Fifty Feet High and On Fire

June 20, 2017:

Tim invites Stephanie along for his plan of normal socialisation with decidedly abnormal people.

Diner, Gotham University

The premiere place to eat on Gotham University's campus. It looks like an oldschool diner.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Superboy, Wonder Girl, Zatanna Zatara

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

EARLIER

Tim Drake's work phone buzzed with a text, from Spoiler. Work phone or not, it was a rather informal text.

Bman said we should talk. Fairchild spilled the beans on Titans. Did you eat yet?

"Oh come on," Tim said out loud to the ceiling of the Nest, where he was sitting at the computer, hard at work. "You have got to be kidding me."

NOW

Gotham University might be a state school lacking in the prestige of Columbia or Ivy, but the campus does have some pretty nice locales thanks to generous grants from certain extremely rich families that live in the area. One of the more popular spots on campus, even over the summer months, is the diner. The food is good, and cheap, and plentiful - the perfect combination for college kids who do not have vast personl fortunes - and even the service is high quality.

This, then, was where Tim told Steph to meet him.

"Feeling any better?" is the first thing that Tim says to Stephanie after the waitress departs their table. There's enough noise, enough general hubbub from students - either those with summer classes, or those just hanging out - that being overheard is all but impossible.

Without having to use white noise generators! Win-win.

"A little, yeah," Stephanie says, eyes on her plate, an almost shy little smile on her face that's rife with something. She tucks a lock of blonde behind an ear.

"Thanks. By the way," she adds, looking up. A bit less make up means it's easier to see she's been getting a bit more rest. Her expression is the more honest and open that it was as they settled down to watch a movie, when for a moment, years fell away and Spoiler had indeed chattered through the movie.

It is, Tim thinks in the relative safety of his own head, good to see her like this. More like she used to be, before the Work took its toll on her. It feels almost like a scene out of another life, one where the past few years had happened differently - where she hadn't left, where he hadn't made himself colder and harder.

"I just did what anybody would've done in that situation," he says, with a slight shake of his head. Of course, he didn't do what 'anybody' would've done - he rarely does, which is simultaneously the best and the worst thing about Timothy Jackson Drake - but that's how he sees it. "I'm just glad I didn't need to use handcuffs to keep you out of trouble, this time."

His fork pokes at his food, a salad with sliced chicken, a wry smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"Hey, listen… I'm having some friends over tomorrow, kind of a… Thing. You should come. There's gonna be food, we'll hang out. Significant risk of having fun."

Stephanie nods at Tim's words, the smile still a touch gunshy. He says handcuffs and her cheeks pinken faintly.

"And here I hoped you forgot about that," she retorts softly, again pushing hair behind an ear as her eyes flick toward him, spotting that wry little smile. It makes her smile a bit more and turn her eyes away.

The knee jerk in her head starts mean spirited 'oh you have friends?', what would have seemed to her a light hearted jab at themselves and the isolation this life puts all of them through. And then at recalling a flying blonde Wonder Girl it just turns into a knife twist of 'he had friends that weren't me' which is followed immediately by Stephanie taking a bo-staff to her own thoughts. 'Bad Steph! No cookies! Of course he can have no-you friends, you crazy! You wil not be that clingy needy girl, got it? good! Jesus!'

The stick figure Steph-drawn comic of all that is hilarious and very badly drawn.

"Is this a.. mask thing?" she asks, tone a bit hesitant, fork having just pushed her own food around.

And here I hoped you forgot about that.

"Are you kidding? You got so indignant… And I've never seen anyone turn that red!" Tim teases her. Keeping Spoiler alive was a full-time job back in the day (though really, it probably still is) and if he'd needed to restrain her somewhere to keep her out of trouble, well… It's not something he would've balked at.

Or considered the, er, implications of, either.

He's unaware that Stephanie ran into Wonder Girl recently, though he is aware that she felt isolated, that there were whole sections of his life she'd never been part of. With their relationship having settled into exes, and 'friends?' with a question mark fifty feet high and on fire, it could well be argued that she doesn't have any right to be upset about him having a social life that she has nothing to do with. But…

But…

"Sort of," he admits, on it being a 'mask thing'. "They're all involved in that stuff… But, you know, we're going to be in normal people clothes. You don't have to out yourself, though, you can just be Stephanie Brown, normal blonde college girl."

No one turns quite as red as Steph Brown, because as Tim starts teasing she huffs, taps her foot under the table and goes lobster with that same indignant pout at him.

"I'm still indignant about getting cuffed to a rain pipe, thank you!" she retorts, cheeks hot… because , as stated, the implications of things she might NOT get indignant about being cuffed to do not bear mentioning. She fights to get the blush under wraps again, pushing at her food.

"And you?" Going as Tim, so that they could pretend to be like this… normal? Or… "Cause so help me, if we're geared up and Wonder Girl confronts me again…"

Spoiler Alert: She thinks we're dating.

