Cassandra sat on a plain wooden bench, her head hanging as police officers passed her looking down at her as if she were common street scum. She was supposed to be a hero – yet there she was, chained to a wall by a pair of steel handcuffs like a common criminal.
The last thing she remembered was punching a man – no, a sickening creature who preyed on those weaker then himself – and feeling proud of herself for it. She may not have been able to protect the woman he attacked, but she did manage to make him feel a penalty for what he had done.
Unfortunately, the two police officers on the scene didn’t feel the same way. Before Cassandra knew what had happened, one of the two officers slammed her against a nearby parked car. She struggled, tried to fight him – but she relented as she realized it was a futile struggle. Fighting the police for doing their job would be plain stupid.
So she sat on a bench, waiting for Barbara to arrive. At least she hoped it would be Barbara that Tim would call – asking Bruce for help would be adding insult to injury. He always told her, and Tim, to stay away from law enforcement. He wouldn’t care that her cause was just.
“You’re sprung. He dropped the charges.”
Cassandra looked up to see the officer which arrested her standing over her. He reached behind her gently and removed the handcuffs. As he did, he whispered in her ear, something she didn’t expect. ‘Nice punch…just don’t get caught next time.’
She nodded, trying her best to mask a smile as she stood and took her jacket and sunglasses from him. She glanced toward the door, and felt shock surge through her as she caught the sight of…him…heading out of the police station as well. She gave the officer a questioning look.
“Since you…assaulted him”, the officer answered, anticipating her question, “We had to release him until his trial. It was a deal – he drops his charges if we reduce his bail.”
Cassandra sighed and bowed her head as she headed toward the door. That scum was free to walk the streets…and it was her own fault. She noticed Tim standing outside the glass doors, and headed directly toward him. He seemed upset when she stepped outside.
“I couldn’t find Barbara, but I did manage to sneak away with Bruce’s Jaguar. I had no idea how I’d get you out of here. You’re just lucky you’re so…lucky.”
As Cassandra paused to smile at him, his frown was slowly replaced with a smile. He took her jacket and placed one arm across her shoulders as she put her sunglasses on.
“Bruce is going to kill us when he finds out about the car, you know.”
Tim and Cassandra climbed into Bruce’s Jaguar, only peripherally aware of a man sitting in an old beat up car across the parking lot. He wore a black baseball cap, and was aiming a camera directly at one of them…Cassandra.
“This subject is an interesting one.” Bruce tapped a pencil against his chin as he stared at a police lineup photo of a tall man with dark hair, known only to them as ‘Robert’.
“You don’t have to call them ‘subjects’, Bruce.” Barbara rolled her wheelchair across the room with one smooth motion, her natural athleticism giving her an advantage, in spite of her inability to walk. “This isn’t a hospital. In fact, it’s a cave, which probably violates several zoning laws.”
Bruce laughed, partly to acknowledge, and partly to dismiss Barbara’s comment. “This…Robert…was arrested for rape and murder. Yet he was released because he was assaulted by a small, dark-haired young woman who refused to identify herself, and consequently, the officers couldn’t remember mirandizing him.”
“Couldn’t they identify her by her fingerprints?”
After reading for several seconds, Bruce shook his head. “They didn’t take prints. No charges were filed against her, so she was released as well. Robert dropped the assault charges, and the officers were reluctant to file interference with arrest charges.”
Barbara smiled. “I guess they felt sorry for her. But why did she assault him? Was she a witness?”
Bruce sighed and began searching through the rest of the police reports on his computer. Barbara, back in her days as Batgirl, showed him how to tap into the police crime database, so he could more efficiently keep track of unusual crime sprees or arrests. It made him a more efficient crime fighter.
He suddenly paused at one report, and leaned forward to make sure he was reading it correctly. “This is interesting. Alfred?”
“Yes, Master Bruce?”
Bruce stood and looked at Barbara for a second. “Would you please see if my Miata is parked in the garage?”
Alfred nodded and headed back toward the house. “I will, Master Bruce.”
