Detective Williamson kicked a chunk of burned plaster which settled on the charcoaled carpet below a small bedroom window. The house had been a crime scene for at least a year – and so far, the Gotham City Police had been unable to gather enough evidence to convict the murderer of the couple who lived there.
The top suspect in the case was the couple’s only daughter. They had no idea what her name was, where she went, or even if she was in the house at the time of the fire which killed her parents. The broken window in the room meant nothing – glass windows often shatter spontaneously due to the heat of a fire. Even the clothing left in the daughter’s closet was burned to the point of being useless.
Being the lead Detective in the case, his job was becoming frustrating. Every day, the Chief pressured him to either close the case or shelve it as unsolvable. Outside pressure was most likely primarily coming from the bank, which foreclosed on the house months ago, but has been unable to fix it up or sell it until after the police were done with it.
“See anything new?”
Willimason stuffed his hands into his pockets and shook his head at his partner, Detective Callahan. “We may as well just write this one off.”
“Hey, Williamson. Get a look at this.”
He followed his partner over to the window, and looked next door. An older man, presumably retired, stood only a few feet from the corner of the house, trimming some bushes separating his own yard from the crime scene. “Hmm…You think?”
The two of them headed outside quickly, standing to either side of the neighbor, hovering over him until the man noticed them standing there, and turned off his hedge trimmer. Detective Williamson spoke first, asking the neighbor if he’d seen the fire, or if he knew anything about the previous occupants of the house.
“Well, they pretty much kept to themselves”, the neighbor said, “Except for their daughter, this short dark haired teenager with brown eyes. She was kind of an adventurer, always walking around on the roof. One time I even kicked her out of my garage. She was playing with my power tools.”
The two Detectives looked at each other, wondering why neither thought to question this man before. Detective Callahan spoke next, asking what else he knew about the daughter.
“Not much. My wife fed her dinner once. I kicked her off of the roof, and when she came down, she told me she was afraid to go home. She looked…terrified. She ate like she hadn’t had any food in days, and told us her name was Cassandra. But she never gave us her last name.”
“She told us a terrifying story, that she hid on the roof of my house because she couldn’t let her dad find her. She had been locked in her room for two days…and she said that her dad would hit her with a bible if he’d find her. A bible, of all things!”
“And you didn’t call the police?” Detective Callahan asked.
The man shook his head. “No, no. She said her dad would kill her if the police got involved. From what she told me, I believed her. I offered her our guest room…but she wouldn’t take it. She said I didn’t know what I would be getting into.”
Detective Callahan pulled out a paper pad and began writing. “Did you ever meet anyone else who lived next door?”
He nodded. “Once. After his daughter went home that same day. He had a bible in his hand, and he told me that he ‘knows people’, and how easily terrible things could happen to me.”
“Did you call the police then?” Detective Williamson interrupted.
“Heavens, no.” The man shook his head slowly, worry beginning to furrow his brow. “I feared that man. Something in his eyes made the hair on my neck stand on end…and I decided, at that moment, that I would keep myself and my wife away from them all from that point on.”
The Detectives looked at each other for a moment again before Callahan shook the man’s hand and thanked him for his help. They no longer needed the house, or to worry about losing the case. New life had been breathed into their investigation – they had a suspect.
“I guess we now look for this ‘Cassandra’,” Detective Callahan thought out loud as he opened the passenger side of Williamson’s car.
Williamson nodded. “Yep. If only we knew where she was.”
Batgirl sat on the edge of the roof of a building which she remembered from some of Bruce Wayne’s personal files. It was the home of Selina Kyle, known to some as Catwoman. She had a mystery to solve, criminals to find – and it was a well-known fact that the best way to find criminals was to work with someone intimately familiar with the seedier side of the city.
“You’re lucky I’m a sucker for a girl in trouble–”
Amused that she heard Selina’s voice before she actually noticed her walk up behind, Batgirl rose to her feet and turned to face her.
“–because if you were…him…I would have pushed you right off.”
Selina’s sly smile was one that made it impossible to tell whether she was joking, or if she genuinely found the image of Batman falling to his death humorous. “I need help.”
