Everything turned to hell so quickly.
Broken glass littered the concrete floor of the basement of the Gotham City public library. Billows of smoke began pushing through the huge boiler room as flames licked at the ceiling.
Batman carried the weakened Batgirl over one shoulder, and the unconscious Robin over the other. He was the only one of the three to have a breathing filter with him – he wasn’t immediately overcome by the smoke and heat. The night vision added to his mask allowed him to navigate through the totally darkened room toward the stairs.
Once he use a fireman’s carry to race up the stairs and out to the street, he realized that Robin was in much worse shape than he originally thought. His hands and arms had been burned somewhat…while the skin wasn’t severely damaged, it was bright red.
He pulled a small tool from his belt and opened the valve on a fire hydrant nearby, letting the water douse Batgirl and Robin as he pulled a high-tech burn kit from inside the Batmobile. Time was running out – the sound of fire engine and police sirens began to echo off of nearby buildings. There wasn’t time to stick around.
He heard a cough and sputter, and watched Batgirl sit up quickly and begin to take in her surroundings.
“I need your help,” he whispered almost immediately, giving Batgirl little time to overcome her weakness and dizziness, “Robin’s in bad shape.”
Without another word, she returned to her feet quickly and doused herself in the stream of water from the hydrant again, before kneeling next to Robin’s head.
“Hold him still,” Batman said, louder this time, “We need to get him taped up and out of here before the cops show up.”
“You hold–” She tried to speak, but ended up choking and coughing instead. Rather than try to explain again, she snatched the first aid tape from him gripping her own wrist tightly to demonstrate that her costume was looser-fitting, allowing her to move faster. He nodded in agreement, and held up Robin’s left arm.
It only took Batgirl seconds to wrap the cooling pad and tape around his arm, and switch to the other. Batman then lifted Robin quickly, and placed him in the passenger seat of the car.
Just then, the first police cars arrived on the scene. Batman froze, and turned briefly to look at Batgirl – he didn’t say a word, but she knew what to do. She jumped into the driver’s seat, and drove away quickly, leaving Batman to keep the police occupied. She was sure he would escape – he always did – but the priority was to keep Robin, and her weakened self, from being captured.
That was the first question Alfred asked as he helped lift Robin out of the passenger side of the car. Cassandra didn’t answer right away as she pulled off her mask, revealing her soot-covered face. “Oxygen”, she said, her voice cracking.
As she was handed an oxygen mask, she watched Alfred wrap larger cooling pads with straps around Robin’s arms and, and place corresponding gloves on his fingers. He plugged the small tubes from the pads and gloves into a pump below the medical bed he had placed Robin on top of.
He still hadn’t woken up, even after an oxygen mask had been added. The look Alfred gave Cassandra told her that it would be a long night. But that’s what happens when everything turns to hell.
“What happened, Cassandra?”
Alfred sat across from Cassandra at a small wooden table which could very well be called a kitchen table if it were actually in a kitchen – but instead, it was located next to a stairway in the Bat Cave. He drank tea, brought from the house along with a huge mug of streaming hot cocoa Cassandra drank slowly. It was both to soothe her nerves, and help restore her voice.
“It was a trap,” Cassandra said. “The boiler in the library…exploded. Tim was burned by the water.”
Alfred looked confused. Her wording didn’t make sense, and she was speaking in fragments – most likely, the trauma of the evening still left Cassandra feeling confused. “Why were you in the basement of the library?”
“Chasing…we were chasing a man who broke in.” Cassandra leaned over her cup of cocoa and took a deep breath of steam as he voice began to make her throat feel sore. “It was…Joker. We didn’t know, and he…he blew up the basement.”
“My God.” Alfred looked at Robin worriedly, and then back to Cassandra. “You two are lucky to have made it home alive. And Master Bruce?”
As if to punctuate Alfred’s question, a door slammed at the far end of the Bat Cave. He stood and headed toward it quickly – Cassandra did the same, only walking slower to avoid over-exerting herself too quickly.
But she began moving quicker when she heard Bruce’s strained voice, and Alfred saying, ‘Easy, Master Bruce.’
