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too young to be taken seriously, too old to believe all this hypocrisy

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Stephanie Brown is seven years old, and she already knows that she is not going to put up with this.

Mom’s sick again, and she’s at the place where they’ll help her stop taking her medicine, which Steph thinks sounds very nice, but that means she’s alone with Dad.

Even a year ago, Steph thinks, this wouldn’t be as much of a problem. A year ago, she might have even been excited to be alone with Dad for a while, to get to spend some time with him, to be allowed to eat popcorn for dinner and sit in his lab and watch him mix things together to make his fancy goos and gunks that he says are going to make them rich one day.

But that was before she had found out the truth.

Her dad sucks.

Mom had a black eye when she’d gone to the Center, and that’s because Dad had given it to her, and Mom’s been gone less than three days, and Steph’s already been locked in the closet four times, and she’s not allowed into the lab, and on top of that, she knows the truth.

He’s a bad guy, and he goes out at night and fights Batman and Robin, and even though he hasn’t hit her like he did Mom yet, he’s a bad guy, so she knows it’s coming.

Dad’s out again tonight, and so Steph is doing the only sensible thing that all of her books have told her that she needs to do.

She’s running away.

Her backpack has her extra sweater, her journal, all the money from Dad’s wallet, a double-sided Nancy Drew Mystery, three sandwiches, the picture of her and her mom at the fair, and her teddy bear. Not because she needs Mr. Honey, mind you, she’s not a baby or anything, but she’s not about to leave him with Dad.

Yes, she thinks that’s everything she needs. She ties her shoes, doubles back to get her toothbrush, because Mom says it’s important to brush every morning and every night, and then goes.

The books all say to go to the big city, and obviously, that means Gotham, so Steph goes to the bus station and uses Mom’s bus pass (left behind in her purse after she went to the Center) to get a ticket to take her there.

Steph gets on the bus, sitting towards the front by the bus driver, and then opens her book to read about Nancy being the best detective ever.

When she grows up, she wants to be Nancy Drew, and solve mysteries with Batman. Batman is a detective, and so obviously he knows Nancy Drew.

The bus goes to Bristol first, where Dad says all the rich stickups live, so Steph keeps a careful eye on the people who get on the bus, because the richer kids at school always like to steal her backpack and try to get her in trouble.

But no one seems to pay attention to her, so she goes back to her book until they start crossing the bridge into Gotham proper.

She puts her book down and stares out the window in awe at the bridge and the river and the city.

She gets off at Park Row Station, because that’s the first stop on the other side of the bridge, and the only place in Gotham she’s ever been to are Mom’s hospital when Dad wasn’t around to look after her one day and Mom needed to take her to work.

Now, of course, she’s faced with the problem of what to do next. In the books, this is the point where she should find a Boxcar to stay in, or perhaps a nice Museum, or some kindly old person should show up and reveal that they’re her long-lost grandparent, and they’re a millionaire, and she gets to stay with them until Mom gets better.

Steph knows that part’s made up; Dad says all the homeless bums sleep under bridges, but the only bridge she’s seen was the one that went over the river, and she doesn’t think sleeping in the river is a good idea.

Frowning, she sets about to find a bridge.

She just needs to make it one month, before Mom gets out of the Center, and then she can go home, and tell Mom about the costume in Dad’s closet and about him fighting Batman and how he’s a bad guy, and she needs to divorce him like Jeannie’s dad divorced Jeannie’s mom when he found out that she was taking money from the charity she worked at.

Mom will do it, Steph is sure about that, she just needs to hear Steph’s argument. Steph is working on it; it’s taken up a whole half-page of her journal so far.

FACT: Dad is mean

FACT: Batman is a good guy

FACT: Dad fights Batman

FACT: Only badguys fight Batman

FACT: Dad is a badguy

FACT: Dad punched Mom

FACT: Dad locked her in the closet

FACT: Dad keeps saying he’ll hit her if she doesn’t shut up and let him work

FACT: Dads aren’t supposed to hit their kids, Ms. Samons says so.

