Run, run, start again
by Te
November 10, 2005

Disclaimers: Not at all mine.

Spoilers: Up through Identity Crisis, drifts AU during
War Games.

Summary: "My mother warned me about boys like
you, you know."

Ratings Note: Almost entirely harmless, save to the

Author's Note: I asked Petra what sort of story she'd
like. This is *her* fault.

Acknowledgments: To Petra for audiencing and


She doesn't have a closet so much as a sort of steadily
creeping chaos that starts from the northwestern edge of
the bedroom.

She'd mocked him for nearly three hours for replacing the
shower-drain with a tighter sort of sieve, but she always
looks very satisfyingly rueful whenever he cleans it out.

"Maybe," she says, wincing with curious disgust at the
clump of blonde hairs and conditioner, "you're just so
freaky you make my hair fall out."

"It's possible," he says, taking just a *little* more time at
the task than he has to, making sure the light catches on
*all* of the blonde.

"And anyway --"


She sticks her tongue out at him.

He raises an eyebrow.


Her greatest weakness -- other than the tendency to forget
that she has any number of weapons at her disposal
*other* than her fists when she's angry -- appears to be
fruit juice.

It doesn't seem to matter what sort. *She* only ever buys
apple juice, but if he wants there to be any
passionfruit-grape left over, he has to hide it.

He has his suspicions and theories about it, of course.
Unadulterated fruit juice *does* tend to be more expensive
than the other kind, now that he's paying attention.

And the first time she'd seen his collection of vitamins and
supplement-blends, she'd looked at him like a junkie.

Post-urban malnutrition -- of the mild sort.

She still has -- and will probably always have -- at least ten
pounds on him.


She snores.

She doesn't admit it -- she denies it with the sort of
vehemence Tim had only ever seen, before, in filmed
police interrogations -- but she does.

A low, steady drone which starts no more than three
minutes after she falls asleep and ends no more than two
minutes before she awakens again.

It doesn't keep him awake unless he wants it to.


She watches soap operas.

She argues about the plausibility and quality of their
storylines with Alfred whenever he visits.

And whenever they can plausibly deny that he's paying


She still goes to high school. She's doing well enough in
everything save pre-calculus, but she won't ever let him help.

"Dropouts don't get a say, Boy Bad Example For The Kids."

"I'm not a dropout. I'm on a leave of absence."

"Uh, huh."

"I am."


"I --"

"My mother warned me about boys like you, you know,"
she says, and pulls on the wad of bubble gum in her mouth
until it's a long, improbably colored strand drooping
between her fingers and her face.

It's dangerously close to mussing her worksheet.

"If we wind up on Jerry Springer, it'll totally be your fault."

Tim stares.

Steph winds the gum string around her tongue, and says,
somewhat incoherently, "I'm also not having your
undereducated babies."

"I -- okay?"


The GED booklets scattered around the apartment -- near
his computers, wound inside one of his capes, nestled
between his copy of Gray's and the criminology textbook
Barbara wrote under a pseudonym one winter while
bored -- are less than a surprise.


She stops chewing gum on patrol when a gut-punch makes
her swallow a wad of it.

"Don't -- gak -- say a *word*."

"I wouldn't dream of it."


The incongruous scent of flowers pulls him out of a dream
of flying in a featureless black just before the lack of places
to land -- even for a moment -- would've made him start to
be more frightened than thoroughly non-plussed.

When he wakes up, he sees Steph wearing a peach-colored
suit tailored well enough that Alfred must have had a hand
in its choosing and holding a bouquet of calla lilies.

"Is Batgirl getting married?"

This is where she mocks him for not saying 'Cass' or even
'Cassandra,' but it's also not. Apparently, this is where she
stares at the floor and flushes hard enough that Tim can
no longer easily discern the border between blush and


"It's time. I mean. I think... it's time," she says, and Tim


"Please, Tim. For me."

All at once, his mind is flooded with a ruthlessly vivid
memory of the soft, quiet smile on his father's face the
night of his sixteenth birthday. He'd been watching Steph
laugh, mouth wide and head thrown back.

He'd been watching Tim watch Steph.

"Steph --"

"It's *time*, you asshole!"

The suit he chooses makes Steph mutter something quiet
about "shortstack Bond wannabe," and that's much better
than almost every other alternative.

They take the train because Steph allows him to ignore the
fact that Alfred is almost certainly parked a discreet
distance from their apartment. They take the train because
it takes longer.

They get to the cemetery anyway, however, and then he
has to be there.

"It'll be better here in the spring," she says, after Tim has
been silent for some unknowable Steph-specific
measurement of too long.

Tim traces his father's name in the stone and keeps his
doubts to himself.


Sometimes she patrols on her own.

Those are always the nights when Batgirl is his shadow.

"I don't need you to watch my back."

"No," Batgirl says. Only that.

"I don't need you --" He bites his lip and returns to the
business of surveillance.

He knows which nights these are.


They're the same nights when the first hint he has of
Steph's return is the stink of blood from the window and
the memory of watching her drift in and out of
consciousness at Leslie's clinic, of the feel of Bruce's eyes
on him demanding something he could never give and
the feel of a hand on his shoulder only when he dozed.