“He’s been shot, Cassandra. Fetch a first aid kid, quickly,” Alfred ordered.
Without a second thought, Cassandra raced across the room and pulled out the largest first aid kit she could find, tearing open the box quickly. She delivered it to Alfred in another second, placing it on the edge of a medical table Bruce was sitting on.
“It just barely punctured the armor and cut my skin,” Bruce said, producing the bullet in his palm.
“I’ll still need to clean and disinfect the wound,” Alfred said, as he began pulling off the rubber and kevlar alloy armor and tossing pieces of it onto the floor.
Cassandra wanted to watch at first, but ended up taking a step back when she saw just how much blood was hidden behind Bruce’s costume. She heard him groan in pain as Alfred began cleaning the area slowly with rubbing alcohol. Then he said the inevitable…
“This cut is too deep, Master Bruce. I shall have to stitch it.”
“Do what you have to, Alfred,” Bruce said, wincing in pain once again.
By that point, Cassandra was determined not to watch any more. She raced back to her room quickly, determined to wash the scent of the fire out of her hair and skin, and change into clean clothing, placing her costume into a special chamber where it would be electronically cleaned, removing the smoky odor it carried in a day or so. It was a good thing she had two, something which was necessary when the costume got so much daily use.
But once she stood in the shower, with the warm water cascading through her hair, the urgency she felt to try and escape her memory had vanished. Images of what had happened – the explosion, the Joker’s horrifying laughter, Tim screaming in pain before he passed out…they all came rushing back to her.
She remembered the burning feeling in her lungs, everything fading away…and Batman lifting her off of her feet when she didn’t have the strength to stand on her own any longer.
Then she thought about something else – about how easily they were beaten by one madman. They didn’t even see it coming – and given another set of circumstances, they could all be dead. Cassandra remembered Tim, still lying on the medical bed unconscious, his arms wrapped in cooling pads…and she worried that one of them still could be.
By the time she stepped out of the shower and got dressed quickly, that last thought dwelled in her mind. If Tim died, it would be her fault. Why didn’t she see it coming? Why didn’t she tell him not to try and duck behind the boiler when the explosion went off? Why…wasn’t she the one burned instead of Tim?
Her mind was spinning by the time she reached for the doorknob…but then she hesitated. Out there, outside the bathroom, was reality. For the moment, it seemed one that was much too harsh to be true.
And the fire…she remembered the fire around her, the burning in her lungs. She remembered once, being in a fire, reaching for the doorknob. She remembered opening the door, and feeling such a powerful heat…and screaming as she knew that everyone on the other side of it was dead.
Cassandra could feel the heat in the room as she tried to run away from the door, and slipped. She backed away from it across the floor, placing her back against the first solid object she could find, curling into a ball…and cried, wishing for freedom and a better place.
She heard a sound…and looked up to see Bruce standing in the doorway of the bathroom, looking down at her. He was leaning against the doorway, looking shocked as she sat on the floor, curled up, and sobbing.
“It was the explosion and fire we were in, wasn’t it?” Bruce asked in a soft, almost concerned voice. He walked into the bathroom and kneeled on the floor next to Cassandra, wincing as he did so. “It brought back things you would rather not remember.”
Cassandra nodded slowly. leaning her chin against her knees as she wrapped her arms around her legs. “And Tim…I’m…afraid for him.”
Bruce opened his mouth for a second, almost ready to give her some canned response, some reassurance which was intended to make her feel better. But he started to understand that it didn’t work with Cassandra. She valued honesty above all else. Instead, he decided to tell her his true feelings.
“I’m afraid too, Cassandra.”
The hug that Cassandra gave Bruce suddenly reminded him of another Batgirl he used to work with…one who he still knew well, and hoped would become a role model for Cassandra. It was a sign that maybe hope would become a reality.
Cassandra returned to the Bat Cave to check on Tim, hoping that he would at least be awake by the time that she returned from her shower. Unfortunately, he was still unconscious…which quickly soured her now calm mood.
“Tough break, huh?”