It’s a pretty convincing list, Steph has to admit. She wasn’t sure she was going to run away until she made her last list.

She likes lists, almost as much as she likes Nancy Drew, playing piano, or helping Mom make waffles on Sunday mornings.

Well, she couldn’t bring her piano with her, and Mom is at the Center, so Nancy is going to have to do.

Thinking about Nancy Drew, Steph realizes that she’s made a key error—Dad is stupid, and what does he know about where she should sleep, the library has comfy chairs and lots of books to read, and a bathroom, which seems pretty urgent right about now.

It’s a lot easier to find a library than it is a bridge, and Steph finds herself perfectly satisfied with her findings. It’s not as nice as her library, but there are still chairs, books, and a bathroom, so she doesn’t really need anything else.

She asks the librarian, a nice lady named Ms. Ibibo, to show her where she can find more Nancy Drew books, and she leads her there with a smile, before leaving Steph to her journey of discovery, trying to determine which Nancy Drew book she’ll be reading next.

She doesn’t have a library card for here—her Manchester Card doesn’t work here, which she is very disappointed in—but she can still read, and so she spends a very enjoyable few hours reading about Nancy and her friends George and Bess, before someone touches her arm. It’s not Ms. Ibibo, or any of the other librarians, it’s a boy, a few years older than her, with messy black hair and a puffy black vest.

“If you’re gonna be sleeping here, you need to hide soon,” he tells her, matter-of-factly.

“I—why do you think I’m gonna sleep here?” Steph says defensively.

“Your toothbrush is poking out of your bag,” he says with a shrug. “Smart choice, honestly, I go here in the winter, ‘cuz the building’s heated.”

“… oh,” Steph says. “Where do you go now? Do you sleep under a bridge?”

He looks surprised, then laughs. “Nah, my old man’s apartment is still around, he just hasn’t paid the bills in ages, so there’s no power.”

“Oh,” Steph says. “My dad says homeless people sleep under bridges, but I knew he was wrong.”

“Dads usually are,” he says. He sticks out his hand. “I’m Jason, Jason Todd.”

“I’m Steph,” she says, shaking it. “Steph Brown.”

“So what, you just decided to run away for fun?” He asks.

“No,” she says, offended. “They took Mom away and I’m not staying home alone with Dad, he’s a—he’s bad,” she says, lamely.

But Jason seems to understand, and nods. “You should stand on the toilet, but leave the stall door open just a crack, so they don’t think anyone’s in there,” he says. “I’ll come by tomorrow, how’s that sound? I’ll show you around.”

Steph smiles at him. “I’d like that.”

And just like that, Steph has a friend. She’s not sure if he’s like George or Bess, or if he’s more like Ned or one of the friends that Nancy makes sometimes that turn out to actually be the person who stole all the money, but either way, she’s thrilled.    

Jason keeps his word and comes back the next day.

He asks her a lot of questions, about her plan, about her mom and dad, and about what she brought with her.

He stares at her when she tells him about going back to get her toothbrush.

“… how old are you, again?” He asks.

“Seven,” Steph says.

“Shit,” he says. She kicks him, because he’s not supposed to say words like that in front of her.

“Okay,” he says. “Step one. You’re gonna need money. Do you have your old man’s ATM card?”

“Yeah,” she says, nibbling on one of her squished sandwiches.

“Okay, we need to find an ATM, which means taking a bus to Burnley. Do you know his code?”

“Yep,” Steph says, offering him half of her peanut-butter-and-butter sandwich. “It’s the garage code. He uses it for everything. Mom told me it so I could use it when she needs money for her medicine and she was too sick to get up.”

“Neat. His credit’s probably shit, but if we’re lucky, we can get a few hundred bucks off it, and that’ll keep you fed for a while at least.”

“And you,” Steph points out. “You’re gonna take some if it, cuz you’re helping me.”

“… nah, I make enough money on my own, I don’t need to take it from seven year olds.”

“What do you do?” Steph says, curious. Money is, to her, a nebulous thing, that comes from robbing banks.

“I steal tires,” he says.

