Just Take the Hand That's Offered

May 29, 2017:

After calling Stephanie for help with a project, Tim tries to get to the bottom of what's bothering the other vigilante; as surprising revelations spill out, the pair stumble towards a kind of equilibrium.

Red Robin's Nest

Tim Drake's secret hideout in Gotham City.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Batman, Batgirl, the Flash, Deathstroke, Ravager, Zatanna Zatara, Superboy, Wonder Girl


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

It's been a while.

With college out for the summer, and the noted rarity of his appearances at the Batcave, not much has been seen of Tim Drake recently… Especially not by Stephanie, who no doubt has all sorts of other responsibilities with the Avengers. Not since that day, weeks ago, when she'd learned about some of the resentment he'd kept bottled up since her return from 'death'. After he'd driven her around to wherever she'd needed to go, and then made sure she went to bed - returning the favour from months before - he'd been nowhere to be found.

Of course, he'd been places. New York City, and then Berlin. But there'd been no sign of Red Robin in the shadows of Gotham, lately.

And then, out of nowhere, Stephanie got a text:

> Need your help at the Nest.

Should Stephanie respond to the plea, she'd find things there much as were the last time: Tim's townhouse barely seems lived-in, for all its comfortable and fashionable appearance, and the secret entrance still accepts her fingerprint. The young man himself is in the very bottom of the Nest, in the motor pool, half of the Redbird's front end dissassembled, its parts organised in a mostly neat fashion. He works in jeans and a white t-shirt, smudged with grease and dirt, his focus seemingly completely on… Whatever it is that he's doing. He pulls out one of the Redbird's headlights, turning it over consideringly, and then after a moment's thought he just tosses it away with a loud *crash*, forgetting about the headlight's existence almost immediately.

As if Stephanie would not respond. Sure, it had her nerves frazzled, and she wasn't sure what she as going toDO with herself, at least talking about it a little in a very round about way helped some and she managed a brief nap before the guilt and unsettled feelings took hold again and she found herself sleepless again.

"What… are you doing?" Stephanie asks after she winces fro the loud crash, having watched him work for a few seconds, trying to puzzle it out. She was absolutely not going to dwell on the fact that she was still welcome. Nope octopus meme runs through her head.

"Upgrades," is Tim's extremely useful answer, delivered immediately; he long ago learned from the Dark Knight the important skill of never seeming like you're actually surprised by someone, even if you didn't notice they'd arrived. Normally, of course, he would have noticed, but he was pretty invested in what he's doing. He turns to look up at the blonde, a grin briefly playing over his mouth before it vanishes, his expression settling into a focused one that swallows his boyish look.

He picks up another light, one that doesn't look very different from the one he just tossed away, aside from its wiring being a thick insulted cable instead of a collection of loose wires. With his other hand, Tim beckons Stephanie down into the motor pool.

He did call her for help, after all.

"I need you to reach in there, and connect this to the power distributor inside. I, uh, underestimated how big the power line was going to be, and my hand won't fit, but yours are smaller, so…"

Yes, he called her to help… With some kind of automotive work. Because she has small, feminine hands.

Stephanie, having arrived in mostly civvies, rolls her eyes at the one word reply. Her lips qurk up slightly despite herself, brows lifting in a hint of surprise at the play of a grin. She's about to smile in reply when the shudders are drawn and the moment is gone. She retreats her expression as well, moving to the stairs to make her way down into the pit.

"You called me in… because I'm smaller than you….?" she asks even as she shrugs out of her over shirt, tosses it on to the back of his chair as she passes it, and then twists her hair up and shove down the back of her shirt. She takes the cable and shuffles to get into place so he can hold the thing into place and she can try to feel where that cable need to go.

You called me in… because I'm smaller than you….?

"Pretty much," Tim replies, with only a faint hint of guilt over it. There's a light shining into the Redbird's engine compartment, and the engine itself seems to have had a few things added, too, including a far more advanced, far more powerful battery than the admittedly not exactly standard-issue one that used to be in there. "Once it's plugged in, give it a quarter turn to lock it into place," he instructs; it's not really tough work, but even for the blonde it's a bit of a tight fit.

And of course, Tim is right there; the actual cable isn't very long at all, with no need for excess slack.

It's probably a little awkward. But, how could it not be, after everything?

"Got it?"

Awkward is their defacto super team name. Right up there with the Dymanic Duo.

Steph has to lean a bit into getting the cable into place after leaning over to look to see what she could. Standing now, shoulder all but pressed against Tim's side, she's fidgeting with the cable trying to get it in by feel alone.

"Almost," she says in a bit of a gruff before, twist, "Ah! There. I think I got it," she says and her hand is pulled free.

"Wait. turn left or .." She mimes the direct she turned it to be safe.

Fortunately, Tim Drake is not an expert wielder of precision innuendo, although even if he was this would probably not be the time or place for it.

"If it turned, you're fine," he assures Stephanie, giving the cable a light tug to make sure that it is in tight, before he feeds it in the rest of the way and then pushes the new headlight into its frame, a faint pop coming from the metal around it as it locks into place. "Now, the other one," Tim says, shifting over to the other side of the Redbird to remove that lamp, tossing it away, before getting Stephanie to plug the new one in on that side, as well.

