#14 – Rhythm, Part 3

Cassandra felt the room spinning as she opened her eyes slowly. Above her she could see only a white painted ceiling, lit from below. Her face and all of her limbs still felt numb, but she could feel something on her hands. She squeezed her left fingers into a fist, hearing a distant creaking sound…leather. She was still wearing her costume.

She gasped as memory rushed back to her of the Joker’s face. He had shot her with some sort of paralyzing tranquilizer and had his henchmen load her into a purple car which smelled like…either baking powder or theater makeup. She lost consciousness before she figured out where they were taking her.

Her arm began to regain some of its sensation…and she used that to try and get a sense of what she was wearing. She began to feel confused as she realized that she was still covered from head to toe in leather – her costume hadn’t been removed, not even her mask!

Was Joker just really stupid? She began to wonder why he would pass up the change to learn her true identity. Her costume was still fitted to her just as it was the moment she put it on, save for a small hole where the tranquilizer dart punctured through. No one had even attempted to figure out who she was…Joker was indeed completely insane.

But she had no idea just how crazy her situation was until she propped herself up on her elbows. Cassandra had been thrown onto a soft waterbed, and surrounded by red rose petals. She felt even more confused – especially as she looked around the rest of the room, which had been set up like some kind of high-priced honeymoon suite in an expensive hotel…complete with a champagne bottle on ice, sitting on a table in the center of the room.

Cassandra reached down to her waist, hoping that Joker was stupid enough to leave her with her tools…no such luck. The belt was still in place, but all of its contents had been removed. She slid off of the bed slowly, almost collapsing when she realized that her legs still weren’t completely awake – and that the bed was a full four feet high. More evidence of Joker’s warped view of the world.

She headed over to the room’s only window, hoping for an escape route…but as she pulled back the heavy curtains, she was only slightly surprised to see that it was only a lighted painting of the Gotham City skyline behind glass. She sighed to herself – she should have know it’d be something like that. For all she knew, she could be in a basement, or a bank vault.

Cassandra turned quickly as the door knob clicked. The door opened quickly, and Joker stepped into the room in a bright purple tuxedo which resembled the suit he usually wore. His hair seemed more slicked back than usual…and his permanent smile somehow seemed less terrifying in the ample lighting within the room.

“Ah, you’re awake.” Joker headed straight over to the table containing the ice bucket, and quickly poured two glasses of champagne. “Come, beautiful. Have some champagne with me.”

She frowned and folded her arms, refusing to budge from in front of the ‘window’. It didn’t seem to affect Joker in the least – he simply leaned back and drank his glass of champagne, adding an exaggerated ‘Ahh’ as he put the glass back on the table.

“I suppose you’d like to know why you’re here.” Joker stood slowly, and walked across the room to hand the second glass of champagne to Batgirl. He made his best attempt to slip the glass into one of her partially exposed, gloved hands – but the glass simply ended up plummeting to the floor, smashing into small tumbling beads of glass as he let it go. “I asked myself the same question…but getting answers from me…”

“…is like pulling teeth.”

Cassandra leaned back quickly against the false window as Joker shoved a handful of bloody, recently pulled teeth under her nose. She slid her boot-covered feet back a few inches as he dropped the teeth to the floor in front of her, chuckling to himself as he watched her reaction. As she looked down at the teeth for a second, she instinctively ran her own tongue along the inside of her mouth, feeling relieved that those weren’t her own teeth.

“You see,” Joker continued as he crossed the room quickly to slowly begin to dim the lights, “I’m an artist. And when I see something as beautiful as you are…”

As Cassandra’s eyes began adjusting to the now dim lighting, her eyes began to widen in shock. In colored florescent paint, only visible when the room’s lights were dimmed, were outlines drawn along the walls and carpeting.

By themselves, chalk outlines are harmless…but these had names written in the center of them. Cassandra’s heart sank as she began to realize that each outline was a human being which…she shook her head, deciding not to follow that road mentally. Joker was, undeniably, an insane serial killer. It was in his nature…and something she knew she would have to stop.