“You’re right, you do, considering who you work for.” Selina sat down on the edge of the roof, inviting Batgirl to sit next to her. “I don’t suppose you’d remove your mask for me? Or do you take after Bat-boy in that respect, too?”
Batgirl laughed a little as she sat down next to Catwoman. She looked down to make sure no one was listening, and then handed Selina a newspaper. The headline read, ‘Gang Killing Of Teen Still Unsolved’.
“Ah, I understand. A little sensitive, are we?” Catwoman folded the newspaper and stuffed it down the front of her costume. “All right, I’ll give it a shot. Normally I wouldn’t help a rodent, but I’m a sucker for a girl in uniform.”
Without a another word, Catwoman rose to her feet and raced, almost noiselessly, toward the stairway entrance at the center of the roof. Batgirl could hear only the wind blowing across the rooftop as Catwoman seemed to disappear about halfway there, without a trace.
She rose to her feet and looked at the street below. Lots more work to do, if she planned to make her own mark as a detective in her own right. The police worked much too slow…and they cared little about just one more murder in the city. But Batgirl felt driven…something about that one incident stood out, cried out to her, made her want to solve it.
Batgirl snapped a cable launcher against the edge of the building, sliding one foot off of the edge…but she froze as she heard, or felt a slight breeze behind her. She dropped the cable launcher to the gravel covered roof and stood quickly, her eyes darting from one side of the roof to the other. She clenched her fists, noting the slight creaking sound her gloves made as she did.
One of the shadows on the roof moved…and she put her left foot behind her, to get better leverage as she prepared for a fight. The shadow began to materialize as a young man wearing a cape…someone she recognized. It was…Robin?
“How can you and Batman do that?” Robin asked with a smile as he stopped just in the one spot where his face was illuminated by the streetlights below. “You always know when I’m sneaking up on you.”
Batgirl sighed and turned around, sliding herself back down to sit on the edge of the roof, her legs dangling toward the street below. She didn’t look at Robin, or even respond to him.
“After what happened earlier, I was a little afraid you’d go out and do something crazy.” He looked behind him toward the building’s stairway as he frowned. “But…Catwoman? What’s on your mind, anyway?”
“I think you know.” Batgirl picked up the cable launcher lying next to her and snapped it closed, attaching it to her belt quickly. She stood and began heading toward the stairway – if Robin was going to follow her around, she figured she might as well not make a spectacle of them both swinging from the buildings of Gotham City.
Robin sighed as he raced after Batgirl, doing his best to keep up as she walked dangerously fast on the slippery tar and gravel rooftop. “It’s about that kid in the newspaper, isn’t it?”
Batgirl suddenly paused as she reached for the door leading to the stairway. She didn’t respond as she delayed for only a second before heading down the steel staircase quickly and silently. She could hear Robin follow – but she didn’t care. She cared even less that her hesitation gave him the answer he was looking for, even if she didn’t say a word.
It was amusing for Batgirl to see Robin stop at the building’s exit and look back and forth suspiciously, even while Batgirl walked right down the stairway to the street. He seemed terrified that she would simply walk out onto a public street in Gotham – but then he relaxed when he realized why she had done so. While she was sitting on the roof, looking down, she probably noticed that the street was completely deserted…
…or perhaps, he thought as he froze once again at the sight of movement in the shadows between the tall apartment buildings…
…she was out to stir up trouble.
He stepped backward quickly, himself vanishing into the shadows to avoid a surprise attack. But Batgirl…she walked out into the middle of the street, offering herself as an obvious target for anyone brave enough to pick a fight with her. Naturally, in such a crime-ridden neighborhood, it didn’t take her long to get her wish.
Batgirl stood and waited patiently as one large man carrying a heavy section of steel pipe walked out into the street and began circling her. Two more armed with only their fists appeared. They were three members of a local Hispanic gang, each wearing black bandannas and muscle shirts. They began waving their fists, and cursing at her in Spanish. She didn’t move.