"Thanks," he says, a few minutes later once that's done. He settles against the frame of the car, turning to look at the blonde. Studying her, now; making sure that she's not running around with a concussion again. He isn't sure what to make of the message, years old, that had appeared so suddenly after he'd returned from Germany. It seemed like some kind of prank, though he'd dismissed the idea of it being Stephanie's idea of one. She could be cruel, but that would be on another level entirely. So, what…?

"Hopefully, I don't need them, but…"

The concussion is gone, replaced with a thing Tim knows all about: Sleeplessness. She's wearing make up so it's mostly disguised and she seems fresh face, but it's her eyes that are telling. The blue doesn't seem as bright, pupils not focusing fully, and her eyes lids are a little lower than normal. Everything seems like normal except that thre's a weight about her, a weight that started to settle after they spoke and he dropped her off. She through herserlf into finals to keep from bawling, then patrols, then Avengers things. She pushed herself more when Deathstroke tracked her down for a 'talk'.

"What were the upgrades?" she's asking, head tilting, expression like always… but with all that added fatigure.

"I upped the power on the lights. They've got a few settings now, mostly in normal ranges but they'll be able to sustain a few hundred million candlepower for about ten minutes," Tim replies.

As though this were the most normal thing in the entire world to need. Even for a mega-rich vigilante superhero.

"It's… Sort of complicated, but there's this stuff, the Primordial Darkness, and if it touches anything, like a person or a building, it'll make it so whatever it touched never existed. The only way to delay it or force it back is lots of light, so," he gives one of the headlights a tap. "I've developed some smaller flashlights that hopefully will do the trick too, but they don't last nearly as long. As an added bonus, if you hit someone in the face with the beam they'd probably go blind. Maybe get some burns, too."

Seriously, what is he doing?

"Anyway… Steph, are you okay? You look like crap," Timothy Jackson Drake, a true casanova, adds. "Are you not getting enough rest? Or… Wait, you weren't using that iDol app, were you?" he asks, suddenly extremely concerned, standing up and planting himself in front of the blonde, cupping her face with his (dirty, greasy) hands and looking frantically for… Something. He's not sure what, actually, because he doesn't have the foggiest idea what it might've done to her, but worry is seldom a rational thing anyway.

Steph listens to Tim talk about his car, arms crossing over themselves under her chest to keep herself from leaning on his desk. Her shoulders are set into the tension he knows is that of forcing oneself to just stay awake.

"The… Primordial.. Darkness. Okay, then. This is getting weird on a level that-" Tim hands to face.

Why are Tim's hands on my face? She's forced to just sort of tilt her head back to look up at him, blue-green eyes blinking.

"No I'm not using that horrible app! I have some sense of self-respect for my online profiles!" Steph retorts, hands coming up to try to dislodge the hands, because they are too famliar and make her want to ball up again. Guilt twisting at her stomach again.

"I'm just a bit tired. That's all," she's saying as she tries to take a step back, get some distance even if there's a fairly good part of her that wants no such thing.

He can tell that something is wrong, because Stephanie didn't get mad at him for saying she looked like crap.

The blonde is right of course that it is weird, and the situation involving the Brujeria and the Primordial Darkness is even weirder than he's already related - and that's just the parts that he knows, the parts that Zatanna told him or that he's learned through his own research since returning from Germany; he's quite sure that there's more, weirder parts, parts that he perhaps isn't really equipped to comprehend.

Not that it will stop him from trying, of course.

"Oh. Well… Good," Tim says as Stephanie pries his hands off and then moves to step away from him. He can't really blame her for that, considering how their last conversation went. "It is pretty horrible. There's a group behind it, some kind of ancient eldritch evil, and the people who actually made the program are dead. Or… Actually, I'm not sure if one of them is dead, I think she might be in some kind of suspended animation, but all of her blood was forcibly removed and I think replaced with… Something."

He pauses. Frowns. Furrows his brow.

"My life is weird."

He shakes his head, banishing thoughts of possibly world-ruining evils to focus instead on his concern for the young woman standing right there. Just a bit tired, she claimed.

"Steph, c'mon," Tim says. "I know something is bothering you, it's all over your face. Was it… Look, if it's because of what I said, before…"

He said she looked like crap? Sleepy brian did not parce. Especially after Tim-hands on face. She turns away a bit, rubbing at her cheeks like she's trying ot get the grease off because cheerleaders and grease-face do not compute, but really she's trying not to think about that touch at all. Which means what he's saying about dead people mostly goe sin one ear and out the other. She does her best smile, nod, and uh-huh.

My life is weird.

"Your life is a D&D campaign," she mutters before blinking and looking back over with him with the tiniest delay in the focus of her eyes.

"The world doesn't revolve around you, Tim," she states flatly. Which is the complete truth. Just Steph's world maybe sometimes. Grr! He was so confusing! "I'm not this tired just because of what you said last time. You had every right to say it,a nd I have every right to feel like a horrible human being for whatever reason I want to!"

Metnal word vomit. Because tired Steph is a not thinking straight Steph and without the mask it is WAY too difficult to let the HUD information remind her that Spoiler acts in ways Stephanie doesn't. Or soemthing like that.

She reminds him that the world doesn't revolve around him, which is fair enough.

Though the idea that what he'd said to her before hadn't affected her so deeply even now, weeks later, somehow managed to be slightly offensive to his pride. How many other emotional bombshells could she have really endured since then?

