After the Burning

July 01, 2018:

Spoiler and Iron Guard went to Hells Kitchen to help, until the DEO forced the Avengers to leave the area. Now they are taking a break and they meet, kind off.

Midtown Manhattan

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

The air of Manhattan is heavy with the smell of soot and brunt plastic. A black dust settles everywhere from midtown to the southern tip of the island. The streets are oddly empty for a Sunday. There are cops in every corner, and every so often an armored vehicle passes through the streets.

A SHIELD Hellicarrier floats over the skyscrapers. The news never stop talking of the ‘worst terrorist attack in history’ and a death toll comparable with the alien attack of 2015, which left thousands of dead in Metropolis.

Most restaurants and bars are closed, but not all. Some New Yorkers are too stubborn to stop even after a disaster that has shocked the city that never sleeps into almost full stop.

Also, the volunteers that run to the disaster area need food and drinks. And since they have been pretty much evicted by the DEO operatives, they gather whenever they can, to commiserate and complain, to forge some friendships with their fellows, too.

Nathaniel is not given to socialize, but the Avengers have been asked to leave the ruins of Hells Kitchen, and even his drones, virtually undetectable, have been found and destroyed by the superhumans of Team Youngblood. It was petty and pointless (and expensive). But he is quite sure there are no more survivors to be found. So instead he switched his armor for a black suit and accepted the invitation for ‘the best sandwiches of the state’ at what looks like a family restaurant in a back alley. He is too tired to care.


Spoiler had gotten the alert and moved. With her skycycle, she pulled out as many as she could. When the DEO and their superhuman team too over, she resorted to the stealth tactics the Bats are known for and made double sure that the Avengers had indeed gotten everyone. Dirty and hungry and tired, the batling changed in an abandoned, ruined building, and went for some food. She'd over heard it was the best sandwiches in the state. She was not so tired that she wasn't willing to compare them to Alfred's. Into the back alley she goes.


They are unlikely to be the 'best' anything, but the cooks and waiters of the place are making sure everyone is getting at least a very large sandwich and French fires with cheese. They are running out of variety, but they are not charging the customers either, so the place is half-full. The volunteers are already drifting off, although Nathaniel's group is still eating, and talking about they could do to convince the DEO to let them return. Harebrained plans among the exchanging of cell phone numbers.

Most of them don't notice Steph arriving. But Nathaniel does. He notices everything even tired as he is. Once the girl finds a table, an old waitress comes to check her out. Given her appearance she is automatically judged as a volunteer or victim, so she is given a tall glass of iced water without questioning. "I'll bring some food," promises the woman.


"Thank you," she says sofly to the waitress. Her jacket's clean enough, and zipped up to cover the fact that while her jeans can look clean and not draw too much attention against the dirt on her chin, the clean RainbowBrite teeshirt would have ended the doubt. Stephanie pulls out her Hello Kitty phone, to check herself in the selfie camrea. She wiped down with a baby wipe, and scrubbed the purple lipstick off, but to her mind, it always stains a little. Another wipee is taken from her pocket, to wipe at the spot on her chin she missed earlier, and to give her mouth another once over. Just in case.

And the familiar face of Nathaniel is ignored. She was here for the same reason he was, literally since she was on that comfeed with the sandwich place was mentioned. But she didn't need him to know that she knew. If anyone asked, she was just worried about her boss who has an office in Hell's Kitchen and she's working to try to make sure he and friends are okay.

Not a complete lie.


It is, of course, unusual for a young woman to appear here at this moment. But of all unusual things that happen in a typical New York day, it shouldn't be something to give Nathaniel pause. Or should it be?

Stephanie gets a second glance, because he has already decided the tired ramblings of the volunteers are unlikely to come to anything useful. He made a couple potential useful contacts, however, and the sandwich was good enough. So not a totally wasted couple hours.

But he should get back to the lab in the mansion. Well, maybe after sleeping three hours.

The young blonde mannerisms are familiar, though, so with an apology, he stands up and heads for her table. Getting there just after a massive sandwich of beacon, egg and cheese.

"Do I know you?" He offers, looking at Steph's face, and her eyes.


Face about as clean as she's going to make it, Stephanie puts her phone away and folds her wipee as if it were a napkin. She'll use it as one as she eats. And she'll make herself not dread the fact that Nathaniel is walking over. Not that she doesn't want to see him. A friendly face would be nice to have after all the work she did. But as he moves over and seeks eye contact, she's suddenly struck by the 'coincidence' this could be. She inhales and looks up.

