Steph: #FirstWorldVigilanteProblems

There’s a saying about Hell and a hand basket. The thing is, it doesn’t really every apply to Gotham, because one part or another of it is basically already always there. Another one about a fresh Hell. Again. Doesn’t work because technically none of this is fresh and/or new. Joker being a homicidal, creepy-ass freak? Bi-Weekly sort of engagement. League of Shadows has a ninja horde beef with someone? Semi-annual. Some D-List baddie has it in his mind that this is his moment? Normal Tuesday night. Or it was. Until Batman was gone and this weird sort of hush settled on the place. No one wanted to make a move, because no one wanted that spotlight of attention and blame. Apparently it was really just the eye of the hurricane settling over us. Because now? The rest of it’s rolled in.

And it’s like all the worst parts of every postal holiday, with none of the upsides all rolled into one. Complete with the forced spending of time with family. And like most of the rest of my life, I’m kind of helpless to do anything about it. ONLY I SHOULDN’T BE. For the first time, I’ve got training (some) and a suit (it’s still kickass) and all the gadgets and a circle of people that tolerate me that are much better at handling this crap than I am. They’re probably out handling it right now, in fact while me? I’m off the grid. Because I’m completely, and legally, on it.

Gotham City. Where the crooks are everywhere, and the legal system either is in their pocket, or wide-eyed and manically hopeful that this time… this time they’re going to have a poster child to use for their rehab programs and that this time, they’re going to have really made a difference. That’s me. Poster child and sacrificial lamb, because obviously a repentant criminal who’s seen the error of their ways, and is back on the straight and narrow should be able to appeal for joint custody now that they’re out of jail. And. Totes a good guy. Only he’s not. And here I am. Stuck with him just the same. One weekend a month. The first weekend since I caught onto the scheme (which was the last time I had to be here), and I fought with my Mom about it. Argued. Stamped my foot. But she’s got something going on this weekend, and doesn’t trust me at home alone apparently.

So. Daddy/Daughter time it is. Gotham’s imploding, but by all means… lets follow the Idiot Court’s orders. Great job, CPS. Kudos. Really.

I don’t want to be here, and I made sure everyone, and anyone, who would listen knew about it. Well. At school anyway. At home. I haven’t been able to get back to the ‘Batcave’ since the night Joker branched out into television programming, there was no side trips allowed by Mom between Mom’s place and my Dad’s. And seriously. Who has doors that lock from both sides? Oh wait. My Dad, the D-List not-so-supervillain. That’s who. On the upside, there were boxes of Eggo waffles in the freezer. Clear bribery. He gets better cable, too. Judging by the three hundred and counting flicks of nothing interesting that I’ve gone through, while silently counting down the time in my head.

Two more minutes.

Tim: There’s nothing on television. Nothing at all. Channel surfing is one of life’s little tortures. A good cable plan gives you hundreds of channels, but there never seems to be anything on. Until you finally find that one thing that doesn’t bother you. It’s not exactly what you want to watch, but it doesn’t make you angry having it on. For what is likely the nine hundred time this year. You know what it’s like. That one movie you liked the first time, but now you’ve seen it so many times you can recite the lines to yourself (or others if they’re in range of hearing). Sure, you don’t like it as much as you once did, but it doesn’t make your ears bleed putting it on.

One of the lines is certainly not, “Jesus. I never thought he would leave. That was painful to watch.”

Nope. That isn’t your movie Stephanie Brown. It’s the Boy Wonder. Who isn’t nearly as imposing when he’s not appearing out of nowhere dressed as a six foot bat that terrorizes the Gotham Underworld. This is a little bit of a different sort of impression. This isn’t even the same costume she saw me in before, when I first met her on the rooftops. This is version 3.0 of the Red Robin outfit. More in the style of a flight suit, less in the vein of ‘Scare you to Death’. It has some perks though, which was important for today’s outing. Between the stealth tech which turns the entire red-color scheme off, darkening it to allow for blending in to the shadows of her apartment and the technology that is woven in to the very fabric of the outfit itself? It shouldn’t be half as comfortable as it actually is. Nor as easy to move as it turns out to be. No cape to slip on. No horns to catch in closing doors.

With one hand, I flip what looks like a gameboy with a pok-e-mon skin to her. The other hand carefully remains at my side, even when I flip over the arm of the couch to crash down on it next to her. “Gotta catch’em all. Figured you might be a little bored. What with the whole mandated custodial visitations and such.”

That’s not entirely untrue, but it really doesn’t happen to cover the real reason I’m here. Instead of out there. The world out beyond the walls of this apartment is going to hell in a hand basket. The League of Shadows has descended upon Gotham. An alien space crafted landed in the harbor. Nowhere has arrested Dinah’s ex-boyfriend. Damien’s mother has been kidnapped by the Joker. It does not take a super-genius to know that I shouldn’t be here. Not right now.

“You’re one of the team now, Steph. Did you really think we’d let you disappear at a time like this without us noticing and looking in to it?”

Steph: The sound that comes out of me is about as far from ‘cool’ as one can possibly make. The combination of I just stepped barefoot on a slug and walking face first into a really big, really gnarly cobweb, with maybe a bit less disgust in the tonal mix. It also sounds suspiciously like a number at first, because I went from counting down the seconds since Dadmonster left the ‘condo,’ or what passes for one in this part of town. Row house is probably a better descriptor. Super narrow, which takes away from the multiple floors. Anyway. Not the point. He left, bolted the door, there’d been some carrying on about it that I like to think was pretty convincing given the looks I’d been giving the guy since I got shoved in the front door after school. He actually looked about as excited to see me as I was to see him, which had been a little confusing on my end.

If I was going to be stuck here all weekend, while everyone else was probably out dealing with the crapstick that is Gotham City right now? I could at least try to get some of my own work done. Not homework. I did that already. That was my method for ignoring Arthur Brown for the first stretch that I was here. When he finally left? I didn’t try any of the windows, or look for another means of escape. Unlike my Mom, and her very predictable shifts at the hospital, I have absolutely no way of knowing when he’ll be back.

Once I’m done flailing on the other side of the couch, and no longer threatening to tip over the armrest, I can properly side-eye the uninvited guest. Who has clearly been here a while, or I would have heard the window, exactly how long he got to watch the elegant ballet of two people who are stuck with one another and desperately want to be somewhere else…I couldn’t say. We’re just going to stick with ‘awhile.’ There’s so many options available to start my side of this conversation, probably something witty, or funny, or maybe we’ll just go with rude for scaring me like that.