"Okay, fine, it's not because of me," Tim agrees, a bit defensively and with some hints of frustration mingled in. "You're right, not everything is about me." Lots of things are about Batman, instead, but he's pretty sure she'd be acting differently if Bruce had chewed her out over something. There is, of course, another obvious possibility, but for various reasons he isn't about to ask her point blank if her relationship with Barry Allen is going okay.

Chief among those reasons is that oh god does he not want to hear about it.

But, regardless…

"So why do you feel like a horrible human being now, then? Why are you not sleeping?" She'd never learned to go without sleeping as well as he did, at least in their younger days; he supposes she could've gotten better at it, but with a certain arrogance he assumes she hasn't. "I know, you're a badass Avenger and all that now, but you can still talk to me."

No, Steph never learned the fine art of never sleeping, even though she seemed to be doing a good jon of convinvcing the Avengers that her superpower was not needing to sleep ever. The thing that she did learn to do was twist herself up. And when torn, to run. But that hurt someone she cared about so much that now she's finally having to deal with the fallout that of COURSE what he said affected here, even if she's trying to make it seem like it didn't.

Steph's a mess.

"Ugh! WHy do you have to DO that!? Agree with me all the time! I'm not always right, dammit! I'm horrible because I hurt my best friend, which is YOU by the way! And I got slapped in the face by the worse reminder in history of exactly how wretched and I'm hanging by a thread while you go galavanting off to who knows where and I get it already! It sucks to get left in a lurch and not told anything and I any time I try to go to sleep I start thinking about it all over again and her dad was right, he basically raped her and now he's gone and you're back and I'm just sitting here like a dumb lump of blonde and I don't even know what to think any more and I'm not a bad ass anything! I'm the worst Avenger ever because my head's half here half there half who knows where and don'tyou even dare try to fix my numbers on that one. I know that's two halves too many!"

I think tired Steph rambles, and loses track of what she's thinking and saying and just yeah… where was she going with this?

It's not often that it happens, because Tim Drake's mind is a finely honed weapon, trained even more thoroughly during his years under the Dark Knight's tutelage than his body was, but as Stephanie starts rambling, the young man finds himself distinctly confused.

She makes sense at first - sort of, anyway, he doesn't get why she's complaining about him agreeing with her - but quickly starts to lose the thread, and she's talking about all sorts of who knows what. He's not even sure she knows what she's saying, anymore.

"Okay, first of all, you're not the worst Avenger ever. Okay? They let in guys with bows and arrows, and we all know the only cool bow and arrow guy ever was Green Arrow. Maybe Arrowette. Second… Who 'basically raped' who? Whose dad are you talking about, Steph? Who's gone?"

There's a brief giggle. Becasue yes, Arrow was the best with bows and arrows. And then he's asking the hard questions and tired Steph pouts and folds her arms over her chest and turns away.

"You don't want to hear about it! Is your car done? Don't need my tiny hands any more?" Hmph! The nerve. Wait, why are we angry? "Cuz I'm gonig to try to sleep now. For like.. a half hour. And then I'm going on patrol." Which means she'll sit on her bike and stare at things blankly. Once she figures out how to shoves things back where they belong. Tim is best at breaking down walls while riling her up to build different ones!

Erratic behaviour, Tim thinks to himself as he watches Stephanie's moods shift quickly, as she turns her back on him with her arms folded in closed-off body language. Stress? Lack of sleep?

"No, you're not," the former Boy Wonder says, concern in his dark blue eyes. "You need more than a half an hour of sleep. You need to actually rest, Steph." And he would know, since he's an expert at doing things with little or no sleep. But, he's been provided with lessons that most of Batman's associates simply haven't; 'Robin' always did get a privileged position when it came to learning the Dark Knight's secret techniques. He knows how to get by without it, how to use microsleep to push himself further.

"And you could, you know, actually talk to me. Obviously this is really bothering you, so yeah I want to hear it. Who are you talking about?"

"Oh. Because you're the expert on getting rest, Mr. Sleeps When He's D-" And Steph stops right there. She had started to turn, started to act on that hot angry burn of no sleep behind her eyes. But her brain was just engaged enough to know what it was about to say and she claps both her hands over her mouth, blue eyes wide. He offers again, reminds her that they are friends and that they could talk. Her shoulders start to lower, that tense guard wanting to lower.

Who are you talking about?

Tenses again, Steph turns away again and starts up the stairs.

"I'm going out." Run RUn RUn.

She's probably right, though; that's about when Tim Drake will get any real rest, the way he's been going for the past few years.

He's surprised by the way she shocks herself by skirting near to the concept of him being dead; his offer nearly seems to win her over, though, until he asks again, and then she's all tension, trying to put walls up. Trying to leave.

He could let her go. It would be less destructive than if she'd just up and left the last time she was here, when he'd opened up about how he'd felt since her apparent death years ago; this would be just trying to get some space, surely, and who could really fault Stephanie for needing some space to deal with… Whatever it is that's bothering her?

But he doesn't.

Tim moves, instead, reaching out for Stephanie as she starts up the stairs; he reaches out to catch her by the hand, to stop her from leaving. He's clever and perceptive, to be sure, but he's no telepath… He can't tell what's going through her blonde head unless she actually tells him.

"Don't," he says, gently. "I don't want to fight right now, Steph, okay? I just… I just want to know what's bothering you. You're worrying me, so… Please? Just talk to me."

