Things are not right.
Damian's memories might be a little fuzzy in the aftermath of his… death.
But things aren't right.
He's tried mentioning this to Father, but Father doesn't even seem to hear him when he makes his inquiries. Grayson brushes him off and changes the subject, and even Drake just look at him, bemused when Damian tries to get his conspiracy-prone brother to engage.
Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown are missing.
It seems like it's going to be up to Damian to get them back.
The first thing Damian does, of course, is get a team together.
He plans carefully, searching through the computer for appropriate candidates.
Colin Wilkes is a natural pick; Damian's worked with him before and he knows him to be reliable.
Nell Little is a riskier choice, but she was Brown's biggest fan, and if anyone is going to remember her, she seems like an easy choice.
Yes, the two of them will make an adequate starting team.
Neither of them are living where they're supposed to be, but he has the appropriate resources to track them down.
He goes to find Colin first, because… he misses him. Colin had been missing in Damian's mind for a while now, and he doesn't like the feel of it, the absent of one of his few… acquaintances.
No, he reminds himself, forcing himself to stand straighter. One of his few friends. He had died, and now he was back. He can admit this, even if it is just to himself.
He knocks on the door to the orphanage.
A nun opens the door. He knows she's a nun, even though she's not wearing one of those ridiculous wimples, just a sensible cardigan over a collared shirt and a corduroy skirt.
"Yes?" She asks, looking at him with an expression of vague confusion.
"Is Colin in?" He asks.
She smiles at him, her confusion vanishing. "Of course. Come on in."
Colin is sitting on his bed, listlessly turning through his book, before he looks up, sees Damian, and grins from ear to ear.
"It's you!" He says, leaping off the bed and wrapping Damian in an unexpected, but not… entirely unwelcome, hug. Grayson hugs him, and Father has been doing more of it since he has returned from the dead, but he still feels… lonely.
The Manor feels empty, with Grayson off doing his strange mission, with Drake and Todd focusing on their teams. Gordon is hardly a friend of his, and Father and Pennyworth aren't… right, with the absences of Brown and Cain weighing on Damian.
If he finds them, things will be better. He is certain of that.
"You remember me, then?" Damian says, forcing himself to break out of Colin's embrace.
"Of course!" Colin says, with a grin. "Why wouldn't I?"
"People are forgetting things," Damian says. "No one remembers Batgirl." He pauses and forces himself to say. "The real Batgirl that is. With blonde hair."
"They don't?" Colin says, blinking in confusion. "I thought—I mean, there's been three already, I just assumed there's a new one."
"Not exactly," Damian says, wrinkling his nose. "I'll explain on the way. We need to go find Little."
"A friend," Damian says curtly. "Grab your coat, Abuse."
A grin lights up Colin's face. "You've got it, Robin."
Colin, as it turns out, not only grabs his coat, but those ridiculous brass knuckles of his, which Damian shouldn't find quite as comforting as he does.
Having someone with the strength of Bane on his side is always a nice thing.
Nell Little is someone who Damian knows less well than Colin, but Steph always spoke highly of her, and Damian knows for a fact that the girl had started to put on a cape and fight some street level crime before…
What, exactly happened? He can't remember. One day everything was normal, the next…
Was it Todd? He remembers Todd being around more, suddenly, and acting as almost none of his rages and violence had ever happened, but…
No, it can't be that, because it started earlier than that… was it when Grayson became Nightwing again? Or…
His head thrums painfully, and Damian has to stop to double over and grip the sides of his head, which feels like it's trying to liquify out of his head.
"Damian?" Colin's hands are on his shoulders—Colin's here, and real, and right, and Damian tries to focus on that, rather than the wrongness that is—whatever has swallowed up Brown and Cassandra.
Colin used to be wrong too, but now… he's here, he's right, and Damian knows that, down to his bones.
"It's nothing," he says, staring at Colin's face, feeling the pain slowly be pushed back.
"You were thinking about someone who was gone," Colin says. "I know. It happens to me, sometimes. Used to happen when I thought about you."
Damian clenches his fists. "Someone has messed with reality," he says. "Magic."
Colin shrugs. "We'll fix it," he says, simply. "So, where to next?"
Nell Little lives in a small apartment halfway across Gotham. It's still not in a nice part of Gotham, but it's nicer than where Colin's orphanage was located.
Damian doesn't want to deal with Nell's mother, so he and Colin scale the fire escape.
Nell's inside, reading a book. On her wall, Damian sees several careful charcoal sketches of Brown in her Batgirl outfit, as well as a few others—he spots Cassandra as Black Bat, Huntress, who he doesn't think anyone's seen in ages, a version of Nightwing with the symbol painted bright blue with watercolors.
Relief floods him, and he feels it carried over to Colin.
He knocks on the window.
"Bruce!" Nell says, throwing open the window when she spots him. "You're here! I—I was starting to think you were gone forever!"
"Tt," Damian scoffs. "Of course not."
"Bruce?" Colin asks.
"A long story," Damian says stiffly. "Little. We're looking for Batgirl."
"… what, you?"
Damian sighs. "I'm Robin," he says. "And she and my sister are missing."