“…you see, these women made a lasting impression. Don’t you wish you could live up to their example?”

Cassandra frowned as she tightened her fists. She was ready to fight him, even kill him if necessary. She wanted to see his bloody teeth on the floor next to…whoever’s teeth those were. She wanted him bleeding, unconscious…and yet, as her hands began to shake, she realized that she was terrified to go near him, or even touch him.

She remembered the lessons from Bruce, that Joker often carried poisons, acids, and deadly gasses on his person, and almost always carried a gun or knife. If she did fight him…maybe that’s what happened to the women whose chalk outlines adorned the room?

Her eyes turned toward the door, focusing on the silver knob which had, until Joker entered, been unlocked. If she charged the door quickly, Joker would be hard-pressed to stop her. And even if he did get in the way, she would be able to fight him off…or maybe that’s how those other women perished?

Cassandra took a deep breath, and began watching the Joker carefully as he poured himself another glass of champagne. She had to concentrate, to see everything as it was, and anticipate every move. That was key – the only way she would know the consequences of each action.

Then it came to her. Her mind became clear as she watched bubbles rising in the swirling glass of champagne Joker held below the champagne bottle. The last time he poured some, he was careful to return the bottle to the ice bucket. It was going to be Cassandra’s key.

She began walking forward, almost as if on a scripted cue, as soon as Joker began walking toward the ice bucket. Just as with the last time, he had one hand filled with his champagne glass, and his other occupied with trying to seat the bottle in the ice bucket. That meant he couldn’t reach for any poisons, darts, or guns until he put down one of the two items…and the ice bucket was far enough from the door to allow a possible escape.

Cassandra’s heart began beating faster as she made it silently across the room and turned the doorknob with one smooth motion. It was locked! She felt a shock of terror run through her…Joker was turning around. But she refused to panic – she took a couple of steps back and threw herself, feet first, at the door latch.

Unfortunately, she was distracted by Joker’s movements at the time, and ended up crashing through the solid plaster wall next to the door. She felt lucky that the building was apparently old, and in terrible condition – but less so as she felt a burning, crawling sensation down one arm and leg. She had become tangled with an electrical cable, and it was shocking her…she ripped it out of the wall quickly to prevent it from burning her skin or costume.

But she had only a moment to take in the surroundings again before two men with machine guns raced up the steps toward her. In the instant they paused to take aim, she launched herself into the air, and crash-landed into the stairway behind them. It was an old wooden staircase…and naturally, gave way immediately to the stress.

Cassandra felt herself crash through untold flights of wooden steps, before she finally found herself lying on a concrete floor in a musty smelling room. She sat up, trying to fight the pain radiating from every muscle and bone in her body. Directly in front of her was an old coal-fired boiler. She had fallen to the basement…and now she needed to hide.
“Where is she?”

A man wearing a purple jacket gasped as he hung by his collar over the edge of a roadway overpass. A quick, panicked glanced told him that he was nearly a hundred feet above the ground – a sure death if he fell. The only thing keeping him alive were the fingers within the dark leather glove which tightly held onto the thin fabric of his jacket.


“That’s not an answer.”

The leather glove suddenly opened, allowing the man to drop a few feet. He screamed…until another hand snatched him out of the air. It was the Bat again. The man knew that Batman was toying with him, trying to scare him out of his mind. It was working.

He looked up to see Batman’s brow furrow, and his frown appear much deeper – Batman was becoming angry. Those soulless eyes moved closer to him, sucking away his very life…he just had to turn away.

“I’ll only ask one more time…where is she?”

The man shook his head slowly. He couldn’t tell Batman a thing…or his boss would give him a fate worse than death. He remembered seeing one of his co-workers slowly poisoned to death by injection over a period of weeks. He shook his head again at the image, and closed his eyes to try and push it from his mind.

“Then you’re no use to me.”

