"I don't understand why you keep abducting me in the night for these interminable- 'play dates'!" Damian spits, imbuing the word "play" with a totally incongruous loathing.
Stephanie sighs and leans back in her swing, keeping her legs straight and together, raising them in the air. "I guess it's because... I want you to understand. You remember when we first met, when you showed up outside my school like a creepy stalker?"
Damian hmphs like Batman himself. "We first met when you froze me. Are you referring to the brief period in which I attempted to figure out what motivates you, before realizing it was madness?"
Stephanie closes her eyes for a long moment. "It's not. It's really not, and that's what I want you to understand. Dick, too, I think. Y'know, for all that you and Tim hate each other, you're not totally dissimilar-"
"I am nothing like that weakling Drake," hisses Damian.
"Nothing?" Stephanie meets his gaze, raises an eyebrow in challenge. "Are you saying that there's no redeeming factor to Tim? 'Cause I don't think your mom or grandfather would agree. Ra's calls Tim 'Detective', doesn't he? Isn't that a title he used to reserve only for Bruce?"
Seething, Robin leaps from the swing and starts stalking from the playground. "There's a reason I chose to stay with my father."
Stephanie pushes off, swings back and forth a couple of times to gather momentum, then flings herself into the air, flipping and landing in front of the boy. "I know, Damian. And that's the reason I keep showing up in the middle of the night and dragging you out here with me- and, I think, the reason you let me get away with it. Lemme put it this way." She spreads her arms, palms open. "Have you ever watched Dick on a trapeze?"
Robin snorts. "Of course I have. When he's in the mood to fly, he hardly comes off of it."
"Have you ever seen Babs reading a book that she really likes, or when she's in the middle of figuring something out- programming, or a case or something?"
He takes a split second to think about it. "Yes."
"And you- you like swordplay, right? God knows you have enough knives..."
"Blades are my preferred weapon." he sniffs. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"It's not a sin to take pleasure in life." Stephanie tells him gently. "Feeling joy doesn't mean that you can't be serious too, and happiness and frivolity are not the same thing."
Damian folds his arms. "What we do isn't a game. It shouldn't be about enjoyment. And I can't let my guard down."
"I'm not saying what we do is a game. God, I know... you've seen my file, you know about the gang war. And I could let that get me down. I did, for a long time."
She looks bereft for a moment, a gravity in her eyes he's never seen there before, and for once Damian wishes he'd held his tongue.
"Everybody makes mistakes. Mine were... bigger than most. I messed up. I messed up bad. But what good would it do for me to dwell on that, to spend the rest of my life regretting it? It wouldn't bring anybody back, it wouldn't undo any of the damage I did. The best way to honor the people I hurt and to repent for those mistakes is to learn from it and move on. To use what I learned to keep it from happening again, to use that knowledge to build something better.
"When you came to me and told me you were trying to figure out 'what makes Stephanie Brown tick', I told you it's about hope. And I'm just trying... I'm trying to show you that, to get you to understand it. You're ten, Damian. And you're incredibly skilled, but there's more to life and more to being human than skill or reason or vengeance or... other Bat stuff." she waves a hand vaguely. "If you stare into the abyss too long, the abyss starts staring back, right?"
Damian actually winces. "Please refrain from butchering Nietzsche in my presence."
Stephanie huffs, starts to speak, stops, opens her mouth, then closes it again.
"Are we done here?" asks Damian, sounding far too weary for his age.
And Steph doesn't think, she just does what she does best: improvise. On instinct, she moves toward Damian, who automatically retreats a step.
"What do you think you're doing?"
But he's in range, and Steph opens her arms and pounces. Damian claws at her arms, but she notices he's not really trying to escape... or maim her, for that matter. "Let go, you insufferably overemotional wench!"
She squeezes lightly instead. "I want you to be able to receive a hug." she says quietly into his hair. "I want you to be able to play. I want you to be able to have a conversation with a kid your own age who isn't a vigilante, and I want you to be able to talk about things besides work. I want you to have interests outside of what we do. But mostly I want you to be happy. I want you to be able to be happy."
He breaks away and she lets him go; however, instead of Stephanie having to track him down (and Alfred and Dick prodding him out the door, even if she's never seen them at it,) thereafter Damian is waiting for her every night after patrol. He doesn't complain again; usually he doesn't talk at all.
And Stephanie takes him to playgrounds and parks, moon bounces and late movies. She touches him lightly- a hand on the arm, a pat on the back, a hug if she can get away with it. She buys him ice cream and they play rooftop tag.
And if she tears up a little the first time she hears him laugh for the sheer joy of it, well, it's all right because Damian doesn't see her wipe her eyes.
A/N: Because if anybody can socialize the little goober, it's Steph & Dick.