Dinah: All in all? That could have gone better.

Mission accomplished, though. I’d made myself a nuisance, and a sizable one at that, hopefully for long enough to get the job done. I hadn’t exactly gotten a precise timeline for how long I had to keep Superman’s attention pointed at me instead of anywhere else, so hopefully Tim’s friend had skedaddled and gotten on with what she needed to do. I’d anticipated getting back a bit later than I have, but I also figured I’d be taking conventional travel back to Gotham. Or alternately doing a little swimming and then calling for a ride, depending upon how things played out. Getting flown without an aircraft? Not actually something I’d care to repeat anytime all that soon. Maybe because I wasn’t entirely sure the guy wasn’t just going to drop me. Sure, he’d been trying to act good but it could have been just that. An act.

My jacket was still at the nightclub, and along with it everything else like my phone. It meant I didn’t really have any means of radioing in, or calling to let my roommate know that I was okay and I’d done what he’d asked. It also means that once I’ve been dropped off at the harbor? I’ve got a bit of a walk ahead of me. I don’t mind, lets me clear my head and work off the steam I’d build up in Metropolis. Gotham would probably be about the worst place to have to do a walk of shame, but there’s not one ounce of that in me, nor a reason to be ashamed. Plus I actually almost feel sorry for someone that sees this particular skimpy dressed blonde and thinks she’s going to be easy pickins. But being confident in your skills, knowing you’re more than a match for pretty much anything the street has to serve up, doesn’t mean you can be careless either.

The alleys, and back ways are more natural and normal to me than sidewalks at this point. It’s that proclivity that actually nets me a bit of a detour. A detour that sends me up a fire escape, and into the shadows where I can watch unobserved. You see. Normally there’s only really one reaction when you see a crime in progress, or just know there’s about to be one. We’re vigilantes. We do certain things a certain way. But I’m without my gear. More importantly, without the coat of makeup I wear to alter my features to the point of barely recognizable. It’s also not just anybody going into that Public House. It’s the Joker and his Loon Squad. I don’t need to be a tactical whiz kid to know how this is going to go. Even before the screaming and yelling starts.

Do I feel even a little bad about not interfering? No. I know exactly the sort of people that are inside that building. Most days it’d maybe be me kicking the everliving shit out of them. It’s the second party that has my attention and concern. Cocking my blonde head to the side, it doesn’t take me more than a moment to pick what I’m looking for out of the night sky. Once you know they’re there, it’s easy to spot Red Robin’s drones. Well. Guess that means he knows I’m back. Leaning against the railing more as a perch than a real hiding spot, I’m debating going into the building anyway. Just in case he’d needed help. The slow count that I’d begun in my head isn’t finished by the time I see one party…and then the other emerge. I don’t know, honestly, if I’m more relieved, or grumpy. That throttling can wait until another night though. Not that I couldn’t do it in my boots and mini skirt.

Kicking a leg over that railing again, I drop down to the concrete, bending my knees to absorb the impact as I bring my hand up to my cheek like I’m holding something in place.

“Kssssssht. Red Robin, are you aware that Red Hood seems to be making nice with the Joker-over. Kssssht.”

It’s that kind of night, isn’t it? I’m going to keep amusing myself by talking in my imaginary walkytalky the whole way back I think. Because Gotham and Crazy go hand in hand, and I think it’s really damn funny. It’s that or humming to myself.

“Kssssht. On my way in. Also your friend wasn’t very nice to me. Over. KSsssht.”

Tim: To say that I had been worried about Dinah is an understatement. We had done our homework. She had studied up on the target. When I asked Dinah to do a favor for me, I didn’t intend to send her in blind. So I opened the toolbox. Gave her every scrap of information on Conner Luthor that I’d put together, at Bruce’s direction, over the last two years. She went in armed to the teeth with enough tactical knowledge, that I was positive she would survive. Almost sure. Well, it was more like playing the odds. They were in her favor, because the deck -and- Dinah were stacked against the subject of her wiles.

Once the reports from Gotham had come in? I’d feared the worst, for about an hour. In that second hour, I’d begun to formulate multiple plans. From extraction, in case of capture, to vengeance in case of the worst. Not one of those plans, sadly, had involved ‘Pick me up at the Harbor.’ Whatever happened. However it came to be that Dinah was dropped off at the Harbor by the very person she was sent to distract? That’s a story I’m interested in. All I really know is that if the seismic activity in Metropolis was anything bad, she wouldn’t be walking back like she seems to be doing once my pretty little birds actually zero in on her.

Drones. They’ve been circulating around the City for weeks now. A contingency plan that Bruce and I had conceived a couple of years ago. We just never put it in to action, because Bruce thought it violated all sorts of privacy ethics. I’d agreed at the time, but re-thought my position after he was gone. Not because I thought we were wrong originally, but because I needed something to help me find the culprit. As time marched on and I became desperate for answers, I’d turned to the little drone army. Eyes in the Sky, that could help me a little more to be ‘Everywhere, all at once.’ These days, Dinah rarely sees me without a computer going. Constantly sifting through the drones information. Even though there’s very likely an app for that.

“Ugh. We spent millions of Wayne R&D budget dollars on those drones. They simply don’t do static.”

Oh, I’m not talking to Dinah. You see the little drones aren’t equipped with the ability for two-way communication. Although, in retrospect, that might actually be worthy of an upgrade. Instead I’m talking mostly to myself. Stephanie certainly has no idea what I’m babbling about. She hasn’t a clue that I’m listening to my little birds, whom are spying upon Dinah and Damien (not to mention the rest of the Bat-family and any criminal they can find). Now that I think about it though, I’m glad that I can’t communicate directly with Dinah right now. It saves me from having to answer Dinah directly. I’ll worry about that later, when I’m not demonstrating the basics of how to throw a punch.

