Steph: It was just supposed to be one time.  Famous last words of every kind of junkie that there ever was. I wonder if The Douchebag ever said that to himself, before he started making a crapton of really wrong choices, that he seemed to think were the right choices at the time. And also now despite having repeatedly gone to jail for them. I mean, maybe I ought to be grateful for his perennial awful example. It taught me what not to do with my life, and it’s not like he’s a serial axe murderer. That I know of. Just a tool, that had some really great things going for him, but those really great things didn’t matter enough when he got his feelings hurt and wanted to get some good old fashioned revenge.

(…wait a minute…)

Well. It’s completely not at all the same thing as what I’m doing. I’m not doing anything illegal (..ehhhhtechnically?..) for starters, and I’ve got absolutely good intentions (…onthesurface…) to go along with my questionable life choices. I’m out here to stop crime from happening, and even though it’s kind of harmless in the scheme of how bad it could be? It’s still hurting someone. Not even just me. And I’m going to do it. God. My Mom would be so pissed. Maybe even more pissed than The Douchenozzle would be if he ever found out, because he’s sure never seemed to enjoy being thwarted. Being thwarted by me might make it extra awful.

Good. That’s the point. Perfect world he’s not going to find out though. Not until I get to have some kind of grand AHA moment that I haven’t fully made a plan for just yet. Gives me time to perfect my heroic victory laugh. Which currently in my head sounds a lot more like dastardly melodrama villain. Sue me. I’m new at this. Something that’s been more and more clear to me each time I have gotten rudely interrupted by some jerk/punk/vigilante. They’ve all got way fancier gear than me and my grappling hook from the sporting goods store, and my improvised brick weaponry. Or the ‘borrowed’ from what passes for a drama department in a crummy public school outfit.

Maybe it’s paranoia, but I’m actually kind of starting to think that it’s on purpose. The interrupting. Hence the super circuitous route to my destination tonight. Which seemed like a way better idea at the start than it is right now at the peak of my building jumping, alley swinging, dumpster dodging (…please not diving, can I even wash this cape?…) trek across the even seedier parts of Gotham than I actually live in. Starting from the opposite side of an abandoned building that I crawl through to reach what little gear and getup I have, and then onwards to an address that the DoucheRocket thought he’d secured.

Seriously. I need a bike. But there’s something kind of humiliating about a Huffy.

Tim: Who needs a bike? Not this guy. I’ve got one. Along with all the other gear that Bruce put in to play for me. Along with that I’ve got some that were improved upon by your’s truly. Funny thing that, I’ve turned in to the guy in the know about that sort of thing. Funny. All of the folks in the extended family and I’m the only one that every really paid attention to how we got all the things we get. Lucius Fox may have may have made some of the tech, but Bruce designed most of it. He was doing a lot of this long before Lucius was in the picture. I’ve picked up the ball on that and ran with it. Lucky me.

Mind you. It did afford me the chance to setup a discussion with Damian. He’s been doing some pretty bad stuff to the criminal element of Gotham of late. A lot of people think they can curtail him, I’ll settle for helping him not get himself killed and not being in jail when the dust clears. Until he gets this all out of his system, because I learned a long time ago that you’re not telling Damian what to do. You’re just not.

Now, in stark contrast to that. I had some hope for this one. She showed a lot of heart, promise, if not a lot of brains in our first meeting. The plan had been to arrange for her training, but then she went out and started doing this all on her own again. Lucky for me, not so lucky for her, that she’s one of the people I’ve got drones trailing. It gives me a good idea of where she’s at. Which allows for me to plot an intercept course that, unless she does something crazy, should put me right in her path.

Or. Rather it would. If I didn’t do what I’ve been trained and plant myself on the next roof in her path. That way when she comes full tilt over the side, she gets to walk in to the shadowy, ominous figure of…. well. Me. But I’m sure to look ominous with the shadows and such. Maybe I’m not a six foot bat, but I’m a near six-foot Red Robin! It’ll have to do.

“Hey,” no lecture, no tone of judgment, just a quick greeting and then, “If you can keep up, follow me.”

There’s nothing more. If she follows? Great. If she elects not to then our next meeting will involve a slightly different tactic. Either way I’m turning, dashing and diving over the edge of the building. Unlike her though, there’s a bit more safety involved when I’m doing it. Not just the tether that I could shoot out at any moment, but the cape functions as an air foil. Allowing me to glide downwards to a soft landing next to a bike. My bike. Call it a Hog. Built for speed, made for endurance.