Batman released his hand, watching the man in the purple jacket plummet a hundred and thirty feet to his death on a roadway below. Hearing the dull thud of the man’s body hit concrete below, leaving a stain forever on the concrete, gave him no pleasure. It was something his kind deserved…but it wasn’t quite justice.

He turned and headed back to the Batmobile quickly…suddenly pausing as he realized something. The man who just fell to his death must have gotten to this area somehow. He wouldn’t have simply walked out here by himself.

In an instant, he snapped a cable launcher against one of the bridge’s concrete guard rails and reeled himself down to the ground quickly. A search through the dead man’s pockets revealed just what Batman anticipated – matches, cigarettes…and keys.

A quick glance at the pack of matches gave him a much-needed clue. It was from a tavern called Mackey’s…he hoped it was one which the man frequented after work. Anyone who worked with Joker had to drink heavily. Another look at the pack of cigarettes confirmed that…the price tag was from a convenience store only a block from the tavern.

Batman tugged on the cable, reeling himself back to the roadway above. He looked down at the keys in his hand…they were from a vintage Corvette, late 1960’s. He glanced around, noticing a group of overhead light poles clustered behind a small grove of trees. A parking lot.

He dashed undetected through the trees, and paused just short of the light cast by the nearby overhead lamps, surveying the parking lot from his perch in the darkness. One silver 1969 Corvette was parked in the last row, just on the other side of the trees – a source for more clues.

As soon as he prepared to move toward the car, however, he froze and ducked low into the trees as his eyes caught motion. It was some sort of security patrol, moving slowly along the aisles of the lot. Batman looked at the building at the end of the lot, noticing that it was some sort of apartment complex…and they had their own patrol.

A quick flick of his wrist sent a small bat-wing flying. It impacted one of the lights above the parking lot, causing it to shatter…just when the security patrol drove beneath it. Just as he predicted, they stopped to get out and stare up at the light in confusion.

It not only created a distraction, but left the Corvette in darkness as well. Batman easily slipped over to the passenger side, and opened the door using an electric lock-opening tool unique to his own collection.

The car’s security alarm went off. By the time the security patrol shined their flashlights toward the car, however…no one was there. The car appeared as if it hadn’t even been tampered with.

But Batman already had what he needed. In the car, he found an envelope full of cash. It would only take an hour to analyze them back in his cave for fingerprints, traces of chemicals, and even track which bank they came from.


A water heater is a rather small appliance in any basement, and it’s round. It’s not something to hide behind, as its rear is almost visible from every angle. But the key is almost. Someone talented enough with stealth and evasion, especially when dressed all in black, could get away with hiding behind a water heater in a dark basement.

Batgirl stood with her back solidly against the water heater in Joker’s basement, feeling the heat from it seep through her leather costume. She could hear footsteps all around the basement – three, maybe four people wearing heavy boots. She could hear the clatter of the machine guns they carried as they searched for her.

She guessed that Joker asked for them to capture her alive, since they didn’t simply shoot the entire basement to shreds. They searched for her, meticulously, and hoped to find her and bring her back upstairs.

As she heard one of them move closer, she slowly pressed two fingers against the pressure relief valve on the water heater, just behind her left shoulder. Her plan was to release the nearly scalding hot water suddenly, burning the feet of anyone who came too close. It would give her a few seconds to escape, if necessary. But it was risky…a last resort. For now, she would simply wait them out.

She did have one disadvantage, however – remaining perfectly motionless meant that she couldn’t see where each of her stalkers were. She had to rely on the sounds of their feet shuffling on the concrete, the rattling of their machine guns – even clothing rubbing together – to keep track of them all. It was the first time her training with Batman paid off enormously.

Batgirl shuddered as she heard one of the men’s weapons clink against the steel side of the water heater, the sound echoing through the water within so it seemed to come from under an ocean. She felt the need to run away, as her heart began to beat loudly enough that she was sure one of them could hear it.

A cough…very close. Too close. One of them was right on the other side of that water heater. Her right hand reached instinctively to her belt…but the belt contained nothing. Joker had emptied it earlier. Her left fingers tightened against the water heater’s pressure release valve.

