.
"Master Flash!" Alfred had the shotgun in his hand. "We have asked for a warning."
"Sorry," he gasped. "Um, Alfred, is there a woman right there?"
"What were you hit with?" Alfred sighed. "Crystal, we could use the Justice League Box."
"There is a woman there? I wasn't sure if it was part of the toxin. She kind-a of looks like Spoiler. Did Spoiler get aged up? By the way, Spoiler says I'm a fool. She shouldn't say that to me!"
Crystal found the large black case with Justice League splayed across it and carried it over. The man continued to speak until his words were running together.
"Mr. West!" Alfred exclaimed. "What were you hit with?"
"I don't know. Spoiler knew, but she said we would need the box in the cave and…"
"Batman to Agent A and Agent C. Did Flash show up in the cave? Spoiler said he was hit with an unknown substance. She was trying to get the box from the Watchtower when Flash took off saying he would get it. He did not show up on the Watchtower."
"Agent A here. He did. Whatever he was hit with has made him unable to stop talking. Agent C and I will see what we can do."
"Who is Agent C?" Someone asked in the background of Batman's comm.
"I believe that is Spoiler's Mother, Hal," a woman answered. "You didn't know about the additional support staff?"
"Bats doesn't tell the lanterns anything."
"Enough chatter," Batman barked. "Keep us updated, Agent A."
"Who was that in the back?" Crystal asked as Alfred opened the large box.
"That was Hal – he's the first green lantern. Wonder Woman answered him. Are you Spoiler's Mom? Bart never tells me anything about the Bats, and Dick only tells me about himself. Maybe Tim doesn't tell Bart. It would make sense…"
"Agent C is not currently in the know of anyone's IDs besides our family," Alfred said stiffly. "Were you possibly hit with a truth serum?"
"No. I've been hit with that before. This is kind of like everything is wobbly and vague. Is this what it's like to be drunk? I can't be drunk."
Flinching a little, but aware the man probably knew nothing of her personal demons, Crystal took the vial of blood Alfred drew and hurried to the medical bay to run it through a variety of tests. Flash followed her in. Alfred actually yelled for him to get back, but he seemed too curious about Crystal to obey.
"If Bats can trust you, you must be good," he said, waving his hands about. "I'm Wally West. I'm Flash. The Second Flash. The first one is running around through time or something. Nightwing is my best friend. He is going to be my best man when I ask Artemis to marry me. Oh, this is weird. I feel sort of slow. Alfred, I'm really tired all of a sudden…"
Alfred arrived in the room just in time to catch Flash as he went unconscious.
"Bloody Metas," he muttered.
"I think it's a tranquilizer," Crystal reported. "There is something else in it, but I'm not familiar with it, and his blood is weird."
"Let me see. Ah, yes. This was designed specifically for him. It took a while for the bonding process to subdue his system. Robin, come in."
"Robin here, Agent A."
"Is Kid Flash present?"
"Hi Agent A! I'm here. Do you need something from Rob?"
"I am calling to inform you that your enemy may be armed with tranqs designed to interrupt a connection to the Speed Force and knock a Flash out."
"Did Wally get hit?"
Alfred sighed. "Yes, Master Bart."
"Kay. Rob, can I?"
"Superboy, back KF up. Thanks, Agent A. It shouldn't be much longer."
Crystal headed downstairs from her daughter's room, where she had spent the night after the report that the op was over and successful, but the heroes were staying in the Watchtower overnight. Stephanie had called and cheerily told her that Flash was an idiot, but she hoped Crystal liked meeting the superhero. It appeared, from the murmur of voices in the family room which Dick had named "The Nest" that the family had come home sometime in the early hours of the morning.
Alfred appeared with a tray in his hand, looking as well-rested and unruffled as ever. Crystal maliciously reminded herself that Alfred had been the one who threatened a drugged flash with a shotgun, which would have caused more damage than her first aid kit. He might not have a metagene, but that man was something else.
