Damian avoided the question of when he'd fallen for Stephanie. One intrepid interviewer had attempted to get the story out of him, when Stephanie's pregnancy had been the only thing any of them wanted to talk about. The papers had wanted to know all about how they'd met, how long they'd been together, and if the marriage rumors were true. He'd said that yes, the rumors were true, that they'd been together for three years, and that they'd met while she was working for the Wayne Foundation charity...which was close enough, really.
The interviewer had wanted a romantic anecdote, some kind of gem to tuck in there and shine up for all those frumpy housewives that wanted to live vicariously through Steph. Stephanie was a woman who'd lived a hard life and was marrying a billionaire. The curious masses wanted to be charmed by their love story. They imagined Cinderella metaphors and fairy tale endings, urbane courtship and a whirlwind romance.
So there was no way in hell he'd ever share the real story.
When Damian had realized that he was in love with Stephanie, he'd been fifteen. He'd been fifteen, she'd been drunk, and he'd been wearing heels.
Nothing in his life had ever gone to plan.
When Grayson got angry with him, he didn't punish him like a normal person would. This was mostly because Damian wasn't capable of punishing on a normal scale; what would his brother do, ground him? Take away his television privileges? Make him mow the yard? Damian was as far away from being a normal fifteen year old boy as humanly possible, so the usual kinds of punishment were rendered useless. You couldn't just send a boy raised by assassins and ninjas to his room and expect him to stay there.
So, Dick got creative. When Damian stepped out of line, he invented horrible missions that all but killed his pride-missions that, as the Robin to his Batman, he could not refuse.
In his own way, Grayson had ended up a more effective parent than his own father had been. Damian would never tell him that, but he respected his brother's craftiness.
Up to a point.
Sometimes, Dick went too far. This mission was one of those times, he felt. The 'costume' stuffed into his backpack felt like a burning brand; there would be no salvaging his pride after this. Dick had known that, too. Moreover, he'd known that he wouldn't be able to prepare for this mission on his own. He'd probably thought that Damian would admit that and ask for his help, but he refused.
He hated that he only had one other person that he could ask, and that asking her for help was nearly as bad as asking Grayson. He would get him back for this, one way or another.
Damian could have knocked on the front door, but he didn't know if her mother was home or not. He didn't want to have to explain himself, why he was there, or his relationship to Stephanie. They tried to keep her mother out of the loop as far as her vigilante activities went, and it'd been at least six months since the last time Damian had seen Steph. Team-ups between Batgirl and Batman and Robin were rare. It wasn't that they distrusted her, but that...Dick felt compelled to protect her as best he could.
No one wanted to work with Damian. Not anymore. Not after what had happened to Father. He was constantly under scrutiny, and the swiftest way to ruin your reputation was to befriend him. Dick kept him cloistered. The Commissioner would have him arrested if he didn't.
But, he was almost excited to see Stephanie again. It was an irrational thought, one that surprised him, but it wasn't like he had many friends.
He chose to go straight for her bedroom window. The light was still on, and he knew that it was unlikely that she'd be entertaining any 'guests'. To the best of his knowledge, she hadn't dated since her break-up with Drake. He wouldn't have been surprised if he'd ruined her for relationships forever.
Damian jimmied the window's lock, slipping in silently-and almost walking straight into a baseball bat. He ducked just in time, but had his reflexes been any less sharp he would've been concussed at the very least.
Oh, yes. Stephanie was home.
"Oh, Jesus Christ," Stephanie gasped, a hand over her heart. "I could have brained you with the cluebat, Boy Wonder."
"Unlikely," Damian sniffed, sliding all the way in through the window. "Not with that stance, at least. Do you always greet company with a bat?"
"No, only the little creeps who crawl in my bedroom window in the middle of the night," she said, leaning the bat against her bedside table. It didn't surprise him that she had weapons in easy reach at all times. No one went through his father's training without gaining a healthy sense of paranoia.
"You act as though your ex-boyfriend didn't do the same thing all the time. It's romantic when your lover does it, but not when a friend comes to call. I see."