She heard Dick Grayson’s voice, but didn’t look his way, trying to avoid letting him see the sadness and fear in her eyes. She could hear him approach from behind her, and could see his shadow tower over her as he leaned close to check on Tim.
“Look…For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I got so upset about my bike.” Dick walked around to the other side of the bed, leaning his palms on its edge and staring at Cassandra to try and get her attention. He was wearing his Nightwing costume, but not his mask. “I like you, Cassandra. You show imagination…something you-know-who lacks.”
He seemed satisfied with himself for a moment when Cassandra cracked a slight smile for just an instant. Satisfied enough that he decided to try and make peace with this Batgirl he barely knew. He held a gloved hand under Cassandra’s nose. “So…what do say? Truce? Hell, maybe we can even work together one day.”
Cassandra shook his hand slowly, finally giving him a half-hearted smile that told him she had other things on her mind. That’s when she finally spoke to him. “You’re too eager to please.”
Dick laughed out loud. “Cassandra, you’re the first person who’s ever said that to me.”
She looked down at Tim again, her smile vanishing suddenly as she watched him quietly sleeping, his body trying to heal itself. “Want to help?”
“Help?” Dick looked confused as he watched Cassandra stand and head up the stairway to the house. He tried to follow as she raced ahead of him, walking quickly through a darkened hallway until she suddenly stopped in a large room which contained Bruce’s ancient weapons collection.
She turned around looked up at an old decorative Japanese Katana sword mounted over the doorway, and pointed. “Get that for me.”
“You want to see that close up, do you?” Dick ran into the next room, snatching a big chair from the dining room. It wasn’t nearly tall enough – but with his skills, he could easily stand on the back of the chair and balance long enough to reach.
“No.” Cassandra shook her head and took a couple of steps back and watched Dick place the chair just in front of the doorway and jump up to its back in two leaps. “I want to use it to kill.”
“Wha…?” The chair wobbled suddenly, and Dick crashed to the floor as Cassandra leapt out of the way quickly. “I hope you’re joking. It’s one thing to play with Bruce’s collection…but it’s another to–”
“I’m not joking.” Cassandra stood the chair back up and looked at the sword again. “Joker almost killed Tim. Will you help me, or not?”
Dick stared into Cassandra’s angry, determined eyes, his mouth hanging open trying desperately to respond. He wanted to say something profound, which would make Cassandra reconsider. But at the same time…she was right. Bruce would disagree…but that was one of the very things which caused Dick to constantly fight with him, and eventually go out on his own. Bruce was never willing to go far enough.
Without another word, Dick climbed the chair again quickly and snatched the sword off of the wall. He jumped to the floor and held it out to her…but then drew it back before she could reach it. “First, I want you to promise me something. Promise me that whenever you carry this weapon, you’ll think of me before using it.”
Cassandra gave him a questioning look, apparently confused by what he had said.
“I’m a great judge of people, Cassandra,” Dick explained further, “I know that you trust me more than Bruce…but you’re also more intimidated by me. I want you to think about what I would do before you use this. That’s all.”
A few more seconds of silence passed before Cassandra smiled and held out her hand. “Deal.”
Dick gently placed the center of the sheathed sword in Cassandra’s palm, and folded his arms. “Don’t forget what I said. Otherwise I’ll have to take this back.”
Cassandra laughed and headed toward the hallway quickly with the sword in hand, intent on returning to her room to hide it until she would go out later and make use of it. But at the last second, she paused before she left the room. “Dick?”
“Yes?” Dick said, sticking his head back into the room from the doorway at the other end, carrying the chair back to the dining room.
Dick smiled and put down the chair for a moment. “Good luck, kid. If you need anything else, just tell me.”
Cassandra walked into the hallway smiling as she carried the sword toward her room. She didn’t have the heart to mention that she had already borrowed his name…but he would find out soon enough.
It was raining again when Batgirl went out later that night. But instead of the rain being soothing, or relaxing, it gave her a sense of power. She felt as if nature itself was urging her on.