Her hand caught, the only thing that keeps Stephanie from lashing out, from mule kicking and bolting is that gentle tone. It's always managed to do that, dial down the temperature on her anger. The urge falters altogether when he says he doesn't want to fight, because if Spoiler was being honest, she didn't want to fight either.

I want to know what's bothering you.

Stephanie makes a noise as her shoulders slump fully. It's caught somewhere between a laugh and a want to sob.

"You want to know what's bothering me?" She pauses to look back at his hand on hers. "Do you really?"

Tim knows it does, of course.

That's why he used it.

A lot of the time, she makes him too mad to think about it consciously… But when Tim isn't too caught up in his own emotional turmoil at the hands of the blonde, it's easy for him to dip into what he knows about her, and to use that knowledge to elicit the responses he wants.

There was a time when he wasn't really like that, of course: The more cheerful, more outgoing boy Stephanie Brown had met all those years ago was far less manipulative than the young man Tim Drake grew into. Not all the lessons he learned from the Batman were good ones.

"Yes," Tim answers, softly but seriously. "If I don't know, then I can't do anything to help you, can I?"

"What if I don't want you to help?" Steph asks, her tonne falling away from hot defensive anger in favor of something that's a lot more vulnerable. It's not something she's shown in a while, the over cheerful slightly ditzy girl scout persona masking the uncertainity of having a criminal father and her own place in this crazy world.

"Not that.. I don't mean." She sighs in resignation, dropping her weight against the hand rail without pulling her hand from his grasp.

"I don't know if I want your help, because I don't even know where to start or if I even want to try to fix any of it and all of it just reminds me of everything you said and…" Stephanie stops again so she can keep a hold of herself. It's a visible thing, her attempts at keeping herself controlled… the Tim always seems so controlled.

What if I don't want you to help?

Tim would probably try to find a way to help her out anyway, because that's what he does. To maneuver things from behind the scenes, or to track down other details on just what's bothering her. Some of her allies in the Avengers might know, or maybe Bruce or Barbara… Already, he's considering alternative ways to get to the information he's looking for. Already, part of him is viewing this as a puzzle to be solved, a problem to be fixed.

But for all her sighing and disquiet, she doesn't pull her hand away from his; he shifts a little, to thread his fingers between hers, squeezing lightly. Simple human contact, one of those things hardwired into most people as a source of comfort… Especially while they're trying to hold themselves together.

"Okay," he says. "It's up to you if you want to try and fix… Whatever it is you're talking about. But it might make you feel better to just let me know what's going on."

Tim's is a manupliative little shit, and Stephanie has no idea. It means the lacing of fingers is seeing as hst that, as him lacing their fingers together like the old days. She squeezes right back.

For a while she's silent, like she's letting that contact between them be enough, letting it calm her nerves and remind her that they are friends and… even when he realized that rushing to her side them meant helping someone she'd moved on with, he still was at her side.

"You remember Flash getting hurt, right? It was Deathstroke, as it turns out. And… his daughter went after me. You remember her on the roof top by the hospital? That was her. She tried again, after that. And she was… yeah. She tore me up. I… I wante dto call you but you had your own things to deal with and I wasn't sure you were even near by because I didn't see your ping on my HUD and… I called Flash…"

FOR SHAME! A meta in Gotham!!! Stephanie cringes slightly at that admission. She knows the rules. Batman made her TELL Flash the rules and yet… when she felt cornered… and trapped… That was her only option.

"He… stuck his hand into her chest," is the whisper and the tremble in her grip as she faces seeing something way more horrid in someone that had been so bright and good, someone that wasn't in the darkness that hte batlings live in that it's jarring. "And I managed to ignore that until Deathstroke paid me a visit." And least Tim's in the darkness with her. And he's installing headlights.

He doesn't press her.

Tim lets the silence stretch out, the only sounds in the Nest the faint ambient ones; the quiet hum of the air conditioning, distant beeps from the computer, from the crime lab. The sound of their breathing, nearly silent. But he lets Stephanie find her words in her own time, because as manipulative as he can be, he generally knows when and where to apply pressure. This is not one of those times.

Tim does, of course, remember when Barry Allen was badly beaten by Deathstroke; how they'd raced to Metropolis in the Redbird, how he'd had to carry the Scarlet Speedster out of the burning building, and then painfully reset his bones before his Speed Force-enhanced body healed the wrong way. He also remembers the fight on the rooftop with Ravager, in the aftermath of which Stephanie had saved him when his magical bargain had temporarily stripped him of the potential to save himself.


Given who his friends are, Tim knows a fair bit about speedsters - not to mention, whatever's already in the Bat-Computer - and so he doesn't look particularly shocked at the idea of the Flash being able to vibrate his molecules enough to put his hand into someone's chest. However, that he would do that is… Worrying.

"Why were Deathstroke and Ravager after the two of you to begin with?" Tim wonders, having never gotten a satisfactory answer about that before… But he keeps a solid grip on Stephanie's hand, giving her something to hold onto as she speaks, as she recalls things which are clearly traumatic for her. "What happened when Deathstroke came to 'visit'?"

"I have no idea. Other than they were paid, neither one told me. And even though Ravager tracked me down righ tbefore her dad did, she was so pissed at what Flash did to her, she wasn't about to tell me anything," Stephanie says, more than thankful for the rock Tim offers in holding her hand. Her fingers squeeze and relax without rhyme or reason but clearly in time to whatever thoughts are rattling about in her head, troubling her.