"A friend usually knocks, D." Stephanie sat down on the edge of her bed, taking a sip from an open beer. He looked at her quizzically.
"Look, I have a life. One of my coworkers threw a 'Finally Getting Out of Gotham' party, and so I had a couple of drinks. I'm an adult. I can drink if I want to. Don't look at me with your judging eyes, Damian. You don't get to judge me and what I choose to do with my Friday nights." She took another drink of her beer, tucking her legs up under her. "Now, tell me why you're here before my buzz is totally killed and I go for the bat again."
Ah. The moment of truth. Damian looked at everything but her.
"I need your help," he told the ceiling. "With a mission."
"Too tipsy for rooftops," she said with a snort. "And the suit's too difficult to get off when the seal breaks and I have to pee. Sorry."
"I didn't ask for you to come with me," he told the window crossly. "I just need help with the preparation."
"Uh-huh," she said, sounding amused. "And what kind of prep would that be?"
Damian swallowed hard. He took a deep breath.
"It's an undercover mission. I am supposed to look like a street walker. I thought that you would have tips for making it look believable."
The not-so-thinly-veiled put-down about the way she dressed glanced off ineffectually. Steph started laughing hysterically, holding her stomach and rolling until she actually fell off the bed.
Grayson would pay for this indignity.
Damian's face and neck felt like they were on fire. He couldn't remember ever being this embarrassed in his entire life. It figured that a drunken twenty-something would be privy to his greatest shame.
"Are you finished?" Damian demanded, hoping that his face wasn't too obviously red. "Please, get that out of your system so that we can move on. I am on a schedule."
"Ah-hee-you-" Steph was still giggling, wiping tears from her eyes. "-broke in so that I can-s-show you how to dress like a hooker. You have to appreciate how funny this is!"
"I hate you," he told her, and mostly meant it. "Can we just get this over with? And it should go without saying that I will kill you if you choose to tell anyone of this mission."
"Oh, D," she beamed, getting up with a slight sway. "We're going to make you the prettiest girl in town. Show me what you've got."
Damian emptied the rucksack with all the candor of a man approaching the gallows. Out slid a garter belt, thigh-high stockings, heels, and a little red dress. He glared at the assembly hatefully.
"Dick totally picked that out, didn't he?" Stephanie asked, holding up the dress.
"He's a sick man."
"Maybe. But he has good taste in clothes." She gathered up the womanly accouterments and put them in his arms. "Go get dressed in the bathroom. I'll see if I have any makeup that'll go with your skin tone."
"Makeup?" Damian asked, aghast.
"I was serious about making you the prettiest girl of the night. Now march, missy."
He'd brought this on himself, he knew. He shouldn't have taunted Grayson, and he shouldn't have come to her for help. Alfred would have shown him how to apply makeup and hold himself convincingly, had he gathered the courage to ask.
But there was no turning back now.
"You forgot something!" Stephanie sang. When he turned back to look, she was holding an impossibly tiny triangle of black fabric. "Dick must have taken pity on you, because most girls would be wearing a g-string with that dress. This has much more coverage."
Damian took the silky panties, feeling something in him shrivel and die.
"I'm going to kill him," he said leadenly. "And he will deserve it."
Stephanie shooed him to the bathroom and shut the door behind him. He sighed, then began to undress. He'd prepared in the ways he did know how-he'd shaved his legs and face, making sure to leave his skin hairlessly smooth. The dress and underwear were fairly straight-forward, but the bra seemed impossible. It clasped in the back, and even with his superior flexibility he couldn't get it hooked.
"Stephanie," he called after two minutes of sheer frustration. She poked her head in the door like an obscenely cheerful gopher.
"You look fabulous," she said, which made him swear under his breath.
"How do I put this on?" Damian asked, shaking the bra. "This is impossible!"
"Inside voice, D-man. Look. You put it on upside down and turned backwards. Then you hook it, turn it around, slip your arms in, and then arrange the girls accordingly. Since your girls are going to be wadded up handkerchiefs, the last part isn't the same."
