The Batgirl is sitting on the edge of a rooftop, her legs pulled up underneath her and a book resting in her lap. She looks oddly normal, oddly young, oddly human, considering she's such a creature of the night. She's different, this Batgirl. Her eyes are older, her legs longer, and her hair is shorter, coming down to the first fourth of her back instead of the middle.
Nell doesn't recognize her, and it's only then that it begins to settle in. Things have changed around Gotham City.
The book Batgirl's reading is The Scarlet Letter. It's probably a college project, Nell thinks. Mom used to talk about Nell going to college someday, back when there was enough money for Nell to earn a five-dollar allowance each week. But, it doesn't matter, because Nell learns everything she needs from the library or from Colin. Colin's the one who told her about The Scarlet Letter. He read it once. Didn't really understand it, of course, but he told her what he did understand.
It's about a girl who was hated by everyone. She did something—Colin wouldn't tell Nell what—and because of what she'd done, she had to wear a big, bright red letter A on her chest.
Kinda like the Bat Symbol, was Nell's first thought.
Colin smiled at this, and merely shrugged his shoulders. Maybe so.
A siren sounds from a few streets away and The Batgirl's head flicks up, as if she's been caught doing something mischievous. She gently places the book to the side, spine upwards so as to save her spot. Nell takes a moment to internally chastise The Batgirl. Her teacher always says that you should put bookmarks in books instead of spread them out like that. It ruins their fragile frame.
The Batgirl places one hand on the balcony and prepares to stand up.
And then, out of nowhere, there's a flash of red and The Batgirl is tackled to the ground.
Nell almost shrieks in surprise, but instead dives further behind the crate she's been peering out from. This is Batgirl, even if she's a new Batgirl. She can save Nell. Of course she can, right?
Nervously, she peeks out from behind the box again and is surprised to see that the newcomer is no villain, no demon of Gotham. Instead, Mister Nightwing has decided to swing by and pay The Batgirl a visit.
Nell hasn't seen The Nightwing in a long, long time.
He's lying on top of the new Batgirl, crushing her with his weight, both of his elbows resting on the pavement on either side of her head. He smiles down at her smugly, as if proclaiming his obvious victory, and at first she feigns defeat. This causes a grunt from Nell, who knows that the old Batgirl, her Batgirl—the one with the big, blue eyes and the full, smiling lips—would never give up this easily.
But then Batgirl gives him a very wry grin, a grin that Nell has seen before, many times. Then she pulls her legs up, places her boots against Nightwing's firm chest, and kicks him off of her.
He lands easily on his feet, laughing now. Nell likes the sound of his laugh; it's pleasant and calming, almost natural. Odd, for a member of the Bat Family. A black sheep, or a…a scarlet letter.
"You're reading? On patrol?" he asks Batgirl, scooping up the book and leafing through a few of the pages. He shoots her another grin. "You can be such a nerd."
"Oh, shut up, it's college stuff," she retorts, snatching the book out of his hand, but then she lifts her foot and gives him a playful kick in the side. As he stumbles, she adds, "And, besides, you know I'm not a nerd. I just…" She pauses, pretending to think through her words. "I…devote myself completely to everything I do."
"Except patrols," he replies, smirking. "There was a robbery a couple blocks away and you completely missed it. You're lucky I was around."
"I saw you on the opposite rooftop and figured you could handle it. You could handle it, couldn't you, Wonder Boy?" she asks. Her tone is teasing, almost mocking, but Nell sees the fondness in her smile.
He leans in. "Yes."
"First night on the job, huh? And no fingerstripes?" she asks, glancing slyly over at his hand, which has made its way up to her cheek.
"No fingerstripes. But I'm likin' the red. You?"
"I personally think it's too flamboyant and you're just trying to compensate for…well, for—"
He throws his head back and laughs, seeming to know what she's about to say. Nell doesn't understand what's so funny. Compensating for what?