“What is it? What does it say?” Barbara rolled closer to the computer to read the screen as Bruce paced back and forth. “Oh my God…”
“Cassandra.” Bruce folded his arms and frowned as he watched Cassandra and Tim enter the Bat Cave. They were both smiling, which made him even angrier.
As soon as she walked through the door, Cassandra could feel eyes on her. Bruce gave her a cold stare from across the room, Barbara gave her a look of disappointment and pity. Even Alfred stared, though his gaze was more of a dignified warning.
“My car, Cassandra. Where is it?”
Cassandra shrugged. She turned around to look at Tim, just as he was about to say something to defend her. But instead of allowing him to, she quickly gestured for him to leave. She took a deep breath before answering, “It crashed.”
Bruce leaned his forehead against his right hand and sighed deeply. “That car is registered to me, Cassandra. What happens if this incident is linked directly to me?”
“Fine.” Cassandra stepped closer to Bruce, staring at him angrily and speaking just above a whisper. She couldn’t believe he cared more about his car and reputation then her or Tim. “Say it was stolen. I can handle it.”
His eyes narrowed as he leaned closer to Cassandra, his icy stare penetrating to her very core. She knew from those eyes that he had gone into his uncaring, cold Batman persona. He was insulated from all feeling, his only drive being logic and unrestrained anger bottled up from his past. As he leaned closer, he only said one word. “Done.”
Cassandra looked at Barbara for a second as she watched Bruce head straight for the telephone, picked up the handset, and began dialing. She became a little worried – Bruce was a master at bluffing, but–
“Bruce…come on!” Barbara rolled toward him quickly, but he grabbed the metal armrest of her wheelchair quickly to hold her at arm’s length, not missing a beat as he finished dialing. He seemed surprised when the phone suddenly went dead – Barbara was smiling, holding the other end of the cord.
He scowled as he watched Cassandra trying, but failing to mask her smile. She was amused by Barbara’s stunt – and the fact that she had outsmarted the ‘World’s Greatest Detective’. Her smile disappeared quickly, however, as he stood in front of her, a picture of anger towering above her.
“Laugh now, Cassandra….Enjoy yourself. You’ll be crying after our mission tonight.”
Without another word, Bruce headed back into the house silently. Cassandra glanced at Barbara again, who shrugged and smiled at her. “Don’t let him scare you, Cassandra. He treats you like an amateur…but you’ve got what it takes.”
“I can’t believe you took the rap for me.” Tim stood next to the closed door of the bathroom off of Cassandra’s room, as she lingered inside changing into her Batgirl costume. Tim already wore his, with the exception of the mask. “He’s already so much tougher on you then he is on me, because–”
Tim stepped back as the door opened quickly, and Cassandra stepped out dressed in her leather costume, boots, and gloves. She held the mask in her right hand, neatly folded, leaving her face and dark shoulder length hair exposed. He noticed that she didn’t tie her hair up this time, or stuff it into her costume. Tim had to smile – Cassandra’s small rebellions were rather entertaining to him. “Because he knows you’re as good as he is. Don’t let him get to you…he just hates competition.”
Cassandra smiled and gave Tim a ‘thumbs up’ with her left hand. She indicated toward the door with her head. “Let’s go.”
He followed Cassandra, looking down at the ground as his mind swam with thoughts. He had to appreciate her enthusiasm – Bruce had promised her a harrowing night, yet she was bright, happy, and excited about the challenge. She didn’t seem the least bit afraid. Yet unlike Cassandra, Tim found himself feeling a little afraid. The Bat team shared it’s experiences – if it would be something designed to terrify her, he couldn’t imagine what it would do to him.
Tim paused to notice that Cassandra had stopped in the entryway to the Bat Cave. She held his hand in her gloved left hand tightly and smiled. “Don’t worry.”
As he followed Cassandra down the stairway to the Bat Cave, he smiled at Cassandra’s words. They were so simple, yet a hundred percent correct. ‘Don’t worry’, she said. It explained so much of how she didn’t let any of Bruce’s threats get to her, of how she saw every mission as an adventure, no matter how dangerous. He knew at that moment that she, too, was afraid…but she refused to allow it to control her.