It seemed unduly complicated, but he managed to get it on. He pulled the dress on over his head, pulling and rearranging the fabric. It clung, not exactly comfortable, but not too constricting.
Stephanie just wouldn't stop grinning.
"C'mon," she said, after he slipped on the heels and did a test walk back to her room. He only teetered for the first couple of steps. "Sit down and I'll put your face on."
Stephanie had dumped various tubes and compacts over the bedspread. Damian cleared off a space to sit, picking up and inspecting some of the powders and glosses. Why did women need so many kinds?
"None of my foundation or blushes will work on you, since I'm white as a ghost and you've got the whole multiracial glow going for you," she said, sitting across from him. "But you've got a really nice complexion, so you don't need it. We're just going to do mascara, eyeshadow, and lipstick. Think your pride can handle that, Miss Wayne?"
"Call me that again and I'll stab you," he groused sullenly, sniffing a tube of lipstick. Stephanie laughed, pumping a mascara wand.
He looked back up at her when she didn't move for a few seconds.
She was staring at him like she'd never seen him before, like he was some kind of stranger that had stumbled into her room. Her hand was frozen in midair, mascara brush still poised.
"Your eyes are incredible," she breathed, and he was suddenly very aware of how close her face was to his. Heat scuttled from his navel on down. His ears felt scalded by his embarrassment, but it was still good. He was frozen, the proverbial deer in headlights, because no woman had ever looked at him like that before.
Oh, he caught the attention of girls. He looked at least four years older than he actually was, so his looks spread a wide net for interested women. He'd been flattered by girls age twelve and up, so he was actually quite familiar with being seen as a fine physical specimen, an ideal, an object, a biological imperative. There was some pride in that, usually. He liked being seen as the superior man that he was.
But this was different. Stephanie wasn't critiquing his prowess as a fighter, or admiring whatever erogenous zone or group of muscles she found attractive. She was looking at him, looking him straight in the eyes, and she wasn't looking away. When he caught the attention of most girls, they glanced demurely away when he looked back. It was a dominance battle, a natural reaction. For centuries, artists had painted women looking anywhere but directly at the viewer, because that aggressive stance was considered unbecoming.
Stephanie knew him, knew what he was capable of, and still didn't react submissively. Her gaze was dissecting, challenging, and it made his mouth go dry.
"Seriously," she said, lightly touching his chin. "You have the most beautiful eyes, D. They're crazy blue, and your lashes are so long. I mean, they're the same blue as your dad's, but they look bluer because your skin's darker. It's. Wow. I never really noticed."
"You also have very clear blue eyes," Damian pointed out, because he itched to say something.
He didn't know how to put into words how rarified the air between them felt, but he knew that it was significant. She was significant.
It figured, in a way. Who else did he have to go to? Who, if not her?
She laughed. "I'm a white girl with blond hair. Having blue eyes is expected. Yours are more unusual." Steph cleared her throat, brandishing the mascara wand again. "Anyway. Don't blink, or I might accidentally blind you."
"Women go through these rituals willingly?"
"Daily. It's the price of being pretty. The secret is, most girls dress up and wear makeup for themselves, not because they think a guy will like it."
"Tt. Like someone would truly enjoy being caked with powders and pastes."
Steph sighed explosively, and she seemed genuinely annoyed. He faltered a little. He was enjoying the attention, the conversation. He didn't want her to draw back and re-label him as unfit for discussion.
"I don't expect you to get it. Jesus."
"No," Damian said quickly, and then, "Please. Explain this to me. I have to affect the attitude for the cover."
"It's like..." Steph paused, uncapping a tube of velvety rich red lipstick. It was the kind of red so deep that it was almost black. "You know that feeling you got when you put on your Robin costume for the first time and looked at your reflection? How you felt like the best possible you? Like you were someone better, more attractive, than you thought possible, but somehow still yourself? It's like that. You feel bulletproof."
