Dick Grayson is, by this point of his life, unfortunately used to waking up in dark places without remembering how he got there. In fact, it's gotten to the point that he's got the whole thing down to a list.
Point the first: Is the mask still on?
It's a cowl now, but yep, it's still secure.
Point the second: Is he restrained?
He has full mobility, if a bit stiff from resting on what feels to be a stone floor—point the third answered right there, that's nice. The room's pitch black, and trying to activate his night vision in the cowl isn't working, so there was probably an EMP pulse or something similar shorting that out.
Point the fourth: Utility belt?
A check around his waist proves that nope, whoever did this managed to remove it, which means either they figured out how to circumvent the fingerprint lock or they had a pair of very good bolt cutters.
Point the fifth—
"Did someone get a number for that train?"
… is he alone?
"Who's there?" He calls, only remembering to turn his voice into Batman's rumble at the last minute.
"… really?" The voice sounds irritated. "You don't recognize my voice?"
"… Batgirl," he says, finally putting it together.
"Gee, thanks," she says. There's the sound of a chain being pulled, and the light comes on, a single bare bulb in a cage, now illuminated thanks to a relatively pissed-off looking Stephanie Brown, in full Batgirl regalia.
He sighs. "What happened?"
"I'm pretty sure I get to ask the question," she grumbles, before striding over to him, still on the ground. "Anyways, I was ambushed on patrol in Chinatown. I was on the line with Proxy, so they know I'm missing. Some sort of gas attack while I was poking around the bridge to Tricorner."
"That's out of your normal area," he says, frowning at her.
"Believe it or not, I don't exclusively stick to West Midtown," she says. "Concussion check? Follow my finger, tell me if you're focusing okay."
"I'm fine," he says, pushing her hand away.
"Your OGB impression is not doing you any favors in convincing me you don't have a concussion. Follow. The. Finger."
"OGB?" Dick says, thrown off as she waggles her finger in his face again.
"Original Batman," she says. "Okay, you seem to be tracking okay, considering I can't seem your pupils. Any dizziness? Who's the current leader of the Justice League?"
"Troia," he says, irritated. "What were you doing in Downtown?"
She sighs. "O heard a rumor about a new vigilante in Chinatown, wanted me investigating. What day of the week is it?"
"Monday," he says, thinking he's starting to understand why Stephanie Brown was uniquely capable of causing Bruce to twitch. "Let me up, I need to investigate—"
"Room's sealed, your belt is gone, so's mine, no windows, one lightbulb, no lock to pick, hinges are solid, O's got a tracker in me and probably in you, and my clock says I was out for half an hour so we're within a five mile radius of my last known location, with Gotham traffic at this time of night. Ten miles if they took the river, but wherever we are now isn't moving and I don't smell sewage or saltwater so think five miles is more accurate." She sits back on her heels. "Did I miss anything?"
He casts his glance around the room, still thrown off by her… everything. But it's all like she says, down to the smell.
"Lead in the paint," he says, grimly. "See that stripe, there in the corner? They put it in condemned buildings so that the workers know to take more care."
"Damn," Batgirl says, hands on her hips. "So our trackers might not be working."
"They'll at least be interfering," Dick agrees. "O can probably clear it up but—"
"Well, it's always more fun to escape than be rescued anyways," she says, getting to her feet and offering him a hand.
He takes it, and is disgruntled to realize she's taller than him, even with the lifts that Alfred puts in his shoes.
"Well," Batgirl says, unfastening her cape and spreading it on the ground. "It's a shame, I only just got this one fixed, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do."
"What are you—"
Batgirl starts to rip apart the seams of her cape, revealing three small spheres, neon green in color.
"Acid spheres," she says cheerfully.
"… you just carry those, sewn into your cape?"
"What can I say," Batgirl says, tossing her hair. "I really don't like locked doors."
She goes towards it without even asking him if he has any equipment on him, and he frowns as he recognizes the tension in her shoulders. She's not acting like it, but she's on edge, and she relaxes more as she gets away from him.
He's never really known Stephanie Brown, except second-hand. First it was Tim, telling him all about this girl, asking him questions first in the hypotheticals and eventually in the situational. Spoiler, the vigilante, always chomping at the bit, pushing Tim and Bruce, wanting respect and trust and commitment and a dozen other things that Tim could never really explain properly.