By way of first letting Stephanie try one of her own, blocking it and then showing her how to do it for real. Over and over, until she manages to do one without locking her wrist. I’ve got some hope for Steph, actually. It’s only taken her the entire night ( of which she has been thrown, punch, kicked, tripped and choked more times than I think I want to admit ) to figure out finally how to throw right hook. Without breaking her own hand, wrist, fingers, or potentially just hitting herself. ( That only happened once, but it now lives on for ever by way of the screens that replay the video every few minutes. On a loop. )

“Take a break. We’re about to have company. The kind of company that might take offense to the fact you’re still not moving your feet the way I told you to four hours ago.”

Dinah: It could have taken longer to get there, but you get to know the shortcuts like the back of your own hand when you spend enough time making use of them to cut off criminals and lowlifes. It’s likely even faster when you use one of those computerized maps like Tim enjoys so much, but it’s cheating and I just don’t like them. Computers are his thing. A memory like a steel trap is mine. I probably should just go back to Pretty Bird’s. At this point in the night, the place will be full and loud and no one is going to notice me going up to my apartment over the bar’s second floor. Except I’m willing to bet what little money I have that it’s not where my partner in ‘crime’ is, and that he’s instead holed up in his little cave. I’m sorry. Roost.

There’s letting yourself in to a secret lair, and then there’s knowing you’re being let in and if you weren’t invited there was probably some elaborately abrupt defense mechanism that would have knocked you on your ass. By the time I waltz in, whistling like I’d been doing since I got bored of my staticy one sided conversation, I’m pretty happy to finally have arrived. Times like that makes you really appreciate your motorcycle for getting around Gotham. I really don’t know how those dummies who do it on foot manage, sometimes.

“Luuuuuucy, I’m home!”

The sashay is only partly for his benefit, the truth is it’s just kind of how I walk and being out at night only makes it worse. Habit. Part of the persona that’s really more me than Dinah Lance is at this point. There comes a point in a life like this where your secret identity is more like the costume than the name you picked out for yourself in the night. Being away for a few years hadn’t changed that, but then, the Canary hadn’t stopped stepping out just because she stepped out of Gotham. It, the strutting, comes to an abrupt halt when I see we’re not actually alone though. The purple clad girl’s slumped against one of the walls like she’s concerned at any moment someone’s going to make her get up again. It doesn’t take that practiced of an eye to figure out what they’ve been doing, and it’s got a lot more to do with punching than it does with anything naughty. Still. Can’t help the teasing. It’s my nature.

“Sheesh, I’m gone five minutes… what is it with you and blondes?”

Tim: The ‘Roost’ (it’s not a cave, damnit), happens to be buried beneath an old Warehouse. Owned by a subsidiary of a subsidiary, of another subdiary’s subsidiary. Once upon a time it was an R&D dump for retired equipment that Bruce either upgraded or did away with. Sometime later, it saw a little used as a backup point to house the Jet, Boat and Mobile. I’ve taken it over as a remote base, because the Clocktower is likely too busy and the Cave just seems… Empty without him there.

Ordinarily the place is little more than it’s original intent; a hidden safe house. Tonight though it’s playing host to Stephanie Brown. Recently it’s seen a bit of a make-over. I’ve been updating the place. While Bruce and Alfred created the place, I’m not sure anyone outside of them and I knew it was here. At least, until I let Dinah in. Then later Damien, so that I could get him outfitted in something that wouldn’t land him on the News as a masse murderer the first time someone with a smartphone got him on camera. Tonight? Well, tonight I put some of the out-dated training tools stored here to work. Much to Stephanie’s chagrin.

“It’s a lot like pok-e-mon, gotta catch’em all,” comes a tongue in cheek reply to Dinah’s teasing, “This is the one I asked you about. The one who is going to get herself or someone else killed if you don’t help her.”

Now that’s an introduction. It also happens to be a means to an end. Swerving Dinah a little off course, so that she doesn’t immediately go in to the litany of discussions we need to have. I need a minute, no more than that, to take stock of her. She looks alright. Better than alright, honestly. Which means that she’s not physically hurt. I have to be honest, with myself mainly, I’m having to stop myself from hugging her. Part of me also wants to apologize. Whether for what ever happened or asking her to go in the first place. Instead of doing that, I give her something that she will actually appreciate far more than a teenage boy’s hug or apologies.

“Wonder Woman made it to Fawcett City, she was able to make contact -and- she somehow managed to stumble upon a bank robbery / hostage situation. Whatever you did with Superman, you did it pretty well. I’d say mission accomplished, but.. um… you got a ride home from your target. I’m not the expert of course, but is that how this sort of thing is supposed to go?”

Dinah: And it also happens to be conveniently close to my Grandparent’s bar, which became my bar when my Grandfather passed. Managed by old family friends, and left to their care. I hadn’t known what to do with the place, and it made me a little sad honestly. It proved convenient enough to come back to though, a place that I could crash anytime I was in the city. That just hadn’t happened until Bruce had died, and Helena had called. Maybe it wouldn’t have for a while still if things had been different. Coincidence on the location? Maybe. But having met Batman I kind of doubt that.

“Hey! I am… not..!”