“What’s the big mission, Bruce?” Tim quickly put on his mask and headed straight over to Bruce, who already wore his costume complete. Bruce was obviously using his computer to do research – but when Tim approached, he quickly turned it off. Tim frowned. “We might benefit from some information too, you know.”
“I’ll tell you what you need to know.” Bruce stood quickly, frowning at Cassandra when he noticed that she still held the mask part of her costume in her right hand. His disapproving look and cold eyes told her that Bruce had also changed his persona to the Dark Knight. “Let’s go.”
As was usual when Batman used a mission as a test, he began by racing to the Batmobile. Presumably, those who didn’t manage to enter the car before he started it up and drove away would be left behind – but as of yet, neither Batgirl nor Robin took that chance. They were both in the car by the time it tore out into the darkness outside.
Cassandra glanced at Robin for a moment before slipping her mask over her head, allowing her black hair to flow from under it, onto her shoulders. Her eyes showed a little bit of fear of the unknown – but her bright, anticipating smile brought confidence. She was now Batgirl…and as far as the world knew, she was invincible.
It seemed only a short time had passed before the Batmobile screeched to a stop on a small side street in Gotham City. The street was dark, and damp from the near constant rains the city had lately, though at the moment it was only drizzling. Batgirl stepped outside immediately behind Batman, and paused to look straight up at what could easily be one of the tallest buildings in Gotham City. She sighed deeply, anticipating what had to be part of the test – heading to the top, fighting the wind and cold rain.
“Suite 4520. Blue notebook”, Batman whispered in a low voice. He looked directly at Batgirl before he completed his sentence. “No distractions this time. I’ll be on the floor above.”
Batgirl frowned as she watched Batman fire a cable launcher at a ledge on a high floor above. She knew he would bring up the incident with Catwoman again. It upset her, the way he used it as a weapon to tear down her confidence. She looked over at Robin, who stood next to her looking straight up the side of the building.
“Time to go to work.” He sighed as he removed a cable launcher from his belt and pointed it straight up. Just as he was about to fire it, he felt a gloved hand grip his wrist tightly. Batgirl shook her head slowly and pointed at a side entrance nearby. “What about security…?”
Before Robin finished his sentence, Batgirl had already picked the lock on the glass side door and held it open for him. He sighed and rushed inside quickly.
The lavish wood, marble, and glass three story high lobby of the building was enormous, yet empty. The lights still burned, and the air conditioning still ran full blast, chilling the two of them as they walked in still wet from the rain outside. The guard’s desk was deserted, since the building had been locked up and secured. Robin ducked behind a pillar as he removed a Bat Wing from his belt, and watched Batgirl do the same. They nodded at each other, each eyeing the two cameras in the lobby. They were on the same wavelength now, working as a single entity – two Bat Wings flew through the lobby, knocking both security cameras out of alignment.
Batgirl rose first, heading straight to the elevators. She tapped the ‘up’ button, waiting patiently as the elevator car slowly headed toward the lobby. She smiled as she noticed that Robin seemed to be awestruck at the simplicity with which Batgirl was handling this little break-in – while Batman struggled up the rain slicked sides of the building, Batgirl simply went inside to use the elevator. It was almost as if she was making a mockery of all of his effort.
As soon as the elevator opened slowly, a carefully aimed cable launcher destroyed the camera before the doors completely opened. At Batgirl’s urging, Robin followed reluctantly.
Oddly enough, Robin didn’t feel nervous until the elevator car started to move. Once it reached the 45th floor, they had no idea who or what would be there. Everything seemed to go so smoothly…too smoothly. He looked over at Batgirl, to see her still smiling, apparently full of anticipation at what was around the next corner.
“I said don’t worry.” Batgirl stared at Robin, smiling as the elevator approached it’s destination.
He was unsure whether her soothing words made him feel more confident, or more frightened – she carried herself like a professional, like someone who has been doing this for years. Yet Robin knew she had been there only a fraction of the time he had been. Was she a natural? Or just reckless? He cringed at the answer, the one which stared him in the face when she came home bruised and bleeding. She was going to get them both killed.