She decided to strike first once four of them had begun circling her. Her right elbow made a full arc, hitting the man behind her, at the same time she bent down slightly and leapt into the air, sending her left foot into the face of the large man carrying the pipe. It landed with a loud ‘clank’ as she landed, and ducked quickly as the other two men swung wildly at her.
They both tried to grab her, but ended up with nothing as she tumbled out of the way, snatching the pipe as it began rolling away. Batgirl stood and faced the two men as they approached her – she was holding the center of the pipe with both hands – and she spun the pipe quickly, hitting them both hard. The two of them stumbled backwards as she swung the pipe in an arc behind her, hitting a third man.
By now, all four were bruised or bleeding…which only made them angrier. And Batgirl was losing patience. One of them yelled something…and a fifth man appeared from an alley, armed with a shotgun. The sound of the shotgun firing echoed off of the walls of the nearby apartments…but he missed as a small bat-wing grazed the weapon and lodged itself into the brick wall next to him.
Robin watched as Batgirl’s bared her teeth, allowing anger to boil quickly into a rage. In a split second, she removed another bat-wing from her belt and snapped it to its full size – much larger, and much more razor sharp. She let it fly with the full fury of her anger…and watched as its wings were clipped just before it wedged itself between the gunman’s eyes…
…by a bat-wing owned by Robin.
She turned to face him as he swung toward her, dangling from a cable-launcher. Before she had a chance to even give him an angry look, he snatched her around her waist and hit the retract button on the launcher – sending them both skyward. Batgirl looked down as they ascended, noticing that a car full of six more gang members armed with pistols had pulled up and emptied into the street.
“You owe me one, Cassandra,” Robin confidently joked as he pulled her up to the roof and retracted the cable launcher. “Those guys were gonna–”
The next thing Batgirl remembered was seeing a look of surprise and confusion on Robin’s face…before her fist slammed into his nose, sending him tumbling into the gravel. But she was far too angry to allow that to satisfy her. She walked over to Robin casually, grabbed him by his cape, and lifted him slightly as she drew back her fist again.
Her grip on Robin’s shirt loosened, and her fist disintegrated into gloved fingers as she saw a genuine look of panic in his eyes. His nose was bleeding and changing colors, and small cuts covered his face where he had landed in the gravel. She knew Robin as someone who could fight with nearly equal skill to Batman. Yet now, rather than fight back…he was begging?
Batgirl let go of Robin, letting him slowly rise to one knee. “I owe you nothing.”
“You…hit me!” Robin felt his nose, cringing as he touched it with his fingers. “And you broke my nose, too! And I thought we were getting along.”
She closed her eyes for a second before turning abruptly, and heading toward the edge of the roof. “Go home.”
“Cassandra, wait.” Robin stood quickly and raced after her, grabbing her shoulder to stop her as she walked away. She shrugged him off and kept walking. “Do you want to know why I didn’t fight back?”
She froze, turning slowly as she removed her mask. Robin could see now what she had hidden behind her turned back – she was fighting tears. She did indeed feel guilty for hurting him. Yet she still kept her head high.
“You were going to kill the man with the shotgun, Cassandra. I saw it.” Robin paused and bowed his head a little. “I was afraid that…the same might happen to me if I were to fight you.”
He cringed as he heard the crunch of gravel under her feet – she was slowly approaching, but he dared not look up. But then he heard something unusual from her, under the circumstances – she laughed. Softly, but a laugh just the same.
Cassandra propped up Tim’s chin and removed his mask gently, storing it on the edge of her own belt – retrieving a small handkerchief from a pocket on the belt with the same motion. She gently dabbed some blood away from his nose and pressed it into his hand. “I will never hit you again. Promise.”
“Th-that’s it? You promise? No matter how angry you feel, you won’t hit me?”
She nodded, smiling at him as she stood next to the edge of the roof and looked down at the car parked below. It was an old convertible, the gang left it behind as they scoured the nearby buildings to find her and Tim.
Her hand reached down to her belt again, and removed another device…and she watched Tim’s mouth drop open as he recognized what it was – the security remote control to Nightwing’s motorcycle.
“You stole…?” Tim shook his head in disbelief as Cassandra laughed again and headed toward the alley at the other end of the roof. “Where is Dick, anyway?”