“…how many suits do you have?”

Yup. Nope. Obviously and pointless. That was what we went with. I can’t help wondering if they do this all the time. The musical capes charade. Last time I saw him, he was Batman, and it kind of feels like some weird, mean practical joke may or may not have been going on at my expense. Except he was actually nice and encouraging with the black on. So…maybe the black Red Robin suit means I’m going to get something in between. Guess we’ll see. The hand that had the remote in it, before it went flying to who knows where in my spaz moment picks up the gameboy. Frankly. Looks a little low tech for him. Which means either that’s part of the joke, too, or it’s something else entirely.

“How do you know about… because you know everything. Right.”

That’s not even sarcasm right there. That’s just me honestly answering my own question before I flip the handheld game open. Even the things I thought maybe I still had as a secret have more or less gone out the window at this point. Which means somewhere there’s a whole lot written down about me, which isn’t that off base there was an awful lot of interviews with some really annoying social workers pretty much annually out there. Which I have no doubt they can get access to. All the boring bits about my life. This part? Probably wasn’t even hard to get to. Public record. And if you already know the name of Arthur Brown and Crystal Bellinger’s, formerly Brown, daughter the whole classified part doesn’t really matter.

“But um. Thanks.”

For the gameboy and…what he’s just said right there I suppose though I’m still looking out of the corner of my eye at him like Tim’s some weird bug. My face slowly turns in his direction as I talk though. I’m not entirely sure how to take that. I’m also very aware that if he was saying that with the Batsuit on, I would probably take it an entirely different way than my head wants to right now. Maybe it’s just my general mood, or some low-grade PTSD.

“I figured you guys were probably busy. But. No. I mean. It wasn’t exactly on purpose, I just don’t have the number for the Batcave. I didn’t mean to make anyone …’ Worried sounds too invested. Pick a new word, Brown! “Concerned. Wait. One of the team not like… sidegrade liability of the team? Gosh. I’d offer you a celebratory snack but I don’t have any idea how long that box of cookies has been in the cupboard. It was up there last time I was here and I didn’t want to touch it then, either.”

Tim: The look on my face tells the story of someone who isn’t the least bit phased by her commentary. Do I know everything? No, but I sure like people thinking I do. Most of the time. In this case though, Stephanie hadn’t known enough to conceal her identity when we first met. Not in a way that would or could stop me from looking in to her. Once I got her name, I was off to the races of finding out everything there is to know about Stephanie Brown. Not exactly an exciting autobiography, but at this age who of us can actually make that claim? Not me. Not until this last six months at the very least. Knowing who Steph is meant knowing her her life. Then finding out her Father’s identity meant having to dig deeper. I couldn’t bring her to the Nest, if she was a plant. That’s been tried before.

Fortunately for all involved, Stephanie’s disgust over her father’s faked rehabilitation? Is either Oscar Worthy or Genuine. Not many people can fool me once I’ve seen their face. “Counting the ones in my closet back home? I think twelve or thirteen. Unless we’re not counting the ones that include a tie? Then it narrows that number down to four. Though, I suppose one of those four is technically not mine. Never really was, but certainly isn’t now. So let’s call it three.”

Tapping the Gameboy with a finger tip, to bring her attention to it. “Covert Surveillance Computer. It plays games too. Geeze, you’re looking at me like I’m some sort of nerd or something.”

“While you and your Dad were playing the ‘Who can be more uncomfortable in their silence’ game. I was putting a microbe transmitter in to his Coffee. You should be able to track him with that,” pointing her in the direction of the disguised micro-computer. “The microbe isn’t powerful enough to show up on most forms of detection, but it should allow you to get a general feel for where he’s going, gone or when he’s coming back. If you have time this weekend, you should try to put some of the microbes on his cell phone or any sort of computers he might use. We’ll be able to hack in and see what he’s doing. Or listen to his calls.”

She’s giving me such a look, which she might think I’m missing but the fact is that I rarely miss facial cues. It’s one of the many little quirks that I’ve had for a long time. Reading people. They’re all like living crime scenes. Once you figure out the clues, you can know what they’re really saying. It tells a sort of truth of it’s own. Right now Stephanie’s face is a clouded mask of confusion, skepticism and her normal sense of generally being an open book.

Kicking my feet up on the inn-table and reclining back in a way that says ‘getting comfortable.’ That’s all a clue to the fact that I’ve got no other plans on being elsewhere. Not right now. At least. I’m half-way to putting my hands behind my head, when the rotator cuff flares with enough pain to leave me wincing. She’s not wrong, there are a hundred places I should probably be other than on Stephanie’s couch. But, after the Iceberg Lounge….

They are busy, for sure. Right now you’re not the liability though,” rubbing at my shoulder, as I start to explain, honestly. “You might say I’ve been pulled from the starting line-up. Put on injured reserve. That wouldn’t be entirely untrue. But. I was worried about leaving you alone during all of this. I’m pretty sure I can beat your Dad up with only one arm.”

Steph: Oh, it’s genuine. So very, very genuine. My level of love and forgiveness for the man was pretty much exhausted when he went to prison the last time. On the upside, that time resulted in my Mom cleaning up her act. But whatever shred of positive feelings I might have been able to dredge up for Arthur Brown was drug out in the alley way and executed when I was here the last time and stumbled on this next, newest and greatest plot of his. Whatever it actually is. And that was a very small amount of feelings anyway. I’m not even pretending right now. I don’t want to be here. I didn’t understand why he wanted me here in the first place, and that made Tim’s theories about him and why I’d found those breadcrumb trails stick in my mind. Was it on purpose? And was it because he thought I’d be cool with joining the family ‘business’ or because he secretly wanted someone to catch him and with Batman supposedly gone there wasn’t anyone out there to do it?

I don’t think it’s the latter. As far as I could tell, he was seizing the moment because Batman was gone. Either way. I’m here, and this time? It was pretty clear that he didn’t want me here either. I bet because he has something more criminal he’d rather be doing than spending time with his teenager.

“Huh. That’s too bad. It was a pretty good ‘look’ on you.”

It certainly isn’t now? That’s kind of telling. Means someone else is probably wearing it, out dealing with all the usual Gotham crap, multiplied by four, and that’s why Tim’s here in my Dad’s house checking up on me. With presents. But I mean it. I thought he’d done a pretty good job as Batman, plus my time spent with him while he was wearing it? A hell of a lot more pleasant than the times he’s turned up in a version of what he’s got on now. Turning the device over in my hands, my eyebrows lift in an appreciative look while I let a low whistle out between my teeth.