I don’t need to see be able to see all of the girl’s face to make out the expression she’s got under that half mask, the hood of her cloak is pushed back away from decidedly disheveled and sweaty blonde head. She’d probably be a whole lot cooler and more comfortable for practice if she took it and the mask off, but I’m actually assigning her micro-props even as I judge her on nearly everything else that I can see. If you’re going to insist on wearing something out on the street? You have to be able to fight and move in it. To know what you’re doing enough to not get fouled. Take my high heeled boots. They could be a liability, but I’ve practiced in them enough to make them more a weapon than something to trip me up. I should probably be a little annoyed that she’s here, and that I’ve walked in very much in Full Dinah Face. I have to assume, however, that if Tim thought she was a risk for tattling? She wouldn’t be here in the first place.

And if she does? Well. I know where he sleeps. Leaning over, hands on hips puts me pretty close to nose to nose with Red Robin’s stray.

“Well, hey kiddo. I’m Black Canary. I suggest you eat your Wheaties every morning, because I’m going to kick your ass. And then kick it while you’re down, because if I don’t do it, someone out there will. Difference is, strong chance I won’t make you dead. No one out there’s going to do you the same favor.”

Grey blue eyes, which are about all you can really make out of her face go wide in surprise, and it’s a little comical because she looks like she’s trying to decide if I’m kidding, and maybe Tim had told her before basically the same thing but she thought he was kidding, too. Nope. Not kidding. Not joking. There’s not much of a better motivator than pain. When you’ve got a younger pupil, sure you do things a little differently. Their bodies are still growing and muscle memory is an easier thing. Ted Grant didn’t start out beating me bloody when I was six years old. That waited until I was a teenager, should have known better, and had to get the lessons the hard way. It’s definitely not going to feel like it, but she wants to do this? I’m doing her a favor doing it my way.

The shock is short lived, before a gloved hand is lifted in an A-OK symbol and a chipper voice makes me snort. Well. At least she’s got that going for.

“Sure, no problem, breakfast’s my favorite. Breakfast four meals a day…”

Straightening upright again, ignoring the show I might have just been giving and frankly not really caring. I might be wearing not much but I wear even less a normal night. And I kick people in the face while doing it. I don’t plan on kicking anyone in the head right now. Certainly not Tim, anyway, who I’ve turned on a bootheel to face and approach, leaving his still winded sparring partner in the corner. For her sake? I hope they’d been going at it for hours or I really might accidentally end up killing her.

“I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Waggling my eyebrows demonstratively, and rather suggestively. “Which he was all over and then refused. He then proceeded to try to save me from my life of mediocrity, threatened me with N.O.W.H.E.R.E., had a bit of a fit after I yelled at him for it, then we made very nice and brought me home. I’ve got some additional notes for your little fun files.”

My tone is sing song in relating the bare bones of the evening. I’m all for him interpreting and guessing a little. I might spell it out more, or maybe tease more, if we didn’t have extra company but either way I’m entirely cheery about it as I move to commandeer a seat and kick my feet up on the closest flat surface.

“The suit? Records everything. Also he recovers from double ruptured eardrums disturbingly fast. And while he was with me he was not in Fawcett City, and paying direct attention to me and nothing else, so I’d say that was mission accomplished indeed. You’re welllllllcome.”

“….heh, I love that song.”

“Right? Me, too kid.”

Tim: It’s all too easy to figure out why Stephanie is here. Other than the fact that she needs the help. I mean it, she really needs the help. Like more than anyone I’ve ever met, that wasn’t a toddler. In fact she happens to be a lot like a toddler. Helpless. Drooling. Flailing around blindly. Not really accomplishing anything. But being very fulfilled not to have died while doing it. Yeah, that’s about how I summarize my meetings with her so far.

She also serves as a bit of a distraction. I could have sent her home when I heard the comments about Damien on the drones, but I didn’t. Because this very much keeps the things Dinah verbally abuses me about to a minimum. For now, at least. I’m a little thankful, honestly, once I see her eyes waggle. Offer he couldn’t refuse? But he did? Or he didn’t? What does it even mean?! He ‘report’ about the mission is little more than gibberish, honestly. I’m about to tell her so too, when I pick up something of even more importance.

“You ruptured his eardrums. Dinah, I thought we agreed you weren’t going to beat up Superman unless you had no other choice?” Now it’s my hands on that are on my hips, my tone that takes a bit of a lecturing one and also happens to project just a little more so that Stephanie can hear what I’ve just said. “Okay. Actually, I’m going to assume you didn’t pick a fight with a Superman. Instead, I’m going to focus on … you know what? I’m completely confused. He tried to save you. Then he threatened you. Then he saved you. All the while he refused your overture. Until you made nice, excuse me.. very nice.. and he brought you home?”

“It’s times like these, that I understand why you drink. None of that mad…. holdup… did you say his suit records everything? Or were you telling Stephanie that mine does? Because if it’s the latter, you should know it does actually. If it’s the former? Then it means he’s being monitored.”

Dinah: “I didn’t beat up Superman. Sheesh.”

The scoff in my tone says it would be very hard for Tim to have said anything more ridiculous than what just came out of his mouth. And the way I absently bounce one booted foot, and check under my nearly non-existent fingernails could almost say that I’m playing coy, or even a little shy about what I’ve done except two of us in this room know I’ve got little to no shame, and if I’ve actually done something? I’m just going to own up to it, because I don’t act on something unless it’s really what I felt I needed to do in the moment.

“It’s not like I capitalized on him being down on the floor with his ears bleeding to inflict more damage. I bolted. Or I would have, except he threatened to bring the building down on everyone’s heads unless I came back.”