Next had come Cassandra, with her shy curiosity about friendship, how it worked, how to keep it, what to do in a fight. Stephanie Brown had appeared in Cassandra's life in an almost sideways fashion—fighting lessons, reading lessons, patrol. And she had fallen out of it spectacularly, in blood and war. Later, the two of them were friends again, but Cassandra had stopped bringing it up to him, slightly more confident in herself and not needing to call him in a panic about what to do if Bruce didn't like her friend.
Nowadays, it was Babs, muttering about her new protégé, using the work the two of them do with Proxy as an excuse to duck out of conversations she doesn't want to have, but also praising her, a smile coming to light up her face when she talks about the new Batgirl.
Even Damian can be counted upon to have an opinion about her on occasion, disappearing for a few hours at a time and reappearing with a goofy baseball cap or a souvenir cup full of soda he normally doesn't drink, and a few pictures on his phone of him and Stephanie Brown at the zoo or an amusement park or a college softball game. Damian complains about it viciously, but at the same time, he never actually seems to put up a fuss when Stephanie shows up at the Manor in her purple car, shouting a hello to Alfred as she drags his little brother into the passenger seat.
But he doesn't actually know her at all—she's in college, he knows that, knows she patrols West Gotham and the Water District, knows that when she's in trouble she calls Black Bat first, and that she and Bruce are currently very pointedly Not Talking to each other because of something that happened involving Cass.
… and now he knows she really doesn't like being locked up.
"Aren't you going to ask me how I got caught?" He asks, crossing his arms.
"Why, do you need someone to talk to in order to get your thoughts sorted out?" She asks, throwing the acid-ball at the door hinge. "Don't get me wrong, I'm for it, OGB needed it sometimes too, I just assumed you were doing your thinking in your head."
"You're being unnecessarily hostile," he says. He's channeling Bruce a bit, but hey, he's being Batman, and Stephanie Brown isn't Damian, who needs him to be Dick Grayson as well. She's an adult, and a professional, and she should act like it.
She turns around and stares at him blankly, the acid hissing softly as it eats through the hinge. "You're accusing me of being hostile towards you?"
Dick grimaces, despite himself. Bruce never would have grimaced. He tries to imitate the infamous glower. "If you can't be professional—"
"Listen, I really don't have time for your tests," she says. "If you don't like the way I'm getting us out of this, do your version—"
"Test?" He says.
She makes a face at him. "Yeah, tests, but whatever, you're not the boss of me, I'm Batgirl and you don't have to like it, but you do have to deal with it."
"I—I don't have an issue with you being Batgirl," he says, feeling like he's stepped off the sidewalk into a whole new kind of conversation, one he's not prepared for.
She stares at him. "Uh-huh."
"That," she says sharply. "Is not how I remember that meeting going."
"That," he says, teeth gritted. "Was different. I didn't know that Black Bat had given her blessing—"
"What, you think I stole—" she breaks off, shaking her head. "Of course you did. Why wouldn't you?" She laughs, bitterly, and turns away from him. "I guess after the whole Robin fiasco I don't exactly have a lot of credit with you in the department, do I?"
Dick closes his jaw sharply.
It's not something he likes to think about. Or any of them like to talk about.
The girl Robin. The one that Dick never met, never so much as glimpsed, but who was there, for just a few, short weeks, before vanishing abruptly and re-appearing as Spoiler.
"It's not about that," he says.
"Then what is it?" She demands, spinning around. "If it's not because I'm Batgirl, and it isn't because I was Robin, what? Faking my death? I didn't have a choice! Breaking up with Red? He dumped me first! I've been trying for over a year now to figure out why you hate me, and you don't make any sense!"
He reels back, and he's so surprised he speaks in his Nightwing voice, not his Batman voice.
"I don't hate you."
"Right," she says. "Sorry, guess that's too strong of an emotion."
"I—stop putting words in my mouth," he says. "Why would you think—"
"She's not as good as the real Batgirl," she says, in an over the top imitation of his Batman voice. "What are you thinking, training her?"