Besides her usual costume, cape, and belt, Batgirl carried the Japanese Katana taken from Bruce’s trophy room, still in its sheath. She had a specific target in mind – the man who had set the trap for herself, Bruce…and the still unconscious Tim. She had to teach him that there were direct consequences…and that he must fear hurting the ones she cares about.
She believed that more than anything…but as she crouched atop an apartment building, looking down at a purple limousine parked across the street, her hands shook and her heart was beating quickly. Damn that Dick Grayson…his words left her mind spinning, unable to concentrate on the task at hand.
But she knew she had to. Her heart started beating loudly in her ears as she saw a light turn on in one of the apartments across the street. She pulled a pair of small binoculars from her belt and looked through the window. It was…him. He had just punched one of bodyguards in the stomach, and was heading toward the window. She watched as he stopped just short of the window, and moved his purple suit jacket aside, slipping a silver gun from a holster under one arm.
Batgirl felt a sense of alarm as he started to turn slowly. She tossed the binoculars aside and quickly aimed a double anchor cable launcher directly above the window across the street, tossing her cape behind her as the other end of the cable lodged noisily into a brick chimney a few yards behind her. She grabbed the launcher with both hands and launched herself toward the Joker…
…and with a loud crash, and a shower of glass, she found herself pinning him to the ground with her knees as his gun went sailing across the room. She eyed the two frozen bodyguards, as she reached down in a flash and launched Bat Wings at the weapons they held. The Bat Wings each hit their target with an audible metallic ‘clang’ before lodging themselves into the wall.
She then turned her attention entirely on Joker, introducing herself only by slamming her gloved fist into his face. She could feel the cartilage in his nose snap, giving her a moment of satisfaction – but she wasn’t done yet.
Batgirl rose quickly, the wind blowing the rain in through the window behind her as she held the Katana’s sheath in her left hand, drawing out the blade with her right. She eyed the two bodyguards…they were too close again. A quick sweep of the Katana fixed that.
But she didn’t realize how sharp the blade was. She watched as the right hands of each of the two men, raised to protect themselves as the blade swung past them, went tumbling to the floor with a soft, wet ‘thud’. A shower of blood covered the carpet and the opposite wall as the two began screaming, and retreated to the hallway.
A little shaken by the power she held, yet somehow feeling more confident, Batgirl placed her left foot firmly in the center of Joker’s chest, and wrapped both of her gloved hands tightly around the Katana’s handle. She raised it above Joker’s head, feeling nothing but anger as she watched him begin to chuckle – he was laughing at her on the eve of his death.
Her arms started to weaken as his chuckles turned into laughter – but through her boots, she could feel the tension in his body. It was pure terror. The man reacted to fear by laughing…and he had absolutely no control over it.
She took a look around the small apartment as laughter began filling the room. The kind of life this empty soul led…it was no life at all. He had no home, no loved ones. He knew only murder, death and…seedy apartments like the one he hid in now. Batgirl started to feel a little lucky, a little privileged. Bruce had no idea what he had over the criminals he chased every night.
As she looked down at the Joker one more time, she remembered words she heard recently…’Spare the life of someone who you consider evil beyond redemption’. There was no one more evil in Gotham than Joker. He was born and bred into evil, and could be nothing else.
Batgirl sheathed the Katana quickly and removed her foot from Joker’s chest, watching the confused expression on his face. He was even confused enough that he had stopped laughing.
She headed over to a phone next to a doorway on the room, and dialed nine-one-one, tossing the handset on the floor purposely. As a last gesture, she flipped the Katana around, slamming the handle hard into Joker’s temple, knocking him unconscious. It was better that way…the police would find him lying there, and would be able to arrest him safely.
But there was still too much evidence of her presence. She leaned out the window, grabbing the metal base of the cable launcher, using the small motor inside to quickly pull up to her previous location atop the building across the street. She then grabbed the cable and pulled hard, dislodging it from the building across the street, taking the time to manually wind the cable back into the launcher.
Once she had latched the device back on her belt, she headed back to the alley below, satisfied that firm evidence of her presence had been eliminated. She quickly climbed on Nightwing’s motorcycle – ‘borrowed’ yet again – and headed quickly to the Bat Cave. She had done her good deed for the night.