“What the fuu..”

“Right? I know. And I didn’t feel like I had any other choice. It was go along with what he wanted, or incoming NOWHERE in three minutes. So I acted. I wasn’t going to divulge your little secrets until at least our third date but if that’s what you want we can just all play Truth or Dare right now.”

I’m all over the place, and it’s entirely by design. Mostly because there’s a third set of ears here, or I would have told him that I’d assaulted Conner Luthor, not Superman, just for a little more background to the actual story. Or I might have spelled out further how I’d gotten Superman’s attention in the first place, and how there was an open ended offer for shenanigans that definitely shouldn’t take place when you know that under the suit? The other person’s in high school. Which he still made very clear he wouldn’t be necessarily opposed to at a later date.

“But yes. Bingo. The latter. He pegged me as a meta, but not a recognizable one with their database. He was trying to offer to help put me in touch with someone who could train me …haha right?… and then he was trying to connect my band to his family to protect me… all in all, that intel you gave me kind of left me woefully unprepared for the guy that I actually ran into. Well. Up until the death threats.”

“…I thought Superman was the good guy…”

Dropping my feet to the floor, I lean forward. Propping elbows on my knees to look up at him with a degree of actual seriousness, I start ticking off talking points on my fingers.

“Suit monitors everything, unless he’s up in the stratosphere. And either that girlfriend of yours has Supes wrapped around her pinkie finger so tight that he’s acting against his nature for her…”

“..there’s a girlfriend? Er. Just. Asking. For a friend.”

“… or you’ve pretty seriously misjudged your buddy. Maybe both. I wasn’t actually settled on which option I was going with before he brought me back here to keep me away from the incoming Big Brother Swarm.”

Tim: “My intel is good,” there’s a quick response if ever there was one, without an ounce of offended tone. “He’s self-centered, even self-absorbed. Little or no emotional attachment to the concepts of right or wrong. He acts without thinking, normally, then deals with the consequences by daring someone to put a stop to him.”

Truth be told? I’m torn. It makes sense that Conner’s dedication to Cassandra Sandsmark would play out in to a desire to please her. However I’m a little surprised that someone like Dinah couldn’t persuade him to do something that he would surely be able to get away with. Either she didn’t try very hard or he was a little more dedicated than I’ve given him credit for… or he’s working an angle. Maybe he thought that by rescuing someone, like Dinah, he’d earn some sort of reward. From Luthor or Cassie or both. That sounds more like the Boy that I know. It also fits perfectly in to the mold that I want to cast him in. Which makes me feel just a little bad about it, maybe I’ve not given the guy a fair…

Oh. There it is. Death threats. Right, bringing the whole place down unless she doesn’t run away. That sounds like the guy I’d gone to school with for a couple of years. “Mm. Alright. I’m seeing the pattern here. You made contact. His suit records it. Now he knows that they know. Which means he either had to help you or let you get scooped up. He didn’t have any way to know that Wonder Woman was out of town yet, at that point. So he assumes that she would find out. You put him in to a position where he had to act in a manner fitting to Wonder Woman’s vision of him.”

“It makes sense, but if there’s even a chance that Wonder Woman has succeeded in curbing him?” It doesn’t take an expert detective to see that what I’m about to say takes some work, apparently it tastes bitter. “Then we need to find a way to cement that.”

In that moment I was talking out loud, but not really talking to either of them. This was something that hadn’t truly ever crossed my mind. I thought the super boy was just about as irredeemable as possible. My only hope had been to somehow break the control over him that N.O.W.H.E.R.E. had. Maybe even neutralize that control Luthor had, so that it would in turn take away tools at the disposal of a superman. I hadn’t even really considered that it might be plausible to save the actual Boy himself. If Dinah had seen the things I’ve seen, I’m sure she’d think the same thing.

“He’s dating Wonder Woman,” growled over at Stephanie, on my approach to Dinah so as to put a fingertip upon the tip of a bouncing boot. “You’re good at this. Reading people. Plus, you’ve had time to think about it on the way home. Was my intel bad, outdated or does the girl have her hooks in him deep enough to make a difference if push came to shove?”

That other gloved hand rises in a silent signal to Stepahnie not to make a joke, yet. “Oh and uh, slightly more pressing question. If all of this went sideways, does that mean you’re on the database now? Do we need to get you out of the Country? And, yes. She babbles like that, non-stop, but she’s actually got something. Maybe intuition, maybe luck. Either way, she’s going to get herself or someone else killed working it through.”

“She’s also got a family history, like the rest of us,” lowering my voice to a mere stage-whisper. “Spoiler alert, Canary, her father’s on page three of her file. You might want to skip ahead.”

Dinah: “I don’t doubt that it was. I just think you may have undersold slightly the kind of influence a good woman can have on a royal douchebag if he actually cares what she thinks. Or at least that you didn’t translate that knowledge into concrete words in your files there.”

Really. I need to meet this girl at some point just so that I can truly understand what she’s working with. Maybe it’s the whole literal goddess part, because blonde with a body I’ve already got down. Sass, attitude, check. Not because I want to compete with her, I don’t need to compete with anyone. It’s curiosity more than anything, because I really don’t doubt Tim’s observations. Even factoring his own feelings in, he’s perceptive enough to be able to set things like that aside for the facts of a matter. But I won’t lie, the way he growls at the girl that’s looking like she’s at least recovered some oxygen enough to sit up a little more straight and gather her feet under her in a cross legged position I almostlaugh at him. Almost. My foot kicks a little bit harder under the tip of his finger just to make it bounce once before I subside, and there’s a muffled little mutter from across the room.