“Niiiice. And you are kind of a super nerd, from my limited observation, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean. So long as you’re not using it for villainy. Sounds like a much more efficient method than count to six hundred Mississippi’s and pray. Especially since you made me lose count around four-eighty.”

I will most certainly be doing all of those things. And taking great satisfaction in it, too. Though the look on my face says I just spent a second or two contemplating where else he’s stuck those things. Invasion of privacy when it’s me. Justified when it’s against my Dad. I’d been wishing I had my suit, and all of its doohickies but there was definitely not any chance I was going to bring the thing here. I don’t even take it home, because I don’t want to risk anyone else finding out who’s under Spoiler’s mask. So the gift? Welcome. The ideas? I won’t even balk over them not being my own because they’re good. It still definitely doesn’t explain why I’ve got a Red Robin making himself comfortable in the living room, when I could literally see Assassins moving around out there last time I looked out the window.

The only person I’m really in any danger from would be Dad, here, and he’s gone for… a while hopefully. Staying off the streets and hunkering down is kind of a default mode a good and smart Gothamite falls back into in these kind of scenarios. But he’sRed Robin, and could probably have dropped off the hand held and left without me really having time to process that he’s here. I’m about to ask, when he starts to supply the answers on his own. Explaining the presence, and his wince. All makes total sense. Except maybe the worried part. Tim Drake was apparently from the Narrows, too, before he became a Wayne. He knows how it goes, then.

“…because you were worried that he would do something stupid, or because you were worried that I would?”

I’m okay though. Stir crazy maybe, but I was just waiting until I thought he’d been gone long enough to start doing some snooping. And then…subsequent freaking out over every little noise…Yeah. His way is better. With the tracker. And the nerd stuff. Harper’d love it.

Tim: Maybe there’s a momentary look at Stephanie that I couldn’t control. A pretty good look? I’m not sure how to take that really. Times like these make me think I should learn how to talk to people the normal way, instead of relying on deductive reasoning and logic to interpret their meanings. It leaves me a little clueless at times about the more simpler forms of communication. This leaves me thinking she’s trying to spare my feelings, but I already know the truth there. It truly is in the simple math of that problem.

“Do you mean it looked good on me, despite being six inches too short, a hundred pounds too light and about three Olympic weight lifter classes weaker?” Though I’m smiling, there’s a definite sense of displeasure in saying all of those things out loud. “Don’t worry, you don’t need to spare my feelings by holding off on the jokes. I never should have put the suit on, but.. y’know… the City needs the Batman. Not -a- Batman. The Batman.

Some people don’t understand that. It can’t just be anyone in that suit. Hell, it shouldn’t be someone with the skills but lacking the personality either. Batman is the sum of the whole. You need to be smart enough to figure the job out. Skilled enough to get the job done. All wrapped up in the ethics needed to know when enough is enough. If you’re missing any one of those things, you’re just a guy in a suit. For better or worse, that’s what I was. Just a guy in the suit. Smart enough, sure. The ethics weren’t my problem. I lack the tools to do the job, the way that the Batman would do them.

While I’m mulling this over, I can’t help but notice that Stephanie is giving me the side-eye again. Her question is a good one, but I’m not entirely sure that I know the answer. At least, not entirely. “Let’s go with a little of both. I was worried that you’d do something to tip your hand and then he’d do something stupid that you’re not quite ready for. Yet.”

“I went through at least four alternative plans, before settling on the stealth approach too. There was ‘Batsuit, throttle Cluemaster while Stephanie swoons.’ That was my early draft plan, but … sidelined, y’know. Then there was ‘Wayne Foundation Scholarship’ plan, which involved showing up in a limo. But. Then I remembered where you lived. It was down to ‘Infiltration’ or ‘Wayne Foundation Internship’ plan. But you objected so much to being called Robin, that I was sure you’d turn down wearing a skirt and fetching me coffee during board meetings. Seeing your Face when your Father’s greed had him signing you up? Almost won out anyway, but I rolled some dice and voila… microbes, game boy and stealthy approach are what you got.”

Steph: See, now I’m the one getting weird looks. Like I’ve just said something in a weird, gibberish language and he’s wondering if I’ve been drugged or thumped in the head too many times. I’d say the latter could be a possibility, but brutal as Canary is? She doesn’t tend to leave bruises in places that will be visible at school, or cause lasting brain trauma. As a favor, of course, which she’ll spell out for you in the knocked you on your face debrief. I could have broken your nose and snapped your blahblahblah but… It doesn’t take a brainiac or ace detective to deduce that he doesn’t agree. I end up shrugging my shoulders, and not even making much in the way of the jokes.

“Okay, so you looked a little shorter but my only up close reference was like. Eight years ago so I just figured watching the ass beating, and the general state of Bat-looming made him look taller than he really was.”

Which wouldn’t really be that big of a deterrent I don’t think. Somehow, I doubt six inches of height and a hundred pounds lighter made that guy whose kneecaps he broke feel better about the situation. Most people don’t get close to Batman out there, and when they do it’s because they’re in deep, deep trouble. Or getting saved. In either case? Probably more worried about a lot of things, or grateful for them, than something like that.

“I’m pretty sure someone told me I shouldn’t have put on a cape and hood either.” Ahem it may have been you. Or everyone in the universe hypothetically speaking. “Hasn’t stopped me from doing it anyway. But. It did look good on.” Oh, God why Stephanie why. “And you were…different. Good different.”

I.E. Not a total dick. Dick that gave me a badass suit and signed me up for getting my ass kicked lessons, but…still kind of a dick. Interacting with him as Batman had been like a totally different person under there. Someone that made me feel like I could maybe actually do this. Though. Hearing what were definitely concerns about doing it himself, maybe a lot of that was projecting. I don’t know. Boy. I kind of masochistically want to hear the answer to that one, because vigilante self-esteem or lack thereof isn’t going to stop me from carrying out this vendetta of mine but… it was sure nice to have some for a little bit. It’d really suck to think he was only building me up to try and maybe do some of that for himself, too.

But as far as I was concerned, and for all that it mattered what I thought? Tim had been Batman. And I thought he’d been pretty good.

