#18 – Savior, Part 1

Cassandra looked up from a small table in the kitchen of her next door neighbor’s home. Her eyes showed the hurt she felt, and her disheveled hair and torn clothing made her seem like a teenager who had just escaped from prison…or someplace worse.

The slight bruise on one cheek told the rest of the story. Yet she didn’t cry, or even speak a word, as the kindly older woman slid a bowl of chicken soup under her nose. Perfect communication existed between them…yet neither spoke a word.

A gentle clinking sound was made by a metal spoon as Cassandra dipped it gently into the bowl, taking a scoop of noodles, and raising them to her mouth. She blew on the spoon slightly, silently, to cool the soup enough to eat it.

Finally satisfied that the teen was eating, the older woman quickly headed into the living room, where her husband paced back and forth, staring out the front window, and stewing.

“I aught to call the police,” he mumbled as he paused to stare at the house next door, “He threatens me, and then hits his own daughter with a bible. A bible, for God’s sake! There has to be a way to stop this.”

“No, Harry, don’t,” his wife whispered quietly. “If it backfires…they might really hurt Cassandra next time. They might–”

“I know, I know.” Harry sat down on the couch, slumping as he looked down at the floor. His wife sat next to him, wrapping her arm around him comfortingly. He looked at his hands, tightly squeezed together into fists. “If I weren’t a peaceful, God-fearing man, Mary…I swear I would buy a shotgun tomorrow and put a stop to this. I’d know I was right, too.”

Cassandra stood in the doorway of the kitchen, the light behind her as she focused on what the two were saying about her as they sat on the couch. She swallowed hard to keep her emotion in check as she watched the woman who had fed her the chicken soup – Mary, her name was – hold the man in her arms as he began crying over what he had seen in the kitchen only minutes earlier.

She turned around and headed back into the kitchen, noticing a bottle of lamp oil sitting atop one of the cabinets in a large glass bottle. It was a pale orange-red color. Quickly grabbing the bottom edge of the cabinet, she slipped one knee atop the kitchen counter and raised herself to her feet, quickly grabbing the bottle of lamp oil before gripping it with both arms and leaping to the floor.

Cassandra then dug through two of the kitchen drawers she remembered Mary sifting through to find a key one day. Just as she figured, it was a junk drawer…and it contained matches. She had all of the supplied she needed now. It was time to put a stop to the rein of terror.

She looked back toward the living room toward the couple, cuddling each other on the couch, sharing their misery. Shedding tears over what her father had done to her. It was time to end it, to stop the horror from spreading any further. Cassandra loved Harry and Mary, they were close friends to her. There was no way she would allow that crazy man back home to hurt them any longer.

Mary heard the back door slam suddenly. She stood up and headed into the kitchen…and just as she guessed, Cassandra had left as silently as she had arrived. The soup bowl was empty, which was good…but she also noticed that the bottle of lamp oil she stored high up atop the cabinets was gone – as well as a box of matches.

“Dear God, Harry,” she said, turning around in a panic as he entered the room, “What if she heard you?”

Harry never answered Mary’s question. He turned and headed back into the living room, a mixture of relief and fear mixing in his mind. He worried for Cassandra…but he could also sense that she was about to buy herself much needed freedom.
Batgirl stood in an alley between two suburban houses, facing a home across the street which was all too familiar to her. The front of the house was completely lined with the same flowers she remembered, and parked in the driveway was the same dark blue car. She missed Harry and Mary so much…she wanted to tell them she was okay. But she made a decision to break away cleanly from her past after Batman rescued her from that fire.

Only Dick’s words kept echoing in her mind…’can’t go forward until you’re willing to go back a little’. While the rest could fade into history, she longed to touch at least that one part of her past.

She crouched down, leaning her back against the brick wall of the house she was closest to as she waited patiently. Bruce had figured out that Shiva was responsible for a fire which broke out at the police station. Suspiciously, the fire seemed to be centered around the desks of the two detectives looking into Cassandra’s case. All evidence of her official existence had been completely destroyed.

He mentioned that she had a meeting with Shiva. Batgirl didn’t know where Shiva planned to meet her – but it only made sense that Shiva would seek her out in a place she knew Batgirl would head – across the street from her childhood home, looking on from a safe distance.

