A/N: Dear readers, this is Anissa. I have to tell you a little secret. I’m kind of a fandom newbie to the rest of the DCU. Oh, Superman movieverse is my home sweet home, but as we’ve branched out into bigger things, Lois and I have been trying to make sure this sprawling universe fits with our vision. And occasionally I’ve had a blind spot or two.
There’s one in particular that bugs me, and we’re going to fix it as of now. At this point in Stephanie Brown’s career, she has been Robin, but she hasn’t yet become Batgirl. After being fired as Robin, she went back to Spoiler instead of slipping directly in the pointy-eared costume. And I botched that transition when I was doing research.
The only edits to previous chapters are the name Batgirl being changed to Spoiler. Stephanie is still herself, but she’s cloaked instead of cowled. And this way you get to ride along in her journey to Batdom as well….
Days like today, when homework was a pain and life felt like a dull grind, Stephanie Brown reminded herself that she had been Robin. Once she had run at Batman’s side, kicking bad guys in the face and stopping crime. She had been, and still was, a hero.
Before her stint as Robin and after it, she went by Spoiler. Steph admitted to herself that it was a goofy name. It sounded like she was a warning in a YouTube video title. WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS. At least the world was lucky that so far there was only one of her.
Goofy or not, the name had been apt. Her father, Arthur Brown, was the Cluemaster. Captured and imprisoned in Blackgate, he’d supposedly reformed … but all Dad had really done was shed his compulsion to leave clues lying around. So Steph, sick of having a crook for a father, sick of seeing the look in her mother’s eyes when Dad didn’t come home on time, had started leaving clues of her own. Like little smoke signals sent out to Batman and his flock, trying to get them to stop the Cluemaster—speaking of goofy names—before he got into worse trouble.
All she had wanted was to protect their little family. Sure, Mom had her issues, and Steph herself hadn’t been the best kid in the world—not with a baby of her own out there somewhere, and every time Steph thought of her daughter it was a knife in her heart—but they were a family. And at the time she’d thought they still could be, if Dad could just stop trying to rob banks and pretend he was some kind of gangster, if he could just go back to being the Dad he’d been before, the man who had boosted baby Steffie up onto his shoulders so she felt like she could see the whole wide world. True, he’d never been home much when she was little, spending a lot of his time in jail, but the memories she had of him were precious.
Well, some of them were. Steph closed that line of thought off, focusing on the good times. Remember the good, learn from the bad and then let it go, that was her motto, and it had done well for her so far.
Once her motto have been ‘never give up hope’. But … that was then, this was now, and the idea of the Cluemaster redeeming himself was a childish dream. Arthur Brown wasn’t one of the good guys. Sure, he had some good in him, Steph supposed most people did. But even Tim, one of the definite good guys, had a cold and calculating streak in his nature, and Batman could be terrifying as all get-out. If the good guys had a little bad in them, then the bad guys probably had some good in them, too. It just stood to reason.
Not that it didn’t hurt, thinking of her dad as a bad guy, but … it was true. He had his own profile in the Bat-computer. He’d threatened to maim her with acid, before he’d known that the Spoiler was his own daughter. He was Not a Nice Man. That knowledge weighed heavily on Steph. And if it was heavy to her, it had to be crushing to her mother, even though the man was officially her ex-husband.
Steph paused in her haphazard essay and listened to the house. Crystal Brown had the night off, and was sleeping, the fan in her bedroom making a soft blurring noise. Mom worked long shifts, and sometimes she would work ten or more days in a row at the hospital. She liked the night shift, when the pace was slower and she could get more done for her patients. If Steph had thought about it, she might’ve been worried. During the worst part of her marriage, Crystal Brown had sought peace and comfort anywhere she could find it. Working as a nurse with access to the dispensary, she tended to find it in bottles of pills.
She was clean now, though. Mom was clean, Dad was locked up, and Steph was passing her classes. So life was good.
Except, well, she spent so much time studying that she didn’t have any energy left to go run the rooftops. Her career as a vigilante had begun to stop her father’s crimes, and she’d hung up her cloak whenever he was safely in prison. But sometime while she was running around with Tim, or maybe while she’d been Robin, Steph had realized she liked that life. Having a secret identity was a sort of power all its own. She put on the Spoiler uniform and became more than just Steph Brown. She was an idea, she stood up for justice, and she could walk down the nastiest streets of Gotham City without fear.
Well, okay, she mostly walked above them, because only an idiot sauntered down the middle of the street unless they were a crook, but still. She’d seen and done incredible things, and it felt like there was a fire in her heart some nights, a fire that burned quiet most of the time. When it rose up, though, then she just had to go out and put a little fear into the bad guys.