“Hah. Well. Luckily for everyone involved, it doesn’t take much acting to pretend like I don’t want anything to do with him, so we haven’t had any conversations about my fun, new extra-curricular activities. And he hasn’t startled me into judo chopping him in the throat. Yet. …kindahopingthatone’snotoffthetable … But this is the first time he’s left since I got dropped off.”

I feel like I should be insulted. I’ve gone almost a month without alerting the parent that actually knows jack about me. I can probably make it four days without putting up an ‘I’m Spoiler, and I’m going to GET you, my pretty!’ banner.

“Throttling is still on the table though? I bet I’d like it better this time than last time. Kind of would rather do it myself if we’re being totally honest. There’s so much wrong with all those other plans I like. Can’t even, though.”

Limo he eliminated himself, fortunately. Which is good. Because he knows all the reasons why that would probably have been a bad plan. Starting with ‘sore thumb,’ and ‘target for enterprising criminals.’

“You’d never get your coffee. I’d drink it. And it sounds like I’m out of the Robin gig anyway. Glad I didn’t get those shirts made. That would have been awwwwkward.”

Tim: “Bzzzt. Wrong, at least about some of that. It made a big difference. I couldn’t do the things Batman does. Not even close. I was compensating, constantly. Trying to hold it together like a magician, but being the Batman is a lot more than smoke and mirrors. Some of the people the Batman deals with are better than others. They’re intelligent, observant, and stable. Insane, sure, but they have the tools to exploit weaknesses. Two-Face would have caught on to all the things you did and more. Joker would have noticed in a heart-beat. Hell, from what I hear Penguin didn’t even believe it was the real Batman and he never even encountered me. So all he had to go on was second hand rumors and news clippings from Central City.”

What bothers me is that I know that I’m right, but I also know that Stephanie is too. Which is why I stop trying to prove myself right and accept what she’s said as her belief. She’s giving me what might be the only compliment that I heard about my amazingly short stint as the Caped Crusader. “I.. well… I know that the Batman was supposed to scare the bad guys, but at one time Bruce wanted the Batman to be about more. He saw it as a chance to give the City hope to believe in. I wanted to find that again. The City needs it, but so does the World. Our country is in a bad place. We don’t need our heroes giving our kids nightmares right now.”

“Oh. Uh. You didn’t mean… you meant I was different with you, specifically didn’t you?” Now I’m scratching at the back of my head a little uncomfortably. “Well. Uh. You see. I didn’t want you to be in this life. So I was trying to scare you away from it. But you didn’t scare easily. Or at all really. Then you made it through that first week with Canary and… you deserved a chance that Bruce never gave most of us.”

“Yeah. I mean. You’re barely skirting by in half of your classes. Who the hell would believe you won a scholarship, am I right?” When I flash the smile it’s because I’m giving as good as I’m getting for once. No somber, stoic Batman gaze that doesn’t react to any of her jokes. Just a quick return on the investment, with one of my own. “Yeah. So Limo was out. Scholarship was out. But I’m happy to re-evaluate the throttling plan. As long as we can negotiate. How about throttling is allowed, but only if you throat punch him with my half-full coffee cup, while wearing the intern skirt? If you can manage that I’m all in.”

Oh, I’d be laughing too. If it weren’t for the state of my ribs. Or my shoulder. One knee. Possible concussion. Yeah, no. I’m going to keep my belly-laughter to a minimum for now, thanks. “I wouldn’t cancel my order for those shirts yet, if I were you. But. Eggplant and Red Robin sounds like a dynamic duo of it’s own. Ugh. Nevermind. That just sounds like what one of those terrible fast-food joints at the Mall tries to sell for ten bucks a plate.”

Steph: “What do I know, right? I’m no seasoned, grizzled quadruple black belt that can do a Wuxi finger hold. Yet. I’m just one of the many non-criminal shmucks that happens to have the crummy luck of living down here. And believe me. I never cared how tall Batman was. Just that he was there. It is about more than making assholes wet their pants. It’s about people in the worst, most hopeless parts of Gotham thinking that someone out there cares what happens to them, and is willing to do something about it.”

Woah. Down, girl. I realize my tone is starting to get…heated. Impassioned like I’m about to go on a rant to outdo my infamous soapbox speech when the school couldn’t find money in its ‘budget’ to maintain the coffee machine in the cafeteria anymore. Seriously. We’re teenagers, not idiots, and we know how vending contracts work. Clearing my throat, I pull myself back before spreading my hands with another shrug.

“When I was little, I used to sneak out on the fire escape and watch, because I really wanted to see… uh. You know what, nevermind. I don’t need to tell you about that. But, erm. Yes. I did mean with me. I guess you could have been different with everyone, but…wasn’t there. Small frame of reference. I kind of get the impression that all of you got the disapproving looks and then… here you are anyway.”

Because something was more important to them, too. Than any head shaking or judgement that came their way. I don’t know the specific reasons. Not for a single one of them. I don’t really need to, though. The determination and dedication is pretty easy to read. None of them are doing this because someone made them, they’re doing it because they need to. For probably all kinds of different reasons, that amount to the same thing. Showing up. Kicking ass. Apparently getting their asses kicked sometimes, if lame-wing Red Robin here on my couch is any gauge. Lame-wing Red Robin who very nearly gets me to rise to his teasing bait. Skating by in my classes. Hmph! My life would have a lot more sleep in it if I were just skating by with my school work. It’s a good thing I’m probably done growing already, or all the caffeine I’ve been inhaling might end up stunting something important.

“That seems like a really complicated, super situational set of terms.”

And I’m pretty sure someone will throttle my Dad, hopefully me someday, without any sort of hoops or agreements to go through. I can even bypass the throat punches, satisfying as that sounds, I just want him in jail where he belongs, and without the satisfaction of succeeding in his plan. Whatever it might ultimately be leading to.

“….yuuuuum…. ahem. Sorrynotsorry. I’ve been holding that in like. For a month.”

Hopping off the couch cushion, the gameboy’s shoved in the front pocket of my sweatshirt, with a moment spared to look at what the channel surfing had actually landed on. Hallmark channel and its countdown to Christmas. So many sappy movies. So many unrealistic stories. So much of an awful train wreck and oh God I need to leave right now, it’s sucking me in… spinning rather forcefully back to facing Tim, I jerk my thumb towards the narrow staircase in the back of the living room.

“So. Uh. You feel free to watch Romance at Reindeer Lodge …GodwhydoIknowthat… if you’re sticking around. I’m going to go see if I can’t find any of the things the douchemonster doesn’t want me to see in here. He was both super in a hurry to leave earlier and super unwilling to leave me here. The leaving clearly won eventually. Not that I blame him..”