“…is he talking in third person now or…oh Superman. Yeah. No. My friend was talking about….nevermind.”

But as to his question about Conner Luthor, our current Superman, and his motivations?

“Look, I may not know him like you do, but I do know bullshit when I hear it, and he seemed pretty legitimately angry because trying to do something her way, and help someone, was backfiring pretty spectacularly on him. And putting her in danger. I think he actually wants to try to believe her way works. Do I think he’s there yet? No. But I’m pretty sure he’s going to do whatever the Hell he has to in order to keep her safe. Even if it doesn’t make her happy. Red, it may have been legitimately the only time I have ever felt bad about screaming in someone’s ear. Especially … er… point blank. I think not disappointing her a real motivator for him. Which works for us, unless keeping Wonder Woman safe is ever going to require working in opposition to us.”

I also legitimately don’t want to make Tim feel bad. Correction. Worse than he probably already feels about having to say out loud he needs to make sure the First Hottest Blonde’s relationship with his psuedo-best friend stays happy, healthy and lasting. But from my run ins with Superman? I think I can pretty safely say Wonder Woman is the only reason we’re not seeing a whole different sort of monster in that Cape right now. You don’t need to see Stephanie’s mouth under that mask to know she was about to say something and is only held off by Red Robin’s hand. But only for a few moments. Long enough for him to finish anyway.

“…She she or she me? I’m so confused…are you complimenting me or insulting me? Or she? Wait. Who’s file? My file?! I should get to see my file! Why do you have a file?!”

At this point, Spoiler’s getting up and with much less wobble in her legs than I might have expected. She is blonde and she is a girl though. Chances are Boy Wonder may have been taking it easy on her like I’m not going to. Maybe that’s why I got recruited for the Fledgling Vigilante Reformation Club. I still more or less ignore her though, to answer the actual important question in what he’d said.

“Yes, but I led him to believe I had a super minor whistling louder than average power with little or no training. The volume part he doesn’t believe, but the no training part he may have. He seemed to think he could handle it by checking up on me. Which means we can plan on a visit in the future…sometime. Might I suggest that by then you cook up one of your little doohickies to block out his suit? I think it’d go a long way for everyone’s interests. Either I can give it to him, or you get it to his girl to pass along.”

What else was there that I’d deemed in my own personal debriefing as I walked across Gotham as important, in between inappropriate ‘radio’ transmissions to his drones?

“Oh. When I told him I’d be safe here, there was a very obvious and clear lightbulb moment and gears turning in that dense skull.” Not even being rude. It is incredibly dense. “He knows he wasn’t supposed to come to Gotham, and now an undocumented Meta thought she was going to be safe from NOWHERE there. I am betting he put two and two together, but he got six instead of four.”

Tim: Ugh. With every single word Dinah says I’m getting a far worse feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s a really good thing I’ve kept the suit on. That may be the only thing keeping both women from seeing me turn a little green. The irony in all of this is that I like Conner, that’s the truth. The parts of him that are normal, are actually great. There just happens to be so few of them. When we first met, I could not for the life of me understand why Bruce insisted that I visit that particular school. Make those particular friends. If anything, he was a standard Luthor. He was all the things I said he was moments ago, but in Luthor-mode he also intentionally dials all those personality quirks up. His secret identity? Is all about being the worst possible person, so that no one would ever suspect him of being anything good.

Frankly? It works. Because even now, right this second, I’m hard pressed to think of a single redeemable quality about him. He’s a blank slate though or he was. Which leads to that singular saving grace; he didn’t know what love really was. His meeting Cassie had gone poorly at first. Continued that way for a couple months too. Somewhere around Homecoming our first year at St. Joseph’s, the two of them clicked and it stopped looking like a hostage situation and became a Stockholm situation. It was only because of the strict orders from Bruce that kept me from intervening. Now though, right now, I’m once more rocked by how good at this Bruce was. He knew. Somehow he saw it in the cards, forced me to play the hand. Now, if what Dinah says is true, there is a real chance that Cassandra Sandsmark might actually save the world from a threat she keeps from every materializing.

“That’s a puzzle for you to work out,” is the only real comment for Stephanie, as to whether I’m insulting her or complimenting her. “Everyone has a file. You can see them when Canary says you can handle seeing them.”

For a time then I’m quiet. Leaving the ‘Roost’ to the sounds of Stephanie and Dinah, while I look absently at the methodical way my hand bounces under the force of Dinah’s movements. It’s soothing. Having that point of focus as my world spirals out of my pretty little box that I’ve put it in. Damnit. Everything fit so well. Everything had a place, every place had a thing. Now I’m faced with the very real reality, that I’m going to have to sacrifice something important to me personally, to someone that I was pretty sure from the start was a monster. How can I do anything else? There’s a very real chance Dinah’s right and that disappointing Cassandra is something important enough to forge a real Superman out of Conner Luthor. How do you turn away from that possibility? Especially when you know the world just lost a Batman. The Batman.

“Stunting his suit shouldn’t be that difficult, but if they’re monitoring it? We need to do something better than block it. We need to make it so that they’re unable to monitor him, but don’t actually know they’re not monitoring him. Until…” Taking a deep breathe and a step forward, trails that fingertip down her boot until it’s about to touch Canary’s actual skin. Then I give it a gentle nudge off of the computer terminal. “… you think Superman doesn’t need to be monitored. You’re going to be meeting with him again?”