“Oh,” Steph says. “Are they… worth a lot?”

“Enough to get by on,” he says. “Now c’mon, I bet we can catch the bus if we leave now.”

They do, and they manage to take out four hundred dollars from three separate ATMs before the card declines, and then Jason snaps it over his knee and throws it in the trash.

“Okay, that’ll do for now,” he says, looking relieved.

Steph looks at the bundle of twenty dollar bills in her hands, frowning. “Do you… want to get donuts?” She asks, perfectly serious.

He looks at her, and then laughs.

“Sure, why not? Let’s get some donuts and then go back to the library.”

He’s not Bess or George, Steph decides as the two of them munch on donuts and drink hot chocolate. He’s like one of those Hardy Boys who Nancy teams up with sometimes. He’s got his own adventure going, but he’s taking his time to help her on hers, which is very nice of him.

Steph and Jason end up having a long conversation about where to hide the money from her dad’s card. Obviously, it’s going to get stolen if she carries it around with her.

Jason has the brilliant idea to slit open the bottom of one of the armchairs in the library and hide it there, sewing it back up so that no one can tell, and then opening it again at night when she needs more money.

Steph would prefer to bury it, but there’s not a lot of good places to bury anything in Park Row—which is apparently actually Crime Alley, but Park Alley is what people like to call it to make themselves feel better about the name.

The two of them fall into a rhythm. They meet up in the mornings, and then Jason washes in the library bathroom, then they go for a walk to look around. Jason shows her how to tell if an apartment is abandoned, how to pick locks, how to throw a punch, how to climb without falling, and how to remove a tire.

Some nights, Jason sleeps with her in the library, because he doesn’t need the money from jacking tires, which he usually does at night, or because it’s cold, or just because he’s too tired to walk home.

Steph learns to cut his hair, and gets him to cut hers short too, so she can wash it in the bathroom sink easier.

The two of them survive on vending machine snacks, fast food, and food left behind in the fridge on Fridays that would be thrown out on Monday anyways.

After two weeks of this, Steph notices a policeman in the library, looking at them suspiciously, and she runs into the stacks to find Jason.

Jason reads even more than she does, being six whole years older than her. He’s got The Scarlet Letter open on his lap, when she grabs him by the sleeve and points.

He pales. “They’ve figured out we’re spending the nights here,” he whispers.

“But—” Steph bites her lip. “Then where do we go?”

“My place,” he says. “We need to… we need to get the money, and then we’ll be fine. It’s almost summer, it shouldn’t be too cold.”

Steph nods, and the two of them conspire to pull the chair into a corner where no one can see Jason crawl under it with his pocketknife and slice it open. They won’t be able to sew it up properly this time, so the two of them reluctantly abandon their books, and flee before anyone can realize they damaged library properly.

Jason’s apartment is not nice, but it does have a mattress, which the two of them can share, and that’s nice.

That night, Steph decides that she’s going out with Jason to look for tires.

“Hey Jason!” One of Jason’s neighbors, a tall, pretty woman with an afro who wears a very tight skirt and a tank top, leans out of her window to see them crawling out of the window. “Remember, Bat Night’s in two days!”

“Got it, thanks Marcie!” Jason says, waving.

“What’s Bat Night?” Steph says, following Jason down the fire escape.

“It’s weird, that what it is,” Jason complains, helping Steph leap from the end of the ladder by catching her. “Once a year he just shows up and he just… fights every crime. Literally everything. Nothing’s too small. He’s just here, all night, and it’s weird.” He shrugs. “So this year, everyone’s planning on staying in and not doing crime that night.”

“Are we?” Steph says, taking Jason’s hand as they walk down the street. She doesn’t always do it, because she’s not a kid, but sometimes people are yelling at them, and she thinks it makes Jason feel better, so she does it.

“Nah,” Jason says. “We need the money for those fancy sleeping bags, remember? We’ll just have to be careful. If everyone knows we’re taking the night off, someone’s going to be careless. Maybe we’ll be able to get a really nice car.”