"That was a year ago," Dick says, supremely irritated.
"Because we've had so many interactions since then?" She says, raising an eyebrow.
"Listen, whatever, I don't need to be liked," she says. "I'm used to Batman not liking me, and no, that's not fishing for pity, it's fact. But I'm really over being yanked around by Batmen of any sort."
"I'm not him," Dick says, his voice dropping back into the Batman register. "I don't play games, and I don't do tests. We need to focus, and get out of here and deal with anything else later."
She looks guilty. "Right." She kicks the door open, the acid-dipped hinges snapping like cardboard.
Of all the people Steph would want to be captured with, Dick Grayson might be the bottom of the list.
She'd never worked with Nightwing before. The man had never bothered to look her up, and, well, it wasn't exactly like she had any idea of who he was. She'd known Tim's identity, eventually, but Bruce had remained tight-lipped about his own name, let alone that of the others. She hadn't known a single thing about Dick Grayson or Jason Todd, not even that Jason had been killed by the Joker.
She'd learned his name later, of course. She'd learned it, and learned that he was the gold standard. The first Robin, who Bruce compared all the other Robins against (not her, though: he'd always compared her to Tim), the one who lead teams like the Teen Titans, the Outsiders, and even the Justice League. The hero who everyone cared for, who everyone liked, who Tim and Damian both adored, who Cass looked up to, even though Dick had taken the mantle that Cass had wanted so, so badly…
Steph knows he's funny, charming, a great acrobat, a good leader, a wonderful brother, and a dozen other positive things.
She also knows he'd nearly gotten killed because of her, during the War. Knows that a bullet had went right through his leg, and he'd nearly bled out, had been out of the game for weeks because of it.
The first time they had actually met, he'd barely talked to her directly at all, talking around her, talking about her, talking to Babs and Damian about her, but not to her.
She's not surprised. She's used to that a lot.
He doesn't like her going out with Damian, Damian's told her as much. Which hurts, sure, because he's supposed to be great, and nice, and wonderful, but, oh well, he can bite her. Damian deserves these outings, deserves to be a kid, and if he didn't want Damian hanging out with someone like her to get these experiences, well, he should do them himself.
She's used to big siblings and parents disapproving of her. God knows that Tim's dad and step-mom had whispered in her presence a few times about how she was a bad influence on Tim. Dean's mother had blamed her for every bad thing Dean had ever done, never mind that he had been getting into trouble long before Steph had met him.
She was a pregnant teenager, her mom was an addict, her dad was a criminal… yeah. She's pretty used to people thinking she should stay away from their kids, either romantically or as a babysitter. She'd lost enough gigs, back before Spoiler, because of the second two, and the first one had cemented that her days as a sitter were over, because no one wanted to hire someone "so irresponsible."
Dick Grayson thinks that she's still an amateur, that she's running around with a handmade costume with no idea what she's doing, as if she hasn't been a hero for five years now, with three superhero identities under her belt. As if she hasn't been trained by Huntress, Black Canary, Babs, Cass, and Bruce. As if she doesn't know exactly what's at stake, as if she hasn't been tortured, shot, and left for dead.
She's not as good as Cass, but who is? Cass can beat Bruce, can beat Shiva, and sure, Steph can't land a fucking punch on her, but so what? Richard Freaking Grayson probably can't either, and Tim certainly can't, if that was the standard none of them should be out in the field.
He says he doesn't hate her. Great. Apathy and wanting her away from Damian and out of the costume don't require hate. They just require him to have read Bruce's assessment of her from her days as Spoiler or even as Robin.
Forty-eight days in the field, followed by three weeks benched, followed by being fired. Yeah, those assessments are probably fun reading.
And God only knows what Tim's assessment would say. "My ex-girlfriend. Keeps putting on her costume even though I tell her not to, because I'm a control freak jerk who thinks he gets to boss her around."
Cass's would probably be nice, because she's Cass, but Cass would also be pretty blunt in her assessment of Steph's fighting skills, and it'd be short, because Cass types like a grandmother and writing reports is even lower on her list of things she's willing to do than dishes or laundry. So… actually, Cass probably doesn't have a note in Steph's file. Unless she wrote one post-mortem, and wow, that's a note she never wants to read.