…And the water heater fired up, with a deep ‘whoosh’. Batgirl almost jumped, but seized control of her muscles just in time. But she wasn’t the only one who was a little bit jumpy. She shuddered as she heard three rounds fire in quick succession behind her…and then the sound of trickling water. She could feel heat suddenly searing the left side of her costume.

“Quit playing around!” A voice boomed into the darkness from one of the Joker’s associates. “Now you’ve busted the water heater, you idiot!”

Batgirl reached down quickly to check and make sure she hadn’t been shot. She was rewarded with a stream of hot water bathing her hand as she accidentally pushed it through the stream to feel along her waist. She breathed a sigh of relief – she was only slightly burned, not bleeding.

But now her hiding place had been compromised. She would have to make a run for it. As the four men moved closer to examine the water heater, she descended to the floor quickly, wrapping herself in her cape as she pointed herself toward the stairs. There would only be one chance at this…but first, she needed a major distraction.

She smiled as she realized how close she was to the water heater’s natural gas line. It was made of old, rust iron pipe…which, considering its age, would be relatively easy to break with enough force.

Clasping her hands together and slamming them down on the pipe wouldn’t work, she guessed. She would need much more force…which brought more risk. She would have to jump up, and bring her entire weight down on the pipe, yet retain enough balance to run and escape unscathed. No problem.

Two of the men spotted her as soon as she leaped into the air. They pointed their guns and fired…but by then, Batgirl had landed, shattering the aging, rusted pipe. She rolled past the two men, and headed immediately for the stairs. She began to worry that she wouldn’t make it as she heard the other two right on her heels.

But luck, and the four’s lack of any kind of intelligence, helped immensely. As Batgirl headed up the stairs quickly, gunfire erupted from the basement below. The four men hadn’t been taught two important things – it’s nearly impossible to hit a moving target through a doorway, and, most important of all…it’s dangerous to fire weapons in a room full of natural gas.

A huge fireball erupted behind Batgirl as she raced through the first floor of the building, and spotted a window. It was the quickest exit, considering the flames licking at her costume and cape…probably the only one she would make it to alive.

Someone grabbed her, threw her to the ground…a man…someone familiar. He dove to the ground as well, wrapping them both in a heavy…cape? Batman? She didn’t have much time to speculate as the air around her turned hot…very hot. She held her breath quickly, as she had been trained to by Batman, until she felt that it was safe to take a breath again.

Her first breath gave her a lungful of smoke. She knew she didn’t have much time…but she still felt Batman lying on her back. He should have gotten up by now, unless he was unconscious or close to it.

She heard him groan, and struggle to sit up. As he moved, she could hear something creaking around them…and a sense of horror hit her as she realized that the ceiling must have collapsed on top of them during the explosion.

“Go,” He said. “Get out. Save yourself.”

Batgirl slipped out of underneath Batman, as he struggled to hold himself up with his arms and legs. She stopped and turned as she started to crawl away under the smoke, and saw a painful, defeated expression on his face. He still struggled…yet he was ready to give up. “No. Not without you.”

Batman shook his head. “You’ll…never make it with me. Go!”

“No!” Batgirl sat up on her knees, coughing as she breathed a lung full of thicker, darker smoke. She slid alongside Batman, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders tightly, trying to pull him free. He felt too heavy with all of that debris pinning him down. “Don’t give up…Help me!”

“Go!” Batman used one of his free arms to try and shove Batgirl toward the exit. “Get out of here!”

Batgirl simply wrapped her arms around his shoulders again, and resumed pulling him free of the debris. “If you give up…I die with you.”

That did it…but not for the reason Batgirl expected. He seemed angry as he pushed himself beyond the limits of his human body, lifting himself quickly to his hands and knees, and then leaning backwards using Batgirl as leverage, causing much of the debris pinning him to the ground to slide off, and land on the floor with a crash.