Cassandra shrugged and leapt from the edge of the roof, her arms and cape spread wide, and her feet close together, much like a diver headed toward a pool filled with water – only the own buffer between her and the ground below was air resistance pushing against the cape. Tim used a cable launcher instead – he trusted gravity less than she did, and his cape was made of a more permeable fabric.
She hit the ground hard, yet almost silently, allowing her legs to collapse to absorb the force of the landing enough so both of her gloved hands touched the ground before she stood again and slid onto the motorcycle. She waited a second for Tim to retract his cable launcher and jump on as well before she started the engine and tore out of the alley.
The gang noticed – but they were too late. By the time they began firing dozens of rounds in the motorcycle’s direction, it was far out of range. The powerful engine of the bike pushed the laws of physics to the limit as Cassandra sped out of the city quickly.
“Where are we going?” Robin asked.
Callahan picked up the photos and looked at each one slowly. They were fuzzy pictures of a dark-haired young girl, perhaps ten or eleven years old, playing in a neighbor’s yard. “Where did you find these?”
“Funniest thing.” Williamson laughed. “They were in Detective Vincent Magnotta’s office over in Homicide. He used them when he worked Grand Theft Auto.”
“She jacked cars at nine years old?” Callahan laughed and shook his head. “That’s one screwed up kid.”
“No, no. These are the only pictures of her. At the time, she was sixteen or seventeen.”
Callahan sat up suddenly. “You mean to tell me that she started jacking cars a year or two before the fire?”
Williamson sat down and leaned back, placing his hand behind his head as he gave Callahan a triumphant smile. “You got it. Looks like she wasn’t exactly the ‘girl next door’ type.”
“So we can just search the court records, then.” Callahan looked up from the pictures and eyed Williamson.
“No use.” Williamson shook his head and shrugged. “The only thing I know is in Magnotta’s files. She called herself just ‘Cassandra’, and she stole a dozen cars. She even out-drove the police once.”
Callahan laughed for a moment, but then turned serious again. “Why did Magnotta take the files with him to homicide?”
“Now that’s an ironic story.” Williamson looked around to make sure no one was listening before he leaned closer to his partner. “Magnotta said he met her father once. He was so sure she would end up dead one day, he decided to keep the pictures just in case. Now he’s in Homicide…investigating the father’s death.”
“So…why did he hand us the case?”
Williamson picked up one of the pictures and waved it in Callahan’s face. “He has bigger fish to fry than looking for an eighteen year old girl. He’s on the Batman case.”
Callahan laughed again. “Magnotta? On the Batman case? What, is he chasing ghosts now?”
“Apparently there’s a whole family of ’em.” Williamson shook his head a laughed as well. “Batman, his daughter, and his son. This city scares me sometimes, Fred.”
“Not me, John. I’ve gotten used to this stuff in my old age.” Callahan stood up slowly, lifting up his empty coffee cup to take it for a refill. He nodded toward one of the photos on his desk. “What would really be scary is if Batman’s daughter is this little girl.”
Williamson laughed and shook his head as he looked at the photo in his hand. “Yeah. Imagine if that were true.”
Upon spotting Tim’s broken and bloodied nose, Bruce insisted on getting a blow-by-blow account of what led up to that event. Cassandra expected no less – but even as she knew she was heading toward another lecture, the look on Bruce’s face when she drove into the Bat Cave on Nightwing’s motorcycle was enough to make nearly any penalty worthwhile.
Without saying a word, or even bothering to pause and see if Bruce would say anything, Cassandra headed directly to her room. But while she left Wayne Manor with a frown on her face, she had returned smiling. That added to Bruce’s confusion and shock, and led him to say nothing as she walked past him toward the bedrooms.
Cassandra couldn’t help smiling – but she didn’t know why. She raced into her room, and headed straight for the closet and bathroom, changing out of her costume quickly and into civilian clothing – black jeans and a dark purple long-sleeved shirt. As she carefully stored her costume in her closet, she noticed something…green. She had forgotten to remove Tim’s mask from her belt.