"Hey, Mom! Did you sleep in my room?" Stephanie chirped, seated on the back of one of the couches behind Jason, who was watching Bruce, Dick, Barbara, and Tim's intense discussion. "Guess what? The Justice League and affiliates want to meet you."
"Hopefully not in the same way as that talkative beanpole last night." Crystal headed for the coffee pot.
Dick choked, while the rest burst into laughter.
"Bruce, I am going to change Wally's call sign," Barbara grinned.
"I have sent him home and tendered my apologies for nearly shooting him," Alfred informed them. "I take it no one else was hit."
"Just Cyborg's arm. We have the dart to study. It is really unique." Tim reported. "But, Crystal, the League, and allies do want to meet you. First, they do sometimes need to come here for medical treatment, or to bring one of us for treatment, or because they think we almost died and want to make sure B knows about it."
"You do a better job explaining your plans now," Jason pointed out.
"I had to invent an entirely new code system to keep them from spiriting me away from my targets! Kon doesn't even know half of them!"
"I think the Titans would be a good way to measure how this will go," Dick said. "Crystal, would you mind meeting them? You don't need to know everything to help them on rare occasions, just enough to hold them over. More importantly, you should know everyone who has access or is permitted into the cave. The core Titans would be a good first step. There's a Flash, a Super, and a Wonder. Raven will want to wait, and Beast Boy will stick with her. Solstice and Bunker are not yet inducted into secret Identities, while Tim appraises them.
"Have you met Bart and Kon? Cassie will behave, but those two…" Tim whined.
"You're just made because they are still calling you Master of the Bats. They are the most normal, being part-time teenagers and superheroes."
"Considering that Batman is the most mysterious and awesome member of the League and she sees him daily, Superman and Wonder Woman aren't that terrible. Diana will be ready to offer her a place on Themysicara," Stephanie crowed.
Stephanie was a bit uneasy. At first, Crystal believed it was because not many teenage vigilantes introduced their parents to their crime-fighting friends. However, it was starting to look like something else. Crystal frowned.
"Spoiler and Batgirl are going to become part-time Titans," Jason explained when he caught her looking. "These are Tim's friends, like his best friends outside of the family. Steph isn't sure how she will fit."
"That's not like her," Crystal said.
"No, but these three are the ones who followed Tim in disobeying the Original Titans when they were told to stay put during a major battle. They are probably more loyal to Tim than their own mentors. Stephanie and Tim's history…" Jason shrugged. "She's afraid they'll blame her for any hurt from their breakup."
Jason laughed. "You will do fine with them. They probably live more normal lives than we do, since none of them come from upper society and wealth."
"We should have gone to the tower," Bruce grumbled.
"I was not going to send the others away," Tim replied. "They've all been here before."
"Not usually with permission."
"The adults were missing. That kind of left me in charge, so they did have permission."
Batman shut up. It occurred to Crystal that Bruce's silence was sullen rather than angry. She also realized that Tim and Bruce never had the shouting matches that Dick or Jason had with their father. Stephanie and Bruce had had one only recently about her desire to leap straight into college unlike Tim, who was taking a gap year. Neither Cass nor Damian ever argued with Bruce.
"Fearless leader!" A trio of voices hollered as three teenagers entered the cave. "See, Cassie, I told you he said no capes."
"None-of-us-even-have-a-cape, just-Rob," the shorter boy with the shock of red hair replied.
"Shut up, Bart," The taller, stockier boy replied. "So here we are? Are we in really big trouble?"
"What did you do to be in trouble?" Robin asked. Crystal saw his siblings' glance at each other in high amusement.
"Nothing… nothing we didn't clean up, swear upon supe's cape!"
"Ah. That." Robin grinned. "No, you are not in trouble." Tim's demeanor changed slightly, from scolding leader to grinning friend. "Actually, you are the first to be introduced to Agent C."