“You remembered my promise,” a voice whispered in the darkness.

Batgirl looked both directions before she saw movement from above. She looked up, just in time for Shiva to slide down from the roof directly above. She didn’t even bother to stand – she knew Shiva was no threat this time.

“How does it feel to be free?” Shiva asked. She paused for a moment, before waving away her own question. “No…on second thought, don’t tell me. Just think of it as a gift you’ve earned.”

“What now?” Batgirl asked, looking up at Shiva steadily.

“Well…” Shiva started, looking to the empty house across the street. “I find some people with money. By morning that house…that awful memory of yours…will be gone. Nothing.”

“I meant with us. What now with us?”

Shiva smiled. “We’re both professionals. This city’s big enough for both of us…as long as your name is never whispered to me again. Is that fair?”

Batgirl nodded, rising slowly to shake Shiva’s hand. “Fair enough.”

Shiva never bothered to reach for Batgirl’s gloved hand. Instead, she suddenly raced through the back yard of the home Batgirl stood next to, heading to the next street down. Batgirl didn’t bother to follow to figure out where she was going. She had another agenda in mind.

It was late night on the street, making it fairly safe for her to dart across the deserted street unnoticed. She passed by the flower beds in front of Harry and Martha’s house, running around the side past the slightly buzzing electric meter she remembered passing so many times.

The back of the house hadn’t changed much either – three steps up to the wooden deck, stare at the old rusty charcoal grill for a moment, and grab the corroded brass knob of the wooden back door to the kitchen.

She paused for a moment, her hand freezing just before she turned the doorknob. She was hesitating – something which had been foreign to her since the day she put on the Batgirl costume. Nodding to herself, she re-affirmed in her mind that she had to be decisive, and act without dwelling on it too much.

She stood on her toes and reached above the door’s sill, revealing a key she knew was there all along. A click of the lock and a turn of the doorknob, and she was in.

The kitchen was completely dark and silent. Harry and his wife were no doubt deeply sleeping in the next room…or were. Most likely, the sound of the door would waken Harry, and he would be on his way to the kitchen once he confirmed that the sound wasn’t generated by his own mind.

Cassandra slipped her mask off and slid into a chair, dropping the mask into her lap as she looked around the room. It was all so familiar…she remembered sitting in the same chair, her face and muscles feeling sore. She remembered the horror she felt, and the flashes of images of what had happened to her minutes before she walked through that kitchen door.

Light suddenly flooded into the kitchen. Cassandra looked up, seeing the shocked faces of Harry and his wife Mary looking back at her. Harry held a baseball bat in one hand, and Mary hid partially behind him.

“My Lord in heaven.” Harry whispered in a soft voice.

“It’s me,” Cassandra said in a soft voice, smiling at the two of them.

Harry remained frozen, but Mary shoved past him, snatching Cassandra out of the chair, hugging her tightly. “My God…we thought you had died in that fire! And…what’s with this costume? Are you a burglar now?”

“She’s not a burglar, Mary,” Harry said as he walked completely into the room, “It looks kind of like that…Batman’s costume. What’s going on, Cassandra?”

She beamed with a big smile on her face as she held the mask up at eye level. “I’m Batgirl now.”

What may have been a warm reunion suddenly changed as Harry suddenly gasped, clutching at his chest as he tried to steady himself against the edge of the table. The table simply slid out of his way, sending him tumbling to the floor.

“Harry! No!” Mary raced to his side, pointing frantically at the phone. Cassandra didn’t see…she was already dialing. She handed the phone to Mary, who began speaking to the dispatcher in a panicked voice.

Then Cassandra remembered something…a bottle Batman had given her long ago. No…two bottles. One was Potassium Chloride, used to induce a heart attack in someone. He instructed her to use it if someone with a big mouth learned her identity. The second bottle…

…was the antidote. She slipped the bottle out of a tiny pouch on her belt, holding it up to the light. The antidote was a liquid in a gelatin caplet, to allow it to be squeezed out if the victim couldn’t swallow.

She knelt beside Harry, removing one of the small caplets from the bottle. She gently brushed her leather gloved fingers through his hair as she gently squeezed the contents of the caplet into his mouth with her other hand. “Everything will be okay.”