When she isn't wearing them, she keeps her false teeth
hidden in one of the panels beneath the bathroom sink
he'd originally planned on using for documents and disks
which couldn't be immediately destroyed, though she does
use the cheerfully pink and flowered case he'd acquired for

They're the nights when --

The groan from the shower is pained and honest and loud,
and when he gets there he sees bruises all along her ribs,
and a wound beneath her right eye which will almost
certainly scar. Too close to her eye --

"Don't worry, Boy Wonder. The mask stayed on."

"That wasn't --" He stops, bites his lip.

After a moment, Steph turns her face up into the spray and
Tim turns away, giving her privacy. Giving himself the
chance to catalog the sound of her tired breathing, the
pound and splash of water on abused -- but living -- skin.

The soap is homemade, laced with glucosamine,
chondroitin, and enough emu oil to ensure maximum
absorption. He has a deep and meaningful relationship
with Alfred's homemade soaps, though he hadn't realized
Alfred had started making them with roses. And... lemon?
He isn't sure.

"I know --" She clears her throat and spits. "I know it's not
what you meant."


"Tim --"

"I could say something about the relative efficiency of your
therapy plan."

"Fuck you."

"But I won't."

She cries out, a little, when she laughs. "Except in that way
where you just did."

"Excepting that, yes."

She turns the shower nozzle on him, but only briefly.


Those are the nights when they lay next to each other in
silence, until Steph pretends to go to sleep and then Tim
does and then they both sleep for real, eventually.

"Did you cry?"

Except not always.

"I mean -- it's just that --"

"I never did where you could... where you could see."

"I -- yeah."

He listens to her -- feels her -- shift beside him until her
hand is close enough to his own that they could be
touching. They don't...

Sometimes when Tim wakes up, her back is curled against
his side. Sometimes he sneezes himself awake with a face
full of blonde hair. But they don't go to sleep that way.

"I cried."


("I've got you.") "Yes."

"Good," she says, and brushes her fingers -- the slightly-
crooked ones -- over his knuckles before turning away from


Sometimes, while Steph is at her new school, Tim finds
himself staring at the front door only Alfred -- and Batgirl,
when she's feeling whimsical -- ever uses anymore, finds
himself trying to piece things together until they make

When Steph had first arrived, she'd been wearing huge,
unflattering sunglasses that pretty much demanded the
acknowledgment of the black eyes they didn't quite hide --
at that point, from the reconstructive surgery -- worn,
slightly baggy jeans, and a t-shirt Tim had been missing
for the better part of two years.

It had only been slightly too small for her at the time, and
Tim had made Alfred teach him to cook every fattening
thing he could learn to make until the shirt went back to
being moderately obscene.

This doesn't help sense be made in any way, really. He
knows there must've been a transition between being
struck-dumb by the sight of his ex? girlfriend in the hallway
and the moment when he first became aware that he was
actually quite good at baking cranberry-walnut muffins,
it's just that he can't find it anymore.

He can't remember what made it necessary.


She cries when the notification that he'd successfully
managed to pass his GED arrives in the mail.

She denies it.



Her mother comes for dinner every second Thursday -- her
night off.

Since it's an odd-numbered week, she spends most of the
meal staring darkly at the closed door to the bedroom.

This is easier than the even-numbered weeks, when bridal
magazines begin appearing mysteriously in their living


He finds out about Black Mask's attempt to move into
Bludhaven when he finds the remains of the man's rather
distinctive shoes -- he always buys Italian -- in a
warehouse he'd been watching idly for the past several
weeks on the edge of Batgirl's territory.

The next day, the reports have him firmly back in Gotham.
Several of the rumors suggest hospitalization.

That night -- like the one before -- Steph patrols with Batgirl.

She doesn't come home until morning, and the look she
gives him when she finds him awake is... illuminating on a
number of levels.

Though not surprising.

"I won't apologize," she says, and when her chin juts like
that Tim wonders, fleetingly, when Bruce is going to let
them pay attention to the fact that there's a 'Red Hood.'

Another time. He leans against the wall and meets her
gaze, and remembers the days when she used to spar with
him. His jaw doesn't especially *miss* her right, but --

"I *won't*."

"You might," he says, "have left some for me." And smiles.

The startled blinks have a rather comical effect when
combined with the continued -- and decidedly pugnacious --
thrust of her chin. But when she recovers, it's only Steph,
rueful and bright like the yellow-brown dawn outside their
bedroom window is the only true obscenity in the world.

"Steph --"


He does.

The slight stutter of her breath against his ear. The scrape
of kevlar and nomex against his bare chest. A choked-off
moan when he undoes her cape and kisses her throat.

Another when she... when she pulls away, and hugs him,

He hugs her back.

"I was gonna ask if you were ever gonna kiss me again,
you know."

Tim lets himself smile. "Was that a good answer?"

"I was gonna ask three months ago."

Oh. "Oh."

She laughs against his forehead. "Jerk."



"That, too."


Tim breathes. "Yes...?"

She squeezes him tightly enough that her armor digs a few
welts. "Yeah."


"We are so totally not getting married."

Tim chokes on his coffee. "Okay...?"

"I mean it," she says, glaring at him over the laptop.

Tim swallows.

"I *mean* it --"

"The monitor's glow makes your skin as luminescent as
jade. Sweetling."

She throws a muffin at him.

Tim catches it, and puts it back on her plate.

Later, she eats it.