Tim: What does she know? Well, the irony is that she seems to know quite a bit. Maybe not how to hack the NSA. Probably not how to pull a finger print off a car door without a kit or tape. But she knew all about how to get information without having to go through the City Planner’s office. She caught on to her Father’s machinations. It took very little for her to see the patterns and piece together that Red Robin and Timothy Wayne have the same jawline. How much does Cassie know? Maybe a whole lot more than the rest of us give her credit for.

She’s strolling down memory lane when all of a sudden she stops. Now a smart boy lets her finish doing as she will and changing the subject, but I’ve never been accused of being smart when it comes to the Ladies. “… you really wanted to see the Batman? Funny story. I did the same thing. Except one night, I actually did see him. Robin too. It was something special too. Every second of that first meeting is emblazoned in my mind.”

“Of course, it had to be. Given than I spent the next two years of my life examining the memory from every angle.” Watching her, as she is watching me and the rest of the room, leaves me with a canted head, plus a whole lot of refusing to let that be the end of this line of talk. “The only disapproving looks that I ever got were from the Batman himself. See, I didn’t have what you have. There’s no skeleton in my closet. No dead family member. No criminal undertow that pulled me in to all of this. So when I tried to make this my life? I didn’t just get old no, Steph. I’m one of the ones who got told to get out or else.”

“But. I wouldn’t give up. I couldn’t. I didn’t know why then and I don’t now. I just couldn’t stop myself. There was something driving me to help these people. Help people like you. Do something better. Make the world nice for about thirteen seconds. Batman only took me in after I kept going, and going, and almost got my entire family killed. He saved them. Saved me. He looked me in the eyes and knew it’d happen again. But that he might not be there to save them next time. So he took me in, like I took you in. He did it to drive me to fail, to wash out. I never gave up and I see those qualities in you too.”

“Those qualities and half-a-case of snark, a side of shade and two spoonfuls of spite. She’s got Red Robin jokes. Swell. Remind me again, Eggplant. Where’d you get that first cape of your’s?”

Then she’s up and starting to what? She’s going to snoop in to her father’s things. Pfft. As if she’s leaving me here when she’s doing that. Someone has to oversee, to make sure she’s not overlooking something. Albeit with some very ginger movements and more than a little grumbling about how I’d just gotten comfortable. “So. No skirt. No coffee. No romantic movie. No throat punching. You’re really making this in to a terrible date…. Gasp!.. and now I know the secret origin of the Spoiler name.”

Steph: I don’t need to know how to hack the NSA, either. Didn’t need to know how to do a lot of things before the last few weeks, though. I just have the skills and attention to detail that living in a place like this makes you acquire if you want to get out of it on the other side with only a mild case of psychological trauma. I pay attention. I listen, even when it seems like I’m not because I’m. Well. Me. And I store away those things I’ve heard and seen for later, on the off chance that I’m going to need them. I’d brought myself up short of sharing some sappy/embarrassing childhood memories, so color me more than a little surprised when he steers that bull back around to share his own instead of just trying to get me to spill mine. Still. I’m pretty aware that my face is flushing a little at admitting it.

“Yeah. I really wanted to see Batman. Probably would have had better luck in that neighborhood if I’d done more than just…watch the moon for a silhouette like he was Santa Clause or something. I mean. It’s the Narrows. Odds were always pretty good for a showing.”

And then when I finally did see the Bat? It was in my living room. Happy Birthday to Stephanie! I realize he’s spelling out what makes him tick, his why, and despite being pretty open about mine, probably to the point of dead horse abuse, I hadn’t really expected to get his. So maybe it wasn’t the change in outfit that changed our interactions after all. Just. Situations changing. Seems I wasn’t completely wrong either, about the projecting. But at least it’s not in a bad way. I remind him of himself. I guess for most people, that’d be reason to try and bully someone out of something. Maybe doubly so if you weren’t sure if you chose the best path or not. I purse my lips for a half-second when he talks about his parents because… he says Batman saved them but he was adopted by Bruce Wayne. Which means something happened to them after that, at some point. You don’t get adopted by someone when your parents are still alive. Even if they’re awful.

“I borrowed it from school. Also I’m really only one spoonful of spite. Maybe one and a half if I’m cranky at my Mom. You don’t have to get up, whiner. Don’t let me keep you from your sappy holiday movie. There’s a bag of peas in the freezer over there, Mr. Made It a Horrible Date All On His Own. And I told you the origin like. The first time I met you. Wait. Why are we talking about dates…”

I rather intentionally start wandering off on that last question because. That was out loud where it shouldn’t have been and boy. All the mortifying things I ever said to ‘Batman’ I have a feeling are about to start creeping back up again. Clearly I need a do-over with the New Batman, whoever that is. He might not have outright said there was one but… connecting the dots that have been put out for me there. Not actually up the stairs, instead I’m ducking around into the space behind them, peering at the super awesome, and super seventies wood paneling on the wall.


I look behind me, of all places, to the tiny little nook of a kitchen. Take a step to the left so that I’m even with the sink, and then another forward until I’m pushing against the wall. There’s a give to it. I can feel it. It’s a crappy old building so that’s going to happen some even on solid walls.

“…Here. Do they all do this?”

I guess I could be asking about the hidden doors, which I’ve now located, and pushed open so it swings out of the way and reveals a staircase.

“…not the lairs. I mean. You have a lair. The insanity. Exact same things, over and over again, thinking that this time? Oh, man, this time they’re totes going to win?”

It’s not the same house that we lived in when I was eight, but this whole neighborhood is basically cookie cutter, cheap ass row houses, crammed together with no originality or variation. I watched from the sink in a different, but totally the same, building while freaking Cluemaster got Batman’s fist fed to him, basically where I’m standing now. Right outside the door to his secret ‘lair.’ Clearly there’s just some things he can’t be bothered to be original about. At least right now he’s living alone. Except one weekend a month.

Tim: “Truth is, if he knew you were looking? He probably avoided being seen. Bruce never saw himself as the Inspiration he hoped to be. He hoped, but he grew up not far removed from a generation of Heroes that took the blame for everything that went wrong.”