Robin nudged Batgirl and pointed at the hatch in the center of the elevator’s ceiling – if anyone was on the 45th floor, he wanted to keep their element of surprise. That could only be done if the elevator appeared empty. He breathed a sigh of relief as she nodded and slipped through the hatch quickly, offering him a hand to help him as he did the same.
Batgirl watched intently as the doors opened on the 45th floor. It was silent, not a soul in sight. But she could smell something…strange. She dropped through the hatch, quickly swinging out into the hallway, looking behind her to make sure Robin safely followed.
“Chemicals.” Robin looked up at the ceiling, sniffing the air as he stared at one of the florescent lights. He tried to reach one of the ceiling tiles, but he wasn’t tall enough. He looked at Batgirl and motioned upward, hoping she would understand – and in a second, she had lifted him up by his legs. He pushed one of the tiles aside, and stuck his head inside the ceiling…only for an instant. He suddenly began losing his balance as he began to panic over what he had seen, crashing to the floor next to Batgirl.
“We have to get out. The building’s on fire.” Robin pushed the call button for the elevator quickly – but the elevator was no longer moving. He guessed that it’s fire detection system picked up the smoke once he had opened the ceiling tile.
“The blue notebook–”
“It’s a red herring, Batgirl.” Robin grabbed her wrist quickly and pulled her toward the stairway at the end of the hall. “Either this is the real test, or someone set Batman up. It happens sometimes.”
“No.” Batgirl raced down the hall away from Robin, heading quickly toward Suite 4520. “I won’t fail.”
“Dammit.” Robin clenched his teeth in frustration and charged after Batgirl, even as the hallway began to slowly fill with silky veins of smoke. He found himself struggling to catch up to her as she easily navigated the hallways – he was faster by far, but she was much more agile, and quick on her feet. She didn’t even have to slow down around corners.
He suddenly stopped as he saw Batgirl standing directly in front of a large set of oak double doors labeled 4520. A brass plate on the wall next to the door read ‘Reuther and Mathers, attorneys at law’. She took a step back and charged at the door, crashing through them feet first. Pieces of the brass and steel lock mechanism bounced off of the thinly carpeted floor as the doors gave way, allowing them entrance into the office.
A distant high-pitched sound filled the office, evidence that they had just triggered an alarm system. Batgirl ignored it – she figured that the authorities would be on their way soon anyhow due to the fire.
“That’s just great”, Robin complained as he looked to the left and right of the reception desk, “There are eight rooms in here. We’ll have to search every one for–”
Robin paused, watching perplexed as Batgirl slowly walked down one hallway, then the other, looking through the small glass window panes next to the oak doors to each office. She paused in front of one, punching her fist through the glass as she motioned for Robin to follow.
She raced into the office and leapt over the desk, landing on both feet on the other side next to the window. She lifted a plastic item, and held it up for Robin to see. It was a blue and white colored notebook computer, not an actual paper notebook.
“Are you sure?” Robin leapt over the desk behind her, reaching across her to try and open the laptop. Batgirl pulled it from his fingers, shaking her head vigorously. “What’s wrong?”
Batgirl shook the computer vertically, very gently, weighing it with her hand. It felt like a small gym weight, and was unbalanced. As she looked at it closely, it also seemed like its plastic parts didn’t fit together well…and it carried a strange scent. “It’s a bomb.”
“Put it down, slowly.” Robin was staring over the desk at something in the office across the hall. Batgirl looked across too, and nearly dropped the laptop when she spotted a woman in work clothing on the floor of the office. She hoped the woman wasn’t dead.
With one smooth motion, Batgirl put the notebook computer on the desk and launched herself over it. She raced across the hall, using her momentum to smash her leather-protected arm through the glass pane next to the door to open it. By this time, Batgirl noticed that the reception area of the office was filling with thick, billowing black smoke. She could hear sirens approaching from the distance.