"He pulled a you," Stephanie grumps. There's an aggitated fondness in her voice, eyes flitting up to meet Tim's.

"We just talked… in the most tense and frightening way possible, but… like you he put some things in perspective that I was trying really hard not to think about. Which says so much about me, it's disturbing. Anyway, I've been trying to figure out how to even start to broach that, who Flash just vanished. Which reminded me of you and how you must've felt maybe trying to figure out how to talk to me about things… though your things weren't bad like his things and that's not hte parallel to draw here to forget that bit…" She pauses, like she's replaying part of her conversation until she inhales and picks up her train of thought again.

"When I bolted. So, yeah. I've been freaking out and feeling like a righteous bitch and I can't sleep and…"

She cussed.

We just talked…

Tim isn't entirely surprised; Deathstroke is a stone cold professional, from what he knows, and not a rabid animal. Though his daughter seems to be rather less controlled than her old man. More dangerous, in her way… Indiscriminately, rather than precisely.

"It's difficult, when someone you care about is in danger, or gets hurt," Tim says, quietly. "Difficult to keep a professional distance. Difficult to keep to a code like ours." He knows, and he knows very well, because he's been there. Threats to Spoiler when they were younger and more foolish. The cold desire to kill the people responsible, when Zatanna was hurt earlier in the year. He knows. He's felt the temptation to cross the line, more than once.

"I'm sure it's not any different for Flash. He obviously cares about you a lot, Steph. And… Clearly, it's not that different for Deathstroke when it comes to his daughter." Obviously, though, it's more difficult for her to deal with it if Barry isn't around for her to even try to talk to him about it. But…

"I can tell you, though, that you're not a bitch. If you were, it wouldn't be bothering you this much. I can't tell you how to fix this, or if you should, but you know that I'm here, right? No matter what."

Even after everything that's happened. Even with everything else that's changed, that's one thing which hasn't.

"You should stay here. Take a nap, at least," Tim says, trying to offer what practical help he can. "Head home after that… And take the night off. It won't do anybody any good if you get hurt because you're sleep deprived. I'll call Alfred," he adds, warningly. A 'joking, but also serious' warning.

Tim's words are listened to. Unlike Nathaniel's. He poked and pushed and when she finally just turned away to end the conversation he shoved again and she snapped. Let's not talk about the Avengers one v one fist fight in their computer room, shall we? And Kyle's more subtle commentary had her laughing but hadn't really helped. Neither were friends as Tim is, because yes evern after all this..

Stephanie's hand squeezes Tim's, and a tiny smile drifts in, drag the fatigue with it as he playfully, teasingly, gently, caringly threatens to Alfred her.

"You wouldn't dare. I haven't called Alfred on you in… at least two months," she retorts with a tone that's gratefully resigned, the stubborn too tuckered out to rear back up.

Stay here. Here is… not as filled with emotional reminders as anywhere else. Spoiler was starting to learn to nap on her skycycle… several hundred feet above New York. Which is twenty times more dangerous than it sounds.

Stephanie gives Tim's hand another squeeze, a wordless thank you and acceptance of his offer.

"Just an hour, though, okay?"

Five grand says he's going to lie to her face by agreeing and then just letting her sleep until she wakes up.

Just an hour, Stephanie had said.

Tim lets her sleep more than that.

The townhouse has spare bedrooms, more space than the young man could ever need on his own; those spare rooms are fully furnished, though they've never really been used until now, when the blonde is given one to 'take a nap' in. Furnished, but not really decorated in any sort of a personalised way… It has the feel of almost existing for show rather than being a real room, like he'd just bought it out of an expensive catalogue.

All the bedrooms have their own full bathrooms, too. Tim didn't half-ass it when he had this place built.

When Stephanie does finally wake up, probably a few hours later, it's dark outside, night having settled fully over Gotham… And she would smell food, the scent leading her back down to the main floor of the residence, where Tim is bustling about the kitchen. He's not wearing the same clothes he was earlier, and in fact he's clearly had a shower in the interim between leading Stephanie to a bed and her waking up, the grease and dirt of car work gone, and he's now dressed in a clean pair of jeans and a red dress shirt, left untucked with the sleeves rolled up.

And he is, again, cooking. Adding chicken and peppers to a carbonara sauce, the pasta already cooked and draining in the sink.

Stephanie had no idea what time it was when she finally agreed to go to sleep. She really had planned for an hour, and she even set an alarm. An alarm that hadn't been heard as the blonde slept like the dead. It was the smell of food that finally roused her, because it had been God knows how long since she had a real meal. Stephanie was far too big of a foodie to handle skipping real meals for long. So, drawn by the siren scent, blonde hair getting finger-brushed out of bedhead, makeup rubbed off and replaced by a pillow crease pattern, Stephanie makes her way into the kitchen area and just stops.

Tim is in the kitchen cooking.

That really should make sense. It really doesn't. Stephanie's brain is still booting up so she just blinks again and heads to the fridge to get some water. Because that's automatic.

The alarm might've even been turned off by someone looking to make sure Stephanie got some rest.