"I thought you were the goody-two-shoes. You shouldn't go around making naughty jokes, darling," he chastises, grinning.
"Excuse me?" Batgirl raises an eyebrow. "You didn't even listen to my whole sentence. You have no idea what I was about to say next."
"Sure I don't."
"Hmph." She winks.
They're in love, Nell thinks excitedly. She can just tell. Oh, goodness. This is just like the time Batgirl—the old, cool Batgirl who saved Nell's life—was with Robin and Batman, and she went to the old shack by the lake, and Robin—
But then her thoughts trail off as Nightwing bends over and wraps his arms around The Batgirl's waist, lifting her feet slightly off the ground. She, in return, slips her fingers around his neck and slides her thumb against his jaw.
And, of course, there comes the inevitable kiss.
Nell watches this, debating whether to giggle or make a disgusted snort. Older people can be so confusing and weird. Nell will never understand kisses, she knows that much. She truly doesn't see the appeal in blindly shoving your lips in another person's face.
Unless it were the old Batgirl's lips. The old Batgirl could shove her lips in anyone's face, and would still look cool doing it. Probably because she would be wearing eggplant, and eggplant always looked cool.
Nell decides to go ahead and giggle, pressing her hands over her mouth. It's only when she hears someone else's scoff that the smile disappears.
Nell whirls around, and sitting there—right there, five feet away!—is Robin. He's watching Nightwing and Batgirl with an expression of such utter disgust that his mouth might just fall off his face.
Nell blinks at him for a moment, her back pressed against the crate, her eyes wide. He glances at her absently, then turns his gaze back to the couple. "They've been like that for a while now. It's downright uncivilized," the boy mutters.
"I—Robin—how did you get here?" She whispers, partly out of surprise, partly out of awe. Robin! Robin is here! Right beside her!
"I saw you climbing the garbage cans to this rooftop and wondered what you were doing. So I followed." His gaze doesn't move, but Nell thinks his scowl gets a little deeper. If that's possible.
"How long have you been there?" she asks, her mouth still struggling to open and close.
"About seven and a half minutes."
"I—why? Do you spy on your family a lot?"
"Only when they're being insipid."
"Tasteless," Robin explains, gesturing towards Nightwing and Batgirl. "Nightwing is choosing to be Nightwing and go with Batgirl."
"That's tasteless?" Nell glances dubiously back at the couple, who are now leaning against the rooftop railing and talking. They look happy, not tasteless. Nell doesn't see how their flavor has anything to do with the matter anyway.
"Yes, tasteless. And stupid," Robin adds. "This new one, she's an absolute idiot. Reading books on patrol. Kissing him instead of monitoring the radar. Flying about grinning like some sort of foolish ape-woman. She's…she's nothing like…" He trails off, his eyes narrowing. He turns away, his cape sweeping behind him. "It doesn't matter. Nightwing can make all the insolent, childish, infatuated decisions he wants. He is, thankfully, out of my hair."
"My mom says she wants me and the kids out of her hair all the time," Nell comments, jumping down onto the garbage can after him.
"Yes, but that is because you are a child and children are annoying," Robin says, as if this is a concept known to everyone on Earth.
"But you're a child yourself," Nell points out. "What are you, thirteen?"
"That information is classified." He shoots her a dirty look.
"Oh." She slinks back, afraid to upset him. "Sorry."
"Mmph. It's getting late. You should go home." He says this while looking up at the sky, as if there were a giant digital clock made of stars. Or maybe Robin secretly has X-Ray vision, and he can see the Watchtower clock all the way from Earth. This thought makes Nell smile.
He sees this out of the corner of his eye and raises an eyebrow. "What now? Have you made another childish discovery, or perhaps found another romance to spy upon?"
"No," she replies, resisting the urge to stick her tongue out at him. Goodness. This boy reminds her of one of the boys that used to bully her at school. Biting the edge of her lip, she points a finger up to the sky, her soft brown skin illuminated by the moonlight. "Which way is the Watchtower?" she asks, looking over at him.
