Like Old Times

February 15, 2017:

Stephanie drops in on Tim with gifts and information. A surprising bout of nostalgia follows.

Tim Drake's Townhouse

A completely renovated theater not far from Gotham University, turned into the personal residence of one Tim Drake. Definitely no weird secrets.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine, Batman

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

A FEW DAYS AGO

Red Robin's cellphone bzzed silently as a message arrived.

'Msg dlvrd. #SpoilerAlert I come bearing gifts. #It'sNotMurr Muhr? idek lol'

'Myrrh,' he'd texted back, because yeah of course he did.

YESTERDAY

Valentine's Day was of course the sort of day where costumed crimefighters would be kept busy, not that Red Robin had any other sorts of days lately, as he tried to juggle some semblance of a civilian life alongside his nearly pathological need to throw himself into dangerous situation after dangerous situation, a deadly juggling act that now also included some curious extracurricular studies in dead languages and esoteric cosmological principles. Gotham would always be chaotic on nights like that, though; Red Robin had spent most of the night in a life or death struggle with some extremely violent Cupids. Calendar Man's work, probably.

TODAY

Though it's after 7pm, Tim Drake hasn't eaten anything yet. He's sitting on the couch in his living room, with the television on though he's ignoring it; instead, he's copying out his notes from that morning's Physics lecture, while casting occasional glances at his civilian cellphone, sitting there open on one contact's text messages, a conversation stretching back to late November. ZATANNA, it says at the top of the screen.

'Hey, you weren't in class today, everything all right?' is the last message, sent at 12:05pm. No response, no acknowledgement.

It's probably nothing, Tim tells himself, though he can't shake a bad feeling. It was Valentine's Day yesterday, she was probably with Constantine, and… Well, it's probably nothing /he wants to think about/, in any case.

19:32 GOTHAM

Really. At this point, no one is surprised that Stephanie knows exactly how to get into Drake's home, or that at half past seven, the third Boy Wonder would not have eaten. Not would anyone be surprised that Steph had stopped to get a small box of Milk Duds and a single white daisy. And there's a little gift box. This she's set on top of some boxes of italian take out. Nothing fancy. Stephanie simply can't afford the kinds of places that fully Wayne-adopted batlings can. But, she makes due and finds it doesn't bother her.

Moving into the living room with a casual silence, Stephanie doesn't walk up behind Tim. Instead, she walks up in front of him and sets the bag down on a clear spot of table near his books.

"Hi."

At least she hasn't gone snooping around for Tim's secret hideout, concealed behind the townhouse apartment; part of the reason why, as Stephanie noted before, he hasn't been in the Batcave as much as he used to is that, well… He sort of built his own. Not as impressive as the one beneath Wayne Manor, but then it doesn't have to be. Not yet, in any case.

Where he's sitting, Tim hears the door open. There are very few people who could or would just walk into his place - unless he forgot to lock the door, which if he did he's going to beat himself up about for weeks - but rather than looking back at the entryway, he looks at his phone. No change. He listens, almost unconsciously, for clues as to who it is. Part of him hopes, for just a second, that it is the gothic magician, barging in to make a dramatic entrance instead of answering his text.

Instead, he sees a familiar blonde, setting a bag down on his table.

"Steph, hey," Tim says, looking to the bag again, then up at her, and it's immediately apparent to anyone as familiar with him as Stephanie Brown is that he doesn't get why she brought him a bag.

For all that's she's been worrying and overworking herself… seeing that clueless look on his face makes Stephanie giggle softly. The look in her eyes is kind, the soft laugh something that speaks of all the Good Times.

"Open it, silly bird," quips the cheerleader as she settles to a chair across from him. Her bluegreen eyes dance as she waits for his reaction to the small gift to remind them that whatever happened and whatever happens, friends are still a blessing. In the gift box, is a necklace. It's a simple satin cording, tied to a small glass cylinder, the surface scratched over with delicate, elaborate markings. The fluid within is red…blood, perhaps, though it doesn't /behave/ like blood. The ruby drops defy Physics in the small enclosed space, like a lava lamp. It certainly behaves like one.