She stalks through the hallways of the strange concrete bunker they're trapped inside, behind Batman. When Batman takes charge, she lets him, even though a part of her wants to rebel against it. But he's got more experience, and well. He's Batman.
Even after all these years, she still can respect that, even if she doesn't want to.
"At least they didn't take my cape this time," she says. "I hate it when they do that—I mean, sure, it's smart, but I hate it anyways."
He doesn't say anything, just pushing open a door. Of course, why would she expect any proper banter? She goes to check the door across the hallway, which is full of dusty cardboard boxes.
She goes to check them anyways, because hey, clues.
"Packing peanuts," she says, out loud. "Enlightening. Is there a shipping center in Tricorner?"
"No current ones. The last one got shut down a decade ago."
"Well, that explains the dust and the lead paint," she says, closing up the box. "You find anything?"
"Catch," he says, throwing her belt through the air, and she catches it easily before examining it. They'd taken bolt cutters to it, which… great. Sighing, she slings it over her shoulder like a bandolier. She could probably get out the duct tape, and try to fix the gap, but it'll take time, and she doesn't want to waste any time, not with him watching.
He's managed to reattach it somehow, and she can't even see any duct tape, which just proves that the world is massively unfair.
But still, she feels so much better having it with her. It's hard to feel like a crime fighting badass when she's only wearing high grade armor, a mask with fancy built in features, and a cape with acid spheres sewn into the lining.
Hmm, okay, maybe that's pretty crime fighting badass of her still, but the point is, she now is a crime fighting badass with a belt full of useful crap.
"So who do you think has us? Tricorner usually means Odessa Mob, but we were also pretty close to Chinatown, so it's not out of the question that it was Lucky Hand," Steph says. "But Odessa would probably have killed, not capture us, and Lucky Hand's usually better at securing a captive… but I don't see any signs of one of our lovely costumed friends."
"Not enough evidence yet," he says. "Keep moving."
"So did you inherit the stick up your butt, or did you get your own made?" Steph mutters to herself.
"What was that?"
"I said, so did you see anything when they took you down, or did they catch you by surprise?"
He gives her a look.
Yeah, he absolutely heard her.
"So was Robin patrolling with Black Bat tonight? He's not about to fall out of the ceiling and stab me, is he?" She says.
"He doesn't do that anymore."
"It's how he shows affection," she claims. "And you didn't answer my question."
He sighs. "Yes. Robin and Black Bat are patrolling tonight."
"Aww," she says. "He's so cute about hanging out with her. Gets so excited. He was crushed when I told him she doesn't use a katana unless she and Red Robin are faking assassination attempts again. I told him that if he misses sword fighting so much I'd go with him to fencing lessons, but then he started telling me I was an ignorant European who didn't understand real sword fighting, which I think means we're going on Wednesday."
"That doesn't sound like he's agreed to that." And ooh, he sounds disapproving.
"If he didn't want to come, he'd stop me," Steph says with a shrug. "Trust me, last time I tried to take him to a movie he really didn't to see, he climbed out the sunroof of my compact and was trying to liberate a horse from a nearby farm to ride back to the Manor when I caught up with him."
Fair enough. "… so what did you do?"
"I took him riding. I thought he'd have shown you those photos—I got him in a cowboy hat in one, but he probably deleted that one."
He doesn't say anything. Right. He probably thinks that her encouraging him with sword fighting and horse riding is somehow encouraging him to stay connected with the assassin heritage or something. Or he just thinks she can't do it right and is going to somehow teach him bad habits or—
"You took him riding?" His voice had changed—become more like the voice she'd heard from across the cave, yelling at Babs.
"He's good," she says. "I'm surprised he didn't storm the Manor with a few ponies, he was so taken with this one—I think he said she was a roan, but I don't know if that's a species or a color. He didn't think Princess was a good name for her, so he tried to name her something from Dickens, because someone told him it was B's favorite, but I told him no horse deserves to be named after a Dickens character. We're still in negotiations, but I think I've talked him down to the low-brow world of Tolkien as a source, but he wants to read all of the Silmarillion before he commits."