A jerk of the cowled head in Stephanie’s direction, if only to make a point. “If Wonder Woman has her hooks in him and he thinks saving you is a good way to get in to her graces. Maybe you can work that angle. Show him the benefits of doing things Her way. You’re already going to be teaching one Stray, why not two? Reinforce Wonder Woman’s point. Let’s give him as many reasons to buy in to Wonder Woman’s philosophy.”

I’m about to go on, say something more when I find myself staring at Dinah for a different reason. Recognition. She already thought about that, didn’t she? It’s why she had him bring her to Gotham. Because it gives her a chance to follow through on meeting him again. Instead of it just being a ploy before she disappeared. Dinah was working the angle, before I even knew there was one.

“You already think he’s ready to have it blocked don’t you? Huh, he turned down sleeping with you to impress her. That’s not exactly the empirical data, I normally like to work with but… I’ve got to admit, it’s compelling. I’m not sure I would have turned that offer down. Alright. I’ll work something up, you can give it to him. If Wonder Woman gives it to him there’ll be more questions than I think she’s ready to answer.”

“In any case, we’ve got some more immediate problems to work through. I heard what you said. About the Joker. There’s something I think you should know…” She’ll understand then, why I nudged her foot off of the edge of my desk, when I tap in the command to show her the Roost’s internal cameras. Playing back Damien’s visit for her. When he picked up his new suit and hardware. “. . . so . . . this happened.”

Dinah: “Ugh! If I wanted to be confused and yet still soul crushed I could have stayed home and watched K-Dramas…instead I picked fictional study group with Mr. Rogers and the Chuck Norris of vigilantes… not that I’m not grateful for the opportunity to be. Y’know. Beaten up and downtrodden.”

I’m still not paying that much attention to Stephanie, though what Tim had said made me curious enough to want to dig her file up on the computer right now and take a looksie. Family issues, yeah, none of us enter into this business without it. In fact, I can’t think of a single person that I know in this line of work that took it up voluntarily, or not so voluntarily, that has a happy, safe, sane childhood. And frankly at least one dead parent. It’s a little shocking that there aren’t more of us for that reason alone, especially here in Gotham but maybe it takes a certain suicidal bent to a personality to get you here. Or we were just some of the few who were lucky enough, had enough skill, to make it until Bruce took us in. Tim told me he didn’t want this one getting herself killed, and that it’d be his fault if he let it continue. I’m sure that’s true enough. I can’t help wondering if it’s also because it’s what Bruce did.

“I assume I’m the Chuck Norris. I look horrible in cardigans. Covers up everything important and exciting. I’ll remind you how grateful you are when we’ve gotten you a little more trodden though.”

That, however, isn’t something I’m going to ask him. As I demonstrated with my abbreviated, field psych eval of his Superfriend, I don’t really need to ask many questions to put together the pieces and clues that are in front of me. Even if I don’t know the subject all that well, and I know Tim Drake a great deal better than I’d gotten to know Conner Luthor in half an hour. Or maybe he sees something in her besides a utility belt full of optimism and a woefully blank slate. Cocking a thumb and forefinger into a finger gun, I pull the imaginary trigger at Tim as he works out what kind of tech we’d actually need to accomplish what I was suggesting.

“Attaboy. A feed loop of some sort maybe, but nothing to make them think it’s broken and they need to fix it. Long enough for you to finish recruiting Red Robin’s Angels, and there’s enough of them that the scales can be tipped. At least, I assume that’s what the end game plan is here.”

He’s got the information. She has the status, and the ability to proverbially rub that status off on someone else. I assume by being seen with them, associated the same way Luthor was trying to get me to do with him. So that people would notice if they went missing, would ask questions that someone wouldn’t want to have to answer. And they’re going to have to do it at a pace that NOWHERE doesn’t think something is up and act before the setup is secure to wipe them out. That could mean slow and steady, one at a time, or maybe a group unveiling when it’s too late and unable to be spun anyway but what it is. A co-op of heroes, independent of Lex Luthor’s agenda.

“Yes. I don’t know when, but I don’t doubt he’ll turn up again so that he can show he was reporting and they still think he’s in line with the program.”

I can’t help laughing, as my foot hits the floor of the Roost with an echoing thump because I haven’t bothered to slow the descent from anything but a dead weight drop.

“He’s going to be a little confused when I switch tacks from ‘You’re Superman, you can do whatever you want!’ and ‘Is that a sidekick in your tights or are you happy to see me?’ to ‘Great Power and Great Responsibility.’ But I can give it a go. Sorry kid, not going to proposition you and boost your ego anymore. And not you either.”

“Uh.. yeah… boy. What a disappointment but… I think I’m good.”

Waving a hand absently in Stephanie’s direction, as I lean in to look at the monitor Tim’s nudged my boots off of.

“Yeah, I do. There was literally zero reason for him to be honest with me, I just ruptured his ear drums and made his day difficult. None. But he got me where they couldn’t hear, and did. You don’t have a girlfriend that can crush your skull if she’s angry with you. But you do know even better than he does how great I am.”

“…so there’s not a girlfriend…”

“If he doesn’t think he needs to follow NOWHERE’S orders all the time in order to protect Wonder Woman from their attention? I think he’s going to be a whole lot more likely to be…well. Superman.”

I think there’s something you should know. Literally nothing good ever follows that statement. Ever. Deaths. Disasters. Disappointments. That’s what follows. And what he shows me has me inhaling sharply through my nose. For a drawn out amount of time, that might indicate I’m about to use all that air for some lung power. Or, as it turns out, to let out an equally long and drawn out sigh.