There's a faint, suspicious frown on Tim's face when he does indeed go to open it, finding what is distinctly a small jewelry gift box. Which only makes him more suspicious.

The expression that crosses Tim's face when he opens /that/, though, might not be what Stephanie expected: It's a look of immediate recognition. He's seen something like this before.

"A Pinch," he says, holding it up, the satin of the cord looped over his hand. It's not exactly the same as the one he'd been given before, the one he'd forced someone else to use when they were trapped in Lernaea, when he almost died - should've died. Not exactly the same, but close enough.

"Steph… Where did you get this?" he asks, his expression turning worried as he looks over at the blonde.

"Craft. His girl's in Califronia, so unless our occultists are jet setters, I don't think she's going to be a target. I've been keeping his shop on my fly-by list every night. So far, everything's kosher. That's for you, by the way," Steaphanie says so off-handedly, eyes trailing over his notes and the phone. Text messages. Zatanna? Her brows lift faintly.

"Is that what's it's called?" she asks, turning her gaze back to Tim. "A Pinch? He didn't say what it was called. Only that it's protective."

California. Out of the way. Tim is pretty sure that the Cold Flame cultists could get over there if they really wanted to, having visited their base in Switzerland through… Unpleasant means… But maybe it's enough. Maybe they weren't really interested in Craft himself, but his potential connections to other things. As it was, there wasn't much he could do about California right now.

"It… Yeah. Well, I had one before, that guy whose number I gave you before, Constantine… He made it for me, to thank me for some help I gave him." Tim hadn't really done it for Constantine's sake, though, so perhaps it was appropriate that he hadn't used the Pinch himself, either. "Listen… Steph, I can't keep this."

Quickly, smoothly Tim is on his feet, over to the chair where Stephanie has made herself at home, where he - rather presumptuously, actually - attempts to put the necklace on her, instead, crouching down in front of the young woman in the process.

"If you're looking after the Third Eye, they might spot you… And since you're only involved in this because of me, you should be better protected."

About to protest aloud Stephanie open mouths stares at Tim as he moves around the table then crouches in front of her. One foot comes up to the edge of the table, the other on the floor, and Stephanie shoves herself out of arm's reach. (She's wearing pants tonight! Aren't you glad?)

"Oh nonono. I don't think so. You've already been dinged up. Plus there's more intel from Craft that you're likely going to go all Bruce on everyone and forget little things like eating and sleeping and personal protection. Not the mention, that text is like ANCIENT. You're fixating and you're going to need every buff you can get," Stephanie says. Because maybe she picked up some gamer lingo with all the hanging out with Gamer Tim.

"So, you just sit down and eat your spaghetti."

It makes perfect sense to Tim, of course, that Stephanie should be the one with the ward. He's doing a lot of this work with other magic users who can probably help him out, where as far as he knows she's working solo, or maybe with the Dark Devil.

Instead she practically springs away from him to keep him from putting the necklace on her.

"I get dinged up all the time, it's nothing new," he insists, as though that makes it any better. And she compares him to Bruce (fairly) on the possibility of whatever information she's still got to tell him sending him into one of his obsessive episodes. Tim can't even argue that one, considering that Stephanie previously brought him here and just about had to threaten physical violence to get him to sleep a little. But…

He looks around; he didn't leave out any of the ancient texts he's borrowing from Shadowcrest's library, he's pretty sure. So she must mean…

"What? That's from like… Seven hours ago, I was just… Concerned. I'm not fixating on anything."

He also isn't sitting down, stubborn ass that he is.

"Yeahh…. right," Stephanie chirps, putting her foot down so she can reach over for his phone. Okay, and maybe she's also using the move to get on the table so she can put it between him and her.

"Shall we see what's in this conversation you're not fixating on? Or are you going to put on your gift - which by the way it's totally rude to not accept, thank you very much and Happy Valentine's Day - and eat your dinner?"