“She’s too heavy for you in your condition. You’re still healing.” Robin slipped past Batgirl, easily lifting the unconscious woman over his shoulder. He waved for Batgirl to follow as he raced toward the reception area. He suddenly screeched to a halt, turning and nearly crashing into Batgirl. “No use, the smoke’s too thick. We’ll have to go out the window.”
Batgirl quickly motioned for Robin to follow, and charged toward one of the windows inside the office with the blue notebook computer, using the desk as a launching point to send her crashing through the hard safety glass. It was designed to withstand impacts from chairs, maybe even cable launchers – but it buckled easily under her weight as she dove through it rolled into a ball to protect her eyes and face from cuts.
As soon as she felt cool, moist wind through her hair, she quickly spread her cape to slow herself just enough to safely grab the edge of a balcony on the 40th floor, pulling herself up quickly. She looked up to see Robin reeling himself toward the street on a cable launcher with the unconscious woman still over her shoulder. Fire trucks and police cars were just arriving.
She looked down at the Batmobile, squinting to see if anyone was inside. It was empty, meaning that Batman was still inside the building. And that bomb…if the firefighters found it–
Batgirl crouched down as the building suddenly lurched violently beneath her feet. She heard glass shattering above her, and had just enough time to throw her cape over her head before dangerous shards began raining down on her. It was clear to her that the bomb had already gone off – she hoped that no one was around to see it close up.
She rose slowly, noticing that a couple of police officers on the ground were pointing at her. Before they had a chance to even talk to her, she dove through a cracked window adjacent to the balcony, crashing though it easily into a 40th floor office. She raced back to the hallway, feeling the smoke burn her lungs as she raced toward the stairway. Batgirl had to make sure Batman was safe.
“Robin! Where is she?”
Robin turned abruptly, still carrying the unconscious woman, prepared to run. But he calmed down once he processed the voice – it was Barbara. As he gently placed the woman he carried on the damp ground carefully, two paramedics quickly rushed to her side. “She’s still in the building, trying to rescue–”
He turned pale suddenly when he noticed Bruce Wayne standing in front of him, dressed in a suit and smiling. He looked at the form of the Batmobile hidden in the darkness of the alley. It was still there.
“Evening…Robin, is it? Do you have any leads on who set my building on fire?”
“Your building…?” Robin looked up at the window where he watched Batgirl re-enter the building. Thick smoke was now pouring out of the shattered opening. He began to worry for her, and wonder if she was even still alive. He began fuming silently, feeling anger toward Bruce for allowing her to get herself into so much danger. “Excuse me…uh…Mr. Wayne. I have some work to do.”
Without another word, Robin gave Bruce one more glare as a cable launcher taken from his belt sent him effortlessly toward the 40th floor. He had to make sure Batgirl was safe.
The smoke was getting thicker now, making it difficult for Batgirl to breathe or see. Unlike Bruce, she didn’t carry a breathing apparatus with her – the equipment was much too heavy for her. But now she longed for one as her lungs and eyes burned, tears involuntarily streaming down her face, and she was moving slower now as her energy waned. She tried to keep low to avoid most of the smoke, but the scent of burning chemicals was so strong, she couldn’t resist it totally.
She froze as she heard footsteps approaching quickly. Whoever was approaching her was not walking. It was a woman…skipping? She backed up against a wall and crouched down, waiting for the sound to get closer, so she could see who it was – a woman in a black leather cat costume, complete with a tail. It was Catwoman – and she wasn’t affected by the smoke because she was wearing a steel oxygen tank on her back.
“Oh, you poor thing.” Catwoman stood over Batgirl, bending down on one knee. It was apparent by then that she wore a plastic breathing mask over her face as well. She smiled at Batgirl, and pulled one of the two thin plastic straw-like oxygen tubes out of her mask. “Want a hit?”
Batgirl looked closely at Catwoman, noticing that she carried a backpack full of various items scavenged from the burning building. She guessed that Catwoman was probably not the fire starter, but was simply taking advantage of it to rob the place blind.
“Come on…I know you’re not like Batty Boy. You’re not too proud to accept help, are you?”