Shamefully, he didn't hate it. How it looked, how it felt, wasn't...terrible. It was ridiculous, of course, but it wasn't bad.
"Bulletproof," he repeated, almost quizzically.
"Bulletproof," she agreed, then scooted closer to him. Damian was extremely aware of the light touch of her knees against his; the nylons made his legs feel more sensitive in interesting ways. He did his best to keep a lid on that, though, because if his body decided to react visibly to her closeness, she would laugh him out of her room. The flimsy panties and tight dress wouldn't hide his shame, much less an erection. "Now, hold still. Me doing your makeup while I'm kiiiiinda drunk is dicey to start with, so no sudden movements. Unless you want Joker lipstick."
"I do not want Joker anything. I will not move, so any aberration will be on you."
She smiled. He watched the corners of her mouth pull as she concentrated, her very blue eyes locked on his face. She applied the lipstick expertly, then had him blot it on a square of tissue. His eyelashes felt heavy, his mouth vaguely sticky. It was strange.
"Aaaaand there we go," Steph announced, fluffing her fingers through his hair to comb it down around his face more. "Damian Wayne, you are now a pretty pretty princess. I have created a glam monster."
He didn't know what to say. He didn't really want the moment to end. It was stupid, he was emasculated, but she was-happy, and she was paying attention to him, and he didn't dislike that.
She quickly stood up, her smile widening.
"Gimme five minutes. I'm coming with you."
"I'm not letting you out on the street alone. You're going to scare off every John in town, so you're going to need my help."
"But," Damian said plaintively. "You're intoxicated."
"They call it method acting. I'll be the obnoxious drunk hooker and you'll be the intense silent beauty," she explained, and started rummaging through her closet. She got out a slinky black slip and her Batgirl uniform's boots. Not precisely usual hooker fare, but Steph wasn't the type to have overtly sexualized clothes. "They'll never know what hit 'em."
"I don't think that this is a good idea."
"You never think that my ideas are good," Steph accused as she took off her shirt. She had her back to him, but the skin and scars made his heart twist and squeeze in ways he couldn't name or explain. It was a sudden, blinding epiphany: Stephanie Brown, Fatgirl, was a woman. She was a woman that he respected, in spite of her crass attitutde and low breeding-possibly respected more than any of the female assassins and high-born elite that he'd been raised to see as his equals.
He almost told her to go to the bathroom to change, to have a little modesty, but then she started wrestling off her jeans. And, well, it was her house, so if she wanted to take off her pants in front of him he, as a guest, couldn't rightly complain.
She had the Bat symbol stretched across the seat of her panties. It took surreal effort not to laugh, because he could hear Dick's voice in his head: Bat ass.
His brother had truly ruined him.
"Because your ideas are routinely horrible," Damian informed her, sitting down on the edge of the bed. He didn't like standing in the heels; he felt like they'd come out from under him at any moment.
She just made an exaggerated pfffft noise, wriggling the slip on over her head.
"Whatever, D. It's been forever since we had an honest-to-God team-up," Stephanie said, sitting down on the bed next to him. She rolled on her fishnet hose with practice and precision. It was sort of fascinating, watching a master of the female arts in action. "And I'm not going to miss out on an opportunity to do that and play Pretty Pretty Princess with you."
"Pretty Pretty Princess," he repeated with dubious darkness.
"It's a board game. Every little girl's favorite game when she's like eight, then every little girl's favorite drinking game when she's like eighteen. I'll challenge you to a round when we get back. This shouldn't take us long, right?"
She teased out her scrunchie, leaving her wavy blond hair a messy, bright halo around her face.
"Right," Damian said, nodding mechanically. "Providing that you don't make any stupid drunken mistakes, Fatgirl."
She smiled beatifically. "Shut up, Boy Blunder. You know that you'll protect me if I do, and then you'll lord it over me for the next ten years."
His stomach turned over. Anyone else would have labeled it butterflies.
"Yes," he agreed quietly, the corners of his mouth itching with a smile he didn't let all the way out. "I'll protect you."