“So you’re aiding and abetting even more idiocy? …no offense.”

“…none taken. I. Think.”

“Did you know he was using it to commit murder with the Joker? Or were you just thinking some solo action? Christ. I understand frustration and anger and not having a concrete way to channel it but Jesus. He’s going to get himself somewhere you don’t go back from.”

I’d know. I was almost there once, too. But I never went in on homicide with the other side.

Tim: “You can’t be the Chuck Norris,” said with little more than a wolfish smirk, “You are far too pretty to be the Chuck Norris. But there’s a certain Irony you can work in someone calling you Mrs. Rogers.”

While the clowning has it’s purpose; Distraction. I’m not overly keen on letting it through my thought processes. Which is why I encourage it, but I only indulge a little before I put myself back on the proper track. Making a loop of some sort that would block the true monitoring of whatever Conner was doing? That’s easy. Simulating something; something believable that only the best sleuth in the world would actually uncover as a deception? That’s a real challenge, but the solution rests in what I’ve just said about Irony.

“They raised him in a cloning tube, educated him with a virtual reality program. One of the first things Batman had me do, after meeting the new Superman, was to track down his true origin. It lead me to a little place in Nevada. Where a laboratory used to exist. I say used too, because the place was a heap of rubble. I spent three days sifting through it and by the time I’d left? All I recovered was some trace element programming from the tube that held him. It only survived because it was in proximity to him. It was the virtual reality program that he woke up from. I think, with some modifications, I could adapt it to project that back to his handlers. It’ll take me some time….”

Another look, flicked back over a shoulder to Stephanie, before returning my gaze to the busty blonde in front of me. “Time you can spend making sure she doesn’t get herself killed. I gave her a suit, but it’ll only protect her so far. It won’t likely protect her from herself at all… uh, wait, uh…you told him he could do whatever he wanted? With everything or.. you specifically?”

“I’d like to reiterate that I’m dumbfounded at his refusal,” the shake of the head is paired with the slow exhale of breathe that once more serves as my pulling my thoughts off of a track they’re threatening to go down and back to where they need to be. “Skull-Crushing Girlfriend sounds like either an excellent code name or the finishing move of a terrible professional wrestler. Though, I’m not sure that actually works out if you’re Superman. She can’t crush his skull…”

A quick turn in Stephanie’s direction let’s me take a sum of her recuperation. “She’s talking about Him not Me. I don’t have a girlfriend. Skull-crushing variety, most especially. But, I think she was also talking about propositioning Him and You, although if she were, I would more than willing to surrender the Roost to the two of you.”

“Call me a sucker for idiocy, but I can’t let Damien go out there and get himself killed any more than I can let Stephanie. The difference is that I could tell in a heartbeat that Stephanie’s too stubborn to give this up. Even though she’s so under-trained that she’s more likely to break her own neck on that cape she bought at a Halloween prop-shop, than to get killed in the line of duty. Damien’s almost the opposite. If I didn’t help him, he’d go out there and do the same things. He’d just do them without the Hood. What do we gain by that? Our Father’s legacy drawn in to the mud. Not one step closer to his killers? Plus, there’s a good chance he ends up dead, right along with Br…”

“Besides. You don’t get to lecture me on this one. What did you do to stop him? No, not tonight. I mean when you saw him on your return to Gotham. You just read a guy like a championship profiler, in thirty minutes. Don’t tell me you didn’t know Damien was going to do things the League of Assassins way. It’s Damien. But you didn’t kick his ass and put him in time-out. We’re both equally guilty of whatever he does when we chose not to stop him. I’m just hoping we can get something useful out of Damien being Damien…”

“It’s not just frustrating, to not have any movement. Dead ends at every turn. It’s damning. Because every day we go without a lead, is another day that the rest of the world goes down the tubes while we hunt for those clues. The world isn’t waiting for us to find out who killed our father. It’s moving on. Faster than I can keep up. As demonstrated by how woefully out of date my intel on my Best Friend was today.”

Without warning, I turn, flicking my wrists out simultaneously. Hurling two of the discs off my belt at Stephanie. “Clearly, I’ve been wrong before though. If you think Damien’s actually working with the Joker, as opposed to using the Joker like a rabid dog on a leash. Then let’s bring Damien in. Let’s talk to him. Let’s convince him that there’s another way.”

“But, I’ve got a strong impression that you know I’m at least partially right about this. Our choices are ‘Help him,’ ‘Stop him,’ or ‘Get the fuck out of his way.’ In no particular order.”

Dinah: “Are you telling me, a liberated free woman, that I can’t be anything I want to be? Tch. Someone probably should have raised you better than that. Someone definitely should have raised Superman better than that. There’d be a definite style to using something that used to be used against him to fool NOWHERE. Maybe he’ll even appreciate the irony. If nothing else, hopefully he’ll just appreciate the help, or at least use it for our benefit with no spoken thank you.”

I’ve got the vantage now that Stephanie’s moved to be able to see both of them at the same time without having to turn like Tim does. She’s in the process of spreading her arms out in a ‘hey, c’mon!’ gesture like all this constant dogging is actually starting to offend her a little. Or maybe she’s just unable to passively take the comments. I know someone else like that in this room, and they’re also blonde. Lot less fond of purple though. And while she’d insisted she wasn’t going to get herself killed, she’s also here. And still here after the threats, which tells me two pretty important things; she knows she’s not good enough for this, and she wants to learn. I can work with that. She just may not enjoy the pace.

