#SignOfTheTimes

February 26, 2017:

Batdad gives Spoiler a lecture, a choice, and a cookie.

Watch Tower

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: flash

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Nearly a day ago Stephanie was with Tim, working something together that Steph had been using some search functions on the Bat Computer to look up (Cold Flame Occult, etc) and which had her adding a Third Eye Bookstore to her patrols each night. Then, she got a text on her Spoiler Phone from Barry: 911 mtrpls. The pair of batlings went to the rescue, driven by Stephanie's near panic at the idea of anything dropping the meta that had him texting her for a rescue. The building was burning and Flash was in horrible shape. Stephanie talked Tim into taking Barry to the Hall of Justice and from there she used Flash's ID card to get them up to the Watch Tower and into the medical bay. There she stayed for hours as they finished the patch up that Tim had started, and then until he woke up.

When he did, Steph got a picture of Deathstroke from him, and sent it to the Bat Computer for analysis. The response came in from Batman shortly after Hal gave Spoiler the League's file on the man. This is studiously reported back to Batman as she continued her 'vigil'. A vigil that ended with a robonurse coming in to harass her about her mostly untreated injuries to the point that she had to acquiese to letting the robot bandage her more fully. That's when the fatigue started to kick in. Stephanie was not willing to fall asleep here, not anywhere really, but here was not her first option. So, she left Barry a note in his hand that she was goign to get him some hamburgers and that he could message her if he woke up before she got back. And then she left the Watch Tower and… realized she had no vehicle… and was in Metropolis. She sat on the roof for a bit, trying to figure out what to do. She ended up calling in the Avengers as a favor. The grapple to the roof, the pacing while waiting for the plane, and then the leap up into the hatch all aggrivated the wounds to the point that the pain spiked her fatigue and she passed out from exhaustion shortly after getting on board. The Avengers put her in a room to sleep.

For four hours before she started awake and made her way back to the Hall and then the Watch Tower. Back to Barry's side, only to find him asleep again.

There she stands, foot aching, body screaming for food she really hasn't had the appetite to eat, body and mind wanting more than a few hours nap. Well, at least she managed a quick shower. Not that she had a fresh suit to wear. At least she had her travel brushes for hair and for teeth in her utility pouch.

"He's healing." Batman, for once, doesn't do the spooky 'from nowhere' routine. The door just slides open, there he is. The Caped Crusader strides into the room on quiet boots, cloak pulled forward and largely concealing him from view. Even in the League's tower, his eyes are shrouded by white lenses. He stands next to Stephanie for a moment.

"You, however, are not," he says, a beat later, his voice a lazy growl. "Barry won't heal faster with you malnourished and restless. You need sleep. Food."

The worry and tension Spoiler had been clinging to keep herself upright shifts to fall as Batman's voice is heard. Batman is right. Barry is healing, and healing well. He just needs food and sleep and something to entertain him so he won't get bored and try to get up. The want to break down is there for a moment before she inhales and squares her shoulders again.

"I wasn't thinking," SPoiler admits softly, eyes still on Barry. Batman using his name doesn't phase her. She knows that Babs updated the computer files. He'll have read everything.

"I'm not really hungry…. don't want to sleep…" she says then, eyes just watching the injured party. She didn't want to sleep but she had and it didn't nearly feel like it was enough. It wasn't enough.

"Then you need to make yourself eat," Batman says, relentlessly. "Health isn't something you follow when it's convenient. Discipline, Spoiler," he tells her, sternly. "You have to make yourself eat and rest. A week without being properly fed and rested will take you a month or more to recover from."

He turns to Stephanie and holds up a brown bag that smells suspiciously like League cafeteria cooking. Knowing Batman, it'd be a near-perfect mix of carbs, protein, and fats.

Though inside the bag, there is apparently at least one cookie.

"We need to talk. Barry will be fine for ten minutes." He turns and leaves the room, without looking over his shoulder, and walks down the hall to an adjacent conference room.

Thing is, Spoiler knows this. How many times has she been the one to poke poke at Bruce and Tim when they start fixating and stop eating, forego sleeping? Okay, maybe that last part just Tim, but she did make Bruce eat a sandwich once! That Batman 'chides' her discipline with a single word is almost like a slap to the face. It was discipline she lacked when she charged into the building and onto the caltrops. It was discipline she lacked when she dared breathed Barry's name in front of Tim and made it so clear to her ex-boyfriend that she had been moving on without him while still trying to be his friend and co-batling. It was discipline she lacked when she collapsed from fatigue in an unknown place with unknown people. Spoiler takes the bag in her hands, opening to peer inside.

It's discipline she lacks when the sight of hte cookie makes her chuckle once, a watery little sound. She curls the bag closed again, and turns to follow Batman. Ten minutes. He's right. Barry will be fine… for ten minutes. For longer, but her fatigue frazzled emotions would likely have made her mind rebel at anything longer.