He then lived long enough to see History repeat itself.A fact that is never going to settle well with me. I mean, how could it? Whatever has happened to him, I have to carry the knowledge forward that Bruce never got to make the Batman in to the Hero he always wanted to be. Or rather, he never knew the Batman was that Hero. Clearly some of us knew differently. Two prime examples right here. But then we’re a product of the Narrows. Where Heroes come in the worst shapes and sizes, because normal Heroes get chewed up and spit out here. There’s no Supermen down here, is there?

My Parents survived my first little effort to become a Super-Hero. She’s right though. Eventually something happened. I should have known that it would. You can’t live this life and come out of it unscathed. Truthfully, I’d known that intellectually. I just didn’t understand that it might not be me, directly, that would pay the price for my choices in the end. Sometimes your weakness is the people you love, who can’t defend themselves from the enemies you make of the world around you.

“Truthfully? Yeah. Most of them do. You can almost set your watch by some of them. It never really stops them from being Dangerous though. They make the same choices, same mistakes, but there is always a wrinkle. They’ll spend their time in jail wondering about what they did wrong. So when they get out, they correct their one mistake. The really bad ones. The Jokers of the World. They’re the ones who really make it rough. Because they never do the same thing twice. Each time you encounter them, it might be the same old smile or joy buzzer, but it’s like you’re meeting someone new under the hood each time.”

By the time I’m done talking she’s found the lever for her Dad’s secret lair. I feel like I should be joining her, but I’m moving a bit slow for more reasons than one. “I did not make this a horrible date, I brought you presents and everything. I was all ready to snuggle in with Hallmark movies, cheetos and lime soda, but you’re all ‘Secret Evil Lair’ and totes ignoring my torn rotator cuff, bruised sternum, separated ribs. Multiple contusions and lacerations.”

Steph: “That sounds better than I just never saw him because he didn’t fly across the moon when I was looking up there. Also less like I was six.”

Though the truth is, even after I saw him up close and in person, I still kept looking. I’m not looking for a light switch. In my experience, these houses like to make you trek to the bottom of the perilous stairs before you actually get a chance to find one. Plus, even if there was one up here? I may pretty much hate my Dad, and he may pretty much suck at everything, but this has all seemed very much more… long game than anything else I know of him doing before. Not just a bank heist. Not just a jewelry store robbery. Not just smuggling something into and out of a warehouse again. it’d been all those things, like some elaborate sort of shell game and it’s enough to have me a little…paranoid. Or maybe the image of Nightwing zapping the hell out of Canary is still fresh enough in my mind that I don’t want to touch much of anything.

So I’m pulling my cell phone out of the pocket the gameboy disappeared into, and turning on the flash to check the landing. Technically a lot more care and caution than I use like. Ever. But it’s my Dad’s place. I’m the only one in here. I’m going to be the obvious conclusion to draw for ‘who done it’ if he noticed his stuff is messed up.

“…like Clock King…? Heh.”

I couldn’t help it. Really. Some of the loons in Gotham are just an incredibly special brand of…whatever the hell that is. The rest of the world? They get the grand and destructive sounding baddies. Here we get a range. From ludicrous, to insane, to oh God please never let me get within two blocks of that out in the dark.

“At my Dad’s house. Also that sounds completely awful and intriguing at the same time.” Clarify, Steph. “The cheetos and lime soda combo. Not the snuggling and romantic movies. Which I have never even vaguely considered. Ever. Nope. I offered you frozen peas. And sitting there while I do all the hard work.”

I assume he’s just teasing about the whole date thing. Over and over. See? Mortifying moments coming back to bite me, just like I knew they would. If there was any way to make me feel more brave about trooping down into the evil lair of doom? Clearly, this is the tactic to take.

“Seriously, what did you do? Try to chest bump a moving semi? How do you even get that suit on with one arm? Not. That I’ve been checking out the suit. And you in the suit and… I have my own suit, I know how hard they are to get on with two arms okay? …stop looking at me…”

Going downstairs now. They’re rickety, but not actually as bad as the ones that go up. I don’t know if that’s from lack of use to creepy (presumably) basement, or because he’s actually been taking care of them. He hasn’t been here that long, six months?Maybe? I admittedly didn’t exactly keep track of him, or where he was, until he’d interjected himself back in my life again. Rudely. I might add. Once I reach the bottom, I shine my light around the space. It’s. Rather disappointingly empty, honestly. No doomsday devices. No ominous flashing lights. A table with some chairs, which is I assume the one that was up here last time I came in announced. A stack of long, slim cases with handles on them. I’d been kind of hoping for something… concrete. Incriminating. At the very least his computer which isn’t down here, and it wasn’t upstairs. I already looked.

Tim: “Really? You have a whole Arkham Asylum and you zero in on Clock King? That guy is terrible. I mean, your Dad’s like an A-Lister in comparison.”

If I sound incredulous? It’s because I am. The reference to one of the Worst in the whole Rogue’s Gallery is enough to have me dropping the subject. Not to mention, dropping down the chute behind Stephanie. The good arm is all I need to let myself down in a landing that doesn’t make every bone in my body feel like it’s being broken all over again. While this isn’t fun, I couldn’t very well let Stephanie come down here and be locked away in some insipid death trap of doom.

The moment I’m on my feet, grimace not withstanding, a flick of the wrist turns on my suit’s spot-light. It’s enough to illuminate most of the ‘Evil Lair,’ and then some. It also has scanning technology built in to it. While it does it’s work, “You know. Some girls would think it romantic. Having a boy trying to rescue them from being trapped in their Dad’s place, under house arrest. Bringing them presents and keeping them from dying.. to boredom. Not you, no sir.”

Wah wah wah you were so mean to me wah wah, she says as he gives her a half-million dollar suit. The Batman? He takes her to a Sewer and a Police Impound, but nooo. I’m offering hallmark movies and super-computers. All I get is some frozen peas and a musty basement.”

How exactly do I answer her question anyway. I mean there’s the truth and then there’s the truth. Neither of which is really appealing, one of them is slightly more mortifying than the other. If only slightly, truth be told. The actual -thought- of what happened, makes me wince a whole new level of wincery. In for a penny, in for a pound right? She might as well learn something from my mistakes and oh were there a lot of them.

“It’s a long story, but the short version is that I threw myself down two flights of stairs. On top of a fully armed Ninja, while I was wearing a three piece suit. To protect a Female Dance troupe from certain death at the hands of Deathstroke, Penguin, his men and the League of Shadows. Let’s just skip the part where I did that, after disarming a missile and slipping one of Penguin’s bodyguards a roofie.”

“How was your night, last night?”