"Are you trying to get me kicked out of my job, wench?" he asks with an incredibly bitter sarcasm. He rubs at his temples, like he's an overworked adult. "That information, astonishingly, is also classified."
Nell huffs at this, starting to get irritated. Really, the boy could at least try and be nice. But now he's just parading his peacock feathers around like…like he's been stepped on or something.
She considers this for a moment, examining his slightly Middle Eastern skin color, his sharp cheekbones, his dark hair and urbane manner. Perhaps he has been stepped on. Something's bothering him, other than his usual arrogant attitude, Nell is certain of it. So, being the kind girl that she is, she does exactly what Batgirl—the old Batgirl—would do. She plops herself down onto the asphalt and looks up at Robin.
"What's the matter?" she asks. "Wanna talk about it?"
He looks at her for less than a second, but long enough to make his point, and then looks back at the sky. "No."
"Why not? You're angry."
"Yes, anger is a state of being that I am comfortable with. It can be channeled to energy, and energy is good."
"Yeah, if you wanna be no fun! Anger is for people who give up too easily," Nell replies matter-of-factly, shrugging her shoulders. "Batgirl never used to get angry."
Robin snorts. "You would be surprised. I believe I might have known her a bit better, Gothamite."
"My name is Nell," she tells him, adopting her own dry tone of voice.
His eyes widen for a moment, as if the name calls back some sort of memory. Then his usual façade returns and he looks at the sky again. "Mm, yes. Well, I knew…Batgirl…better."
"Oh, did you?" Now Nell puts her hands on her hips. This is a topic she is specifically touchy about. She considers herself the old Batgirl's one, singular, biggest fan. Now is the time to show off her skills, to display exactly how committed she is. "How could you possibly know Batgirl? You never spent that much time with her!"
At this point, Robin very nearly laughs. The faintest of smiles does make a sliver across his face, but it quickly fades. "I knew her secret identity, Nell. I am sure that qualifies me, at the very least, as a very close confidant. You, on the other hand, are nothing but a conniving fangirl."
Nell could easily get offended at this blatant insult, but she's quit paying attention ever since the words "secret" and "identity" came out of his mouth. They're like trigger words, something that bring about an immediate reaction. Her eyes grow huge.
"…You know Batgirl's secret identity?"
"Oh, for the love of—" Robin has to sustain the urge to throw his hands into the sky, out of utter exasperation. "Yes, I know her identity. She is a part of the Bat Family, Nell. We know each other's names."
"What is it?" Nell's eyes are giddy with excitement. She looks up at Robin as if he holds the map to the Fountain of Youth.
"I get the idea that 'classified' is not a word in your sadly limited vocabulary," Robin replies, rolling his eyes beneath his domino mask.
She remains looking at him expectantly for a few moments, before realizing that he is not planning on telling her. And there's no point arguing; Nell isn't stupid. She knows this boy well enough after a few minutes of conversation to tell that he's as stubborn as a mule. So, instead of arguing, she simply allows her eyes to narrow and her arms to cross.
"You're really cranky, aren't you?"
"Again, the showcase of your limited vocabulary. 'Cranky' is a word I might have used when I was at the tender age of three."
"You're upset about something, and you just won't tell me. I know it. I can tell."
"Hmph. Let's just sign you right up for the JLA mind-reader program then, why don't we? You seem particularly apt."
"You're mad about your friends, aren't you? The Bat Family. Because everyone's leaving. All your friends. That's it. I know, because I'm mad too." She says this with a decisive, but exhausted, sigh afterwards. Like it's something she's been toiling with for a long time.
It surprises Damian—who, of course, is this very Robin—as to how on-the-dot the girl hits it. Again, his eyes widen ever-so-slightly, his lips slipping into a confused frown. How can this girl know?