The taller boy and the blond girl both gaped in astonishment. They exchanged wide-eyed glances, straightened their shoulders, smoothed their clothes, and nervously glanced around the cave, but not seeing Crystal in the next room. The Titans were one of the more publicized vigilante groups, the teenagers shown off as a symbol of hope for the upcoming generation. It was surreal to see these public figures looking worried about meeting with Crystal Brown, the lower class, near-bankrupt, recovering alcoholic woman who had given her parental rights to a rich man for her daughter's future.
"Hey, Spoiler!" Superboy called as Tim led his friends into the conference room, "Rob says you and Batgirl are going to come out sometimes. You are going to have to tell us some of Rob's secrets."
"Ignore the meathead," Wonder Girl said, "I am looking forward to more female representation on the team. Raven does her best, but she's working on moving away from the Titans, and Solstice is not ready to trust anyone, except Tim of course."
"Hey Cass," Kid Flash chirped to Batgirl, "will we spar when you come?"
"I will go easy on you," Cass beamed.
"Thanks," the boy looked relieved.
"If I can interrupt," Tim said, "Guys, this is Mrs. Crystal Brown, Stephanie's mom, and our new Agent C. Crystal, this is Connor "Kon" Kent, Superboy, Cassandra "Cassie" Sandsmark, Wonder Girl, and Bartholomew "Bart" Allen, Kid Flash."
"Hey Mrs. Brown," the trio chorused again, giving hopeful glances at their leader afterward.
"It is nice to meet you," Crystal replied gently. "Thank you for your hard work in defending the world."
"It is our duty," Wonder Girl said seriously, but the two boys blushed and waved their hands pointlessly.
"Crystal is taking over the main medic duties that don't need to call in Dr. Thompkins, and it was decided it would be good to give her a rudimentary knowledge of the closer Justice League members and affiliates. So, Crystal will be sitting down with each of you, starting with Wonder Girl, and getting to know you and the different things to consider in treating your specific powered body," Tim continued briefly.
"Say, Rob," Bart said curiously, "You have an Agent A and an Agent C. Was there an Agent B?"
In just a few months, Crystal had learned to brace herself with Tim and his siblings suddenly grinned like that. Especially when they grinned like that at each other. With just a brief look, the five vigilante partners of Batman spoke in chorus, "Agent B is not talked about here."
"A serious affair that was," Jason added in a serious, grave tone.
It was clear from the grins that it was just a joke, but the three Titans, teenagers with powers nearly on par with their mentors, looked fearful. Suddenly, Crystal's awe evaporated. She was amazed by what they could do physically, but they were just kids, who were as ready to believe the mythos of Batman as his partners were to spread it. Her very association with Batman had colored their perception of her with respect and fear.
"Are you sure you're okay, Mom?" Spoiler asked anxiously as her mother stepped off the teleport pad. "I felt weird for days after my first visit."
"Actually, it felt good. I feel lighter."
"You actually are lighter. The artificial gravity is based on Martian technology from Martian Manhunter, and the coding was difficult to translate, so it is only about half earth's gravity," Robin interjected.
"Have you and Barbara looked at it?" Phoenix asked Robin.
"I have not, but Barbara has."
"Another time you should look at it, Robin," Batman said. "Come."
He walked off, expecting his entourage to follow. They did of course, though not without a few eye rolls at his back. Crystal felt a bit like she was on a boat, always almost overcompensating for the half gravity. Alfred had promised she would like the Watchtower, even if some of the people she met today were 'annoying'. It appeared, from the whispered comments of the kids, that some of the Green Lanterns were not liked by most of the Bats.
There were a few cracked doors in the hallway they marched down, but Crystal never saw more than a hand or eye.
At the end of the hallway was a large circular room, with a large round table. There were chairs around it, with the symbol of various heroes. Crystal could not remember all of them; it was true, she did not have much time, for her eyes were drawn to a small group of the Justice League's core members. Superman and Wonder Woman were among them. For a moment Crystal felt a bit weak-kneed.
Then she noted the respect on the faces turned their way and remembered she was employed by Batman, the third face of the JL's "Trinity" of leaders. Her own daughter stood with these heroes.