Steph nods, because it has been getting cold at night, even though Jason and her have been getting as many blankets as they can, but they don’t dare sleep in the library anymore, although they’ve started going back during the day. They’ve found a Sundollar instead that they can use to wash up in as long as they buy hot cocoa and muffins beforehand.

The sleeping bags, for sale at the second-hand store they frequent, are fancy, and keep the heat in, meaning they’re perfect for Jason’s apartment.

“Should we start going to school?” Steph asks, frowning. “There’s free lunch there, and at least it’s warm.”

Jason makes his face. “If my old man would show up long enough to sing the paperwork, maybe. But people might as questions.”

“Oh,” Steph says.

“Hey, don’t worry,” he says, tossling her hair. “Your mom will be back from the Center in what, two weeks? You won’t have to worry about it much longer.”

But two weeks seems like a lifetime away, and what about Jason?

She doesn’t say anything more about it though, even as she runs the tires away while Jason removes them, stashing them in their apartment, so it goes faster and Jason doesn’t have to make trips between each tire.

Bat Night comes up quickly, and like Jason thought, they’re just short of what they need for winter supplies, so they head out anyways.

They don’t dare wait another night, since payday is in two days, which means that everyone’s going to be descending on the shop, and all the good things will be gone before they can blink.

Everything’s weirdly quiet as they maneuver through the streets. A few people who normally wouldn’t be out are, seeming to enjoy the relative safety, but apart from that, they run into nearly nobody as they wander, searching for a target.

But there’s nothing good to be found, and they’re both getting desperate and cold when they encounter… it.

Steph’s mouth is open and gaping as she stares at the Batman logo on the license plate, as she takes in the color, the shape, and the wonder of that car, practically vibrating at the thought that this is Batman’s car, that this is the Batmobile, the coolest car ever.

Jason, meanwhile, is more concerned with the tires, staring at the whitewalls with an appraising, practical eye. “We can totally get a lot for these,” he says.

“But… wouldn’t Batman have like. Electrocuted the tires or something? To make sure no one steals them?” Steph whispers.

“Who’d be stupid enough to steal Batman’s tires?” Jason says, pulling his tire iron out from under his puffy vest.

“Us?” Steph says.

“Exactly. Go get the blocks, let’s see if we can get all four wheels before he gets back.”

Steph nods and runs to their normal stash of cement blocks and bricks, fetching four ones of appropriate size. Guiltily, she makes sure to grab the nicest four blocks, because she likes Batman, especially because he put Dad in jail that one time.

She brings the blocks back for Jason one at a time, and then when she has them all, she runs the first wheel up to their apartment. Even just one wheel is worth something, but of course, they’ll be worth way more if they have all four.

They’d be worth even more if people knew they were Batman’s tires, but no one’s ever going to believe them, so Steph knows that it’s not going to be worth trying to convince the guy who buys their tires off them about that.

She’s fetched three tires for Jason, and is on her way back, when she spots Batman, standing over Jason with one hand on his hip. “You’re going to give me back my tires.”

“Who says I took ‘em?” Jason challenges, and Steph does the only sensible thing she can think of.

She grabs the nearest brick and throws it at Batman. It collides with the back of his head, and she’d feel bad about it if he wasn’t being scary at Jason.

“Leave him alone!” She yells.

Jason takes advantage of her distraction, and slams the tire-iron against Batman’s stomach, and then he takes off, grabbing her hand as he goes.

“Try and catch us, you big boob!” Jason yells, as the two of them scramble into the alley, away from the scene of the crime.

They run and they don’t stop until they get back to the apartment, where they finally let themselves breathe easily.

“Do you think he followed us?” Steph whispers, locking the door behind them, as Jason throws himself down onto their mattress, next to their stack of paperback mystery novels that they bought for a dime from the second-hand shop.

“Why’d he bother?” He asks, shrugging. “He’s Batman, he’s got better things to do than hunt us down.”

“But…” Steph says, sitting down next to him. “If he cleans up all crime in Crime Alley tonight… and no one else was committing crimes…”

Jason stares at her, eyes widening. “Oh shit,” he says, just as the door swings open, revealing Batman on the other side.