Steph: I’m a lot of things, clutzy isn’t usually one of them. If it were my choice of hobbies and nighttime activities would probably have gone from possibility to already happened and six feet under the ground. Maybe an overreaction to something that I didn’t expect would send me off kilter every now and again, but under my own steam I’m pretty great on my feet. Now, believe it or not I’m actually pretty aware that I don’t fully know what I’m doing out here. Down for ill advised plans and schemes? Yup, you betcha. Stupid? No, not really. That still doesn’t mean I want to look like a dumdum in front of anyone. Bad guys. Other vigilantes. Alley cats (…they judge and you know it…). So in about five seconds when my arms stop their idiotic windmilling as I work at keeping my balance after crashing into a not brick wall person (…though, whoosh is he solid…), and I regain my footing, and drop out of being about to sail a left hook? I’m going to be kind of mortified and a little grumpy about making myself look like ( guessed it…) a dumdum.

“You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?”

And that was your out loud voice, Steph. Hey. Who just says hey like, sup, super casual meeting we’re having here, when I was probably laying in wait to ambush you for some bro-class upnodding and… yeah he’s already taken off. With a grunt of annoyance that I hope is a lot more quiet than it sounded in my head I start running again. I mean, what else am I going to do? I stand there, or take off in another direction and that implies that I can’t, in fact, keep up with him. And while I don’t really want to end up following another dude around the city doing what he wants instead of what I came out here for I think my ego’s winning this battle for control of Stephanie’s brain.

I don’t have a tether. What I do have is a lot of experience in climbing out of and around windows, hopping off and over railings, and the lack of just enough self-preservation to not question whether not I’m going to stick the landings I’m aiming for. I don’t get down there as quickly as he did, but I guess it’s good enough. And that was a pretty short goose chase (…thank God because I’ve already been at this for like fifteen minutes…). The last half dozen feet find me with feet on the pavement, knees bending to absorb the impact before I tilt my hooded head at his… is that even a motorcycle? What the hell?

“So is there like. A secret, member’s only Costco for Capes somewhere that you guys all go to? Because I need to get me a card.”

Tim: “Yes.”

It would be a lie to say that this meeting wasn’t on purpose. Maybe more so to intimate that I hadn’t planned carefully to meet her exactly where we did. Though a little gambling in whether she’d actually follow a pattern or not. Then following the drones, to put myself in position. So. Yeah. I’m exactly where I want to be. She’s where I intended her to be. All of which is on purpose.

What that purpose is? She’ll find out once she’s actually made it to the ground. Which is thankfully not by way of going splat. Again. If anything this is the first element she’s shown that demonstrates practice. Doesn’t actually take a detective to figure out how someone might learn how to scale a building to the ground. Especially in this city. Especially as a teenager with a life outside of your parent’s apartment. I learned when I was barely ten. The reward for completing this feat is a lot like an achievement that comes in a low, yet appreciative whistle. Not the cat-call variety, but the ‘I’m impressed, you didn’t die. Or break your ankles.’

“Actually. Yes. There is. That’s why I’m here. To give you your card.”

No, really. I’m not even teasing her. Because before she’s even had a chance to start piping in with her witty reparte, I’m opening the bike’s saddle bags. This isn’t a game. I’m not hiding anything. She’ll see items being pulled from within. First is a long telescoping staff, collapsed in it’s current form it looks more like a billy club. Then there’s a small utility belt, appropriately colored to match what she wore the first time we met. In addition to that is a well folded set of what looks like spandex, but upon inspection is a fiber mesh of polymers that serves to make up most of the Bat-costumes. Diverting bladed weapons from being lethal and hopefully blunting the penetration of all but point blank or high caliber gunfire.

Once set upon the seat of the bike, I turn slightly enough to see her out of the corner of my eye. “Like any good Costco, there’s a membership form and signup fee. Lucky for you though. We’re currently running a promotion. Sign up today and you get free training with the Black Canary. Gotta hurry, it’s while supplies last and they’re going like hot cakes in this city.”

Steph: “Wait. Really?”

Like anyone expected a straight forward answer there, especially not to a meant to be inside voice that turned into an out loud voice rhetorical that happens way more often than it probably really should. I mean, I sure didn’t. I kind of expected him to be all cryptic and judgey again. Maybe that’s not fair. He did try to poison me the last time. Even though I’m actually pretty sure he was making all that up in hindsight. I mean. What would that have accomplished? If he was aiming for keeping another vigilante off the streets there were probably less nefarious ways that had less potential for going wrong. Or. Alternately he does that all the time (…in which case, yikes…)

The whistle earns a dramatic flourish of my cape forwards and into a bow. Lowering my forearm after a moment because that pose was reading a little vaudeville mustache twirler, but I’m also fairly sure that’s the whole purpose of a cape. Dramatic flourishing. Because I can tell you, my school has never, ever put on any kind of period play with anything close to period accurate wardrobe to go along with it. Seriously. I’m shocked this thing was even in there without some kind of vermin having bitten holes in it.