Cassandra awoke the next morning with a start. Someone was shaking her – and as she rolled over, she discovered that it was Tim. She looked at her clock – it said ’10:45′. He was saying something to her…but she only caught part of it as her senses slowly began to tune into the real world. He said something about…cops?
“…they’re waiting in the study,” Tim continued, “Come on, hurry up!”
“Shower–” Cassandra mumbled as she slid out of her covers onto the floor, hands first. She finally rose to her feet and grabbed some clothing quickly before heading into the bathroom. She could hear Tim giving a frustrated sigh, but she wouldn’t care until she woke up more.
Finally emerging into the study fifteen minutes later, hair still soaked, she stopped in the doorway. Sitting on a couch, listening to Alfred talk, were the same two detectives she had talked to at the police department a couple of days before. Tim was not in the room, but Bruce wore reading glasses, and sat in the opposite couch, looking at an old text.
“Here she is now,” Alfred announced as Cassandra walked through the doorway.
She froze for a moment as the two turned to look at her. Neither seemed happy – but she put on a slight smile anyway, to try and un-nerve them a bit.
“Cassandra Grayson? Is that what you told me your name was?” One of the Detectives stood and looked down at Cassandra. “What’s your real name?”
Without saying a word, Cassandra laughed slightly. She knew she had been caught in a lie…but it was one that was fairly harmless. Nevertheless, she didn’t want to tell the Detective…or Bruce…or anyone her real name. She wanted to leave it behind forever. Luckily, she didn’t have to spend much time arguing about it.
“She doesn’t remember,” Bruce interrupted. “If you must know, Alfred and I found her wandering the neighborhood, confused. We took her in, and found that she had almost no memory of where she came from or who she was. She told us later that she had been rescued by…Batman…from a fire.”
The two Detectives looked at each other. It was easy to tell that neither believed the part of the story involving Batman. One of the two spoke up again. “And why did she give us the name Cassandra Grayson?”
Bruce laughed and leaned back comfortably on his couch, giving no indication of being uneasy. He was an expert at that – he could tell any lie, and make it more believable than most people’s truths. “A man named Grayson was here a few days ago. He’s a business associate from out of town. She simply borrowed his name.”
“Any relation to a cop named Richard Grayson?” the other Detective asked.
“I don’t ask my business associates personal questions about their relatives.” Bruce shrugged. Cassandra tried hard to not to smile too much. She enjoyed watching Bruce spin such a complete story.
The two detectives finally rose, one of them heading toward the door as the other stopped to shake Bruce’s hand as he stood as well. “I’m sorry to have taken your time, Mr. Wayne.”
“Not at all, Detective,” Bruce said in a smooth, quiet manner, “I feel a little more secure knowing that Gotham’s finest are looking after my welfare.”
As soon as Cassandra heard the door close, and the two Detectives were outside, she started laughing out loud. Bruce frowned at first, but then began smiling once he realized why.
“It takes a lot of practice to do that, Cassandra.” Bruce squeezed her shoulder as he walked past her, and headed back to his office. “You’ll learn one day.”
Detective Callahan tore through the streets of Gotham City, his partner, Detective Williamson, clinging to the dashboard as he took corners quickly. A blue light spun quickly just in front of the windshield, and a siren blared to tell traffic to clear the way.
Moments earlier, when the two had just left Wayne Manor, they got word over their radio that the police station was on fire. All Detectives were requested to report to the station ‘Code 3’ – that meant lights and sirens, with total disregard for traffic safety.
Callahan practically drove onto the lawn of the police station, leaving forty foot long skid marks on the pavement as his car screeched to a halt. His partner leapt out before the car had even come to a complete stop.
The two raced for the doors of the police department – but were immediately grabbed and held back by two fire fighters loaded down with gear.
“Whoa, whoa,” one fire fighter told them, “If you two go in there, you’ll both end up extra crispy.”
“What’s going on?” Williamson asked.
“A fire. Duh,” the other fire fighter responded.