Her blue-green eyes are tired but sharp. There's still makeup on them. A soft baby blue, but no mascara or eye liner. Nothing heavy or jarring. The concealer has long since been wiped off. Stephanie having rubbed under her eyes and along her cheeks to clean the line of the cowl off her face.

"I… don't… think so?" she hazards. Her voice is pitched light and high and delicate, making her sound despite how the fatigue and the grime in her hair tries to age her, like a girl in her mid to late teens.


Flashback to a year and a half ago. Nathaniel telling Spoiler he would recognize her eyes anywhere. Next time he saw her she had them covered by lenses.

But it was true. Nathaniel forgets very little, and her eyes drew his attention.

But she doesn't think so. Damn. He looks startled for a second. Was this some kind of breach of protocol (bat-protocol). Does he care? Eight thousand dead. and he is more tired he has been since Egypt.

Fine. He grabs a nearby chair and sits down in front of Stephanie, "you remember me someone I knew. Beautiful eyes…" pause, "purple lipstick."


Stephanie had been chanting 'please don't remember' in her head as she uses the acting of biting the sandwich to hide part of her face. She watches the startle flicker across his features, relaxing when she thinks she managed it, and that he forgot. Relaxing looks and feel an awful lot like resigning into that sad of having far too few friends and fewer still who know the whole of it that she can relax around. Stephanie lowers her gaze with the sandwich and uses the 'i'm getting a drink now' excuse for it.

She starts lightly and flicks her gaze to him the moment he grabs a chair and sits down.

Crap.

Too tired to fight much, Stephanie's cheeks dust pink at his words until she chokes slightly at the purple lipstick.

Busted.

"Purple….? Lipstick? Is she ..emo or something?" Stephanie quips, voice higher than before and her brows flit up toward her hair line.. A hair line that's cleaner than the ends of her golden locks.


"Not at all… she is very colorful," replies the young man, smiling faintly. "But purple is definitely her color. Goes great with her hair, too." Okay, maybe he is having too much silly fun with this. But he is tired, he can't be serious and mature all the time. Particularly today.

"I am Nathaniel Richards," he adds with a faint smile. "Despite my appearance," spotless dark suit and all, "I have been helping in Hells Kitchen since the bombing. Which is what most of the folks here did, too. They dragged me here."


Colorful? In black and purple? Stephanie blushes lightly again, only for the blush to darken at the complement. She does like purple, and this silly lighthearted is so different from the Nathaniel she's used to seeing in the suit that for the moment, Stephanie suspects that he's really just reminded of Spoiler, and not assuming she is.

This is awkward in her own head.

"Stephanie," she says, pausing for a heartbeat. Rude not to give a full name when one is offered. She can't be sure that he suspects anything, so can't act all weird.

"Stephanie Brown," she says finally, shoulders coming up as she says her last name. Ghost of parent reputations linger.

"Oh? Wow. That's… That's cool. Thanks, for helping, I mean! Because, I.. was… trying to a little. I… just… Umm. thanks." Stephanie rambles. Somethings don't change.


Like blushing in the most telling moments. Batman needs to train her acting. Not as Spoiler, she has the Spoiler part under control. But Stephanie seems a terrible, terrible liar. "Stephanie Brown," he repeats. Should he ask for her phone number now or later?

No. Lets be nice.

"Just my duty," he replies to her 'thanks'. A glance is directed outside where a light armored vehicle noisily runs down the nearby main street. "As for you? You look tired and given the aspect you were near the disaster area not long ago."


He really really does. Stephanie's a bit of a mess and as long as conversation is on topics not too close to the batling life or is with those very few people who can bridge both worlds with her, she has a hard time being the cold and detatched that the others are. He glances, and Stephanie's blue-green eyes follow, flitting and focusing quickly.

"Um… yes I was. I.. I work in the area. I was trying to get to the office, to see if my bosses were okay, but I couldn't get far enough," she says, shoulders falling. It's the complete truth. So many others needed help that she wasn't able to get to the law firm, and that not knowing ate at her. She averts her gaze to her sandwich, knowing she needs to eat and not really being hungry anymore.


That sounded so completely sincere that Nathaniel is quite sure Steph worked in an office in Hells Kitchen. Why there and not Gotham is a interesting question. Not very important at the moment, but it also means there is a number of things about Spoiler he does not know. Maybe a whole live outside the cowl.