"It was the only way to make sure you wouldn't run off," Tim reminds her, as though that made everything perfectly okay… But, maybe it's understandable that what would be 'perfectly okay' for them would be a bit skewed, given that they met when she smashed him in the face with a chunk of masonry. "Besides, I came back and let you loose. It's not like it's the only time you ever got tied up, Steph."

Their job is perilous, after all. Getting captured and tied up by some bad guy or another is pretty much inevitable. Then it's all 'inescapable' death traps and speeches.

"Nah, everyone there knows who I am," Tim informs the blonde, taking a drink of his strawberry milkshake. "Conner and Cassie, we had our own sort of team, a few years ago." He doesn't say that Cassie is, in fact, that very Wonder Girl. He's trying to respect their secret identities, just as they do his. "And Zatanna's going to be there. So, if you go, that's pretty much all my friends in one place. Ives is with his family for the summer, and nobody knows where the hell Bart got off to, so it's pretty much just you guys."

Very skewed. Steph rolls her eyes at him having come back to let her loose before she groans and drops her forehead to her hand when he reminds her all the ties she ended up dangling like a fish on a hook. Steph is still ever so good at being the distrction for the Bat Family. Cute, blonde, girl, tight nomex suit, voice making her sound in her mid teens still. And then Tim lets the shoe drop that they all know him and she gives up the pretense of eating in favor of putting her head in her arms and her arms on the table.

"Okay. So, they all know you're Rob, and current crush Magic girl is going to be there…" Steph is working out, before she lifts her head. "You told them. After all your blahblah secret… and they all know? No. I'm happy for you. You, magic-crush-girl, flying-blonde-wonder-chick. Y'all three will be great. I guess, I'll go and chill with Caitlin and this Conner guy and thie Cassie girl and nothing about it will be awkward. At. All." Steph sighs, forcing her brain to try to slow down.

"So. no masks… and they know. So if I go… without masks, then…? What, Tim? We're just …friends from high school? Blonde girl from Gotham, you invited to your suepr friends pizza and chill day just because we're friends? Don' tyou think ONE of them is going to figure it out or ask one of us about it?"

If Tim were to be honest about it, he would say that Stephanie makes an even better distraction in a tight suit now than she did at fifteen. She's grown up quite well, really, blossomed from a cute cheerleader girl into a beautiful young woman.

But he would not be honest about it, because that would be suicidal, in one way or another. The absolute best case scenario would be never hearing the end of it.

"Blonde?" Tim says, brow furrowing. "Wonder Girl has dark hair." Courtesy of a terrible wig, that he has never stopped giving Cassandra an enormous amount of crap over wearing. Her disguise is just… Bad. But that doesn't mean he won't try to have her back about it. "And Fairchild isn't going to be there. She doesn't know me as anyone but 'Rob'. And she shouldn't be blabbing to people about certain projects," he adds, a bit more grimly. He should've been clearer about information security.

"They're not going to ask about it, because they're not jerks." Mostly. "They know that some things shouldn't be poked at. But it's up to you, Steph. If you won't want to go, I'm not gonna twist your arm… I'd like you to be there. It might be nice to hang out with people your own age, when you work with a bunch of older people."

Especially Captain America, who is like 100 years old.

No, Tim would never hear the end of it. Once Steph got over the death by embarassment.

"I don't know. It was late, I was tired. She was bubblier than I get on a sugar rush mid cookie-season," Steph quips, poking at her food again with the wave of a hand. Bubblier than herself, thus blonde. Steph really didn't take that close a look.

"She probably wants a try at you, fair warning. She backed off it real fast when I answered her stupid question about us dating," Steph says, only a little grumpy that Fairchild won't be there. A little. Steph quirks a brow.

"She said I was on your short list to ask, Tim. So, either she's dropping a flash bang on the both of us, or you chickened out and didn't want to talk to me," Steph emphasizes with a frok jab at the air in Tim's direction. The 'aggression' fades as Steph sighs.

"you're right. As usual. It would be nice to talk to people our own age, dealing with similar sorts of …our age things. Richards is nice, but makes your over thinking look like a fad. And Lanterns are just… I don't get how the green glow in their eyes doesn't give them headaches."

She probably wants a try at you.

Tim stares at Stephanie from across the booth table, his dark blue eyes widening, his mouth slightly open. It's a rarity that the former Boy Wonder is caught speechless by something, clearly shocked by this assertion about Wonder Girl's apparent interest in him—

"Snrrrk," Tim snorts, before bursting into outright laughter at the very idea. "Hahahaha… Oh, wow, I… Geez," he tries to regain his composure, rubbing a hand over his face, and through his dark hair. "No, she definitely doesn't. The only person she wants a try at is Superboy, believe me. I'm pretty sure he's never noticed, though."

He lets out another faint bit of laughter, lingering amusement at the very idea.

"Why, what did you tell her? Did you get jealous that another girl might be interested in me, Stephanie Brown?"