Not a word was spoken between the two as they raced toward the now-broken window and dove outside…or even after they had entered the Batmobile, and began driving home. Cassandra removed the mask from her costume as they drove toward the Bat Cave, looking over at Batman occasionally. His emotionless expression was practically set in stone…but she could tell he felt something. She wished she knew what.
As soon as the Batmobile arrived in the Bat Cave, Batman jumped out without saying a word. He walked right past Alfred, who attempted to offer him a bottle of cold water, past Tim who attempted to ask a question as he breezed past. He headed straight for the large walk-in closet where his costume was stored, and where it would later automatically be cleaned.

When Bruce finally emerged from the small closet, he glared at Cassandra – who was still in costume, sans mask – momentarily before taking the bottle of water from Alfred…and proceeding to smash it violently against his wall of TV monitors. He ignored it as it bounced off of one of the screens and hit the floor, rolling toward him slowly.

Instead, he continued glaring at Cassandra. She froze, contemplating whether to run back to her room…but instead, she chose to face him, in spite of the obvious fear in her heart and eyes.

“Next time I tell you to go,” Bruce said in a low, chilling monotone, “You go. Understand me?”

She looked at Tim, who responded by turning his eyes away. Alfred, as usual, remained completely neutral even in his body language. Cassandra thought about responding…but decided against it, wisely. His eyes told her that he still wished to say more.

“Understand me?” Bruce repeated, more insistently – almost as if it were a threat.

Cassandra closed her eyes and nodded. While her heart wasn’t in her answer, she felt it was best if Bruce heard what he wanted to from her at the moment.

“Good.” Bruce kicked the bottle, hard, ignoring it again as Alfred quickly reached down to pick it up off of the floor. “Because if you don’t…”

Bruce quickly walked over to Cassandra and snatched the mask from her hands. “…I will reclaim this, and you will go nowhere at night but here. I make the rules, Cassandra. Remember that.”

As she watched Bruce leave the Bat Cave and head upstairs, she just stared after him, stunned. He had no idea what she went through…meeting Joker up close and much too personal, nearly being killed several times. He didn’t even ask her about it. He didn’t care.

She bowed her head and closed her eyes again, trying to hold back the tears she felt in her heart as she slowly began shuffling toward her room, upstairs. She opened herself to him, tried to let him into her world…and he did nothing but tear her down. She began to think once again that no one cared what she thought…and attempting conversation was only an excersize in futility.

Exiting the Bat Cave, she encountered something she didn’t expect. Tim raced up behind her, and gripped her shoulder with one hand, turning her turning her toward quickly. She felt like shrugging him off, and retreating back to her room, salvaging what little dignity she had left. But there was something in his eyes which stopped her. She saw…sympathy.

“Are you okay?” He asked sheepishly, almost as if he had only just earned the right to do so.

Cassandra stood frozen, teary-eyed as she accepted a hug from Tim. She wasn’t sure if she needed one…but she knew it would reassure him, anyway. Of course, she knew that she was pretty far from ‘okay’ – but for some reason, she didn’t want to say so. It was almost as if her ordeal had become something personal and private, a part of her which she could never reveal.
Bruce clicked the door of his office closed, examining the room in near darkness before heading to his desk. The only light in the room was a lamp on his desk – but it was sufficient, considering that it was a room meant for concentration on a task.

He sat down in the plush leather chair, and leaned back as he picked up a small microphone stored on a stand next to his computer, tapping a key on the keyboard before taking a deep breath to gather his thoughts.

“Cassandra broke rule number one. Not because she defied me…but because she used her defiance to dictate rules to me. That’s unacceptable, unforgivable–”

He paused and stared out of his office window into the darkness outside as he sighed deeply. He looked down at his hands as they held the microphone, and noticed that they were a little unsteady. The anger he felt was poisoning his thoughts…he knew that now. The question was…did he feel the anger toward Cassandra? Or toward himself?

As he stared out into the calming darkness, the answer started to become clear…and every one of his sore muscles screaming out to him provided the evidence. If weren’t for Cassandra, there was a possibility he may not have been able to sit at his desk and record notes that evening.