"… so you're why Red Robin and he have been in a debate over the movies."
"I have few joys in life," she says. "Convincing Robin that he can be superior to Red by reading the entire trilogy faster than him and then nitpick his favorite movies? Is one of them."
There's a pause, and then a chuckle. A chuckle. "I suppose a horse isn't too much more out of place in the cave than the cow."
"Batcow is perfectly in place at the cave," she says. "And really, given what his father brings home, you should be glad that none of his strays have required adoption papers or martial arts training."
"Don't give him ideas."
It's her turn to laugh, and then she stops to marvel at the way the tension has eased.
There is something she has to say.
"You know," she says, after a moment. "He thinks you don't think he's ready to go to school."
Batman stops cold in his tracks. "What? I don't—" He looks at her sideways, and she's surprised that she can see human emotions on the bottom half of his face, rather than a scowl. "I just don't want him to think he has to!"
"And I mean, that's great, you're not pushing him, but…" She tries to think of how to say this. "He's not just Robin, even if he pretends that's all he wants. And sometimes, he really just needs to be a kid." She shrugs. "He's got a lot of expectations. A lot of baggage. And he loves you. But he's scared of disappointing you. More than anything, I think."
Listening to Stephanie Brown rattle on, he finds it hard to believe that she ever worked with Bruce. It's not that he's not chatty—it's part of his charm—but at least he knows how to end a sentence or take a breath, on occasion. She's talking to fill the silence, poking at him, trying to get a measure of him.
Like everyone, she's comparing him to Bruce. He can practically feel her weighing him in her mind, noting every difference with the same kind of analysis that she had deduced their situation with.
None of the others had talked much of her detective work. Stubbornness, attitude, aptitude, personality, fighting style, sure. But he'd been thrown through a loop by her quick thinking, her knowledge of organized crime off the top of her head, and her analysis of their situation.
And now, she's throwing another curveball at him. Talking about Damian. She's using the code names, sure, but she's talking about Damian, not Robin. Those hours at a time where the two of them go off without a word to him, which Damian never talks about, unless Alfred happens to ask while Dick is in the same room as him. When Dick asks, Damian gets cagey, avoids the subject.
"You think he wants to go?" He can't help but ask.
She shrugs. "Oh, he'll say it's beneath him. But if you make it a challenge, he'll love it. Top of his class. He'll even do the homework if you can get Alfred to mention in earshot of him that Red never did his. But really, it'll just be good for him to have friends his own age. Abuse is a cutie, but it's always good to have more than one friend."
"He's a ten year old beating up child molesters with customized brass knuckles," Batgirl informs him cheerfully. "There is nothing more endearing in the world."
"Fueled by Venom," Dick feels obliged to mention.
"Nobody's perfect. Not even you, probably, although apart from being a stubborn jerk according to O, I haven't heard anyone mention anything of the sort."
Dick wants to laugh. "Haha."
"What?" Batgirl says. "Red adores you, Black Bat looks up to you, Robin thinks you're the greatest thing since his dad and puppies, B compares all the rest of us to you—"
"I don't ask him too," he says, harsher than he means to.
"Oh, don't worry. He didn't compare me. Nah, when I was training it was all about Red." She laughs, a short, bitter sound. "Guess that should've been my first hint that it wasn't real, huh? Besides the fact that I'd never met you and that A was trying to drag me out of the cave by my ponytail."
Dick… has no idea what to say to that. He'd known things were messy, when Tim had stopped being Robin. He'd known that she'd been Robin for barely six weeks when she abruptly vanished, and by the time he'd been in a good enough place to ask, she'd been dead for months, and Alfred and Bruce hadn't been very forthcoming, and Tim hadn't had the details.
"Robin didn't even know. That I'd been Robin," she says, quietly. She's picking a lock and not looking at him. "I mean I guess that makes sense. It's not exactly like B liked to advertise my inglorious failures. Maybe it doesn't count if I got fired?"
He frowns. "Why did he fire you?"
"I disobeyed orders and left the jet unattended trying to save his life, so a bad guy stole it and he got blinded by a flash bomb."
"You didn't throw the security switch?"