That’s when she realized why she was smiling. She didn’t understand how, but she felt that she had finally earned Tim’s complete trust. That was something she knew that she could never earn from Bruce – he distrusted everyone, no matter how close they were to him.
But even more than that, she felt she had accomplished something. For just one night, she was just like Batman. She felt the legend grow around her, in whispers which telegraphed among the criminal element of Gotham City – ‘Beware, a costumed woman who will take you on’. She may not have won her battle on the streets, but they would remember, and maybe even respect and fear her next time.
She was still smiling as she put on black sneakers and headed out of her room, toward the kitchen. But even on the high she felt, it didn’t take long for her to be brought down quickly. Someone she didn’t expect to see stood in the kitchen, talking to Alfred…
She quickly frowned and turned to head back to her room…but it was too late. She had been spotted.
“Just a minute, young lady!” Dick raced into the hallway, gripping Cassandra’s shoulder tightly and steering her back into the kitchen. “You have some explaining to do.”
He led Cassandra to the kitchen table, where he urged her to sit down by gently pressuring her into a chair.
“Why did you take my bike? No, wait, I don’t want to know that. I want to know how.”
“You’re sloppy.” Cassandra found her smile again as she looked up at a frowning Dick. She thought it was encouraging that Alfred found it amusing as well.
Dick responded by slamming a fist down on the table. “You have to understand, Cassandra…stealing a guy’s wheels is very personal. Very, very personal. Do you understand?”
She rolled her eyes and reached for a cup of hot cocoa that Alfred had just placed on the table in front of her – only she never got her fingers around the cup. Dick snatched it from just beyond her grasp and placed it at the other end of the table.
“No way, Cassandra. You’re not going to ignore me. You’ll get this cocoa back when you apologize.”
Cassandra tried to stand to leave the room – but she found herself pushed back into her seat with a heavy hand on her shoulder. As Dick stared at her angrily, she frowned and looked at Alfred. She knew at that moment that something in her eyes told him that she was thinking of reacting violently to Dick – Alfred shook his head slowly, and waved his index finger.
She smiled at Alfred – which further angered Dick, since he thought she was amused by his attempts to force an apology from her.
“You think this is funny?”
Something about the way Dick spoke those words edged Cassandra from a smile to a slight chuckle. She was even more amused that Alfred had to bite his lip and pretend to work in the kitchen sink to keep from laughing himself.
“Fine”, Dick said in a dark, threatening voice. “We’ll see what Bruce has to say about this.”
Almost on cue, Bruce entered the kitchen just as Dick left. He was frowning, trying to make it obvious that he heard every word of the conversation in the kitchen. Without a word, he sat down at the table across from Cassandra and slid her hot cocoa toward her, encouraging her to drink it.
She sipped the cocoa slowly, watching Bruce stare at her from behind his clasped hands, his elbows perched on the table. He didn’t speak a word, even as she emptied the cup and slid it away from herself across the smooth table into Alfred’s waiting hand.
“I don’t know what to say to you anymore.” Bruce shrugged and leaned back in his chair, seeming to ignore the concerned look that Cassandra gave him. “I wish you would tell me something…anything. I need an explanation.”
Cassandra felt a sense of peace come over her as she looked across the table at Bruce. For once, instead of interacting as teacher and student, or parent and child…they were virtual equals. Bruce had his secrets, and she had her own.
But unlike Bruce, who prided himself on secrets, Cassandra’s made her feel only guilt. She knew she had to tell him something…anything…but she just drew a blank. Her mind was swimming with thoughts about Catwoman, the gang, Tim’s broken nose, the motorcycle – the stream of images seemed to have no beginning or end, no way to explain them easily.
Instead, she leaned across the table and smiled at Bruce, her eyes bright with her new found confidence. “Trust me.”
Bruce furrowed his brow and stared across the table at Cassandra, seeming confused by her words. “Trust you?”
Cassandra nodded, her smile never disappearing as she watched Bruce’s expression blank. “You’ll be proud.”
He looked at Alfred as Cassandra stood quickly and headed back into the hallway, toward her room, turning to show her smile once more as she left. “What do you suppose that means, Alfred?”