Steph: “Oh, c’mon! I was riffing off the set your watch thing… Jokes, Boy Wonder! Jokes! Or at the very least bad puns. Very bad puns. Seriously. You’re going to have to lighten up if this date thing’s going to continue…”

As traps of doom go? This one’s pretty uninspired. A let down, even. For all the secret door and hidden basement set up that should have led to something we probably didn’t want to stumble into, I’m starting to think maybe I would have been better off with lime soda and cheetos (…seriously, that flavor combination…). Luckily for Tim, I’m not looking at him, his mostly graceful landing or the resulting owie pain face that he makes because I’m using my own two eyes and the light on my phone which…gets dwarfed by his suit’s light, which nearly blinds me a half second later when I turn around to look at the source.

“Well, I’d order a pizza, but the door’s bolted, and assuming they even brought the pizza complicated instructions like ‘throw a rock at the window’ or ‘just hand it to the mostly friendly vigilante’ are probably going to make them not bother. Talk about not enough bang for that buck…”

I’d been hoping to get to at least claim some sort of discovery or progress for my weekend, because I assumed they were all otherwise out there. Busy. Fighting the good fight. Trying to weed out some assassins, and sort out the Joker situation, because lets face it. Potential or not that is all way above my pay grade right now. But there’s nothing down here. Maybe my Dad’s smart enough not to keep anything incriminating on the premises but if that’s the case, why even have something like this? There’s push pins in the walls, like there used to be something there. Tiny scraps of torn paper beneath them that I go on tip toe to look at. They could have been maps. Maybe the blue prints we assumed were taken from the city buildings, if that ever was even a thing.

But there’s nothing to find. Not for his scanner even. Just dust that suggests things were here at some point, cleared in a rectangle on the table, or on the empty shelves on those walls. I’ve crouched down in front of them, getting ready to flip open the clasps and check inside when I pause to squint over at Tim. Then I laugh. Infinitely amused, until it starts to trail off.

“…oh, you’re not kidding are you? Yikes. Well. Um.”

How was my night? God was that a dare, a sincere question because he cares or are we starting a game of one upsmanship I’m totally going to lose. My serious answer is about to sound awfully stupid compared to his.

“I babysat three kids under the age of six, and then played ignore the not-so-super-villain. Your night might have been less stressful. At least I got paid, though!”

Tim: “Worst puns ever. You’re terrible at this flirting thing. Where’d you learn how to interact with Boys? Super-Villain school for the internal and external monologue?”

As good as Pizza might otherwise sound, I’m a little surprised to find nothing. Even if it was just a little something, I was thinking that we’d find at least a monument to his own greatness. Finding nothing is actually a little more suspicious than finding something, because this leaves us with some questions. Like for example: Did daddy dearest figure his daughter would go snooping? Or maybe, Steph was wrong and her Dad had learned from his previous mistakes. This is left unsaid, because I’ve already said what that could mean. The ones who learn are the actual scary ones. It happens to be what sets them apart from the other riff-raff.

I can’t even tell you the last time one of the dumb ones graduated to the class of smart ones though. This is a change and I’m wondering how closely it ties to what happened with my Father. “Hold on. Are you telling me a deadbolt lock is all it takes to keep you in line? Boy, if I tell Canary that I could have saved her a whole month of beating you up, by just locking you in your bedroom with a deadbolt. She’s really going to kick my ass.”

“Seriously. Flight of Stairs. Dance Troupe. Black Canary in a mini-skirt, with her nails and hair done. Deathstroke. Ninjas and Mobsters. Faux Penguin, plus two Penguin Actuals. One of which was armed with a rocket, the other with a flame thrower. I may or may not have gotten a pass made at me by one of a set of triplets. That’s the one I roofied.”

Offering little more than a shrug and a smile. Given her own descriptive weekend, I might not even trade her night for mine. She’s new to this not-a-game we’re all playing. Might as well prepare her for the insanity of the life she’s about to lead if she keeps going down this path. Also a good chance to remind her of the important parts of life.

“Yeah. Would you believe that’s not the most exciting weekend I’ve had this month? I rescued the Flash from a guy that could become any element he touched. Then fought a living computer virus. What I was done with that, I got a plane with Wonder Woman. Yet, my idea of being told to hit the sidelines and take a night off? Was bringing you a present and watching old movies. You won’t even bring me Coffee or let me see you throat punch someone. Mini-skirt not withstanding.”

Steph: “More like the local chapter of All the Guys I Know Are Douchebags or Drug Dealers or Both, with remedial courses in Ain’t No One Got Time for That. Next time there’s a break in Canary Beating Me With My Own Stick 101, I’ll ask her if she can give me some pointers. And then clarify I meant on boys before she stabs me with something.”

Not to mention the summer section of Daddy Issues, but we don’t like to talk about those. Why am I being held responsible for flirting skills?! This wasn’t in the syllabus. I’m also not totally sure I know what to do with this teasing and joking from him. This isn’t usually a problem for me! I’m a sassy, independent girl child! Right? Yeah. No. I’m just going to keep trying to run with this whole date is a a not-serious joke thing, but he sure is using it for all it’s worth. My make-believe classes may have trailed off into muttering by the time I actually flip the two toggles and lift one of the lids, revealing a…

I don’t know what the hell this is that I’m looking at. A pair of metal tubes, that almost look like the collapsible staff I’ve been learning to fight with, except there’s some kind of electronics on it. The whole thing looks…delicate despite being metal, with a clear toggle that I assume would be an on/off switch that I really want to push but… the thin shred of common sense I’ve still got in my head says Stephanie, No! There’s no cord that I can see. Battery operated?

No. I already picked it to make sure I could if I had to. Or there’s the windows. The horrible parental figure that’s nominally in charge that I assumed would probably not be gone long was a much bigger contributing factor. Since. Y’know. That hand. Trying to not tip it.”

Scowling a little, though it’s much more at what I’m looking at in the case, which seems to be in all of the other five matching ones, I pull a face at Tim as I fish the gameboy out again, fiddling with it until I work out how to apply the microbes he talked about. Asking would have been faster but that’s me. Stephanie Brown. Not the best at anything, but pretty good at figuring shiz out. I kind of want to give Red Robin one of these suckers to go try and puzzle out what it does, but that would be a noticeable loss. Guess we’ll just have to settle for what he can tell from looking, and seeing where they go.