Not tonight, though. Tonight Spoiler’s only enemy was the War of 1812, and she looked at her half-finished essay with a sigh. Quietly, she said to the empty room, “And thus the crusader for justice returned to her Sisyphean task, forcing herself through the last eight hundred grueling words of her homework.” That, at least, let her smile while she did it.
Kal-El was often the spectator in Lois’ discussions with Perry, discussions that rattled the windows and occasionally turned the air blue with a haze of curses. And yet, he’d noticed over the years that as much profanity as both of them let fly, they never actually cursed each other. There was a world of difference between “Dammit, Perry, what the hell were you thinking?” and “Damn you, you sonofabitch!”
Although if Lois was ever going to unload her vocabulary of driving words—which included a few terms of Tagalog that cast aspersions on the target’s parentage—it would be today. Kal-El reflected that he really shouldn’t have flown Lois back to Metropolis in the middle of the convention, not even when Krista and Philip called and asked both of them for advice.
“…and you dragged Superman into it, too, Lane! I dunno what you’ve got on the guy, but I never expected to see him flying you and Kent back here over a story! One that had nothing to do with him!”
Kal-El fought down a smile. What she has on me is pretty much everything, Mr. White. My secret identity, my kids, and her wonderful self. I don’t need blackmail with incentives like that.
Lois tossed her head, flicking an errant lock of wavy hair over her shoulder. There was still some black in there, but the dominant notes were dark steel and bright silver. Highly appropriate for Lois, but he hadn’t told her so. She could still be a bit touchy about the hair.
“Bite me, Chief,” Lois growled. “That damn convention was a waste of my time, and the kids here needed me. Did you see how Ames projected the layout for the front page? That damn goat outside your window would’ve jumped off the building in protest.”
All three of them glanced at the enormous stone ram’s head visible from Perry’s office. The sculpture functioned as a gargoyle, draining water from the upper floors, but it was much grander than it had to be, a souvenir of the architect’s hubris. More than a few staffers over the years had whispered about it being especially apt in its placement. Perry did have a tendency to put his head down and charge at anything that balked him, and he and Lois did lock horns with some frequency.
At the moment, their Editor-in-Chief swung back around to his current protégé and nemesis, and Kal-El could almost hear the sound of heavy horns clashing at the charge. “The point, Lane, is that I told you not to do something, and you went on and did it anyway!”
“Story of my life,” Lois shot back. “If I’d left the EMP business alone back in the day we’d’ve never known it was goddamned Lex Luthor behind it all! Since when do I actually follow orders?”
Perry’s eyes narrowed, and he grinned. Kal-El started to get worried at that moment, but he’d learned years ago not to barge into confrontations between the two. “You know, you’re right, Lane. I can afford to have a beat reporter slip out under the gate once in a while, but not an administrator.”
Lois answer was so laden with sarcasm, it was almost delivered in sing-song. “Which is why I don’t want to be a freaking administrator!”
“Fine. You’ve convinced me. Consider yourself demoted to city reporter effective immediately, Lane. I’ll adjust your salary accordingly.” And while Lois was frozen in shock, simply staring at him, Perry added, “You, too, Kent.”
“Now wait just a minute, Mr. White,” Kal-El protested, standing up. Lois’ jaw was still hanging open in amazement.
Perry fixed him with a gimlet glare. “I almost expect Lane to go haring off after I’ve expressly told her not to, but somehow you got Superman to bring you along for the ride, so you can share the misery, too.”
“But who will run our departments?” Kal-El asked, trying for some sanity in the midst of this madness.
“I’ll handle City. And International practically runs itself, or so my nephew once said,” Perry retorted.
“And you’d take the ten-year-old word of a man who went to work for the Aviation Journal?” Lois snarked.
Grinning ferociously, Perry shot back, “I’ll take the word of the man smart enough to marry a millionaire, Lane. Why? You objecting? I thought you wanted to be a reporter again. If it’s too much responsibility I’m sure Helen will let you come back to the mailroom….”
“Hell no. And our first order of business is going to be tracking down the rest of this story. There’s more to it than what Krista and Philip dug up, I know it. C’mon, Clark.” With that she spun on her heel and stalked out.
Kal-El watched her go, and then turned to his boss, still reeling. Perry’s smile softened. “It’ll only be a week or so, Kent, and I’ll forget about the salaries. Lane wants that story and she’ll throttle anyone who gets in her way—anyone but you, and I’d sleep with one eye open just in case. Sometimes a newshound’s got to hunt, even if by rights she should’ve given it up by now.”
You never did, he thought but didn’t say. All Kal-El could think about was the story Perry had found out about, researched, and written up two years ago—a kickback scandal in D.C. that had been in contention for that year’s Pulitzer. Aloud, all he said was, “Yes, sir, Chief. We’ll get right on that story.”