When she comes down the stairs, Tim of course notices her, watching curiously as the very clearly just woken up blonde meanders into the kitchen and then looks at him cooking as though it were the strangest thing in the world, just because he's extremely rich and spent his entire childhood living in mansions with servants, or something. It's not like he has anyone to cook for him here, where he lives by himself near the university.

Although Alfred does stop by sometimes, just to make sure the young master isn't starving himself.

"What?" Tim wonders, as Stephanie looks at him, but she heads to the fridge for some water - there's plenty of bottled water in there, and some soda, but of course nothing alcoholic - and once she shuts the fridge door he gestures towards the island counter that marks the border between the kitchen and the living room. There are stools there, on the living room side. "Have a seat," he tells her, and soon enough there's a plate of pasta and chicken set down in front of her, along with a bowl of salad. All of it has added ingredients falling in line with the nutritional program Batman devised, of course.

"Feeling any better?"


Stephanie's eyes closed and her head shook. Must have water. Can't think. Half the bottle chugged, Stephanie makes her way to the stools and droops into one. She watches him cook, mind just on boot up mode. It could almost just curl righ tback up and fall back a-ooh, food! Stephanie sits up as the plate is put before her. She's two bites in before she looks over at the question.

Feeling better? What a loaded question? But it deserves a thought, and so Stephanie ponders as she chews, swallows, and takes a drink.

"A little. I think." She pokes at another eat. "I still feel bad and I don't know what to do, but… I hadn't slept that hard in.. a while."

"Every little bit helps, right?" Tim says, watching Stephanie as she eats, apparently with the intention of making sure that the blonde doesn't leave any food on the plate. Not that he really needs to worry, since it seems like she's been as good about eating as she has about getting sleep. Maybe he really will grass on her to Alfred, later.

Eventually, he gets a second plate for himself, though he starts with his salad, standing on the kitchen side of the island counter and picking at the greens and fruit. It gives them both time to think, eating in relative silence for a few minutes.

"I wish I had an answer that'll solve everything for you, Steph, but I don't. It's one of those things you're going to have to navigate yourself. But like I said earlier… I'm here, okay? Whatever help I can give you, I will."

"Yeah. I guess it does," Stephanie replies on a soft almost chuckle, a glimmer of usual self in that sound. She picks a bit, but eventually starts eating again. Salad then pasta then drink then pasta then pasta then salad. Repeat.

"That seems so wrong, Tim. I ..I don't want ask you to do that," she says, head shaking lightly.

Slowly, Tim puts down his fork, leaning against the counter and looking curiously at Stephanie. At least she's eating, though. She might even stay awake long enough to get back to her own home, at this rate!

"Why does it seem 'wrong' for me to help you?" he asks. "Even if it's just giving you somebody to talk to? Believe me, I don't want to get in the middle of what's going on with you and Barry," any more than he already has by rescuing the Scarlet Speedster that one time. But that hardly counts, that was just doing his job: Saving people. "But I can listen. Unless you want to talk about it with Bruce? Or Barbara? I bet they'd have amazing, not at all crazy advice."

Her own home. The home in Bristol Heights with her mentally absence mom with walls filled with dad before he went criminal psuedo-mastermind? That one? Yeah, no thank you. She could be staying at the Avengers Mansion or her own little Spoiler Den. Who knows? (Alfred, most likely.)

"Yeah. No. Their advice would be terrible! Bruce would be all, 'Dont' need that entanglement, focus on what you have to get done.'" She even tried to growl. It's like a kitten trying to sound tough.

"And Babs would be, 'I am kicking his butt right now. Hang on, let me hack SHIELD real fast…'" Steph just sits up taller for Barbara, and she slumps again and leans on her elbow to the counter.

"I just… I really need someone to talk to, but it's awkward? Is it awkward? I mean… talking to you… about you.. and me… and Barry and me … and… I dont' know Tim."

Being the adopted son of Bruce Wayne, Tim knows better than most just how bad his advice about romantic entanglements is… Really, even from before his father and stepmother were killed, he knew. Who else could he have talked to about the situation with Stephanie and Spoiler? Dick a little, sure, but his advice was suspect in its own way, and maybe Alfred, but…

More recently, of course, there was the whole awkward situation with Zatanna. The conversation that had caused in the Cave was… Well, Tim had never wished so fervently that the ground might open up and swallow him than he did that night.

"I… Yeah, it's kind of awkward. But you're my friend, Steph. I care about you. I want you to be happy. Why, do you want him to get his ass kicked? Because I can call Superboy and Wonder Girl and we can roll him the next time he shows up. We'll be nicer than Deathstroke was, I promise."

Salad is finished, Stephanie not knowing of the Batman approved added ingredients. He hasn't given her those recipes.

"I didn't say I wanted him to have his ass kicked. I said Barbara would want to kick his ass," Stephanie retorts, as if that would mask the subconscious projection she was going there. Because shoving your hand through ANYONE'S chest is just something that shouldn't get done, and then acting like it wasnt anything, and then …yeah. Her case is not likely helped by the way Tim's offer has her giggling faintly.

"Friends of yours?" she asks, like trying to get the topic off herself for a heartbeat.

"That's nice…" She failed that, huh?

"You're my friend too, Tim, and I hate that I hurt you the way I did, and … I dont' want to put you through that again."

Friends of yours?

It's a reminder of something Stephanie said to him a while back: He never told her everything, either. Long before she worked with the Justice League or the Avengers, he was the one with heroic ties outside of Gotham, working alongside some other young people. Young Justice, they'd been labeled informally. But in the end, the group had split up. They'd all had other things they needed to do.