Yes, she's correct. That's why he's angry. Why wouldn't he be? His entire family, his support system, seems to be leaving him. Dick alone was bad enough, but now Stephanie has to jump on board the Hogwarts Express and sail off to nowhere. To England. To Scotland. To wherever it was she's going. It doesn't matter, the point is that she's leaving at all.
Leaving him with Todd, Drake, the new Batgirl, and his father.
His disappointed, unapproachable, symbol of a father.
"What are you mad about?" he asks the girl, trying to retain his lofty way of speaking, but honestly just being curious. Is it truly possible that, in even the slightest sense of the word, this girl understands?
"I'm Batgirl's biggest fan, Robin. And now she's gone." Nell pulls her knees up to her chest, resting her chin on their tops. Her eyes fall to the concrete. "So who do I look up to now?"
Damian doesn't reply, but instead looks back up to the stars. He doesn't care about the role models of dreaming children. He cares about the family he had thought was finally accepting him. The one where he fits, melds in easily amongst the variety of personalities. And now that two are missing…
Nell's eyes move to look at him. "You're used to being the outcast, the different one, and that's why you're angry. You're used to being labeled the arrogant one, the one you stay away from, who points out the problem, who points out evil. The…" Nell pauses for a moment, biting down on her lip hard, thinking deeply. Suddenly, her face lights up as she recalls something. "You're the scarlet letter."
Damian raises an eyebrow. "I don't have time for useless book analogies. Make your point, citizen."
Nell shrugs, placing her hands out in front of her as if laying the cards on a table. "With the other Batman, it was easy for you to be the dark one. Now you're with the old Batman, and he's just as dark as you are. You aren't the only rebel anymore; you aren't the scarlet letter. And that bothers you." She points this out as if it were as clear as sunlight.
"And just how would you know that?" he asks, trying to sound haughty but instead sounding accusing. How dare she intrude on him, and try to analyze him in this way? Like he's a book or something, instead of a handsome young boy of ten years old, with a bark and a bite?
"It's kinda obvious, really. You don't like that people are leaving, because you've gotten used to the way you work within them. It's like most people. I don't like moving houses because I don't like having to make new friends," Nell explains.
"Mmph." Damian crosses his arms and turns away, upset at having been so easily figured out.
A few moments of silence, and then Nell says something as equally confusing and yet on-the-dot as before.
"You need a blue letter."
He sighs. "And why on earth would I need a blue letter?"
"To balance out the scarlet one. Blue and red make purple."
"I do hope you mean this figuratively. Because a certain-colored alphabetical indicator will not help my…problem." He doesn't like calling it a problem, but there isn't any denying what it quite obviously is.
Nell doesn't reply, but instead hugs her knees tighter. Damian has figured out that this is her way of "putting her thinking cap on." She remains in this position for a few minutes, squeezing her eyes shut and rocking back and forth a bit. As if this helps her pitiful brain waves circulate.
"You need a Batgirl," she says suddenly, shooting her head back up to stare at him. Her eyes dance as she grins. "You need the old Batgirl back! Her…well, her costume is kinda blue!"
Damian frowns. "Last time I checked, Nell, it was an obnoxious eggplant, not blue."
"So? Close enough! It doesn't matter; Batgirl fixes everything!"
"No," Damian says immediately, almost fiercely. He turns to look at Nell head-on, his lips curling into a snarl. "No, she has not fixed a single thing in her time here. Especially now that she's leaving. All she has done is ruined carefully thought-out plans, coaxed her way into every argument, stuck her nose in every piece of business, gotten in my way, and—"
"Confused you?" Nell interrupts, giggling. "I think she's confused you, Robin. You like her, and you just won't admit it."
This is crossing the line. It's one thing to suggest that he himself, Damian Wayne, of such fine-bred genetics and physical aptitude, is prone to depression caused by others. But it's another thing entirely to openly mock him about his so-called feelings for an accident-prone blonde.