Steph yelps as Jason grabs her by the wrist and pulls her behind him, grabbing the tire iron and holding it up like a weapon.

“Take your lousy tires, already and go—just leave us alone!” Jason says, scowling ferociously at Batman, who’s got his hands on his hips, and looks scary.

Batman blinks, suddenly noticing where they are. “Do you two… live here?”

“Yeah! What of it?” Jason says, imitating Batman’s posture, putting his hands on his own hips. “It’s ours, and we like it.”

“Yeah!” Steph pipes up, sticking out her tongue at Batman. Batman frowns at her, and then looks back at Jason. “Where are your folks?” He says, crossing his arms.

Jason crosses his arms too, either intentionally mocking or accidentally imitating, and Steph’s not sure which. “I don’t know where my Pop is. Doin’ time again, most likely.”

“And your mother?” Batman says.

Steph opens her mouth to explain about the Center, but Jason speaks first. “She’s dead. She got sick, okay? Now get outa here! Or do I have to make you leave?” He says, putting up his fists, the tire iron set to one side.

Batman puts his hand against Jason’s head, keeping him at bay, and then grabs him by the wrist and holds him up.

“You’re a scrappy one, I’ll say that much for you…”

“Let him down!” Steph yells, furious in a way that only a seven year old can be, kicking Batman directly in the shin with all her might.

Batman lowers Jason to the ground thoughtfully. “And you are—?”

“My sister,” Jason says, glaring at Batman, like he’s absolutely not scared of him, even though Steph knows he is, because she is, and Jason’s not that much braver than her.

But at the same time, she can’t help but feel warm and happy that Jason called her his sister.

Finally, Batman agrees to leave, but he tells them they have to help him get his tires back to his car.

Steph and Jason grumble about it, but they do lower the tires off the fire escape, and roll two of them along the ground while Batman carries the third.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to contact the juvenile authorities about you two,” Batman says.

Steph flinches, because social workers, means they’ll contact her dad, and that means—

“Cut us a break!” Jason says loudly.

“Social services suck,” Steph adds, glaring up at him. Jason elbows her, glaring at her to keep quiet. He doesn’t seem to like her speaking to Batman much at all.

“We can fend for ourselves just fine! I know how to make it on the streets—and I like it there!” Jason says. “We don’t want to end up in some crummy orphanage where they’ll separate us or some foster home where we’re somebody’s pet charity case. I’m my own man! Me, Jason Todd!”

“Jason Todd, huh?” Batman says. “Pretty fancy handle for a street kid. What about you?” He asks Steph.

“I’m Stephanie,” she says, scowling at him, taking her cue from Jason, as she helps him line up the tire so he can put it back on. “You can call me Steph!”

“No, he can’t!” Jason says, elbowing her again. “Don’t be stupid, he’s gonna take you away, remember?”

“Oh. Right.” She sticks out her tongue at him again, for good measure.

“What about school?” He asks.

“I graduated a long time ago—from the streets of Crime Alley,” Jason says.

Steph can’t help but giggle at that, and then Jason glares at her. “Don’t laugh, that sounded cool!”

“No, it sounded dumb,” Steph says, glaring at him.

“And how long have you been out of school?” Batman says, turning to her. “And how long have you been living with Jason, here?”

“I told you, she’s my sister!” Jason says, standing upright suddenly.

“Maybe, but she doesn’t know anything about your parents,” he says. “And she’s been living on the streets for far less time that you have.”

Steph shifts. “It’s just… I’m stayin’ with him until my mom gets out of the hospital, that’s all. But he really is my brother!” She adds, loyally. “He looks after me and keeps me safe and everything!”

Batman sighs. “And what’s your last name, Stephanie?”

Jason seems slightly pleased that he’s not using Steph’s nickname.

“Brown,” she says, shifting. Because he’s Batman, she adds. “My dad’s Cluemaster? He said you put him in jail that one time and then he called you a lot of names and then Mom said that—”

“Cluemaster?” Batman says. Steph gets the impression that he’s raising an eyebrow, but she can’t tell under his mask.