For Nathaniel, there is no differences. He has no dual life. It makes him wonder how much he really knows her. Is Spoiler her mask, or it is Stephanie Brown?

"You can check, the information should be in the networks," he suggests after a few seconds. Which of course means the Avengers and Justice League networks. The public won't know everything for a few more days. "Also, if you worked there, they will let you return soon."


She had taken another small bite, eyes falling away, but then he mentioned the networks. It couldn't be anything other than Avengers… possibly the Batcomputer, though that was likley getting its information from Avengers and Justice League.

"All the major news networks are down though," Stephanie replies, tone still that too girly to be Spoiler even though it realy way. She brings her gaze up to level at him.


"No, not at all," replies Nathaniel. Not outside the Hell’s Kitchen. Although of course the phone connections are overloaded in that area. Many communication devices have burned, or are out of power. The bulk of the city has not been affected. There won’t be blackouts because after the winter blizzards the systems have been reinforced. "Try again," he adds.

"Your sandwich is getting cold," he notes with a faint smile, leaning back and sighing. "Gods, I am tired. It has been a while since I had pushing myself so far."


Try again? Try Again! What the heck? Stephanie's eyes narrow and her lips press faightly, but only for a heartbeat, because she's not supposed to know he's being an annoying little- "Should you maybe go get some rest, then?" Stephanie asks, letting the networks topic go but taking another bite of sandwich. It's really good, because it's flavored with hunger.


"Yes, that was the idea until I saw you," replies Nathaniel, offering a tired smile. And it is a silly dance they are playing, really. But oddly amusing. Perhaps because he is tired.

He sees her irritation, so easily read in her bared face. Actually it is not difficult to read it when she is cowled and armored. "You should rest too. Always pushing yourself too hard. Some day you will break, and putting you back together will not be easy." He smiles, "not that you are going to listen if you are anything like my purple-clad friend. But I have to try."


He had the idea to rest before he spotted her. He doesn't even know her, does he? Her brows pull together, creasing her brow ever so slightly as he all but says that he knows who she is. Stephanie sighs, resignation pulling her shoulders down. She looks at the cooling sandwich, knowing that she has to eat.

"You're talking like you know me, Mr. Richards," she entones. It's softer and not as bubbly as the more youthful tones Stephanie uses. It's a last ditch effort to keep that crumbling distance between mask and civilian life, to keep herself from the worry that happens when someone finds out.


Nathaniel smiles, shrugging briefly. "Do I? Maybe. I suppose we can talk about it next Wednesday, perhaps over lunch?" Yes, he is asking her for a lunch date, all the sudden. Oh well, not too sudden, if they indeed know each other, it is?

Maybe he is not taking it seriously, or maybe he feels she is inviting him to dance the strange dance of the secret identities. He is tired, but willing to play. "Do you have Wednesday lunch break free?"


The lunch date makes her want to rub at her temples. If she says yes in a way that confirms it; bad. If she declines; bad. She'd have to …something. Right now, she's too tired to think of how to wiggle free. So, she doesn't.

"Probably. Depends on how long it takes for me to get a hold of my boss and see what state the office is in and if I'm working next week or not; what finals look like at school… It's… a hard maybe, but, give me your number and I'll text you." There. Now, she can reasonably, maybe just… lose the number? Not that she really will, but knowing that she's giving him an in to her civilian life is nerve wracking. The last two didn't work out well at all. One was her fault, the other not, but still.


But still it will be her choice. Which is how Nathaniel prefers it. His natural tendency is to manipulate people and situations to his benefit, but he is being extra-careful not to do it with those he wants to befriend.

"Of course, I understand perfectly," he decides, standing up and slipping Steph a card with his private phone number. "See? Already thinking about work, despite the City Hall pretty much shutting down the city for a week," he grins. "I think I know you, Ms. Brown."


Stephanie was never as good as the rest at finding the difference, and when her still attempting to keep a normal life outside the mask, things get complicated quickly. She takes the card, eyes skimming the number quickly before looking up at Nathaniel.

Her cheeks pale faintly at his statement, but she inclines her chin. That stubborn streak easy to see in her gaze.

"I don't work for the city, Mr. Richards," she retorts while looking up at him. A moment and she looks away, back to her sandwich.

"Have a good day."

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