“Everything, but the me was heavily implied. Especially when he started to pull the well, gosh ma’am I’d love to fuck you right over the … ahem. Children present… moving on… but I really probably shouldn’t. I was pretty flabbergasted myself. How do you know she can’t? Has she tried?”

“…what kind of relationships do you people have!? And that’s …too bad about the girlfriend. I mean. Unless you’re happy about that and… I’ll tell my friend. I’m going to stop now…”

Stephanie’s hands on hips posture has what looks a lot more to do with general awkwardness of not being sure how to stand in a get up like that, while not engaged in anything else, rather than because she’s still trying to catch her breath. I can’t hear her panting anymore, or see any shifts in the face mask that indicate she’s puffing. I take the time to size her up again a little more fully with Tim’s back to me. I actually let him carry on about his reasonings without interruption from me because I think I need to hear it fully to understand.

“…I did not. I borrowed it from school. And I wasn’t actually out to punch anyone…”

The girl may be defending herself but she’s doing it in a glowery sort of way as she folds her arms across her chest that’s coming off as more to herself than justification for Tim, and not meant for anyone else to have to overhear. I’d say we’re both caught flat footed with his sudden turn, only I’m not the one that an attack’s being flung at and she wasn’t expecting it in the least. Arms go up, though her posture prevents her from moving quickly enough to get more than one forearm in the way for the discs to bounce off.

“What the hell was that for!”

“Huh. Not bad. More elegantly avoided if you’d just pivoted to the side and let them go past. Unless you knew they’d just bounce off your suit that is…”

She didn’t know that.

“…yeah I… will read the manual when I go home.”

“It’s Damien. I can’t put him in time out unless all the rest of you are going to help, unless I get to maim him first and I’m not going to do that, and he’d probably only take kicking his ass for encouragement to keep doing the same thing he already wanted to do. And I know it’s hard. I do. With all the tech, tools, and manpower we’ve got working for us to have nothing can make it feel like there is nothing, or that the longer it’s taking the more something that you’ve missed is going to slip away forever.”

My exhale is a lot more resignation than exasperation this time, and I scrub a hand through my wind and walk tousled hair, ignoring Stephanie’s harumph as she pulls her hood back up once again. So much purple…

“I couldn’t see what went on inside. I didn’t have any of my stuff. It could have read like they just picked the same target, cooperated, and then went their own ways. I didn’t stick around after obviously to sort it out. Option three there, I’m afraid, has the very strong possibility of leaving Gotham with two rabid dogs before this is over. And one is difficult to stop as it is.”

Tim: Actually, I would never tell a woman that they can’t be anything they want. Because I believe in that. Anyone that thinks otherwise? Hasn’t met Barbara, the book-smartest person I’ve ever met. Nor Dinah, who can throttle just about anyone (including Superman apparently). There’s no limit to what a female can do, except the societal constraints that hold them down and their own ambition. That said, I’m pretty much in complete agreement with her assessment on the tech problem. Utilizing what NOWHERE used on their Clone in the first place, which kind of gave us our rotten apple, would be the best sort of irony.

“Wait, you mean to tell me that Children being present keeps you from saying what he was going to fuck you over, but not that he was going to fuck you to begin with? I know at least one set of teenage ears that most certainly would have rather had none of that information. Absolutely none of the information about Conner Luthor putting his hands on … all of that.”

There’s a sideways glance at Stephanie once more, but otherwise I’m leaving that alone. For now. The questions and the manner in which she throws them out in her fishing expedition. Instead of that, I let my focus remain on her abilities or lack thereof, for now. “Well your new cape is flame retardant, projectile kinetic diminishing and bladed weapon deflecting. So give them back their terrible bath towel. Because -that- was your first chance to actually use the cape functionally, instead of as a fashion accessory. We don’t wear capes just because they look neat. As Dinah will tell you, if they’re not fulfilling a function then they’re actually a detriment. From now on, if you’re keeping the cape, make it your new best friend. An extension of you.”

“She didn’t know,” following up on something Dinah said, “Even though I told her to read the manuals. She was barely out of my sight before she was changing in to it, the night I gave it to her.”

She’s nailed it. The main reason that I took to outfitting Damien. It’s difficult to be back in Gotham. To face the loss of my Father, for the second time. Knowing that there’s a kiler out there, but not being able to find it would be maddening enough. It’s actually worse than that. I’ve been able to turn up nothing. Not a thing. As far as I can tell, Dinah has turned up nothing. Damien is the same. If Dick has found anything then he’s kept it himself. The only person making any headway in the whole damn city on this case? Is the Joker (and now Damien), because they’re doing the one thing that the rest of us can’t do. Eliminate suspects from the list, by eliminating the suspects entirely.

“Look, I don’t actually agree with the methodology. But we both seem to agree that it’s the only thing that’s gotten any results at all. Maybe we can talk to him. If we can’t stop him, without breaking him, then maybe there’s another option. Maybe we can aim him. Limit the collateral damage. I mean, that’s one of the reasons I gave him the tech in the first place. To keep the collateral damage down.”

Except that I was actually thinking too shallow. I’d been trying to reign in the damage Damien could do to the Wayne name and legacy. I hadn’t considered, even for a moment, that he would actually do something reckless like work with a madman. The City can’t handle two of them. It has barely handled one before and she’s right about that. Batman had a hard enough time controlling one of them. This could turn in to a catastrophe.

“Damien would tell you that you’re highly over-estimating yourself if you think you could maim him. Even with all of our help. Lucky for me, I’m not about to call that a bluff.”