A painful-sounding cough from Batgirl answered the question for her. If she didn’t get some clean air soon, she would probably succumb to smoke inhalation. She took the plastic tube from Catwoman gently, breathing in large gulps of pure oxygen. It made her feel dizzy, but so alive. She felt energized again, like she was ready to take on the world.
“That’s much better, isn’t it?” Catwoman smiled as Batgirl gave her a nod. She turned to walk away, pausing for a second as if to contemplate telling Batgirl something. “I know who you’re looking for. Batty’s gone. He left you here to die.”
Batgirl stood up abruptly, inhaling even more smoke. She gave Catwoman a questioning look.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that.” With a laugh, Catwoman started skipping away from Batgirl quickly. “That’s what you get for hooking up with a lunatic.”
A door across the hall began creaking, Batgirl could see thicker smoke coming from underneath – it was going to explode, sending a torrent of flames into the hallway. She raced to the elevators a few yards away, and pried one set of doors open, leaping into the dark elevator shaft to grab the greasy cable in the center tightly with her leather-clad hands and legs.
Just as Batman trained her to do so many times, she controlled her descent, sliding down the cable carefully even as fire roared into the elevator shaft above her, sending smoking debris falling on her head.
She froze as she heard someone call out her name. It was Robin! She looked around, but couldn’t see him in the darkness.
“Batgirl! I see you! Slide down, I’ll be right behind you!”
Batgirl gave him a ‘thumbs-up’ sign before finishing her descent quickly, dropping down to the lobby level and prying the doors open quickly.
As soon as her feet touched the marble lobby floor, she found herself having to dive back into the elevator shaft quickly – a man in the lobby was firing a hail of bullets her way from a machine gun he carried. He wasn’t a large man, but he moved quickly, too fast for her to throw a bat-wing in to disarm him. Luckily, his wasteful use of the machine gun caused him to run out of bullets.
She charged across the lobby, intent on knocking him off of his feet before he had a chance to reload. Launching herself into the air just before approaching him, she aimed both of her feet at his stomach – and promptly found herself landing head-first on the hard marble floor behind him, the man holding on to her ankle tightly. He was trained in karate, judo, or some other fighting discipline.
Batgirl began struggling as the man began dragging her across the floor, swinging her around in a smaller and smaller circle until her head lifted off of the ground from the centrifugal force. Then he let go, sending her crashing into a decorative pole, shattering the marble covering over it’s steel core.
She shook off the pain radiating from her neck and back, and the dizziness, as the man headed straight for his gun – but luckily, Robin beat him to it, tossing the gun up to the second floor balcony. He was quickly rewarded by the man attacking him with a series of kicks, the third of which knocked him to the ground. He then drew an 8-inch knife from his belt, raising it above Robin.
Powered by pure anger, Batgirl launched herself at the man again. She wouldn’t allow herself to be thrown away, punched, or beaten this time. She wouldn’t allow him to hurt Robin, or anyone else, anymore. Rather then attack him this time, however, she simply guarded her face with her arms and slammed into him, using her full weight against his. To her surprise, the man fell to the ground, his blade falling with a ‘clang’ and sliding away from him.
She couldn’t remember how many times she punched him…all she knew, all she felt, was the pleasure at watching his jaw and nose shatter, at watching his blood spill all over the marble floor. All she thought about was the humiliation she felt at nearly being beaten by the man, and the heat of anger at watching Robin nearly die at his hand. She ignored the man’s pleas in some foreign language…she kept punching him even as he begged for his life, his feeble attempts to defend himself making her angrier.
And then he fell silent.
She drew back her fist once more, but froze when she realized that he was no longer fighting back. His eyes were fixed straight at her, the picture of mortal fear of a man meeting his death. He didn’t move. He didn’t breathe.
Batgirl rose to her feet quickly and stumbled until her back met a marble pole. She slid down to the floor slowly, looking at her blood covered leather gloves, and the spots of blood spattered all over her costume. She was covered in it…covered in death.
“Come on, Batgirl. We have to go.”
Even as Robin finally lifted her off of the floor and carried her out the side exit to the car, Batgirl didn’t make a sound. The only motion she made was to remove her mask as he began driving them home quickly. He kept glancing at her – but she didn’t even acknowledge it. She just stared straight ahead.