Alfred shrugged as he placed a cup of tea in front of Bruce. “I suppose it means she wants you to trust her, Master Bruce.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Bruce mumbled as he lifted the cup and took a sip.
Cassandra sat on her bed, staring across the room at a television which had recently been added to her room. She had no idea who had installed it while she was gone – but she did have an idea of who did, since it picked up more than just local and cable television channels. Also available were views from various police cameras placed around Gotham City.
She didn’t have long to thank the person she guessed was responsible. Almost as soon as she turned on the TV, the door to her room swung wide open, after a quick knock. Barbara Gordon rolled in quickly, pushing the door closed behind her.
“Like the little gift I left for you?” Barbara smiled and rolled next to the bed. Cassandra sat up and crossed her legs, but didn’t say a word. “I’ve got another one, too.”
A small brown paper bag was tossed onto the bed next to her. Cassandra opened it slowly, pulling out one of the small objects inside and dangling it in front of her eyes. Some sort of plant bulb?
“Roses, Cassandra. They’re very fragile, short-lived plants. They need constant care to grow and thrive.”
Cassandra dropped the bulb back into the paper bag and placed it gently on the night stand next to her bed. “Why?”
“Every time you’re home, you retreat to this room and sulk.” Barbara rolled closer to the bed, keeping eye contact as she leaned closer. “You need a hobby. Something you can work for, and take pride in the result.”
“Think about it, would you?” Barbara stared at Cassandra for a moment, smiling, before she headed back toward the door. Before she managed to reach for the doorknob, Cassandra managed to get there first, to hold open the door for her. Normally, that would have annoyed her – but she knew that Cassandra wasn’t someone who felt pity for her. She was genuinely trying to help.
Cassandra returned to the bed, flipping through a few more channels before the bag of rose bulbs caught her attention again. She stared at them for a while this time, watching them warm under the incandescent lamp on her night stand. They weren’t safe there…they would die.
She snatched the bag quickly and raced out into the hallway, taking a side door outside. It was windy and kind of cool outside, and starting to drizzle, but she didn’t feel it. She cared only about the contents of the bag she held.
A quick look around revealed that she was in the middle of Wayne Manor’s own garden. Safe…but not safe enough. She worried that her bulbs would disappear in the sheer volume of plants contained there. But she did think to grab a small spade.
Still farther, Cassandra went, carrying the small brown bag. She stopped once she was in sight of the stone wall surrounding the Manor, close to the edge of a small natural grove of trees. She remembered walking past that point once before…during the daytime, the sun poured over the top of the wall into the tall trees, casting a shadow through all of the first-floor windows.
She smiled as she dropped to her knees quickly, and furiously dug six small holes, one for each bulb. By the time they had all been successfully buried, she had no need to find water for them – it had just started pouring rain, finally bringing the reality of the cold air around her directly to her skin.
Cassandra returned to Wayne Manor shivering. She discarded her mud-covered shoes in the hallway before heading to her room to change to dry clothing. She returned to the bed, wrapping herself in a blanket to warm herself as she turned the television on again.
But her rest would be short lived. She heard another knock at the door – this time, it was Bruce. He stuck his head in the room, seemingly ignoring her wet hair as he spoke.
“Hmm?” Detective Callahan looked up from behind his steaming hot coffee mug at his partner.
“It was taken at the original crime scene,” Detective Williamson said, “Look at the window outside the girl’s bedroom. The fire didn’t start anywhere near here, yet the eaves above it are blackened by smoke more than any other window.”
“So what?” Callahan took another sip of steaming coffee, his eyes cringing as he realized that it was still way too hot.
Williamson waved the photo in front of Callahan’s eyes. “That means the window was broken before the fire reached the room. It was pulled in because if fed off of the oxygen–”
“What if the girl broke the window?”
“No.” Williamson sat on the edge of his desk and shook his head slowly. “The investigator says the window ‘imploded’. He thought it was because an oxygen starved fire pulled the window in to get air…but that doesn’t explain how the girl escaped.”