Lately, he's been thinking that was a mistake.

"Yeah, uh… Yeah. I met them back when I was Robin, they're good people," Tim says. Some of the best he knows, really. But now he feels a bit guilty, somehow, at keeping those parts of his life separate. Even when they were together, he'd never introduced Spoiler to some of his best friends. Maybe he should fix that, too.

"When you care about people… You make yourself vulnerable to them, Steph. Getting hurt is inevitable. And the alternative is, what, you bottle it up? Can't get any rest because of the stress?"

"End up baseballing a computer monitor across a room after bashing in a teammate's head..? Yeah, exactly that," Stephanie says, sounding down on herself for that. Her eyes cut away from Tim.

"I'm glad you have soem good people in your life. Where are they now? Are they helping you with all the rest of hte crazy lately? Because… that would be great. You know. So you have people." Stephanie says, not sure how to navigate the mind field of that. There's a bit of 'hmph!' a thte thought that there was just another bit of seret between them but… resignation too. it's not fair to demand he open everything up aout himself when she really wasn't doing the same thing. When she didn't do the same thing and that was part of why she had run for it.

The mention of a violent outburst on Spoiler's part is a surprise for Tim, his brows lifting as Stephanie obliquely mentions beating up one of her teammates.

"Snapped a little under the pressure? Are… They okay?" He knows a lot of her teammates are probably metahumans of one kind or another, but that doesn't mean they're going to stand up well to a head-bashing. Though it probably all comes down to what sort of abilities they have.

"They're… Around," Tim answers, as to his friends. "They've got their own things to deal with too, right? Anyway, you have people too, Steph. Don't forget that. People who really do give a damn about you. You're not alone."

"Yeah. He goaded me out of his armor, the moron. Wasted a flash-bang on my stupid outburst too," Stephanie grumbles at herself. She pokes at a stray salad leave with her fork.

"My head cleared when the monitor and my staff hit the wall… I made sure he got to medical… and I apologized. I just.. I wish he hadn't pushed at me… or that my buttons weren't so obvious, but I was busy and he kept interrupting and I had rewritten that cross-reference like four times by then and I was just done," she adds, finally setting her fork down to finish her water. She ate all but small bits, because that was an amazing meal.

"Yeah. I just… it bugs me when we all get scattered. Took me two years to figure that out," she replies, setting the water down to start to pick her up plate so she could go do the washing. That's the polite thing to do. And hopefully can dsitract from 'so that's why you came back' moment.

"Sounds douchey of him," Tim says in solidarity, though he can think of a number of situations where it might be useful to goad Stephanie to snap her out of a funk… Which might be exactly what her teammate was trying to do, if she was wearing her current mood that obviously. Really, even if it was useful or necessary, it would still be pretty douchey.

Sometimes, that's just the sacrifice you need to make.

He watches as Stephanie moves to do her own dishes, and there's something, well… Domestic about it, something normal that reminds him of those long-scrapped plans for the future he'd mentioned to the blonde weeks ago. What could've happened if they'd had some kind of a normal life together. Would it have been like this? Quiet meals together at home, with nothing to worry about beyond whose turn it was to cook, whose to do the dishes?

"Is that what brought you back, in the end?" he wonders, quietly. He probably doesn't even need to ask, really, but… "Trying to keep things from being any more scattered?"

"Bring me yours when you're done? No sense in both of us getting having dishpan hands," Steph says as she starts getting the sink set up the way she likes for dish washing. Because OCD Steph gets OCD and washing dishes is a thing to OCD about. There was not even amoment spent to think about how domestic it looks. It's just something that seems like is the right thing to do and… it doesnt' frazzle her nerves. He asks his question into her getting the water going, and for a while there's jus tthe sound of her washing.

"Kind of, yeah. I was… lost. I'd gotten so used to… all of you, that… I came back just to check on things… and then Dad was on the loose again and I…" She sighs, not realizing how soem of her wrods might seem. All of You or ALL of you or all-of-you (plural).

"I guess I just fell back into what was comfortable and easier than figuring out I was a mess by myself. I just, tried to forget everything about why I left in the first place."

It doesn't take long for Tim to finish what's left of his meal, bringing the dishes over so that, yes, Stephanie can wash them. It's extremely a moment of domesticity, in a way that is deeply bittersweet. A reminder of things that he'd wanted, that would never happen now.

And when she talks, she reminds him of why. Why those things could maybe have never happened anyway, even if she hadn't faked her death.

He stays close, leaning against the counter while she washes the dishes, as she explains the events that brought her back… And she describes it as falling back into what was comfortable and easy, rather than examining herself. Maybe he'd done the same, in bottling up the hurt over her 'death' and return, rather than admitting it sooner. Maybe that's what it was, between them: Something they knew, something comfortable and familiar. A pattern that was easy to fall back into.

Those sorts of patterns weren't necessarily good for you. They had a way of keeping you from growing, from changing. They had a way of distracting you from other things.

"I don't ever want to be something that holds you back from being who you want to be, Steph," Tim says, still quietly. He doesn't need to speak up, as close as he is. "I know I can be kind of a crappy friend sometimes… But not that crappy."