“…wait. What?… I know I just said that but. Seriously. What? There’s actually a card? And a Costco?”

Of course there’s not, but my chattering carries on almost autonomously from the actions I actually am focused on. Like pinching the bridge of my nose through the lower face mask I wear out at night (..sporting goods find, not dramaflop department..), and some actually serious thoughts on why he’s telling me about the repository of heroic gear goodness, and what kind of serious mega-catch is about to be revealed to me. I didn’t exactly make the best impression last time, I’d bet. Or maybe I did! Since I didn’t get left for the back of a police cruiser. I’m also rambling away while he’s digging out goodies like some sort of shadowy Equipment Fairy that visits good little girls who leave thugs’ teeth under their pillows (…ew…). Are those…really for me? So it really was on purpose but I’m having a bit of a hard time grasping the why. Or what it’s about to cost me.

Because it’s pretty damn unthinkable to believe there’s not something in it for him. Still. It’s kind of all I can do to not snatch and grab at the proffered loot, like a kid that knows he who acts last goes hungry. Clearly building facade monkey bar hijinx was not the only skill you could pick up from a misspent childhood. I restrain myself into leaning forward to peer at it all though, and I don’t need to touch or be in any kind of nice lighting to know this is serious upgraded shit. Like, much closer to what he’s wearing than forgotten public school auditorium closet. Now it’s my turn to whistle. It probably sounds more like cat-calling though, because… Damn.

“Black Canary? Like… the Black Canary? I’m pretty sure she’s screamed at… ” The DouchePrime. Too much sharing, Steph, keep that one to yourself. “..a whole lot of people that thought better of making her mad agaaaain and… I thought she was gone?”

I mean, it’s been a couple years. I’ve got a pretty good education on the city’s lowlifes, and do gooders though it’s possible my information’s a little out of date I think I would have heard rumblings of her being back in action. Gotta respect a lady that can run around kicking ass in undies with no apparent self-esteem issues. Or a dude. No judgement here. But why would she care, let alone bother and I’m not sure that I… See. I might say to myself right here that I don’t need the training, but I really am not a dumdum. I’ve got a pretty mean hook, a nasty sucker punch and my knee is a ball seeking missile in its’ own right, but there’s a reason I try to avoid direct confrontation when I’m out here like this. Actually knowing what I was doing? Man. I could do so much more.

“…uh yeah? No. Not a question. Um yes.”

Because I’ll take a few fighting lessons as a payment for shiny new toys. Still seems like too good of a deal to be true.

Tim : “Really.”

Why would I lie? She’s in my city. Untrained and untested. Picking fights with people that could be her end. Or worse. I wasn’t fibbing last time when I said that if I allowed her to continue then her fate would be bound to me. I’d take whatever happened to her personally. A failure of my own to not put the brakes on like Bruce taught me. Even if I can’t say that I control people’s decisions, Batman proved long ago that you can in fact control someone’s ability to get themselves killed. He once told me, after a particularly nasty encounter with a guy in a hockey mask, that he let the bad guys beat the would-be hero to smithereens, because walking the rest of his life with a limp? At least meant he walked the rest of his life.

So if I’m not going to put a stop to this kid’s ambitions, then I’ve got to make sure she’s prepared for the life she’s wanting to lead. She convinced me before, if only of one thing, that she would continue doing it so long as she was able. No matter what I said or did to the contrary. So I’ve either got to put her in jail, let her get hurt or… I’m back to helping her prepare. People with the drive are few and far between. This girl kept going even after falling off a building.

“Really-really. There’s a membership card and everything.” The steady look, monotone voice, and lack of efforts to be a wise ass suggest that I’m actually speaking the truth. “Gone? Not exactly. Off the radar, is a little more apt. She’s actually a card carrying member of the franchise. Alright. More like a free agent, but I’ve already asked her if she’d be willing to train with you.”

“That kind of brings us to the terms of your membership. It’s non-negotiable, but I think you’ll find it slanted heavily in your favor.”

Taking a single step back, I clear the way for Stephanie to actually approach the gear. I’m not locking it down or telling her no. If anything this is a little bit of a sales pitch. Tongue in cheek, sure, but I’m not hiding anything about what I’m offering. It is exactly that: An Offer. She can take it or leave it. This is an effort that clears my conscience, if anything. There’s also the added benefit, that if she succeeds in what I’m about to tell her? That she’ll make a good asset in the field. Without the Batman? We need all the help we can get. More than we even really know yet.