Robin was sitting leaned back in a chair in the Bat Cave, still in costume except for his mask, when Bruce walked in smiling. Bruce’s seemingly good mood brought an immediate frown from Tim. “I hope you’re happy.”
Bruce looked quickly around the Bat Cave, noticing that Tim was the only soul present. “Where is she?”
“In the shower.” Tim removed his boots quickly and sat up. He sighed deeply before rising to his feet painfully – he still felt sore from the evening’s activity. “That’s where she’s been since we came back.”
“Hmm.” Bruce walked over to his computer terminal. It sprang to life as he began typing rapidly on the keyboard before even sitting down.
Tim headed toward the door, but paused as he watched Bruce seemingly ignoring him as he typed on the keyboard. “I know what you’re thinking, Bruce. She got too involved, let her emotions control her. But you know what? I’d rather have her watching my back. At least I know she’s loyal to me.”
A creak came from Bruce’s chair as Tim turned and headed toward the house. The typing had stopped. Tim paused, but didn’t turn, as he waited for the inevitable comment from Bruce.
“As opposed to who?”
“You know exactly who.” Tim frowned and continued on his path out of the Bat Cave, leaving Bruce behind to think about his comment. He knew it cut through Bruce, even though he seemed to ignore it, and quietly resume working with his computer.
Tim headed upstairs and straight down a hallway of Wayne Manor, stopping in front of Cassandra’s bedroom door. He knocked silently, before noticing that the door was already open a crack.
“Cassandra?” Tim pushed the door open gently, knocking again as he spotted her sitting curled up on the carpeted floor next to the bathroom, her back against the wall, dressed in her civilian clothing from earlier in the day. Her dark hair was still dripping wet from her extra-long shower, spilling traces of water onto her shirt. Yet she still didn’t seem to feel any better – she was still staring straight ahead into the void.
He walked across the room, sitting down on the floor carefully next to Cassandra. She only briefly acknowledged his presence with her eyes before resuming her blank stare. He nudged her shoulder once gently, giving her a half-hearted smile. “I know how you feel.”
“Do you?” Cassandra placed her hands on her knees, and leaned her forehead against them, closing her eyes. Her words were immediately followed by a deep, emotional sigh.
Without another word exchanged, Tim hugged Cassandra tightly…and just as he anticipated, tears began silently streaming from her eyes. She cried for the man who’s frozen eyes still haunted her, his pleading voice still echoing in her ears…she was mourning for her soul.
“I think it’s working very well.”
“Bruce–” Barbara rolled her wheelchair across Bruce’s living room quickly, stopping only inches in front of him in an attempt to intimidate him a little. “You can’t toy with people like this. I know you wanted Tim and Cassandra to bond, but you don’t have to treat them like garbage to–.”
“It’s a proven method used by the U.S. Marines.” Bruce calmly walked past Barbara and sat down on the couch, placing the steaming cup of tea he held on the table next to him. “They’ll look for strength in each other.”
“But they’ll hate you–”
“Only temporarily. In time, they’ll see that it was necessary.”
Barbara sighed, sliding out of her wheelchair and effortlessly using the strength of her arms to place her on the couch next to Bruce. “For someone who thinks he knows people, Bruce, you couldn’t be farther off. Cassandra may be tough on the outside, but she’s very sensitive…people who are close to her can hurt her easily.”
Just as Bruce attempted to sip his tea, Barbara took it from him gently, placing the cup on the table at the other end of the couch. “I think she knows what you’re up to, Bruce. Your little ruse hasn’t caused her and Tim to bond, it’s just causing her to become upset with you for treating her like a child. I think she was bonding with Tim on her own already.”
“Hmm.” Bruce frowned and reached for his tea cup, only to watch Barbara shove it farther away. He knew that she was trying to force him to give her his full attention. “That’s what you think?”
“You remember where you found her, Bruce? The fire? What happened to her parents?”