She's not really going for the phone. But it's convincing.

"Hey—!"

Tim is of course the sort of person who wouldn't want anyone else looking through his text messages under any circumstances, even while he can come up with a dozen if not more situations in which it would be perfectly fine for him to snoop in someone else's. So he jukes the other way around the table, to put his hand over his phone, even though there isn't anything even kind of incriminating there.

"She's just a friend and a classmate," he insists, a bit defensively. A friend and a classmate who he's been working himself to the bone for months trying to help protect from various supernatural threats, and who if she'd been a heartbeat slower with her magic in Lernaea he would've died protecting.

"/You're/ the one showing up at my place with Italian food and jewelry," Tim notes, settling onto the couch. He doesn't put the ward on, though, instead setting it on the table, carefully. He does reach for the food, though.

Oh, Stephanie knows that defensive tone and as she backs away to let him have his phone, she reflects. She's not jealous. Not even a bit. She's happy for him, that he's focusing elsewhere. Tim and Steph, they'd been so close, for so long, through so much… This is…

"good for you," Stephanie says warmly, in so much the same tone that Barbara had said those words to her. Settling to the other side of the sofa, Stephanie brings over his drink to set closer to him.

"Steinschneider was at the shop, before he left for Germany, Craft said. I'll tell you what he was intereted in after you've gotten some food in you," Stephanie says, one hand on the back of the sofa.

'Good for you,' she says.

"What is?" Tim asks, confused, his dark blue eyes following Stephanie as she moves, as she settles down on the couch with him. He looks at the phone again, then at the blonde. "Oh… You think…? No, uh, no." Oh god let her have not heard about this from Bruce, or Alfred. They wouldn't tell her, would they? No, no. They keep secrets like nobody's business. "No," he repeats, laughing a bit, opening a box of takeout. "She's with someone else."

He manages to keep any bitterness out of that, any envy. He doesn't have the right, after all, and he doesn't want to be one of those guys. The male friends that every girl in the history of modern civilisation has had, secretly in love with her, pining and growing increasingly spiteful and angry towards the other men in her life.

In all the many ways he's kind of a mess, he doesn't want to add /that/ one.

What she says about Steinschneider makes for a distraction, and Tim almost immediately starts eating, because he needs that information as much as he actually does need food, but of course the topic of the immortal Nazi sorceror isn't at all far removed from the topic of Zatanna Zatara. Who, because he doesn't actually know what's actually happened the night before, he expects is having a very enjoyable extended Valentine's Day. And then he realises what he's doing, and he lets out a short, rueful laugh, aiming a sad smile down into the pasta.

"Do you ever miss it? You know… Us? I mean, aside from me being a huge pain in the ass…"

"Aw, man…. That…. that sucks," Stephanie says, eyes holding sympathy for her friend even as she leaves off the topic for now. He's eating and that's what she wanted him to do. She watches, settling back and smiling lightly at it, a tiny bit of pride that she can sometimes do what Alfred can't: get Bat Family Members to actually eat once in a while.

And then he's asking…

She hadn't expected the question. At all. She really should have, btu she hadn't.

"Who are you trying ti kid, Tim? You're still a pain in the ass," she quips, smile returning. It's a stall for time, as she reads that rueful laugh and sad smile.

"Sometimes. I missed having someone know what it's like. Understanding that sometimes, just sitting down and not thinking for a few hours is a good thing. I miss how close we were. I could tell when you were doing that thing where you start thinking s omuch that your head gets in the way and is in needing of a swift kick. Well, I still can. But…" She shrugs. "I'm sorry she's with someone. I… I've only ever wanted you to be happy."

The quip gets a faint snort from Tim, but it's not like he can claim he isn't still a pain in the ass.