Time seemed to stand still in the room as Harry’s breathing went from labored to strained, and then to normal. Nothing moved, not a sound was made…until the siren of the ambulance outside suddenly broke the silence. Cassandra suddenly snapped back to reality. She had to leave.

“Mary–” Cassandra said, as she reached for her mask.

Without a word, Mary nodded in agreement. “I understand. Thank you…and I hope to see you again soon.”

“Count on it,” Cassandra said, as she slipped her mask back on and raced out the back door. The paramedics never knew she was there – and Mary could not explain how she managed to stabilize Harry before they arrived.

But by that point, the most important thing was the paramedics’ last announcement before they left with Harry – “He’ll live.”
Cassandra felt exhausted as she slipped into Wayne manor through a hidden back door and walked into an interior hallway, pulling off her mask as she headed toward her room to change. The whole place was almost completely dark and silent – Batman and Robin were out somewhere, and Alfred was taking a short nap before their return.

But she didn’t count on one other person to still be around. As she headed from her room to the kitchen for a drink of water, she almost passed right by the study…until she noticed a fire burning in the fireplace. Dick sat on one of the couches, just staring into the flames.

“Hey.” Cassandra said softly, barely loud enough for Dick to hear over the fire. She approached him from behind just as he turned around to stare at her – he seemed surprised by the attention. “Thanks…for the advice.”

“What advice?” Dick asked patiently.

“You know…not leaving the past behind. I…visited someone I knew. A kind neighbor of mine.”

Dick almost let her confession slip by for a moment – before realizing that she had just returned from an outing…in costume. “Wait…you’re telling me you visited someone you knew in costume?”

Cassandra shook her head and took a step back. “I took off the mask. I didn’t want to scare them.”

“That’s even worse.” Dick closed his eyes and sighed, rising slowly from the couch. “Look…you trust those people you dropped in on, right?”

“Yes.” Cassandra nodded. “They were the only ones who cared for me.”

“All right.” Dick smiled slightly. “Just be careful, okay? And don’t tell Bruce about this, he’ll give you the standard lecture.”

“I know.” She smiled.

“Are you kind of bored?” Dick looked at the fire again, shrugging as he turned back to Cassandra. “I mean, hey, I’m staring at a roaring fire. That’s pretty boring. What would you like to do?”

Cassandra paused for a moment, staring at the ceiling with an exaggerated thoughtful expression, before smiling at Dick again. “Get some ice cream?”

Dick nodded. “Let’s go.”
As the Gotham City scenery flew past at terrifying speeds, Cassandra couldn’t help but feel a little amused. She sat on the back of Dick Grayson’s motorcycle, wearing a leather jacket, gloves, and a helmet – the latter at Dick’s insistence – holding on tight as he tore through the streets at speeds which seemed dangerous even to her.

She was grateful for the helmet at least because it prevented the slight cool drizzle from pelting her skin like small knives. The two were going fast enough that she could hear each small drop hit the plastic shield across her face.

“Here we are,” Dick announced, as he suddenly locked the brakes, sliding the bike across the wet pavement to stop next to the curb. She just knew he was showing off a little…or maybe he was so used to showing off that he made a habit of it. It’s part of the reason she balanced herself by holding on to the bike – holding on to him would give him feedback to when she felt uncomfortable, encouraging him to show off further.

Cassandra stepped off of the motorcycle, placing the helmet gently on the seat as she followed Dick toward a small convenience store. It was one of the few places in town to sell ice cream so late at night – but Cassandra still wondered why he had to pick a place in such a seedy neighborhood.

Only a short distance away, a group of teenagers dressed in baggy clothing eyed the two of them – Cassandra could hear them talking about the motorcycle. She pretended to ignore them, keeping tabs on them with only her ears. She assumed Dick was doing the same.

She entered the small convenience store, watching Dick as he ordered two ice cream cones. The clerk seemed less than happy to fill ice cream orders so late at night, but he did so anyway, gouging the price no more than usual.

By the time Dick turned around, however, Cassandra was outside, standing a few feet away from his bike. The teens in baggy clothing had crossed the street, and were too close to the motorcycle. Cassandra was standing guard, silent and with arms folded, in spite of jeers from the small crowd as she gave them all a cold stare.