One hand casually gestures to the gear, the other to Stephanie. “It’s your’s. So long as you do everything the Canary says. Until she says you’re ready. The moment she says those words? All of this is your’s. You can walk away from Batco with the merchandise. You quit? You wash out? Then we agree your heart isn’t really in it. Then you either find somewhere else to play dress up or you go find some other way to fill that desire you spoke about last time.”

“One more thing. You’re not going to want to stop what you’re doing. I get that. So I’m not even going to ask for you to wait until you’re trained. I’m just going to make it clear. Right up front. You won’t be able to keep a secret if you work with us. If you think you can, okay. But like I said, I’m not a fine-print person. I want you to know what up front that it’s better to tell us everything. Put your spin on it. Might as well use all of the tools at your disposal.”

Steph: “Huh.”

You’re not only one who can use one syllable responses Red Robin. Though by the way my jawline shifts under the mask, and how my fingers fidget on the opposite forearms in their crossed positions? It’s probably pretty obvious that there’s a whole helluva lot more I want to say. Or ask. Like maybe another few ‘wait, really?’s for good measure. I have a feeling, conditions or no, that even one piece of this gear is probably more valuable than everything else anyone’s ever given me in my whole life. And those other folks weren’t basically strangers in the night (…heh. Well. Now this guy’s got a theme-jingle in my head, and it isn’t yuuuuuuum anymore…).

A brown eyed squint is checking the invisible bullshit meter over his shoulder, because God. At this point I don’t know if there really is a card or not, and I’m not totally sure that it matters. It’s definitely been more than enough to distract and detour me from my really round-about way of getting where I was going tonight. The trip’s going to be even longer because if I take this stuff you bet your ass I’m going to go put it on right damn now. To my credit, or maybe it’s a credit to my general life experience so far, I’m actually quiet and attentive as he spells out the deal itself. Because I’m looking for loopholes, or things that are going to bite me in the butt later

“As long as I do everything the Canary says for combat training.”

Because I’m not in for any weird kinky crap, or dumb enough to tell anyone that I’ll do anything. Not even for some straight up superhero accessories. The huff of air that I suck in, and then push out again is a very audible harumph like I’ve just been mortally insulted. I mean, this guy doesn’t know me, but it’s like he doesn’t know me.

“I’m not quitting. I don’t know how.”

Even when I should. It’s probably the most honest thing I’ve said about myself all week. How’s that for a way after school special type of moment? Unfolding my arms from across my chest, I pick up the folded clothing, and bring it closer to my face. I can’t feel the fabric itself through these crummy gloves but I can always do that later. It’s lighter than I expected. I shift from examining it, to eyeing Robin sideways and then back again a few times. Better to tell them…. Everything. That could mean a lot of different things, and cover a lot of aspects of my nighttime activities but. I’m in. I can throw in a bone when I’ve been given what’s basically a smorgasbord. Even though I don’t really wholly agree with his reasoning, I’m not really going to judge. I mean. I’m benefiting here.

“Cluemaster’s up to something. Been up to something.”

Tim : “That’s kind of why we’re here.”

I knew right away she wouldn’t quit. At least not without coming to a point where she physically or mentally couldn’t handle going forward anymore. Batman might have been willing to take her to that point himself. I’m a lot less willing, maybe a lot less able, to do something like that. Above all else, I can understand having the need to be out here. Doing something, anything, to help make your own world make sense. That said, I still circle back around to not wanting her (or any one else’s) death on my conscience.

Hence. Gift bag.

“I’m not locking you in to doing her laundry. But, I’m also not letting you re-word my offer to be only combat-training. Whatever training she thinks you need to be out here? That’s her prerogative. Not your’s or mine.”

This has an air of finality about it. I think I’m clear enough that this isn’t some deal with the devil. In fact, not one ounce of this benefits anyone but Stephanie. Loop holes? Only in so much as being a agreement that if she washes out, she’s done. But even that is entirely in her control. It’s all up to her. Which is also why I won’t let her whittle down the terms to be only combat. If Canary needs her to learn how to be a Detective? That’s all part of the job.

“That doesn’t surprise me. He’s not the only one who has gotten active recently. What you probably don’t know, is that your window to make a move on Cluemaster is probably closing faster than you think. Joker and Red Hood are roughing up or taking out just about anyone with a past connection to the Batman. So, I think we better fast-track your training. Take the gear. In the belt is a transceiver. It will chirp, unless you silence it like a cell phone. When it goes off, answer it and either Canary or I will let you know where to meet us.”

