Office hours at the campus coffee shop was a great cover, plus it had the benefits of caffeine, the life's blood of the college student. Not that they were discussing anything related to class work, but the mocha frappe with whipped cream and sprinkles was keeping Stephanie awake.
Babs took a sip of her plain black coffee--Kona from Hawaii--and smiled at the creamy mustache on her sleepy protégé, then did the finger over her lip thing to get Stephanie's attention.
"Huh?" Steph blinked and lifted a hand to her mouth, then flushed and grabbed a napkin. "Sue me, I had a trig test at eight o'clock this morning. Math at dawn! What kind of professor does that? A sadist, I'm convinced. Or a super villain. Maybe Professor Lloyd is the Mathinator or something."
"And his super power would be...?"
"Um...making co-eds do math at eight in the morning?"
Chuckling, Babs set down her mug and picked up her tablet, cradling it in her arm and typing with her other hand. "Is that why your report on last night's patrol has equations in it?"
"I was trying to memorize them."
Sighing, Steph slumped her head down on her crossed arms. "Probably not. Hopefully passed the darn thing, but...Trig sucks."
"It'll be of importance some day."
"That's what computers are for. That's what you're for. Figuring sines and cosines, and there's really no point to any of that in the real world or swinging around Gotham, right?"
Barbara hmmed and tapped the screen to open her link to the private police server, skimming over several arrest reports. Her eyes lit on one name in particular. "Detective Gage filed a report on a probable sighting of Killer Croc. Why did I not know he'd surfaced?" Muttering to herself, she tripped her way through several other databases, then frowned deeply. "Because Damian's keeping his reports on the Cave's servers and not sharing."
"Punish him, Babs. Punish him hard," Stephanie cheered tiredly, then lifted her head high enough to suck down more creamy caffeinated coffee.
"Little brat." Tapping a few more screens and typing in some codes, Babs smirked in satisfaction. "See how he functions without access to anything."
"Good one. But you know Dick'll whine and you'll end up caving and restoring the brat's access."
Steph snorted and pushed herself back up into a sitting, although still slumped, position. "I want a scone. You want a scone?"
"I could do with a scone." An email alert drew her attention. There was a message from Dick already? As the current Batgirl wandered over to the counter to choose between ten different varieties of scones, the first one scowled at her tablet and punched her forefinger onto the screen's keyboard, typing out a big, forty eight font size 'no'. Satisfied her point was made, she set down the tablet and picked up her coffee again. As she sipped the dark, rich, but not at all creamy brew, she wondered how Stephanie could drink that many calories, carbs and fat and not balloon up.
Apparently she'd mumbled that out loud.
"I spend my nights swinging around Gotham, remember? Bouncing off stone gargoyles, throwing punches and whirling kicks, running after the bad guys and/or for my life? Ring a bell?" She handed over a paper wrapped chocolate cherry scone before dropping back into her seat and taking a bite out of her own cinnamon apple one.
"You're also eighteen. Oh, to see eighteen again," Babs mused, picking a chocolate chip laden bite out of her scone and eating it. "No, wait, I still had zits then."
Giggling, Stephanie shook her head. "I can't see it. You have perfect skin."
"Well, yeah, now. I'm...not eighteen any more." In retaliation for that fact, she took a big bite of her scone, savoring the explosion of cherry and chocolate and cream.
"Which is why your dad's right and Gage is so much more appropriate for you." Even as she sighed the statement, Steph's expression betrayed her lack of conviction in it.
"You know, Dick's...well younger than I am, let's put it that way. We never let it be a problem, though Bruce might have had a problem when Dick was sixteen..." The memories of those days made her smile into her coffee.
"Legal age in Jersey."
"I made that point." There was a certain satisfaction in that. "But, seriously, Gage is only, what, twenty five? Twenty six? You're mature for your age."
"You can't even keep a straight face saying that!" At Stephanie's protest, Babs chuckled and shrugged her shoulders.
"My point is that age won't matter in a few years."