“Don’t let her catch you messing with my bike,” Dick told the teens, “Or you’ll all have to deal with me.”

Cassandra frowned for an instant as she sat sideways on the seat of the bike, slowly eating her ice cream cone, watching the teens walk away slowly. “Why are they afraid of you?”

Dick laughed. “Because I’m a lot bigger than you are. A lot of intimidation is sheer size. But you did scare them a little, Cassandra. In this neighborhood, they’d steal the bike, the helmet, and your shoes if they didn’t–”

Cassandra turned her head to see why he had suddenly stopped talking. Across the street there was an argument going on among four people. It was becoming heated. At first, that didn’t concern her a bit, as it wasn’t happening all that close by – but then she gelt alarm as she realized that the group of four was made up of two pairs of men wearing different colors.

“Time to go.” Cassandra whispered.

Dick didn’t move at first. He continued to stare across the street at the argument, as if he were interested in what was going on.

“Let’s go.” Cassandra said, more insistently. She sensed that the argument was about to become dangerous. The men wearing different colors were from rival gangs, and were most likely armed.

Just as Dick started up the motorcycle’s engine and started rolling away from the curb, Cassandra spotted a car turning around the corner toward them. It was an older car, and moving very slowly. Without speaking a word, she reached forward and turned the steering hard. Dick was forced to make a quick U-turn to avoid having the bike tip over, before he stopped suddenly.

“What are you…?”

“Go!” Cassandra hit him in the back of his ribs hard enough to cause him to wince. He accelerated quickly, staring straight ahead blankly, seeming as if he were afraid Cassandra would hit him again.

But he discovered why soon enough – he heard four loud sounds behind him…and without turning around to see what it was, he revved the engine of the bike, sending them careening down the street quickly. Cassandra had spotted a drive-by shooting in progress – and since his bike faced the same direction as the car, it would be coming this way soon.

Once he felt they were far enough away, Dick slowed down a bit to avoid attracting attention from traffic enforcement police, but didn’t say a word until they ended up back on the grounds of Wayne Manor. When he stepped off of the bike and looked at Cassandra, he noticed that she had been finishing off the ice cream cone during the ride. His sat half-melted in the center of the bike’s console.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“Head bands,” Cassandra said, just before she stuffed the rest of the ice cream cone into her mouth. She paused for a few seconds while she waited for the sudden sting of an ice cream headache to dissipate. “They wore different colored ones.”

Dick chuckled as he walked inside ahead of Cassandra. “You’ve been watching too much TV, kid.”
Cassandra had only entered her room seconds ago, giving her enough time to remove her shoes and sit up against the headboard of her bed, snatching the television remote control from her nightstand to check what was on. She had been so busy lately, she didn’t have much time just to relax.

She almost frowned when Tim knocked on the partially open door and slowly entered, because her quiet relaxation was about to be interrupted. But then she remembered…she hadn’t talked to Tim in a while.

“I saw what you did,” he said as he slid one of the chairs next to the bed and sat down, leaning toward her to whisper. “I saw you visit that house.”

Cassandra looked at the ceiling for a moment and sighed. “Did you tell Bruce?”

“Of course not.” Tim smiled, seeming happy as Cassandra breathed a sigh of relief. “I followed you because I knew you were going to meet Shiva. I was worried, and…I wanted to even the odds a little.”

“Thanks.” Cassandra mumbled, staring at the television once again. “But I can take care of myself.”

“Who were they?” Tim asked.

Cassandra sighed, apparently uncomfortable with Tim’s questioning. But she knew he wouldn’t give up easily if she simply dismissed him. “They were friends. They took care of me when no one else would.”

“Oh,” Tim said, suddenly falling silent as he stared across the room at her.

She was surprised that he didn’t comment. It was almost as if Tim were purposely trying to avoid discussing Cassandra’s past, as if it upsetting to him. Or maybe he wasn’t prepared for such a quick, simple answer. Or perhaps he knew something…

Just as Tim headed for the door slowly, Cassandra slid off of the bed and raced to the doorway ahead of him, checking the hallway before slamming the door shut. “He knows, doesn’t he?”

Before Tim said a word, his eyes looked down. She knew his answer already, before he even opened his mouth.