Callahan shoved the ruder of the two fire fighters aside, becoming impatient as he purposely tried to intimidate the other. “Where’s the fire chief?”
Williamson and Callahan headed toward the fire chief after being pointed toward him. When they approached, the chief was busy yelling to a few men on a fire engine about hooking up another hose.
“Any idea what’s going on?” Callahan asked.
“Looks like a fire started in one of the garbage cans near the homicide office,” the chief said, “The contents of a few desks and file cabinets have been burned. My guess is someone was smoking in the office.”
Williamson looked at Callahan. “One of your cigars?”
Callahan shook his head. “Don’t look at me. I toss my matches at you, not into the trash can.”
“Chief, as soon as you get some information, let us know,” Williamson said.
“No problem,” the chief replied.
“You took my motorcycle again. I can’t believe this.” Dick Grayson paced around the dining room at Wayne Manor, attempting to hold a conversation with Cassandra. But he found only frustration as she continued eating a bowl of chocolate ice cream and reading a book, seemingly oblivious to his presence.
“You know,” he added, pausing for a moment as he watched Tim enter the room, “I check the mileage on that bike every day. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”
Dick turned around quickly as he heard a snicker from Tim. “Do you think this is funny?”
“No,” Tim said, barely containing laughter, “What’s funny is she stole your last name, and you’re busy whining about your bike.”
Cassandra smiled slightly, trying in futility to bury her face in the book she was reading in the hopes that Dick wouldn’t see that she was amused. His mouth was hanging open, and she could see the veins in his forehead stand out – he was left wordless by the anger he felt.
“She told the cops her name was Cassandra Grayson,” Tim added. An angry look from Dick told him that he wasn’t helping.
“I need you to understand, Cassandra,” Dick said slowly, “I need you to promise that you’ll stop stealing my bike.”
“It’s just a bike.” Cassandra didn’t even look up from her book as she spoke, seeming not to worry even the slightest bit about the fact that he was angry.
Dick turned to look at Tim, who was smile smiling in amusement. He motioned for Tim to leave…and then again, more urgently, after Tim didn’t take the first suggestion seriously.
As Tim finally left the room slowly, reluctantly, Dick leaned over Cassandra’s shoulder, carefully prying the book from her hands and lying it down on the table. Cassandra turned and gave him a quick glare.
“The day I stopped being Robin, Cassandra, I was prepared to leave here as an outcast…to be a nobody again. I wanted to make a clean break. I didn’t even want to see Batman or Bruce ever again.”
“What happened?” Cassandra asked.
Dick stood up and took a deep breath, looking at Cassandra for a moment as if he wasn’t sure if he should tell her any more. “He gave me the bike. No strings attached, no questions, nothing. He’s never said a word about it since – he’s never held it over me.”
“It was a gift of love.” Cassandra had turned completely around now, her arms hanging over the back of the chair as she gave Dick her full attention.
At first, Dick visibly cringed at Cassandra’s assessment. He remembered hearing so many sick jokes about his old Robin costume, he didn’t like the implications of the word she used. “I wouldn’t say ‘love’, exactly. More like a gift of mutual respect.”
Cassandra nodded and smiled. “I understand.”
He continued staring at her as she kept smiling at him, just knowing that somewhere behind it was one of those jokes he dreaded so much…or perhaps he’d just become paranoid after hearing so many of them. “So lay off the bike, all right? If it were ever damaged or destroyed, I’d lose a precious gift. You understand, right?”
“Yes.” Cassandra nodded again, still smiling. Dick began to feel a little frustrated, wondering what kinds of thoughts were swimming behind that calm expression of hers.
“Any questions?” Dick asked, almost sarcastically.
“Just one,” she said, her smile disappearing as she looked up at Dick. “You wanted to leave this all behind…so why did you come back?”
Dick opened his mouth to answer, but found no words. He sighed as he looked down at Cassandra, knowing full well that she had seen right through his tough exterior to his core. If she had any talent worthy of the Bat-family, that was it.
“Sometimes, I’m not sure myself. But I have discovered over time that…you really can’t go forward until you’re willing to go back a little. Keep that in mind, Cassandra.”