In the conference room, Stephanie sinks into a chair. Her steps had that uneven cadence of a limp, and getting off her feet came with a soft groan of relief and pain.

Batman digs in his utility belt and produces a small scrambler unit. Effective at neutralizing video surveillance and audio trackers— and no telepath, even J'onn, would dare try to read his mind.

"I understand you've been working with the Avengers on a more substantial basis," Batman tells Stephanie, getting right to it. She sits— he stands. Behind a chair, with a line of sight to the door that would be on the blindside of anyone charging into the room with a firearm.

Always paranoid, even in the League's building.

"Are you intending to join them full time?"

Bag open, Stephanie pauses and looks up and over at Batman. "No. At least, that wasn't my intention. I haven't done any work for them at all. I was just.. given a bike, so I could travel quicker…" something she would have loved to have how long ago now? "…I don't even have a comm for them… I've been to their base.. twice but.. I'm listed with them. Just as Spoiler. Not.. anything else." Her brows are pulled together, eyes fearful. Was she wrong to try to network out? Gather more resources for Batman to pull into his net, for them all to use? Did she disappoint?

"Why not?" Batman inquires. The eyelenses slip aside, revealing blue eyes, with one brow hiking slightly. "We have a skillset that is uniquely valuable to superhumans. Technology and superpowers can be a liability, as much as an asset. Metahumans have a habit of thinking of themselves as hammers, and seeing every solution as a nail."

"The League has benefitted from my insights, at times. Nightwing led the Titans very ably for a time. Not being able to punch your way through every problem is a useful way to find more effective solutions."

Why…what? Stephanie blinks in confusion and a bit of surprise as Batman opens the shutters to his gaze. So personal, Stephanie doesn't dare look away as she wracks her brain for an answer.

"….I didn't think… you'd want me to…?" Stephanie says, uncertainity again in her voice and gaze.

Batman frowns a little at Stephanie, then moves to seat himself at the head of the table, cloak still drawn around him. "Gotham is a small town, Spoiler," he reminds her. "We don't need seven Bats to watch the city. Nightwing has Bludhaven, and I work with the League. Hood and Robin are very able to keep Gotham safe. They don't need your help," he tells her.

"You need to find your own way to contribute as your skills develop. There is no substitute for time in the field, and the Avengers can offer you a great deal of that."

That frown has her swallowing harshly, gaze following Batman as he settles at the head of the table. She listens, lower lip being bitten down on, worried about between teeth. Being told she's not needed in Gotham stings, and she blinks a few times and forces herself to hear him out the rest of hte way.

"But I go to school in Gotham," Stephanie replies, voice small now. It's a weak excuse from the Pre-Law student who is barely maintain the grades she likes. She knows it is, but she tries it anyway. It's not like she can't commute as she has been for much less 'important' reasons.

"You won't be mad? That I'm… elsewhere?"

"I'd be upset if you squandered your talents," Batman tells Spoiler. "I'd be upset if you were being held back because there was always someone looking over your shoulder— Robin, or Batgirl, or myself," he tells her.

"Look at what you've done in the last few weeks. You've taken over as Oracle. You made alliances. Friendships. You've taken leadership in investigations and pushed forward an agenda that helped protect Earth."

"If anything, at this point, I'm holding you /back/."

It's always a surprise to a child to hear a parent say that, that they have to move on and keep growing up, that they have talents that would be wasted. Hearing it from Batman has Stephanie's lip parting, eyes going wide as she tries to process this.

"But you're not! I've learned so much. I still learn so much. I … I don't know what I'd do if … without… what if I get stuck?" You know that movement a baby bird has on the edge of the nest just before momma bird shoves so they learn to fly?

"You'll make mistakes. People will get hurt," Batman says, in his sometimes heartless way. Helpful. He leans forward slightly, his heavy gauntlets resting on the table. The leather doesn't creak, because no ninja would let his gear betray him. Scars of many battles decorate the worn leather and composite plastic over his knuckles, fingers folding together as he regards her steadily.

"Paranoia isn't paranoia if you are proved to be right," Batman rasps at Stephanie. "Why do you think I gutted the hoverbike? The mask, at all times?" he inquires, gesturing vaguely at his face. "Why do you think less than two dozen people in this world know my alter-ego, even among the League?"

"If you want to stay and learn, if you're not ready to make the leap, I won't stop you. You might never be ready. Then again, if you are going to try to strike out— to find your own way to make a difference— there's only one lesson you need to grasp."

"We are rodents around the feet of giants, Spoiler," he rasps, eyes fixing on hers. "You don't have the luxury of soaking a bullet wound or giving away the advantage in a fight. The only weapons humans like us have when it comes to dealing with superhumans is our wits and our resources. You have to be ruthless. You can't show weakness or give away the high ground for the sake of honor or fair play— particularly if lives are relying on you."

"You won't have a lot of friends," he concludes. "But no one gets out of bed to beat criminals with their bare hands on the hope of being 'popular'."