"Hey B," Superman said in an easy Midwest drawl that made her gape. When he spoke for the Justice League, he had a foreign clip to his words.
"Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, Black Canary, and Cyborg, this is Agent C, a new support member of the Bat Clan. Due to Flash's intrusion the other night, the decision was made to introduce her to our closer associates who may show up in Gotham. She is Crystal Brown, the mother of Spoiler."
"It is an honor to meet you, Agent C. Your daughter is among the finest warriors I have known," Wonder Woman said.
"It's okay to call me Crystal in a private setting."
The tall woman bowed her head in elegant acceptance. "Thank you, Crystal. In the world of men, I use the name Diana Prince when I wish not to be the Ambassador of Themyscira. Bruce and Clark have helped me perfect a private life separate from that of Wonder Woman. Please, you may call me Diana in a private setting."
"Thanks," Crystal gasped.
"It is up to you if you wish to share your identities," Batman informed them. "Cyborg, do you have the teleporter schematics and code? Robin should look at them when he has the time."
"Great idea! Hey Rob, did you get that last batch of code- "
Conversations sprung up among the gathered heroes. Wonder Woman, Diana, stepped to Crystal's side and guided her to Superman and Batman who had stepped back as Nightwing and Flash began chattering.
"Kal, you are the most likely to show in Gotham, and frankly the most likely to need to share your civilian ID," Wonder Woman informed Superman.
"Of course," The big man replied with a shy grin that made the nurse blink in astonishment. "I am honored to meet you, Mrs. Brown. Kal-El is my Kryptonian birth name, but I was raised here on Earth by human parents. They gave me the name Clark Kent."
"Clark Kent? Don't you work for the Daily Planet? Dick and Jason were laughing about something you wrote about superman…"
Clark grinned sheepishly. "My editor is unaware of my dual life. My wife tends to write, or at least polish, the articles I am assigned about myself. Dick has been amused by that since we first met."
"Yeah," Dick sprang up behind Superman, making the man jump just a little. "Uncle Clark is so easy to tease. 'Course, Wayne Media owns the paper, so it just makes it more fun. When I was Robin, and Bruce took me to Metropolis on business trips, I used to tell Perry how much I loved Mr. Kent's articles about Superman. So, he would assign more articles to him, hoping to impress Bruce by impressing me."
"I am grateful that you are not in charge of that portion of Wayne Enterprises," Superman shook his head, giving Nightwing the fond, indulgent look of an Uncle.
"Come away from them. Nightwing can talk the ear of Zeus!" Wonder Woman said. "Wally, you already met. Cyborg and Martian Manhunter are public persons. That leaves Black Canary. She serves both as a solo hero and works in Star City under the Arrow Clan. There is a bit of tension between the Bat Clan and Arrow Clan. Most of the Arrows are entirely human, except for Canary herself."
"You and I both know the tension is primarily because of Ollie and Roy. Have you met Roy?"
"Roy Harper? He works with Jason at the Foundation. Is he a Vigilante?"
"Yes," Phoenix replied, startling Crystal, but Canary seemed to have expected. "Roy is Arsenal and Co-Founder of the Outlaws."
"Considering that the Outlaws are working with the knowledge of the League 'Outlaws' is a bit of misnomer," Canary retorted, but her look was fond.
"The Justice League," Phoenix reminded a bit harshly. "We have too much bad blood with the other 'League'."
"Understood. Anyway, Mrs. Brown, if Batman trusts you with his secret, you will only find a few not willing to share the same. It is likely that only the Bats even know who Question is. My name is Dinah Lance. I have ties to Gotham myself. I serve with Oracle's Birds of Prey. My mother came from Gotham. My primary loyalty lies with Oracle, but I won't abandon the Arrows. If you think Bruce Wayne is a bit messed up, that's nothing compared to Oliver and Thea Queen."
"I have full permission from everyone in Star City." She replied.
"Oliver Queen is Green Arrow?" Crystal blinked. "Another trust fund Billionaire?"