Just as Dick turned to leave the dining room, Cassandra slipped out of her chair and grabbed his arm tightly, stopping him before he took more than a few steps. “What do you mean…go back?”
“I mean no one can just abandon their past. It always comes back to haunt them.”
It was just after dusk as Bruce entered his office, neglecting to turn on the light as he approached his desk. He had accustomed himself to seeing fairly clearly in near darkness – which was no small feat considering that he was at an age where he needed reading glasses to see the morning newspaper.
As he entered that office, he could tell something was different. A quick glance around told him exactly what it was – Cassandra was sitting in his desk chair, her black costume boots propped on the surface of his desk. She had the leather seat leaned way back, and she was fidgeting with a letter opener.
“You watched your parents die…just like I did.”
Without saying a word, Bruce swallowed hard as he approached the desk, and sat down in one of the chairs in front of it. He knew very well that the two situations Cassandra likened were very, very different…and he already didn’t like where the discussion was headed. But he learned to be patient with her, to listen.
“What was it like for you?”
“Well–” Bruce shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He didn’t like talking about that event in his life, but he hoped opening up would bring Cassandra into an actual conversation. “–At the time, I was just a kid. When you’re a kid, you think everything lasts forever. And then…”
“Go on,” Cassandra urged, noting the pause from Bruce.
“And then,” Bruce continued calmly, “It’s all taken away. Not just one thing, like a bike or a toy that’s lost. Everything. My whole world had been taken away from me.”
“Did you cry?”
“No. No, I don’t remember ever crying.” He paused for what seemed like an eternity, as he dug through his memory to make sure he was correct. “It’s strange…that something so traumatic could happen to me, yet I didn’t cry. I guess I was in shock.”
“Oh. Good.” Cassandra looked down, away from Bruce, continuing to fidget with the letter opener.
“Why did you ask, Cassandra?”
“I wanted to know if I was normal.” She shrugged, looking at her reflection in the letter opener. “Because I didn’t cry for my parents either.”
Bruce stood suddenly and leaned over the desk, finally deciding to go for as much information as he could get. She seemed ready enough to talk.
“I know why you set the fire that killed your parents, Cassandra. I know you only meant to scare them…but you didn’t understand how fire worked.”
Cassandra sat up slightly, suddenly giving her full attention to what Bruce was saying – but she didn’t give any indication to whether he was right or wrong.
“You expected them to run from their room, screaming in terror while you laughed. You did hear them scream…but they never came out. The fire, however, did…and forced you to the protection of your room.”
A long paused was filled by the slight audible sound of Cassandra rubbing the point of the letter opener against her fingernails. “I didn’t know they died until after you brought me here–”
“–And you knew you couldn’t tell anyone. Especially me…because you didn’t want me to be afraid.”
She closed her eyes and nodded slowly. She looked sad for a moment, like she was expecting some kind of penalty. After all, she had spent the entire time she’d known Bruce lying to him, even though he offered her a home and a large part in the Bat-family.
“I know your real last name, Cassandra.” Bruce picked up a green folder which had been lying in a bin on the desk the entire time. “It’s on the former title to the house. This is the only remaining copy after the bank took possession of it.”
Cassandra cringed as she watched Bruce open the folder slowly and glance inside. She had a look of panic on her face for a moment as he looked directly at her…and then Bruce quickly shoved the entire folder into a shredder positioned next to his desk. A loud grinding sound, and a flutter of paper chips was all the noise that the infamous folder had created. She felt grateful for what he had done…but she wondered why.
“A man named Jim Gordon discovered Batman’s identity once,” Bruce began to explain calmly, smiling in an almost amused manner at the expression Cassandra gave him, “He almost used it to bring me down. But then he decided against it. He invited me to his office, and shredded the file before my eyes. He gave me the freedom to start over…and I’ve given you the same.”
She shook her head slightly, seeming calmer now. “Why are you doing this?”
Bruce simply smiled and turned to leave the office, heading toward the door quickly. He paused for a moment just before he cleared the doorway. “I believe you have a meeting with Shiva. Don’t be late.”