It really is bittersweet. The soft smile of wordless thanks as Stephanie accepts the dirty dishes and gets those washed up as well. Pots and pans too if he left them or brings them. All done in what looks like a very specific order: Utensils, small plates, big plates, bowls, pats, pots, cutting board. Not by soakign everything, but by dunking a sponge into a bowl of sopay water and soaping every dish type in turn, then rinsing then putting in drying rack before starting the next dish type. And when the dishes are done, the soapy water is rinsed away frmo the bowl and the soapy spounge is used to scrub down the sink and the counter by it, then rinsed, and repeated until no more bubbles. She dries it all, so the chrome fixture is shiny again, with a kitchen towel.

"I don't feel that you hold me back, Tim. Not… intentionally I mean. Wow, that's not any better. I mean." She holds her breath, like she's thinking. A wrinkled hand is set on the edge of the sink.

"I always looked up to you. You taught me everything about … this stuff, and my math classes… but mostly this and… You aren't any more of a crappy friend than I am. because if we're putting titles on it, I sort of win the World's Worst Girlfriend award for letting you think I was died just so I could try to figure myself out instead of actually talking TO you."

Of course Tim didn't leave any pots and pans laying around: He's exactly the sort of person who cleans up even while he's cooking. It's all a part of his nature, how thorough and precise he is about things.

Still, there's other things for Stephanie to wash up while she's at it. It's a side of the blonde that Tim has never really seen before, though he's sort of tangentally aware that she'd been sneaking into his townhouse and tidying up while she was trying to find him after his mysterious voicemail.

"You weren't the World's Worst Girlfriend, Steph," Tim assures her, reaching up with one hand to scrub through his black hair, pushing his bangs back out of his face. "I mean, you never once tried to kill me, for one. You weren't secretly evil, or out to get fortune…" Though it doesn't change his response from before, when she'd apologised for faking her death and leaving him; he hadn't forgiven her then, and he doesn't know if he's ever going to be able to. But even then, it isn't like he hates her.

"Besides… Except for that… You were a pretty great girlfriend. That's why it hurt so much."

"Which is exactly why I'm the worse," Stephanie states. "I'm the one that likes you, really like you, and still manages to crush everything." She inhales, lifitng her chin in that I am not going to cry AGAIN, and smiles. "But now we know, so… we know exactly how to avoid it, right? Right. Good. Thanks for dinner." Because all of that just …wow to Steph's brain and now it's time to beat a hasty retreat.

Well, at least she's a little more 'normal'?

At a certain point, it's probably not worth disagreeing, especially with Tim's earlier statement that he didn't want to fight with her right now. So rather than continue debating whether or not Stephanie was somehow worse than a secretly evil girlfriend who tried to murder him, or get his money, or end the world, he just lets out a little resigned sigh.

Especially because the blonde goes on to rush through making other decisions about their situation for herself, with his own agreement apparently assumed.

And he does want to avoid things getting bad like that again, so that's fair, but still.

"You're welcome," Tim says, finally. "You'd better appreciate it… I only cook for people that I really like."

But with some rest and some food helping Stephanie behave a bit more normally, at least he can let go of a bit of his worry. Things might not be right, but at least there's some kind of equilibrium.

Skid, slide, aburpt stop.

Only for people I really like.

Stephanie hadn't taken a step, but her brain was ready to and so Tim's words bring brain to a stand still. Her smile is two parts surprised, fourteen parts relieved, and three parts girly. Because Stephanie still has a Hello Kitty cell phone cover.

"I do. I really do. Even when I'm being stupid in saying so. Thank you," she says, shoulders looking a lot more relaxed.

"Well… Thanks for doing the dishes," Tim offers up when Stephanie thanks him again, apparently unaware that what he said before might've had any particular effect on the blonde; of course he likes her, if he didn't their friendship probably wouldn't have survived after the last argument. If he didn't, he wouldn't have done all the things he had to try and help her. Right?

"Come on, let's take the night off," he suggests, although he'd already told Stephanie earlier that she should, that she was in no condition to be out there patrolling or anything like that. And he's got all sorts of projects he could be working on, but instead… "We'll watch a dumb movie, relax, and then you can get some more rest. It'll do you some good."

"You're welcome," Stephanie says, smiling lightly, a more grown up version of her girlier smiles of yesteryear. At his suggestion, however, blue-green eyes blinkblink double blinkblink. Tim Workaholic Drake said what?

Her head tilts.

Stephanie reaches out for his forehead, as if to check him for fever.

"Who are you? What have you done with Tim? You… wnat to watch a dumb movie.. with me? You do remember that I talk during movies, don't you?" she asks, lips starting to curl up, hand falling away. Becasue watching a dumb movie, relaxing, and just… being with a friend who understands the turmoils and her, a friend who she already trusts everything with, sounds… like heaven.

Tim's mouth pulls into a frown when Stephanie jokingly checks him for a fever, and wonders who he is and what he's done with the real Timothy Drake.

"It's okay… I'll just wear one earplug on the side you're sitting on," he retorts, moving towards the fridge to grab a couple of drinks, offering one towards Stephanie with a boyish grin, his teeth clipping lightly into his bottom lip. Once she takes the drink, he leads the way back into the living room and the couch, where that extremely expensive and extremely rarely used entertainment system waits.

Whether it's heaven or not, especially if Stephanie really does talk through the whole movie, at the very least it'll give them some kind of normal, at least for a couple of hours.

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