"Ollie isn't the businessman Bruce is. His wife, Felicity, is the primary breadwinner now. They aren't Billionaires, though Felicity could someday bring Smoak Industries to that point. Anyway, he did not make as much news as the 'Gotham Bat', so the public mostly thinks he came after Batman, although technically Green Arrow, who started as "Arrow", was known to be real before the Bat was. So, Ollie feels threatened and overshadowed by Bruce. Bruce has also a more successful family. When Roy and Ollie's relationship broke, when Roy and Thea's relationship broke, it was Nightwing and Flash who made Roy go off-grid and get clean. So, Ollie lost his first apprentice through his own anger and pride, and the Bats, while disapproving, got Roy back on his feet. So, there is bad blood there."
"Bruce is nothing if not fair. He said Green Arrow could come."
"Hal was excluded."
"All the Lanterns were excluded. John Stewart is the only one Batman respects. Kyle and Jade will not accept any but the Justice League memberships, so they've cut themselves off from the peers, both Young Justice and the Titans."
"I wish Jade at least would join the Titans."
"Yes, but she is threatened by the obvious respect the League has for Robin. This is the first time someone around her age has ever been held up as smarter than she."
"Since Tim is probably the most intelligent person on Earth, Meta or not, that should be a good thing."
It did not take long before she was acquainted with the Birds of Prey, although most of them knew her only as Agent C. Tim and Barbara had designed a domino mask for her to use when in a group where there was someone mistrusted. She was introduced to the rest of the Titans, included in the Bats when Solstice and Bunker were welcomed to the identities of their peers. Eventually, she even met the Green Lanterns.
It was almost three months after Flash's 'break in' that Jason brought his group to the manor.
Most of the household was out and about, either at civilian jobs or on a Titan's mission. Alfred, Crystal, Damian, and Cass (benched due to another concealed injury) were the only ones around when Jason brought his three close friends over.
"Hey Crystal!" Jason beamed. "These are my guys. Roy Harper is Arsenal. Kori Anders is Starfire and Donna Troy is Troia. We are the Outlaws."
"I am glad to meet you all. I hope this means we will see more of you here," She smiled at the three young people.
They smiled tentatively back at her, and she suddenly understood why they called themselves the Outlaws. There was a bit of the brokenness in each of them, the brokenness that Jason could display. These were those heroes who could not show their faces because of what they had faced. These were abused, addicted, abandoned children.
Where Jason was tough, Donna was shy, where Kori was apprehensive, Roy was angry.
"I am so glad Phoenix has you at his back. He can be a bit loud and reckless," Crystal smiled, holding out her hands. Donna took one with a smile, but Kori hesitated.
Alfred had said that Crystal had great empathy. Only now did she believe it. She could feel the pain and fear Kori thought was almost healed or at least hidden. For a moment, she could feel her own mind threatening to retreat into the haze it had chosen to hide from this.
Then Kori reached back and took her hand.
Suddenly Crystal felt relief, hope, and a frail trust.
Suddenly the empathy was not just a battering hammer. Suddenly she could see the good parts of them.
Roy, so ready to fight for those who were victimized by their own minds, Kori, so ready to stand with the weakest, lowest caste, Donna, so ready to step forward and call to mind the forgotten. Jason, so ready to help those with severe trauma.
They might be broken, but they were healing, and they were healing stronger than before. The Bird who was broken and lost, was back to save others. The archer who had shot something other than a bow wanted to teach others to choose something else. The princess sold into slavery believed worth was not measured by rank, gender, or ability. The warrior thrown out of history refused to forget those heroes who could not continue.
The Nurse who had run to the haze of alcohol to hide from the horrors of the Emergency room, who could now stand behind the heroes, ready to heal them and return them to their war.
"I hope you are all staying for dinner."
"Will Bruce care?" Roy asked Jason.
"Who cares? Tim or Cass will get him out of the way if he does. You are all staying. You aren't just Metas. You are employed by the Wayne Foundation, remember?"