It's safe to say that his ounce of remaining self-control goes flying out the window.
He grabs Nell by the throat and shoves her against the brick wall with his left hand. He curls his right into a fist and stares into the little girl's dark eyes. The snarl on his lips turns to something downright horrifying. "I do not like Batgirl. I have never liked Batgirl."
In spite of everything, in spite of her face being inches away from the fist of a superhero, Nell answers with the blatant, honest truth. This is one aspect of the little girl that will continue to astound Damian for years—when facing any adversity, any trial or tribulation, Nell will always be the first to raise her hand and lay the truth on the line.
"She made you happy, and that scared you."
A kind of cold, awful clutch finds its way around Damian's heart as he hears Nell say this. It's like hearing your worst secret told aloud to your most trusted friend. The truth is out, the truth is known, and now there is no way of taking it back.
Did Damian know it before? Before Nell said it in such simple words?
Probably. Yeah, he probably did.
He releases his hold on her, letting her small, sweatshirt-covered body fall to the ground with a soft thump. "Go home, Nell of Gotham City. You are neither superhero nor friend of mine and I am sick of your mind games. Your scarlet letters and so forth. I hate classic literature." He says this last sentiment so bitterly that it almost sounds like a lie.
Nell—amazing, ridiculous, annoying, stubborn Nell—crosses her arms for the hundredth time tonight and stands her ground. "No. Not until you promise you'll go visit Batgirl."
"Batgirl is leaving."
"She isn't gone yet. You would have said so by now."
Damn it. The girl is smarter than Damian's been giving her credit for.
"It doesn't matter. I am not visiting Batgirl. The woman does not need my company, nor do I want hers."
"If you don't go now, I'll scream. And then the whole city will hear, and they'll think you hurt me!"
"If you do that, I'll kill you."
Nell scoffs. "You can't do that! The Bat Family can't kill people!"
He cocks an eyebrow. "You want to bet?"
"Sure." The dark-skinned girl chews on the edge of her lip, digging into her sweatshirt pocket and pulling out a wrinkled 5-dollar-bill. "Five bucks." She thrusts the paper money towards Damian, smiling triumphantly.
He stares at her palm for a moment, and wonders how on earth anyone could put up with this girl for more than an hour at a time. She's almost worse than Batgirl—than Stephanie. He rolls his eyes and shoves her arm away. "I don't want your money."
"Then you'll go?" Her voice is so sickeningly sweet, so pitifully hopeful, that his stomach churns.
"Yes," he groans between clenched teeth. He wipes his hand down his face, glad that glue has been added to hold his mask in place. "Yes, I'll go find Batgirl."
When Stephanie Brown wakes up the following morning, her window is open. Gotham City is singing its little morning song of screeching wheels and honking horns. Lovely. She should just stand up and start singing "Good Morning Baltimore" or something.
One more day, she thinks to herself. One more day and I'm out of here.
Oddly, the thought doesn't bring her much comfort. So she shoves it away, and pulls herself out of her sheets, scratching the back of her head. The window is open, and that means one of two things. One is that her mom thought it was a nice day and wanted some breeze. But it's never a nice day in Gotham. The other option is that someone visited in the middle of the night and wanted her to know he had dropped by.
Of course, it's the latter. She knows as soon as she spots the note on her desk. It's written on manila cardstock in a scribbled, but still fancy, cursive.
I require a blue letter. Meet me at Littleton Park, 7:00 PM. Dress appropriately.
The culprit attempted to write his entire name, but then crossed it out and instead wrote a cursive "D". Stephanie finds this oddly amusing. She hasn't the slightest idea what a "blue letter" is, or how in the world Damian wants her to dress "appropriately", but she figures she'll go anyway. What can she say? She misses the little demon-child-thing, in spite of his demon-child-thingness. He's Damian, and, God knows, the kid needs some brightness in his life. Especially now that Dick is leaving.