Unexpectedly, Callahan suddenly rose from his seat and grabbed his jacket, abandoning his hot cup of coffee on the edge of his desk. “Well, what are we sitting around for? Let’s go check it out.”
“Uh…wait–” Williamson started to follow, but went back quickly to grab his jacket, putting it on quickly as he rushed to keep up with his partner. “What are we looking for?”
Callahan paused and looked at his partner, a look of mock confusion on his face. “Evidence, of course.”
Batgirl felt bored as she leaned against the Batmobile, parked near the corner of a suburban street. Batman had headed into the neighborhood under cover of darkness…toward her childhood home, leaving her to look out for police and neighborhood watch.
At first, he didn’t want to tell her why. But then, for just a moment, a his Batman persona showed a small crack – he knew he was dealing with something which would naturally raise Batgirl’s curiosity, leaving him without a lookout. She wasn’t someone prone to blind obedience.
“The cops are learning too much about you”, he said in a low, almost threatening tone. “If they track you to Wayne Manor…they’ll start to wonder how I found you. If there’s any evidence here that you were rescued, I’ll be the next one investigated.”
Much to Batman’s surprise, she nodded as if she understood perfectly, and agreed to remain behind without a single protest as he went to find any evidence of a rescue that the cops had left and remove it. What he didn’t know was that she was more than happy to stay behind – the neighborhood itself brought all kinds of painful, unwanted memories to the surface. If she were to see the house–
She shuddered and shrugged off that thought as she noticed a pair of headlights approaching in the distance. A quick peek through the small binoculars Batman handed her earlier proved that it was just a regular car, not the police. Still, she raced around and ducked behind the Batmobile as it passed by – no sense on her being spotted.
Batgirl imagined what she had seen Batman do dozens of times before. He was going over the area around the window with an electronic magnifier, an infrared scope, and a pair of tweezers, looking for the smallest hair, thread, or piece of glass. He would then go outside and perfectly turn over the dirt near the foundation and pack it down, so it looked like it had never been touched – erasing any footprints.
Alarm bells suddenly went off in her head as Batgirl saw another almost normal car turn the corner. She could tell it was an unmarked police car – the spotlight next to the driver’s door was a dead giveaway. No time to find Batman and warn him – instead, she climbed into the car quickly, and made a quick u-turn, heading toward the house which haunted her memory.
As soon as she drove up, headlights still turned off, Batman met her at the street. She figured that he heard the distinctive sounding engine and came out to meet it. The urgency at which he climbed into the passenger seat and closed the canopy – rather than asking Batgirl to move out of the driver’s seat – prompted her to speed quickly out of the neighborhood. It was nonverbal communication at its best.
Batgirl turned on the high-beam headlights just as she passed the police car, to make sure they were blinded and unable to see the car flying past them. They didn’t seem to notice – they were too focused on their destination. As she headed out of the city quickly, she turned to look at Batman – for just a moment, he gave her as much of a glance of approval as he ever would.
She felt satisfied with herself once they returned home. She removed her mask and said good night to Bruce and Tim, heading toward her room as the exhaustion of two excursions in one night began to set in. Along the way, she stopped to look outside at the grove of trees where her rose bulbs would grow one day.
As she retreated to the silent solitude of her room, however, her head began to spin with images, sights, and sounds from her own memory. As much as she tried not to, she saw the house…and that window. Terrified screams and distant sirens filled her ears…and the smoke, choking her, keeping her from speaking.
Cassandra climbed into bed and squeezed her eyes shut as the sounds torturing her soul, held at bay for so long by a veil of confidence, came flooding to the surface. She pulled the covers up to her chin, trying to sing to herself to abolish the images and feelings…only to find the music sinking her deeper in emotion.
She cried for an hour or two that night before finally exhausting herself and falling asleep. Dreams filled the hours, comforting dreams, making her feel warm…making her feel wanted and cared for. She could see all of the people who cared for her, and helped her, no matter how strange they may be.
Her last dream spoke of truth – that Bruce, the man who rescued her, did so in every sense of the word. He stole evidence now to protect her, to make sure that she would never again have to suffer the life she knew before.
CONTINUED IN PART 2