But he knows a stall when he hears one, especially from her. He knows Stephanie as well as he knows almost anyone, and he is by and large an excellent reader of people to begin with. Yet she's still being honest with him, as far as he can tell. Even when she expresses sympathy that her ex-boyfriend has a crush on an unattainable woman… But that she actually said /ass/, instead of butt or something seems… Unusual.

For the daughter of a supervillain, Stephanie Brown's language has always been clean enough for children's television.

"I don't think happy is in the cards for me, Steph. But… I do miss it. I try to pretend not to, but… In a lot of ways, you were the best thing that ever happened to me, Stephanie Brown. And I never appreciated that the way I should've… I'm sorry. Though I dunno where you're picking up this bad language," he adds, before eating more spaghetti.

Getting called out on language has Stephanie blushing furiously. A blush she tries to cover by reaching for the bag to get the garlic bread out. It fails, since the color hasn't faded by the time she's offering him the bread.

"You know you can always call me if you need company, right? I can call… some friends…" Not Batlings. Friends. Well, one friend. Unless that tall Fairchild girl…? Or even that flying green-skinned… Surely there's a way to get everyone together for a destress night without blowing EVERYONE's cover, right? Has Tim forgotten the curse word yet? Or is he still figuring out why? Please say he's forgotten it and that… oh wait! Distraction time!

"Umm… but, Craft had said that Schineider was insterest in a diary written by his son. A guy named, Armand. Craft thinks we should look for a link since Cold Flames seems to be retracing steps," Stephanie says. Is the blush gone yet? No? Damn. Maybe Tim won't notice anymore? Sufficiently distracted?

"I have friends," Tim mutters, but he takes the bread, watching Stephanie with those dark blue eyes of his. He definitely notices the blush, and the way it /persists/. All because she said ass? Of course, most of Tim's friends who know both his civilian and heroic identities aren't really… Around. The only ones in Gotham would be Stephanie herself, and Zatanna, and Tim is way too smart to ever want those two to hang out.

Which is why it's probably inevitable that they will.

"Are these friends where you've been learning all this bad language?" he wonders, not because it actually bothers him any but, well. "Or is it Dark Devil? You might want to be a little careful with her, she has some weird interests…" But, ah, the information. Stephanie chooses to use that to distract him, both from her language and it seems his own sentimentality.

"His son? Why would…" Stephanie would be able to see it, that this at least /does/ distract Tim, trying to figure things out.

"Nooo…" Stephanie almost whines, still blushing, before The Distraction works! Stephanie knows all of Tim's secrets and that presenting Intel is an auto will save FAIL for the young detective. Wait. Detective. As Tim's mind starts on that, Stephanie starts on another thing. A murder case she's promised to help on. Her head tilts at Tim, watching him. Maybe… she can ask for a trade. She helped here so maybe… she can ask Tim to help her. But for that question to even happen, she'd need to ask someone else first.

Later. For now….

"Keep eating, Tim," Stephanie reminds softly, blush finally fading. "And then sleep on it. If you dream something, text me. I'm on patrol tonight, so I won't be sleeping any time soon. And… when this is done… Let's hang out? You, me, some friends. Just for a few hours. Out Gotham. Clear our heads," Stephanie says, pushing to her feet.

It's dirty pool, using the information she was given like that, but then it's not like either of them was trained to /fight fair/.

Tim frowns a little as he wonders on the implications of the diary, unaware that soon he's going to have something else to /very much/ distract him from the Steinschneider case. For now, though, for now…

He turns his attention back to Stephanie, filing his thoughts away for the moment. His brow furrows a little, but after a long moment he lets out a huffing exhalation. Hang out, she says. Some friends, so probably people he doesn't know.

"Yeah… Okay, sure," he agrees, nodding. "But, your patrol… Do you want me to come with? You know, like old times."

Already starting to turn, his offer gives her pause. Like old times. She turns to look at him over a shoulder and for a moment her face is almost unreadable. And then she grins. Her hand reaches out for necklace on the table and with a flick she tosses it over a shoulder at him.

"Only if you keep my gift around your neck, bird boy."

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