"But you and Dick aren't together anymore?"
"Any age difference isn't the reason."
Steph mulled that over as she ate her scone. "So, what about you and St. Nick?"
"That's my dad's idea. I don't want to date anyone at the moment. Kind of busy hiding Oracle again and keeping all of you on track. If you want him, go for him. He's obviously attracted to you."
"Yeah?" A slow smile crept across the younger girl's face, but then fell away as she slumped again, leaning back against the booth. "He likes my alter-ego. Me, I'm just a spazzy freshman to him."
"Don't even think about revealing your identity."
"I never really worried about that when I was Spoiler. Heck, I told Tim who I was within like a week of knowing him. Of course he took nearly a freakin' year to tell me who he really was. Alvin Draper my ass."
Barbara shrugged again and finished her coffee. "Bruce was a bit overzealous about the secrets but he had his reasons and they were, still are, good ones. Our enemies aren't the norm here in Gotham."
"No kidding. Why do we have all the nut cases? I mean, the Joker and Scarecrow and Two Face and, gah, Poison Ivy? Sex pollen? Really?"
"Being hit with it is no fun." Thinking about it for a moment, Barbara grinned. "Okay, it's a bit of fun if you have an outlet."
"With my luck, I'd be bad touched by Ivy."
They both made faces at that thought.
"Back to your original question, the police tend to think that Batman brings the loonies. If we had some good guy who didn't skulk in the shadows, like Superman or Green Lantern, we'd have normal bad guys."
"I think there's something in the water or air or maybe the city's just cursed."
"There is a dark side to this city."
"No kidding." Stephanie's phone binged in her pocket and she took it out, unlocked it with her thumb and groaned. "I have four messages from Damian cursing your existence. Oh, and Dick wants you to stop ignoring him."
"I can always cut off his access, too," Babs said, glowering down at the few remaining crumbs of her scone. Where had that gone so fast?
Steph snickered and thumbed back a text to the brat, basically telling him to suck up to Oracle and learn to send her timely reports. Another message made her laugh outright. "Oh boy, he's dumb. He just snootily said that you're a servant and should learn your place."
"Forward that to Dick for me, will you?" Smiling a bit nastily, Barbara picked up her tablet again and waited. It took all of ninety seconds for Dick to copy her on his text yelling to his sidekick. "Oh, look, he referred to the brat as his sidekick."
"That never goes over well." Laughing into the remains of her coffee, Steph read the newest message from Damian. "Heh, he's changing his tune pretty quickly."
"We were all twelve once."
"We were never arrogant asses."
"Well, he does have Talia for a mother." Babs shuddered.
"Yeah, that doesn't play. Look at my dad. We all make our own choices. Damian may be young, but he's been given several new starts. He's gotta stop blowing them."
"I've wondered what he'd be like if his father was...here."
"Well, Dick and Tim turned out pretty well with Bruce around." Stephanie made a face. "But, then there's Jason. You know, there's believed to be a curse on the even numbered of us."
"That's as ridiculous as the supposed curse on this city." The binging of her tablet was becoming annoying, so Babs turned off the sound. Any true alerts would still come through. "You weren't given a chance, and Jason...he was reckless."
"Well, at least I got another shot," Steph admitted. "Thanks to the big guy, which still blows my mind."
"I'm pretty sure he regretted firing you almost immediately."
"Could have rehired me."
They sat in the quiet for a moment, Stephanie typing another reply to Damian's increasingly strident texts, then she looked up, a twist on her lips. "Did I ever tell you he wanted me to dye my hair black?"
Giving her an incredulous look, Babs could only laugh. "Well, he did have a type."
"Yeah, and all those rumors about what he did with that type? ICK!"
They both broke into laughter at that, which helped to cover the grief they still felt at the loss of Bruce. Both women found it easier to talk with each other about him than to any of the men in his life, but it was still hard to deal with anything truly serious.
Case in point--the door to the coffee shop opened and in strolled Detective Gage, and both women broke into new laughter. At his confused look, it just got worse.
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