“You do realize you’re not exactly making going out with you sound like a super smart play, right? Maybe the musty basement and frozen peas are the universe trying to jump start my sense of self-preservation. Also, I’m betting you didn’t actually know what to do with yourself, and this was probably like…option three or four. When we’re done down here though, if you really insist, I can make you some coffee and then punch you in the throat.”

There’s a haughty sniff as I straighten up to a standing position in front of the cases, giving my blonde hair a toss.

“Except a finger jab is much more effective.”

Tim: “I’m pretty sure you just called me a Douchebag,” which from the sound of my voice may actually be a first time for me. “Since we know I’m not a drug dealer. If you’re going to ask a girl for pointers on how to flirt with guys, Canary is definitely the one to give it.”

Unless you’re wanting to actually have more than a night’s fun with the guy in question. Not for nothing, but her brand of flirting happens to be very direct. To the point. No holds barred. Let’s get it over with sort of flirting. I’m not even sure what Dinah would do with the sort of flirting that is the ‘Take me home to meet the Parents’ kind of stuff. Oh, wait. Yes, I do know what she’d do. My jaw throbs at the consternation of what just might happen if Stephanie pursues that line of training.

I should warn her! Oh, right. She just called me a douchebag and offered to punch me in the throat. Kid gloves are off at this point in the dancing with sarcasm. I’ve moved over to let my suit take a full scan of the place. “Quantum Particle Scans could, in theory, give us a time-displaced map of what was here as much as a week ago. If only I’d been allowed to finish that paper, but noooo. I needed to go out. Live in the world. See the people I was saving. Meet people with like minded ambitions. Now we’ve got to wait on good old detective methods. Like running this through the Nest computers.”

“I’m going to need to take these scans to the Nest, directly. PennyOne is disconnected. Until we find out what got in to the Bat-System computers. He’s not on site at my bunker and we’re keeping it off the Grid, so that whatever or whoever is hacking in to the Bat Cave systems can’t get in to mine remotely. I feel a little blind out in the field, but I forgot to mention that someone dropped a Jet on Black Canary and Red Hood too.”

All of this is true, also it’s information that she didn’t have. I’m sharing, while also explaining to her that I’m going to need to take this information back to the base directly. Not just ask the man in our ears what we’re seeing. It’s also meant to tell her why I’m not just reading information off my Heads up Display. The computers in my suit are good, but they lack the database access to cross reference nearly enough information to tell us what we’re looking at. Not without going online and risking infiltration. Which sounds like a terrible idea right these days, more and more.

What comes next is a small smile, the sort of smile that’s far more ‘I told ya so,’ than anything else. “You’re right. I’m not, Steph. Part of me likes the idea, though. The other part still thinks I need to scare you in to running away, so you give this all up. Because I’ve got this innate desire to protect people. That innate desire grows in leaps and bounds, when I get to know the person I want to protect. Then you add in this White Knight complex. You’re lucky I’m not locking you in an ivory tower, that you’d have to climb down your own hair to escape from Goldilocks.”

“My point is. A guy would be crazy not to want to go on a date with a girl like you. But. I’m also trying to convince you to go have a normal life with a normal boy too.” My stream of conscious comes to a rather abrupt halt, as I look at the readings on the things we’re looking at. Every time I think this all can’t get any more weird, something new comes up. “Seriously. I’ve got to take these scans back to my Nest. You want to pick the locks, leave a note for your dad that you went out for Pizza with a Boy? Nothing too suspicious about that, is there?”

Steph: “Ehhhh…”

I waggle a hand back and forth at him. Like maybe that’s what I meant, and maybe he is, maybe he’s not. Jury’s out. Tim as Batman wasn’t a Douchebag to me. Tim as Red Robin before now kind of was. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of this one, maybe he’s being nicer to me now because he knows that I know who he is. Figured it out on my own and everything. Didn’t catch on to the whole Batman part until I was told, but in my defense he had a voice modulator and a much more covering mask on. Seriously. Look at him. That jawline and that little dimple in his chin? Erm. Yeah. Subject at hand. Retort! Retort, Brown!

“You did just admit to roofy-ing a waitress. Of the two, douchebag might have been the better category to fall into. In the sake of fairness, and because you did bring me a sick Pokemon gameboy, I don’t really know you. So. Maybe you can skirt past being stuck in either one. For now.”

Sure, I know his name. Both of them. Which can tell you a lot about someone when one of those parts is sorta famous, and the other is an urban legend, when you mix in some heavy google usage and social media stalking…which I totally haven’t done… but knowing about a person doesn’t mean you really know them. I know I’m not the sum of my parts. Or I too would be a douchebag and a drug dealer.
Quantum Particle Scans? Is…that a thing? Is he kidding and this is something pulled out of his ass or is that an actual thing? Because it sounds freaking fantastic. Like. I know someone that would be tripping balls over the concept. So I’m left falling back on that looking at him like a weird bug bit, as I watch him…presumably scanning the boxes. I can’t tell from here.

“…what the hell! Seriously! Why are you even here? They’re okay, I assume?”

Also WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL IS GOING ON? Ninjas and Joker problems are one thing, but it’s like someone got hold of the board of cosmic bad and flipped all the switches because. Screw it, right? I’ve thrown up my hands in exasperation at this new wrinkle in the lives of the Bat Family. I don’t want to ask if it can get worse. Gotham will say ‘hold my beer’ and then we’re all forked.

“Wait. What?”

Really? Now I’m pinching the bridge of my nose, before I close the case again, making sure it’s settled exactly where it had been in the first place. Like maybe that’s going to rein in whatever…the heck is going on with my night now, and this conversation as a whole. He likes the idea of …what? Going out? Is that what he really just said? I’m still stuck torn between figuring this is some really long game method of humiliating me and…what’s my option B exactly? I’m just…openly boggling at him because he’s saying nice things again. No black cowl on or anything. You know what? I’ve got nothing.

“Normal life with a douchebag or a drug dealer? Yeah. Hard pass.”

Wait. Was he doing my shtick and thinking out loud? That’s my best explanation, so I just turn around to troop back up the stairs.

“Teenage rebellion against the father I don’t want to spend time with, and make sure every fifteen seconds or so he knows that? You’d probably be more suspicious if I didn’t. Lock picking and pizza it is.”


Child locks? I’m not six anymore. If you want to lock me in here, at least leave food. Gone to get some. Food.

Be back when I’m back.

– Steph

No. Really. That’s what gets scrawled on the back of the first piece of paper I find. Girly cursive handwriting, hearts for the dots on my I’s and everything.