"I didn't know there was a security switch," she says. "He told me I needed to earn learning how the plane worked." She shrugs, and there's a tension in her shoulders. "And then he leaves me on read for three weeks and when he calls me again, I show up in uniform, and he tells me I'm fired. And that I shouldn't be Spoiler, either, because for some reason he thinks he gets to control that, too. Jerk," she mutters darkly, stepping back and letting the door swing open.
"That's it?" He says.
"What, do you want the rest of my failings? I'm sure there's a power point on the computer, with slides one through fifty being the entire mess that followed—"
"He fired you for that?"
She turns around and glares at him. "What, you think he should have done it sooner? Like when I fought Zsasz, or—"
"He shouldn't have fired you."
She stops in her tracks, her hands halfway to her hips. "What?"
"He shouldn't have done it. We all mess up. He does it all the time."
She's flat out gaping at him. "What?"
"Why are you surprised about this?" He snaps.
"Because everyone thinks he's right!" She says, throwing her hands up in the air. "I was untrained, I was dangerous, I was reckless, I was—"
"You were trained by Black Canary and Black Bat, and you went through Robin boot camp," he says, confused. "I wouldn't call that untrained."
"He would," she says, lips thin. "Hell Red would. Everyone acted like he never should have let me be Robin in the first place. When I became Batgirl, everyone, including you, were telling me to pack it in, go home like a good little girl."
"I get it, I'm not as good as Black Bat, but that doesn't mean I can't do a good job!" She snaps, poking him directly on the Bat Symbol. "Maybe I'll never be as good as you, or Red, or O, but that doesn't mean—"
"I know," he says. "I get it."
She pauses, looking disbelieving. "You do?"
"Batgirl. Who am I succeeding?"
That seems to get through to her. "Oh. Right." She steps back, awkward. "Guess you would get it."
He sighs. "For what it's worth, I'm… sorry."
She blinks at him. "Wow, you have no idea how trippy it is to hear someone in a Bat Cowl say that."
"Oh, and that's even weirder!" She says, throwing her arms up in the air.
"I know," he says. "Believe me. I've known him since I was twelve. I can count the times I've heard him apologize on one hand."
"God, why do we put up with him?" She says. "He's so pushy—"
"Never tells you what he's thinking—"
"Expects you to read his mind—"
"Treats feelings like a four letter word—"
"Such a jerk!"
"Expects us to clean up his messes—"
"And he'll never—"
"Admit he's wrong," they finish together.
Dick finds himself smiling, despite himself.
She smiles back, then jerks a finger over her shoulder. "That's the outer wall, I'm pretty sure. Want to blow it up and then find some bad guys to beat up?"
"Sounds like a plan, Batgirl," he says.
Her smile is brilliant as she pulls out her strange mix-and-match batarangs that he's seen Bruce designing.
"So, on a scale of one to C4, how much of a bang are you feeling?" She says, snapping the halves together. They seem to be color-coded, but Dick's not sure what the colors mean. He's got explosive ones, of course, but the weight is different than the ones that are just thrown around, and he knows what they are by feel. Each of her half-batarangs look to be functionally identical, and, to be able to be combined any way she chooses, they half to weigh the exact same. It's a different system… but not necessarily a bad one.
"I feel like a solid TNT would do just fine," he says, unable to stop the grin from tugging at the end of his mouth. He doesn't think Stephanie Brown is about to judge him for acting a little un-Batman-like, not after the conversation they just had.
"Three splodearangs it is," she says, flourishing three batarangs fastened together like a wheel. "Want to do the honors?"
Dick accepts the interesting projectile from her, and, after getting a feel for it, throws it into the wall.
She presses a button on her belt, and the wall explodes, causing the men with guns behind it to scatter in all directions.
"You know," he says, as the two of them leap into the fray. "I think you should come over next week. Black Bat said something about showing him Pixar movies."
She gasps, delighted, as she spins on her heel to deliver an uppercut straight to her enemy's jaw. "It's Up, right? We're showing him Up?"
"She didn't say," he says, flipping into the air in order to avoid a bullet and kick the shooter in the face. "But I hope so."
And that's how Robin and Black Bat find them, debating Pixar movies while fighting bad guys, the smoking remains of a former shipping building behind them.