Yeah. Yeah, she'll go.
It's seven 'o clock at night and Damian is sitting backwards on a teeter totter. His arms are resting on his knees and his iPod earphones are cranked up about as loud as they'll go. Not that he still can't hear everything around him. Wayne genetics and superior training, of course.
"Safety Dance" comes on and he irritably switches it to something louder and less annoying. Dick added that song, saying it was "fun" to "work out to." Damian couldn't agree less. The song sounds like Jason Todd, very possibly drunk, singing in the shower and reliving 70's nostalgia. Plus it just reminds him of Dick, and that's enough to send him off the deep end again.
Really, he's beginning to wonder if coming here, to Littleton Park, was a good idea after all. Stephanie is late, as she always is, and his iPod is running out of battery. He feels ridiculous, sitting in his Robin costume in the middle of a children's play area, waiting for an irksome girl.
The truth is, he shouldn't have listened to Nell and he certainly shouldn't have contacted Stephanie at all. It was an insolent, spontaneous thing for him to do, outside of his comfort zone and unlike his usually sharp-witted nature. But Stephanie does that kind of thing to him. She makes him want to try things without thinking. To dive into proverbial shark-infested waters without first grabbing a couple Batarangs and an air tank.
It's enough to drive him insane. He's been raised to be a carefully calculated, well-oiled machine. And now Stephanie says she's leaving, and suddenly his anger, his fuel, turns into something empty. Something that makes him fall apart, like, like—
He curses under his breath. He's over-thinking again. Damn it all.
Standing up, Damian throws the iPod into one of his pouches and starts for the park entrance. That's it, he's leaving. Done with this mess, done with this thinking, done with following out the demands of a ridiculous Gothamite named Nell, done worrying, done caring—
He stops in his tracks and looks up, towards the source of the voice.
Stephanie is sitting atop the park sign, her legs spread out to their full length, supporting her. She's wearing her remodeled Spoiler costume, the one she's going to use in England.
"Yes," he replies. "Although I believe I didn't ring, I wrote. And you're late."
"And?" She asks, grabbing a hold of the sign and swooping down so that she lands next to him. Lightly, surprisingly enough. He considers making another joke about her weight, but decides to save it for later.
"And I've been waiting." He crosses his arms, like Nell did the previous night, hoping to look somewhat menacing.
"Well, excuse me, mister, but from the looks of it, you didn't have much of anything better to do. You've been sitting there scrolling through your iPod for the past fifteen minutes, haven't you?"
"I could have been—"
She sighs, rolling her eyes. That is one modification of the Spoiler costume that Damian likes. He can see her eyes. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? Just tell me what you need from me and I'll be on my way. I don't know what a blue letter is, so I brought you this." She holds out her palm.
In it is an embroidered letter "D", like the kind you put on high school sports jackets. It's a dark, sapphire blue, the color of the Caribbean ocean. "Found it at Hallmark for a couple bucks. You owe me," she says.
Damian stares at the letter for a moment, before slowly taking it out of her hand. He holds it in his own, feeling how light it is. Was this what Nell was talking about? Is this enough of a "blue letter" to balance out all the red that shines brilliantly on his own chest?
He looks up at Stephanie, who is looking right back at him quizzically, obviously trying not to laugh. Her turquoise eyes peek out from behind her mask, shining with the setting sun.
Yes, he thinks. If Stephanie and her blue eyes are added into the equation, the blue letter might be enough. Maybe. He doesn't know how, but it feels right. Perhaps. Damian's never been good at judging things based on feeling.
"What do you need it for anyway?" she asks, putting her hands on her hips.
He turns away and gives a barely coherent grumble. "Apparently I'm a scarlet letter. And I need a blue one to balance it out."
"A scarlet letter? Like the book? Damian, you aren't even married…" Stephanie points out. "There's no way you could have committed adultery since, well, since adultery is—"
"I know!" he snaps, turning back to look at her. "Don't make it any more confusing than the Gothamite already made it!"