Jason elbows Steph in the side hard. “You shouldn’t’ve told him,” Jason says, reproachfully.

“But he’s Batman!” Steph protests. “He’s a good guy! Like Nancy Drew!”

“Just ‘cuz he’s a detective doesn’t make him Nancy Drew!” Jason hisses. “For all we know he  could be like—Encyclopedia Brown! He’s a fink!”

Steph pauses, considering this argument. “But my dad hates him, so that means he’s cool,” she argues.

“You can’t use that for everything!” Jason says.

“Why not?” Steph demands, crossing her arms.

Suddenly, there’s a strange sound, and the two of them turn to see Batman laughing.

“Alright you two, I take the point,” he says. “No social workers. Now, I can’t let you two go back to that apartment—there’s no heat in there, and don’t think I didn’t notice how rusty that fire escape was.”

“But—” Steph protests, grabbing Jason’s arm and squeezing, terrified.

Batman sighs. “My friend Doctor Leslie has a clinic here in Crime Alley. I’ll see if she can give you two a bed. If it were just you, Jason, I’d suggest taking you to Ma Gunn’s school, but she doesn’t take girls, so obviously, that wouldn’t work.”

“Really?” Steph says, staring at him. “You won’t take Jason away?”

“Really,” Batman says.

Steph hugs him, which makes Jason groan. “Steph!”

She reluctantly releases Batman, but only to allow him to escort them to the clinic. Steph and Jason have passed by it before, but they haven’t had an occasion to stop in.

Leslie is an elderly woman with silver curls, and she smiles at Batman, and lets them share a cot in her office.

The moment the door closes behind them, though, Steph and Jason are listening at the keyhole, listening to her chew out Batman, which is amazing.

“And what’s your plan here?” She demands. “I can’t keep them forever, I’m not a school—”

“I just need to look into their situation,” Batman says, his voice so low that Steph and Jason need to strain to hear it. “I have a few ideas, but I need to make sure they’re feasible before I start anything. It’ll just be for a few days.”

Then Batman’s gone, and Leslie’s opening the door to glare at them for eavesdropping. Steph has the decency to blush, but Jason refuses to be ashamed, because it’s their future, after all, and he tells Leslie this in no uncertain terms, which she seems to be amused by, at least.

“What do you think he’s going to do?” Steph says, lying down next to Jason.

“He’s gonna find your mom and get her sprung from the Center early,” Jason says. “And then he’s gonna send me to that Ma Gunn school.”

Steph’s nose wrinkles. “But—I don’t want that!”

“You were gonna go home eventually,” Jason says, wrapping his arms around her. “And hey! You’ll be back with your mom, and that’s awesome.”

“But—what about you?” Steph says, feeling very small and scared and miserable at the prospect of a future without Jason at her side.

“I’ll be fine,” he says. “Ma Gunn’s sounds better than a normal school, at least.”

“Well, we can stake it out,” she says, confident. “Make sure it’s really okay.”

“Fine,” he says, clearly just humoring her, and the two of them fall silent.

The two of them sleep on the cot, which is far more comfortable then their mattress back in the empty apartment.

Bruce Wayne is rather preoccupied by the issue of Jason Todd and Stephanie Brown, the two adopted siblings from Crime Alley.

Stephanie Brown is easy enough to find information on—knowing her father is Cluemaster gives him a place to start, and he’s got her information pretty quickly. There’s no missing child report on her, but her mother is in a rehab center for opioid addiction in Manchester, and her father has knocked over a bank over in Burnside just last week. No one’s mad an arrest, because formally, Cluemaster’s identity was never discovered, but really. He passes along a tip to the Manchester police, and expects that it’ll be pretty quick after that.

Jason Todd is more difficult to track down—he goes to Leslie’s clinic as himself, rather than as Batman, and manages to get the record’s clerk to help him track down Catherine Todd, and from there, he has enough information to ask Jim for information about her husband, Willis Todd.