Her eyes widen. "Oh my gosh," she whispers.
"Get your cape," Damian says. "This is Abuse."
"Hi!" Colin says, waving. "Call me Colin."
She beams, and disappears for a moment, before returning…
"Call me Spoiler," she says, pulling the purple hood up over her face. "So, where to first?"
The first stop is Brown's apartment. It's exactly like Damian remembers it, but completely empty. The neighbors act as if there is no apartment even there, blink at them when they ask about Brown and her mother.
They find Brown's bedroom, and even locate where she stores her costume.
It's not there.
"So… she's out somewhere being Batgirl?" Colin says.
"Or she was Batgirl when this happened," Nell says, hugging herself. "Can't you feel it? No one's been here for a long time."
Damian scowls. "Here," he says, finally finding what he was looking for—Brown's old mask, and a suit for Nell to wear beneath her own purple cloak.
"Whoa," Nell says, her eyes huge.
"Go change," Damian says. "I know where we need to go next."
"Where?" Colin says, while Nell locks herself in Brown's bathroom to change.
"The suburbs," Damian says with as much scorn as he can manage.
"… have you ever been to the suburbs?"
"No. No I have not."
"Oh this is going to be fun," Colin says.
"So, do we take the bus or what?" Nell says.
"Tt, of course not." Damian says. "We take the Batmobile."
"Cool," Nell says.
"There's no way you're old enough to drive."
"So?" Damian says. "Who's going to pull us over?"
Colin looks at Nell, as if he's hoping she will say something reasonable. Shows what he knows, she's chosen Brown's former identity as her moniker.
"He's got a point," Nell tells Colin. "Shotgun!"
Brown's childhood house is far from civilization, in the middle of this center of white supremacy and forced conformity that is "suburbia."
"You're weird, you know that?" Nell says. "What kind of ten-year-old has opinions about housing developments and red lining?"
"A well educated one," Damian sniffs.
"Wait, you know those words," Colin says, suspicious.
"I'm twelve," Nell says, as if that makes such a difference.
"You're also a genius," Damian points out. "I've seen your file." It had been part of the reason why he had decided to recruit her, after all.
Nell shrugs. "Calling me a genius is just a fancy way of saying I have ADHD and a library card."
"That's not at all what that word means—" Damian says, but they've arrived at the house, and Nell and Colin exit the Batmobile, leaving him alone with the futility of trying to argue with Nell.
"Tt," Damian grumbles to himself, throwing open his own door and exiting the vehicle.
There's a purple car parked outside, and Damian's heart speeds up in his chest as he recognizes it. That's Brown's compact, the one that his father had given her after his return, and he finds himself sprinting up the stairs to the front door and hammering on it with his fists, ignoring the doorbell.
"I'm coming, I'm coming—"
He knows that voice.
The door opens, and a tall woman in her early twenties opens the door, wearing a tank top and sweatpants. She stares at them in confusion, and for a moment, Damian's heart sinks, thinking she doesn't recognize them, that everything is going to be awful forever—
"Robin?" Stephanie Brown says, still staring at them. "And—I'm sorry, I don't—who are you two?"
"Brown?" Damian says, hating how small he sounds.
Something cracks on her face. "Damian?"
He throws himself forward, wrapping his arms around her stomach, and she falls over, wrapping her arms around him even as she collides with the hardwood floor of the entrance to the house. "You remember!" He yells, not caring that he's making a spectacle of himself.
"Steph?" Another voice calls, and Damian's on his feet and racing towards his sister before he can even see her properly.
Cass catches him in her arms and swings him around, her laugh filling the hall. "It's you! You found us!"
"Wait, I know you—Nell?" Stephanie says, shocked.
"Call me Spoiler, Batgirl!"
"Oh my God," Stephanie says, her voice giddy. "Cass? Cass are we dreaming?"
"Nope," Cass says, still holding Damian in the air, before seeing the look on his face and carefully placing him on the ground.
"So what now?" Steph says.
"Tt, isn't it obvious?" Damian says, putting his hands on his hips. "You go get your costumes, and we go back to the Batcave, so you can help me knock some sense into Drake and Grayson."
"Like that plan," Cass says, nodding. "Don't forget to leave a note for your mom," she reminds Steph
"Gotcha!" Steph says, before she races off into the depths of the house, emerging a few minutes later in her Batgirl costume.
Cassandra leaves and comes back in short order as well, wearing her own Black Bat outfit, and Damian feels himself relaxing as he sees them both.
It's right, right like Colin and Nell besides him, right in a way that it feels like a lot of things haven't been lately.
"Wait, did you drive the Batmobile?" Steph demands.
"… yes," Damian says.
"Bruce never let me drive the Batmobile," Steph says, sounding very offended. "Budge over, I'm driving."
Damian feels like he should put up a fuss, but he finds he doesn't mind, cramming into the back seat with Nell and Colin instead, while Cassandra climbs into the shotgun seat, grinning widely.
"About time," Cass says, and Steph high fives her.
"Come Robin! To the Batcave!" Steph yells, nonsensically, before she slams on the gas.
But it means something to the rest of them, Damian supposes, because Nell and Colin start cheering, and they don't stop for a long, long time.