Bruce suddenly froze, staring at Barbara. She didn’t continue, but he understood her point – the fire which killed Cassandra’s parents was set by her, after she had been mentally abused for years…until she felt she had no other recourse.
She smiled slightly at Bruce, anticipating what he would say. She enjoyed being right, and made sure to let him know it. “She values honesty, Bruce. She wants you to treat her like an adult.”
“You’re right.” Bruce sighed and stood slowly, leaving his tea cup behind. He walked out of the living room, headed toward the main hallway quickly. He was headed toward Cassandra’s room – it was time to be honest with her.
“Close your eyes. Find a quiet space inside you.” Cassandra sat in the center of her bed, her legs and sock-covered feet crossed beneath her. She was facing Tim, who was doing the same – they appeared almost as mirror images of each other.
She began breathing deeply, slowly, her hands resting on her knees as she let every muscle relax. The sights around her vanished as her eyelids closed, and the sounds around her began to fade out of her perception as her slow breathing took focus in her mind. The only thoughts she kept were ones of quiet, of peace, and happiness.
Cassandra could feel the slightest movement in the surface of the bed’s mattress as either herself or Tim shifted very slightly from their nearly frozen postures, directly across from each other. In her state of a sort of half-consciousness her senses were magnified many times. It was both relaxing and intriguing.
It proved to be a more interesting experience as she heard Bruce’s footsteps enter the room. The bed’s surface shook violently as she remained frozen, and she felt Tim move past her – she knew that Bruce most likely asked him to wait outside for a moment. She opened her eyes slowly when she sensed his shadow looming over her.
“I know. I screwed up.”
“You’re right. But that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about.” Bruce half-smiled when she said that, as he pulled a nearby chair to the edge of the bed and sat down. “Cassandra…I’ve been underestimating you. I should have been treating you as an equal.”
Cassandra nodded and sat at the edge of the bed, folding her arms as she stared at Bruce, waiting for him to continue. She was eager to hear what he had to say now that her lungs and nose were still lined with black soot from the smoke in that burning building, and the voice of the man she killed in that fight still echoed in her mind.
“It was supposed to be a simple retrieval, Cassandra. The woman you found unconscious tipped me off to an employee named Robert, who was stealing from the company. He kept his personal records in…as she called it…a ‘blue notebook’. Apparently, he found out somehow…the notebook computer was supposed to explode and kill the informant. The fire, along with disconnected sprinklers, were supposed to cover up the evidence. You and Tim saved her life, as well as my building.”
She paused to think for a moment as she took a deep breath, glancing at her hands for a moment before she looked at Bruce. “But I–”
“That man you fought was someone Robert hired”, Bruce interrupted as he leaned closer to Cassandra, “He’s an assassin named Vladimir who recently immigrated from Serbia. He’s ex-military. Specialties of his are explosives, weapons, and combat. He made his money off of killing people. ”
Cassandra shook her head slowly, looking at the floor. Tears were forming in her eyes again, though this time she tried to fight them. “I don’t feel any better.”
“You’ll have to work through that on your own. I just came in here to offer you honesty.”
As Bruce stood up and headed toward the door, Cassandra looked up at him, smiling weakly. “Catwoman was there.”
Bruce turned around quickly, a look of concern on his face. “Oh? Do you think she set the fire?”
“No.” Cassandra shook her head, trying her best not to laugh as she remembered Catwoman skipping happily down the hallway wearing a backpack and an oxygen tank. “She was…stealing stuff.”
A loud, boisterous laugh from Bruce finally prompted Cassandra to cover her mouth, half embarrassed that she had even witnessed such a comical event first-hand. Catwoman, looting an office building during a fire. At the time, she didn’t think much of it, but looking back…it made the whole experience seem surreal, like a dream.
She finally began laughing as she watched Bruce and Tim pass each other in the doorway – Bruce heading out, Tim heading back in. Bruce said something Cassandra couldn’t hear to Tim in the doorway, and Tim laughed a little as well.
Tim pointed a thumb toward the door as soon as Bruce was far enough away not to hear. “Does he think something is going on between us?”
Cassandra wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “Yeah…right.”