“Go on. Go put it on. You’ll get the call soon. If not tonight, then tomorrow. Try not to kill yourself with the grappling hook before we get to teach you how to use it.” Because it’s very clear, to me at least, that this isn’t the type of girl who’s going to tuck all that in a drawer to wait for when she’s read the instructions or been shown how to use it. “Let me know if the suit needs any alterations. I put it together with approximations based on my assessment of your shape the first time we met.”

“Yes. That means I checked you out. Yes. There may be a bike in in it for you, if you pass Canary’s boot camp. Yes. There actually is an instruction manual. If I were you? I’d read it before you accidentally poison yourself. Or taser yourself. Or gas yourself. Or mace yourself. Stab yourself. Really. Read the manual. Stop checking me out. Just because I did it, doesn’t mean you get too. I was assessing. Read the manual. Stop grinning like that. you’re not going to read the manual are you?”

Steph: “Well. Good! I… think.”

He probably thinks he knows that you’re going to get yourself splatted, pasted, shot, axed, run down or otherwise murdered. And since he has a conscience that goes above and beyond what you’d expect out of a lot of people in this city, with some kind of moral code, that’s led him to being here. I happen to think that’s not a totally fair assessment, since it’s hardly been my fault that things haven’t totally gone as planned and all (…well, nearly all there was that time the other night. And the one before that…) of the violence involved has been thanks to some other vigilante stepping on my stakeout toes.

“Alright, alright, alright. Whatever training the pro thinks I need to be the best kind of kick ass I can be.”

That’s good enough for me, and enough of a defining limit to settle my peace of mind. Though the woman (..assumptions again but…c’mon really…) did run around town in fetish wear so who the hell knows what she’s going to think of as necessary for the job. I’ve been waiting this whole time for the rug to get yanked out from under me and so far? It hasn’t. I don’t see any candid cameras. It’s not April. So I have to kind of assume that Robin? Is being legit. That the rest of this is legit. And that it’s not going to be some weird freaky cult crap I’m about to get involved with. (…please don’t let it be some weird freaky cult…)

“But he’s not even really being active. Just encouraging other people to be. The warehouse where we met. Jewelry store last night. They’re doing shady crap, ob-vee, but they’re not doing anything.”

Which is super weird, right? It ought to be for something. I just haven’t been able to figure out what that might possibly be just yet. I’d say maybe there wasn’t anything. That there didn’t necessarily have to be some menacing, over-arching plot except I just don’t think he’d be bothering otherwise. I happen to know for a fact that the Douchebag doesn’t do anything unless there’s something way better in it for him. For now though, I can let myself lose mental sight of the Great Lack of a Caper Caper, and focus on my fabulous door prizes. Which is good, because what he’s told me about losing my window’s actually set the most determined look on my face yet.

“Do we get our own jingly ringtones? Like Kim Possible? Or Go Go Power raaa…nevermind.”

Approximations based on his assessment of…that’s a really out of the way method of saying he checked me out. A lot. Not that what I’m wearing is exactly concealing, except the cloak and hood and my head doesn’t really need measuring. It’s not fat or anything. His admitting that he checked me out makes me let out a staccato ‘hah!’ Though, I mean. That could be good or…bad? I don’t know who that is under there. He could be old (…he doesn’t sound old…) and a perv (…come on it was totally flattering…) And another, more enthusiastic ‘haha!’ for the bike. Jeez, he really is the Gear Fairy. Instruction manual? Pah. And technically I was grinning from the bike potential before he actually gets to scolding me about manuals, or questioning whether or not I will. I’m just scooping up the rest of the gear off the back of his own motorcycle like now I’m worried about the change of heart.

“Just debating whether or not I could whack you with my shiny new stick and make even more candy fall out. Reading. Hah. Life’s too short for that kind of nonsense.”

PSA, kids. Life is not too short for that kind of thing, and learning is not nonsense. Especially if you’re the daughter of a recently, supposedly, mostly reformed drug addict and a career criminal that only reforms himself long enough to break promises and parole, and aren’t especially interested in growing up to be a criminal or a drug addict. I will be reading the manual because what the hell good is a suit full of gadgets and gizmos aplenty if you don’t know what they are, or how to get them to work? Just. Not tonight.

“No peeking, sorta tall, dark and loomy!”

I’m bolting with my haul, and while I don’t intend to change anywhere near here? I’m definitely definitely changing and he’s got a so far uncanny ability to turn up where I don’t want anyone to turn up. I’m already around the corner and out of sight before I remember to tack on the acoustically muffled.

“And thank you!”