He sighed again as he clicked the microphone back on. “–But she saved my life, too. At the very least, perhaps…I owe her another chance?”

Bruce tossed the microphone on his desk and stood, walking over to the window to stare outside and sift through the thoughts swimming in his mind. He felt restless, like there was something he needed to do…or say.

“Another chance,” He whispered to himself. He furrowed his brow as he stared at a slight reflection of himself in the glass, cast by the desk lamp behind him. “There are no second chances in this line of work.”
Cassandra sat at a small table in the kitchen, holding a cup of hot cocoa with both hands and sipping it slowly. She stared across at Alfred, who was reading a newspaper. A steaming cup of tea sat on the table in front of him, as well as a small plate of biscuits. The newspaper’s headline said something about a teen murdered by a gang on his own doorstep.

She squinted to see the picture which was printed in the center of the article. It was a vanity picture – the teen, wearing a tie, smiling and posing for a professional high school yearbook photo. His black hair and thin face reminded her a little of herself. He had been murdered by cowards.

Cowards…she remembered having to endure them as a child. Her eyes closed as her mind raced back to a powerful, yet terrifying memory of the past…one of little violence, but much fear.

“I’m sorry…I’m sorry…please…” A seven year old Cassandra sat on her knees on the living room carpet. Scattered around here were the shattered remains of a glass coffee table she had broken by accident while playing with a football. Tears streamed from her eyes as she begged for forgiveness.

“Sorry doesn’t cut it!” Her father leaned over her – smelling like alcohol, though less so than usual – waving the football dangerously close to her face. “This is my autographed football..mine! You took it without my permission…and look what happened!”

“I didn’t mean to–”

“You never mean to!” He reached down and grabbed her by her collar, lifting her painfully to her feet. “You are completely useless, Cassie! You destroy everything in your wake without thinking!”

She cringed as her father literally dragged her to her room, leaving one of her shoes behind in the hallway as it came off. She hated being called ‘Cassie’ – any time the name was used, it meant that she was about to endure either embarrassment or pain. And pain was first this time…she felt herself being thrown onto her bed, face first.

Cassandra sat up just in time to see her father pick up a music box given to her by her grandmother on her fifth birthday. She gasped as she watched him throw it to the ground…but she had neither the power nor the voice to stop him as she watched him step on it, shattering it into pieces.

As he picked up the heart-shaped necklace her grandmother had given her the year before, something in her snapped. She stood up quickly, and launched herself at her father, knocking him to the ground. She screamed as she clawed his face, kicked, and screamed at the top of her lungs…but it was a losing battle. He easily threw her over the bed, to crash into the wall behind it.

He left the room, stomping his feet, as he went, slamming the door behind her. Cassandra was left behind to curl into a ball and sob as she heard him lock the door from the outside, and begin screaming at her mom. It would be a long night…but as she looked at her left hand, she consoled herself with the fact that she still had the necklace.


She opened her eyes to see Tim standing over her, giving him a half-smile to acknowledge his presence. Alfred had vacated his spot at the table – he was in the center of the kitchen, washing the cups used for the tea and cocoa. His newspaper sat in the center of the table, the teen on the front page staring back at her, as if asking her, ‘Why couldn’t you save me?’

As she rose to her feet slowly, Cassandra sighed to herself. Why was that teen in the newspaper haunting her? Did it remind her of something from her past?

“Cassandra, wait.”

She felt Tim grab her arm as she quietly tried to slink away to the peaceful solitude of her room. She needed to think, to sort out everything that had happened to her in the last day. Cassandra pulled her arm free of Tim’s hand, and left the kitchen without speaking a word.

“Master Tim.”

Tim paused just as he was about to leave the room to follow Cassandra. “Yes, Alfred?”

“Sometimes Cassandra prefers an patient ear over an urgent voice.” Alfred nodded at Tim and smiled when he noted the confused look his bit of wisdom had caused.

Tim nodded. “I get it. That’s why you were just sitting there silently across the table. Because–”

“Because when she’s ready to speak, Master Tim…I am ready to listen.”