"The girl. Your biggest fan. Nell."
Stephanie's face lights up immediately, her white teeth flashing into a beam. "I love that girl! She called you a scarlet letter?" She shakes her head with wonder. "Way to go, Nell. S'about time someone knocked some sense into you, Dami."
His eyes narrow. "That is besides the point. The point is that I need a blue letter—"
"I already gave you one."
"I need more than…just a figure."
"I don't understand." And Damian knows she really doesn't. Her eyebrows are furrowed in confusion, her mouth a set line with no teasing smile or knowing laugh. She really just doesn't understand.
His fists ball up in aggravation. Why is this so difficult? Why is it so hard to explain, to comprehend? Why can't he just tell her the truth, like Nell did last night?
"You can't leave," he finally says, and it's out of his mouth before he can stop it. As soon as the words are said, he regrets them. They sound weak and pathetic and everything he has tried so hard not to be. He tries to take them back with more words, but Stephanie replies before he can.
"I'm surprised you even care," she replies, looking at him with no small level of amusement. "I thought you hated me."
"I do hate you," he mutters. In some ways, it may be true. But not completely. Definitely not completely.
"Well then, there's no reason for me to stay. And besides, I can't stay, D," she tells him, sighing and leaning against the entrance sign. "Gotham's done with me for now. There's a new Batgirl. I'm going to college, somewhere where I can actually learn and won't be distracted by a bunch of hormonal Bat-guys."
"You mean guys like Drake." The word 'Drake' comes out of his mouth like a curse.
"Not just Tim, Damian. Everyone. I need to…I dunno, get out of here. At least for a while. I'll be back, I know I will. Gotham is my home, after all." She shrugs. "But, you know…bat's gotta leave the cave some time, right?" She grins at her little pun, but it slowly fades as Damian doesn't return it.
"You do realize you're leaving me with Todd, Drake, and my father, don't you?" he asks. "Todd is a murderous lunatic, Drake is a tool, and my father is a wordless man who shows little expression or emotion to any of his sons."
Her eyes soften a bit at this last statement. She understands completely. And Damian loves and hates her for it. "I know. I know, Dami, but I promise. You're gonna be fine. Dick's still gonna be around, even if he's not your Bats."
"He will be too busy shoving his tongue down the new Batgirl's throat to pay any attention. If they get married, I'm not attending their wedding," Damian replies decisively, irritably.
In spite of it all, Stephanie laughs. "He's your brother, D. You have to at least buy him a present."
"Hmph. Fine. I'll buy him some comic books so he can escape the living Hell he's allowing himself into."
She shakes her head, still smirking. "I'm loving your support of your brother finding happiness. You are by far the most awful ten-year-old I've ever met."
"And I will stay that way as long as I possibly can."
There's a moment's silence, and Damian watches her, as she pulls her line out from inside one of her pouches.
"Where are you going?" He hates the urgency that slips into his question.
"I just came by to drop off the letter. I'm going home to finish packing and to get some sleep. My flight leaves early tomorrow morning."
"Early, Damian. For God's sake, don't try and stop it."
He frowns. "I'm not an idiot, Brown."
"M'kay, you keep telling yourself that. From personal experience, it works for a few years, and then you just suddenly realize that you've been more than an idiot all along." She shrugs yet again, a gesture very comfortable to her. She momentarily closes her eyes and reveals her silver eye-shadow. Then they open again and it's back to that startling light blue. "I'm leaving now, D. You can say goodbye, if you'd like."
She's leaving. She's leaving now. Just like all the others. And for how long? There's no way of knowing. He's having his back stabbed once again, just like his mother, his father, Grayson, Drake, and all the others.
He's so tired of it.
So he gives her a stab in return. He fights back, like he always has, and lets her have a quick taste of the cold steel that's been pressed against his spine for so long.