The jabbing fork, the mention of what Fairchild had decided to talk to Spoiler about after his conversation with the red-haired amazon at the Tower, drags more seriousness back out, as does his attempt to assure the blonde that his other friends will treat her well whether or not she reveals she is in fact a superheroine.

"You've already got a pretty full plate as it is, and I don't want you to think you need to take on any other jobs just because I asked, Steph. Not to mention, I worried it might be awkward for you to take orders from me given our history. Fairchild just kind of barged in, but I have no intention of my project being beholden to her bosses, you know? Or yours."

And they are her bosses, he knows. Danvers, Stark. SHIELD. He still can't trust SHIELD, in particular.

"Anyway, sounds like it's decided, you're going to come hang out tomorrow. It'll be fun, and like I said… You don't have to tell anyone anything you don't want to. I promise."

He delivers that promise with his best boyish grin, his teeth lightly clipping into his bottom lip. It's definitely not an expression that's ever gotten Stephanie into trouble in the past.

"You haven't touched your food," Tim adds.

"What?" Steph asks of Tim as he stares at her. For a moment, she wonders if she has something on her face. And then he starts laughing and the blush dances lightly back across her cheeks.

"She was all… high schoolly and weird and like 'oh em gee, are you Rob's gee eff'?" Steph pitches her voice falsely high, indicating Steph's own discomfort at a complete stranger, WHO CAN FLY ON HER OWN THANK YOU!, coming up to her while she's in her Spoiler gear saying she was way-back old friend, good friend, like braid each other's hair or something equally jealous-girl inducing friend, and asking THAT question: Are you Robin's girlfriend!? Squeee omg you are!

"I told her no. What else was I supposed to tell her?" Stephanie says defensively, back straight shoulders up, chin down a bit.

And cheeks going bright red.

"Absolutely not! What on Earth…? …I have not reason to be… This is ludicris!" Steph… so much the lying while not the lying. Yes, she had a knee jerk flail moment of AH! MINE! because it came from a girl that reminded her too much of herself back then, bright and happy and everything current Stephanie wants for current Tim that current Steph knows she isn't and probably couldn't with the whole 'ran away from him' thing looming over her head.

"I made it clear you were not a jerk like she tried to pin you when I said we weren't. Like YOU were the one that…" Okay. WAY too painful still. Stephanie looks at her food again and forcing a calming breath, letting him change the topic to various teams.

"Because I was going to tell either SHIELD or Avengers anything about you or your project," Stephanie says, all harsh gruffness again, fork set down on her plate. He had a point, abut taking orders from him again. She didnt' know about it. But hanging with him again is… it's a roller coaster. One moment it's the most wonderful thing, the next she wants to flip her plate into his face. She sighs again and looks up into that boyish grin. There goes the want to fling food. The gruff withers and dies and the blush peeks out again.

"Yes. I'll go hang out. As just a blonde girl you know from high school…." Stephanie says. Because when it comes to Tim, Stephanie really can't refuse him anything if he asks.

Especially when he CHEATS about it. Stupid boyish grin.

The high pitched voice 'impression' of Wonder Girl doesn't lessen Tim's laughter any at all, either.

He can absolutely imagine her behaving like that, because if there's anything the demigoddess is better at than fighting evil, it's jumping to conclusions. She has an extremely active imagination, in his experience.

But like for the blonde, for him these interactions are a kind of rollercoaster. Sometimes she's the most frustrating human being who ever walked the face of the earth, and other times it's like nothing ever changed. Of course, it was kind of like that back before, too, when they were together.

She can push his buttons better than almost anyone because he let her in close enough to learn where those buttons were. She hurt him more than anyone else ever has, because he allowed himself to be vulnerable enough to her that she could.

He knows she wouldn't inform on him to the Avengers or to SHIELD, but still, he can't trust them. An organisation like SHIELD wouldn't want them running around 'unsupervised', after all… And what if, at some point, they end up at cross purposes?

It might be paranoid, but, well.

Look at whose protege he was.

"An old friend," Tim agrees, nodding once. "You'll like them, Steph. They're good people."

The people you love the most, piss you off the fastest.

What if… The choice is clear. Family first. Tim's family. The Bats are family. SHIELD and the Avengers are going to find their tech used against them. Just as she did with the skycycle, if Stark ever gives her a hardsuit, Steph's going to find as many trackers as she can, then call in the family to a not one of their sights location, and see if they can track down the rest without destroying the thing. Lots of ifs, but Stephanie knows who her Dad is.

"I'm glad you think so. And… that you're comfortable enough to let them know… who you are," she say, getting her fork again. Her smile is back to small but genuine.

"Nobody can live without letting anyone in," Tim says. "Not even the man in charge."

Though in many cases, the people Batman has revealed his identity to have the same root cause as those Tim has: There was no feasible way to hide it from them. Or, in at least one case, it was a calculated risk that he took because he viewed it as the only way forward. The only way to get them to let him help them.

The secrets are important, but other people's lives are more important still.

"I haven't regretted it once yet."

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