Oversung Hero, part 1

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

Stephanie Brown rose with a groan from her bed, blinking at the clock on her nightstand. 11:30. Good. Her mother would be at work.

She stretched and scratched at the material covering the stabilizing brace on her arm, trying to pretend she was actually getting the itch on her skin. She finally abandoned the attempt, scrubbing her face with her hands and yawning hugely as she headed down the stairs to the kitchen.

The house was quiet, and she wondered briefly if she should turn the ringers back on on the phones. She thought back to yesterday's media circus and decided it was better to let the voice mail fill up.

"Where's your sling?

Steph froze in the kitchen doorway. "Mom?" she squeaked. Her mother was sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee sitting in front of her. "Aren't you - I mean, don't you have to work?"

"I called in sick. The hospital doesn't need those media sharks hovering around. And you didn't answer my question." Steph sighed and went to the cupboard to get a glass. "L- Dr. Thompkins said I could stop wearing it," she explained. "When she checked me out yesterday." She rummaged in the refrigerator for orange juice, poured a glass, then sat across from her mother.

"You want to see your press?" her mother asked, sliding the morning's paper across the table.

Steph glanced down at the paper, taking in the blaring headline. "TEEN HERO SAVES BILLIONAIRE!"

"Mom-" Steph began helplessly.

Steph's mother's hand tightened on the handle of her mug, and her lips pressed into a thin line. "Stephanie-"

Steph waited with half-held breath. Here it came.

"Stephanie, I -" Crystal Bellinger-Brown sighed.

"I didn't mean for this to happen, Mom," Steph apologized, her eyes downcast.

"I know that, Steph." Crystal's tone a mix of gentleness and exasperation. "I - a part of me is really proud of you. If it weren't for everything else - you were just doing the right thing."

Steph closed her eyes, remembering yesterday's misadventure. She had been on a class fieldtrip, bored and underwhelmed by an architectural tour that scarcely seemed to merit the enthusiasm that their guide had in abundance. While the rest of the class had ogled the contrast of pre-quake gargoyles on the old Wayne Tower and the sleek lines of its companion buildings, Steph had been people watching at street level. She hadn't even been consciously interested in the limo that had pulled up by the side entrance of Wayne Tower, but that was where her gaze had landed when a man had darted from behind a sculpture, knife raised.

She had screamed a warning, and that had been enough to turn all attention to her. She could still see the knife descending in slow motion as Bruce Wayne turned, angling his body enough that the blade sliced across his back and shoulder rather than stabbed between his shoulder blades.

He had fallen under the assault, and instinct rather than forethought had taken Stephanie to his side to apply pressure to his bleeding wound. His assailant had disappeared into the stunned crowd.

She opened her eyes and looked at her mother. "Did they catch the guy?"

Crystal shook her head. "They've got your description of him in the story, but - Steph, I don't know what to do with you. I don't know whether to hug you or shake you."

Steph looked back down at the paper, not really seeing the text. "Hug me?" she suggested.

Crystal rose from the table and walked to her daughter's side, wrapping her arms around the teen and kissing the top of her head. "I love you, Stephanie. You make me absolutely crazy, but I do love you."

Steph leaned her head against her mother's breast, feeling suddenly old. It had been scary, being there in that alley feeling Bruce Wayne's blood soaking through the sweatshirt she had pressed against his wound, then being shunted aside by paramedics only to spend hours with the police, tearfully waiting for her mother to come fetch her. Was it only a week ago that she had been sneaking out at night, angrily defying her mother and internally screaming at the unfairness of the vigilante club she could not quite seem to be a member of?

Crystal released her daughter with another sigh. "The police have managed to keep your name and your photograph out of the papers for us, so that's one small blessing. I think they're worried that this guy you stopped might be crazy enough to come after you. I promised them I'd keep you home over the weekend."

"I don't think he'd recognize me," Stephanie tried to comfort, her stomach tightening at this unexpected worry. "He was gone before I'd gotten clear of the crowd."

Crystal nodded absently, her face pinched. "That's what the police figured, too, but they want us to play it safe for a couple of days." She picked up her coffee cup and moved to the coffee maker. "They're pretty sure the press will stop trying to figure out an angle on the story by Monday." She snorted. "Something about yesterday's news."

"Make way for tomorrow's disaster," Steph remarked with heavy irony. She stood from the table, pushing the paper away from her in disgust. "I'm going to go take a bath."

"Okay," her mother acknowledged, taking a sip of her refreshed coffee. Her expression was distant and worried.

Steph hesitated uncertainly, but there was nothing else she could think of to say. She picked up her half-finished glass of orange juice and headed back upstairs.

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