She will make all the mistake, it feels like some days. The realization is that weight, that which all the Bats carry in one form or other. Stephanie's just a little later to the game in that regard. She started later in life than the rest. She wants to lower her gaze but the gesture back to the cowl, to eyes that seem more human and real now than they do when she's talking to him as Bruce hold her to his gaze.

"I just… I want to help. Everyone. But.. Some days, I'm just not enough," Stephanie replies, hands falling to the table. Her gear betrays her. She's no ninja, though she's better than non-trained sneaky people and a few trained ones. She's a batling, after all.

"I never did this to be popular. I … did this to.. stop my Dad. From hurting people."

"It doesn't matter why you started," Batman reminds Spoiler. "Revenge. Justice. Purpose. Everyone who wears the symbol carries their own share of that burden."

"What matters is what you're willing to do to shoulder the load. The Avengers don't need more muscle, or bigger guns. They need brains and creativity— and a bit of judicious brutality. You can't /be/ nice to a criminal. You can't give away any advantage you have, no matter how tenuous or tempting it might be."

He rises from the chair, the lenses clicking into place with no visible signal. "Don't ask yourself if you have the skills, Spoiler. Ask yourself if you have the guts— the guts to be cruel, for the sake of being kind."

All that Batman says, from a symbol she doesn't wear to carrying a piece of the burden makes her frown. The cafeteria food forgotten for the moment. What manners is what she's willing to do. Her face grows somber, serious, losing thae softness that makes her look so much younger than she is when Batman mentions doing whatever it takes, even being cruel. That he closed the window to his humanity on her is not lost. It's a lesson, like everything else.

"Am I getting the bike back?" she says, lips frowning. Guts to be cruel. She doens't like being cruel. She really doesn't. But bad guys are… bad guys. She needs time to think and transportation. This calling in rides and then falling asleep is no bueno!

Batman pauses. "Of course," he says, after a beat, as if trying to figure out her words. "It's not mine to take or give. It's charged, modified, and parked near the garage."

He digs in his utility belt and comes up with a key fob, much akin to his own Batmobile's, and tosses it to Spoiler.

"The garage got purchased a few nights ago for demolition. Unfortunately, there are a few years worth of permits in the way of it getting torn down. So it's been boarded up. You should get down there."

And with that, Batman leaves the room without another word.

Spoiler reaches out the catch the key in midair. She's not even sure at this point what she meant by those words, but the question if she has the guts for this was taken like an implied challenge, Batman doubting that she does. It sets off that Stubbborn in her, the stubborn to prove the world wrong. Her head turns, to watch him leave. If she wasn't hungry before, she certianly isn't hungry now. But, he has a point and… there was a cookie. She grins lightly, pushing up to collect the bag, ready to return to Barry's bedside to eat, and think, and try to figure out where her life is headed.

MUCH LATER:

With Barry asleep, and a few minutes respite gained, Stephanie proceeds down to the garage. And, in fact, it has been boarded up— completely. And thoroughly. Heavy plywood over the windows, held in place with massive steel rivets. The door is chained, padlocked, and spotwelded shut. There's no way into the garage from the streetside, and the fenceline around the small yard out back— lined with concertina wire— clearly is designed to deter entry.

The dense urban sprawl means the garage abuts and joins several other buildings and structures, some also dilapidated and damaged, closed off. Signs around the area indicate that in the last few days several of the buildings were condemned for demolition and owned by Zeiter Engineering Prospects— a little-known shell company of the Wayne Foundation.

It would take Stephanie some time to decipher the subtle markings and clues left around. Little signals and signs only a Bat-trained detective would pick up on. Around the garage, almost around the /block/, and down into a culvert that ends at a massive, impassable drain. As she draws near, the fob pulses a few times, and the drain block silently slips aside.

Following the culvert up, the drain pipe— easily four feet in diameter— stops at a steel door. This, too, slides open, into the interior of the former garage.

Equipment fills the room. Engine hoists and cranes for lifting motorcycles and cars. A computer system. Several batteries and generators, wired into the grid. Lab equipment. Her hoverbike, parked, painted matte grey, and with several weirdly unfamiliar attachments and modifications made to it. The Avengers pulse communicator is nearby, not wired in, and a circuit diagram is on the worktray next to it. Wired one way, it provides Stephanie one-way access to the Avengers. Wired the other way, it restores full Avengers functionality as Nate had insisted. Her choice on whether to give or maintain control of her gear, it seems. Typically Batman.

The last stop is upstairs, in the old single-suite office, where a locked full size cabinet conceals a complete suit of Bat-gear in the deepest shades of grey and aubergine. Mask, cowl, cloak, body armor, a sensor suite, communications devices, grapnel, belt… all the bells and whistles a Batling could want.

And, on the front of the suit, centered over the chestpiece, is a stylized symbol of the Bat.

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