Willis Todd turns out to be a flunky of Two-Face, and is suspected to have been murdered for his boss for double crossing him on some job or another.   

Crystal Brown’s rehab is taking more time than the relatively optimistic estimate that Stephanie seems to have been in the opinion of. She’d been transferred from the center where she was originally placed at to a longer-care unit in Manchester, and the doctors he manages to contact there estimate she could be there for up to six more months.

Thus armed, he goes back to Crime Alley the next night to speak to the two of them, only to find them missing, and Leslie frowning at him disapprovingly, as if he’s somehow supposed to be able to stop two kids from wandering off.

He goes to find them. They’re not at their apartment, but…

Following a hunch, he stops by Ma Gunn’s school, and to his surprise, finds it absolutely abandoned, and, when he snoops around some, he finds blackboards covered in diagrams of the local art museum, and several handguns left around.

… another person using philanthropy as a front for crime. Normally it’s embezzling and tax fraud, but every now and then, someone moves to less white-collar stuff. He sighs, and goes to the Art Museum, already suspecting he knows what happened here.

He’s not surprised to find Ma Gunn and several of her older students gathered around a display of valuable paste-jewelry, gloating about their intentions to sell it and make a fortune.

Bruce moves to interfere, swooping down from the skylight, tripping an alarm intentionally as he goes.

The young men fall on him eagerly, all of them surprisingly well trained, although, he notes amusingly, Ma Gunn and her bag of tricks hits less hard than either Jason and his tire iron or Stephanie and her handy brick.

One of them does manage to get the drop on him—quite literally, shoving a large stone off its plinth onto him—and only a timely warning in a familiar warns him in time to get out of the way.

Jason Todd stands there, his hands on his hips. “You want a hand getting down from there, Eddie?”

“Todd?” The teenager glowers, drawing his gun as he approaches the boy. “What are you gonna do about it—”

With a shout, Stephanie Brown tackles him from behind, and Jason kicks the gun out of his hand before the two of them take the teenager to the ground in a show of surprising coordination.

“Are you okay?” Stephanie says, rushing up to Batman.

“I’m fine—” Bruce says, finding himself surprised. “But what are you two doing here?”

“We were stakin’ out the school, cuz you were probably gonna send Jason there!” Stephanie says.

“I said—never mind,” Bruce says, realizing they didn’t exactly have had a reason to believe him that he wouldn’t separate them.

“And then we saw them going here and we saw the guns and so we decided we were gonna try and stop it!” Stephanie is talking a lot more, now that Jason isn’t holding her back from speaking, Bruce notes. He’s starting to wonder what it’s going to take to keep her quiet, after this.

“You could have called the cops,” he says.

“Pff, where’s the fun in that?” Jason says, and the two of them follow him out of the museum, but they tense up when they hear the sirens. “Uh, hey, can we split before the cops show?”

Bruce finds himself smiling. “Why don’t you two ride with me?”

Really?” Stephanie whispers, her eyes wide.

“You mean it?” Jason says, a bit more skeptical, but when Bruce nods, the boy is eager enough to claim shotgun, insisting to Steph that she’s too short to ride in the front.

“So what are you going to do with us?” Jason demands.

“Well, Stephanie’s mother is going to be in the Center for a few months still,” Bruce says.

What?” Steph says, her eyes wide with dismay.

“But in the meantime…” Bruce says.

“You know, the chances of us finding a decent home in foster care are slim,” Jason says, clearly worried. “Especially together, since they don’t consider us related and all—”

“Don’t bet on it,” Bruce says, smiling. “I think Robin and Batgirl will do just fine.”

A high pitch sound emerges from the back seat. He’ll have to figure out how to break it to her that seven years old is too young to be a superhero later.

But Jason…

“Robin?” Jason says, staring at him, in baffled confusion.

Bruce just smiles, and Jason’s own grin grows.

“Robin,” Jason repeats to himself, looking like he’s having the best day of his life.

Bruce drives towards the Cave, with his two new wards, and tries to figure out how he’ll explain this to Alfred.