Without another word, Tim nodded again and quietly left the room. He unconsciously passed by Cassandra’s room, wondering what she was up to…he was a little worried about her. But Alfred was right – when the time came, she would speak to whomever she felt most comfortable talking to.
“No, no, Bruce. You have it all wrong.” Barbara laughed as she spoke, trying her best not to laugh at Bruce’s reasoning. “Yes, there was a trail leading directly to Joker’s hideout…but that’s because he doesn’t hire the best help.”

Bruce raised an eyebrow and looked across the library at Barbara as he held a book stuffed with scraps of newsprint in his hands. “And you think Cassandra fits into that scenario?”

“No, actually she doesn’t fit. That’s the interesting part.” Barbara removed her reading glasses and tossed them onto a small table next to her wheelchair. “She wasn’t being used as bait. If she were, someone would have tried to kill her as soon as you arrived. She was being treated like she was…valuable somehow.”

“Meaning?” Bruce froze, staring at Barbara and waiting for an answer.

Barbara smiled. “I think Joker has a little crush on her, if he hasn’t fallen completely for her.”

“No.” Bruce shook his head quickly and put the scrapbook back on the shelf, removing his own reading glasses. “That doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit with Joker’s profile.”

“Dammit, Bruce!” Barbara playfully threw one of the pillows from the overstuffed couch on the other side of the table toward Bruce. “Joker is a raving lunatic! Everything fits with his profile! If he threw himself into the harbor one day just for yuks, that would fit too.”

“True.” Bruce rubbed his chin and paced the room once as he thought about Barbara’s theory. “But he usually has a reason. A sick, warped reason, but a reason nonetheless.”

Barbara shrugged. “There’s only one person who can tell us more. Want me to talk to her?”

“She’s not talking.” Bruce gave Barbara a chilly look, before turning to take another book off of the shelf.

“Did you even try to talk to her, Bruce?”

Another icy glare from Bruce earned him a frown in return from Barbara.

“So she broke those rules of yours. I think it was for the better, Bruce.” Barbara leaned her chin on her palm, trying to keep an eye on Bruce without having to twist her neck around. “Or you might not be here right now to argue with me.”

Bruce frowned even further. “The purpose of the rules, Barbara, is that I must take responsibility for everyone on my team. Cassandra and Tim have to be responsible only for themselves–”

“–And Cassandra has gone beyond that, Bruce. She made herself responsible for you, and Tim. That should be the accomplishment you dwell on…and you should be proud.”

Bruce sighed deeply as he stared across the room at Barbara, searching his mind for the appropriate response. There was none – she was right.
As he passed by Cassandra’s room once again, hoping she would emerge, Tim found a surprise – at the end of the hall, Cassandra sat on the window sill, in her Batgirl costume, looking outside. “Cassandra?”

She turned to look at Tim, ignoring the rain which blew in through the open window, peppering her leather costume with small raindrops. The wind chilled her, but she paid it no mind – she was preoccupied with other thoughts.

Cassandra tossed the newspaper she held at Tim’s feet, careful to land it so the front page faced up. She watched as Tim looked down at the headline, and the photo of the teenager who was killed at the hands of a local gang right in front of his home. He quickly read blurbs about the teen’s mother, that she was virtually destroyed by the death of her only child.

Tim shook his head slowly as he realized what she was going to do. She was going out to take on the murderous gang…and possibly kill them? “Cassandra…you can’t–”

Her soft brown eyes gave Tim a cold look, almost soulless in nature. There was nothing behind them but pure anger, and hate. She froze, staring at him, her eyes boring through his soul for what seemed like an eternity.

“No more suffering. No more cowards.”

With those words, Cassandra slid off of the window sill, and disappeared into the darkness outside. Tim felt his heart sink as he began to associate one thing with what she had just said…fear. He was not afraid that she would be hurt. Those eyes…they reminded Tim of…him. Of the worst Batman…cold, calculating, and dangerous. They were murderous eyes…that’s what he was most afraid of.