"Goodbye, Spoiler." The words are as much a surrender as they are a battle cry.
She blinks at first, as if he's given her a slap across the face. He didn't use any aspect of her real name, and instead addresses her coldly by a new name that she obviously isn't accustomed to yet. A name that she still isn't sure she likes.
Getting over the initial shock, she replies sadly. "Bye, Robin. Enjoy the letter."
As she swoops off into the distance, never turning to look back, Damian has time to realize something. He doesn't know what letter she's talking about. Blue? Or perhaps the scarlet one? The one that burns its hole through his chest and sharpens the anger kindling there?
Yes, perhaps the scarlet one.
He turns away, defeated.
The plane ride is choppy at best, and that's awful for a girl who's traveling over oceans and is used to riding Batplane-style. Stephanie tries to entertain herself with Sudoku, coloring books, and Fruit Ninja, but there are some ways to waste time that just don't waste enough.
And she keeps thinking about Damian, and his stupid "Spoiler" remark.
The brat. The little, absolute brat. Having Bruce Wayne for a father is no excuse. No kid should be so cold. So arrogantly pompous. So "holier than thou."
Especially when they're ten years old and rich and have everything going for them and don't have to worry about college or boys or money or clothes or friends or roommates or food or anything.
She leans back in her uncomfortable chair, groaning audibly. She needs something else to preoccupy her. Something other than Two and a Half Men reruns and crossword puzzles.
She leans down and opens the backpack she brought with her, figuring she'll read another chapter of the book Cass bought her for Christmas two years ago. It's one of those perfect airplane books, that holds your interest for a couple hours and then lulls you right to sleep. Cass knows Stephanie well.
She reaches inside for the leather-bound pages, and instead her fingers brush something coarse and firm. She hesitates, half-worried Dick's thrown in some extra present that's going to embarrass her in front of her fellow plane passengers. Gently, frowning, she closes her hand around the object and slips it out of the pack.
At first, she doesn't understand.
It's a yellow letter. And not just any yellow letter, but a stitched letter "R", freshly torn off of one of Damian's costumes. There's a post-it note stapled haphazardly—quite unlike Damian, Stephanie thinks—to it.
My debt is now repaid. I will be visiting you in England this December, whether you like it or not.
That's it. He didn't even take the time to sign the note, but just left her with an inarguable statement. He's coming, and he's coming within the next couple of months.
It's not a direct apology, but Stephanie recognizes Dami-speak when she sees it. This is the closest thing to a "Please forgive me" as she's ever going to get.
Tearing off the post-it note, she lets her eyes fall back onto the letter itself. It isn't scarlet. It isn't blue. It isn't eggplant or purple or whatever. Just yellow.
Yellow. Huh, she thinks, and, although she resists it, a tiny smile pulls at her lips.
She could settle for yellow.
Wow, this is a monster of a fiction. I apologize for the length, but that's what always happens when I start out writing drabbles. (Yes, this was originally a drabble. Then the ball got rolling and—okay, don't judge me.)
So. Am I reading The Scarlet Letter? Yes, I'm reading The Scarlet Letter. Did it inspire a fiction? Well, duh. What doesn't inspire a fiction? Is this another "Claire-is-letting-out-her-feelings-through-symbol ism-and-Dami-emotions" fic? Uhh, yeah. Definitely. I am pretty sure it's just self-indulgence now, but I hope you enjoy it nevertheless.
And, for the record, no, I am NOT shipping Dick/Babs with this. I am shipping Me/writing a kissing scene that includes the fabulousness that is Richard John Grayson. With fingerstripes, because I still refuse to believe that they aren't coming back. Kyle Higgins himself wants the stripes back, and as far as I'm concerned, that means they're still around. (live, little fingerstripes, live…)
Has anyone else noticed my obsession with colors? (And fingerstripes? And generally being insane and talking too much?)
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