“Sit,” Cassandra said as she sighed at the thought that Bruce knew where she went. She knew that it meant a lecture later. “I’ll tell you more.”

She waited until Tim turned one of the chairs next to the table in her room around, and sat down. He patiently faced her, waiting for her to continue. Cassandra sat down too, one fist squeezed into her opposite hand, looking down at her lap, making it obvious that she was about to speak on a very uncomfortable subject.

“He…my dad…used to go crazy sometimes. He would throw things at me. When I knew he was like that…I used to run next door. Harry and Mary would talk to me, make me feel better.”

“Did you go there before you burned…?” Tim asked. He seemed shocked at his own question, stopping halfway. But it got no reaction at all from Cassandra other than a slow nod.

“I wanted my dad to fear me for a change.” Cassandra continued nodding slowly, as she now stared steadily, directly at Tim, with her brown eyes.

Tim leaned forward, holding his breath as he prepared to himself to ask the one question he had been asking himself about Cassandra since he first began working with her. It would make the difference between him fearing her, or finally understanding her. “Do you want me to fear you? Or Bruce?”

With the long paused and cold stare from her that followed, Tim was almost sure the answer would be ‘yes’. A chill ran down his spine…she was a lot more like Bruce than he ever imagined. As Batman, Bruce intimidated both friends and enemies almost equally with a cold, menacing, uncaring personality. He hoped Cassandra would be different…and she seemed to be sometimes, allowing raw emotion to pierce her tough exterior.

A second later, as Cassandra rose from the chair she sat in, he realized that his assessment of what her answer would be was completely wrong. It was easy to tell that she felt insulted as she walked away from him, picked up the television remote off of the bed, and stared at it as if she meant to do something, but couldn’t find the strength.

“Cassandra, I–”

He could feel a chill as she whispered only two words to him, never looking up or meeting his pleading gaze. Just two words, softly whispered, said everything, left Tim no doubt how she felt about his question.

“Get out,” she whispered softly.

With a sigh, Tim hung his head and slowly slipped out of Cassandra’s room, closing the door silently behind him. He knew he was so close to understanding her. So close. But then he had to say something stupid.

He walked down the hall toward the study, pausing to lean his forehead against a door along the way. He sighed to himself, shaking his head slowly. “Tim, you’re an idiot.”
Cassandra sat in costume, with the exception of the mask, on the edge of a counter in the Bat Cave, patiently waiting while Bruce did some research. She found it rather annoying that Bruce always asked her to show up in costume, yet he often wore civilian clothing until just before they were ready to leave.

It had been almost a full day since she last saw Tim. She kind of hoped she would see him on this mission, or at least before she left. But just her luck, Bruce sent him out on his own, and asked her to work with him this night instead.

She still felt a little guilty for kicking him out the night before. She wanted so much to trust him, and have him trust her. But there was still this underlying fear Tim felt, as if he was afraid she would lose her mind one day and kill him and Bruce. Cassandra found that insulting…and it made her feel alone.

As she watched Bruce work alone on the computer, requiring her to remain almost silent to maintain his concentration, she wondered if he felt the same way – if he too had the same underlying fear. She had to wonder if she was, for the most part, alone in the world.

Luckily, one person seemed to understand her. She could hear Barbara Gordon’s voice leaking slightly through a headset Bruce wore as he talked to her. Barbara seemed to be Cassandra’s voice when she was too fearful of her own words to speak.

Cassandra now knew that it was Barbara’s influence which finally encouraged Bruce to try and relate to her, to treat her like a peer, not a child lacking in discipline. It worked – Cassandra could now talk to Bruce, and vice versa, without the conversation erupting into a power struggle.

But Cassandra felt there were still underlying problems. She could tell that both Bruce and Tim were uneasy around her. Even a conversation she had with Barbara earlier in the day didn’t seem to solve her concerns.

“It’s because you’re female,” Barbara told her, half-jokingly.

Cassandra nearly laughed when she heard that…but then she couldn’t help but wonder. It just didn’t seem true to her…but it was possible. After all, the team of Batman and Robin could be equated with a father-and-son team, or two guys with similar interests working together in the same field. But then…why did Dick leave?

It was all so confusing. Maybe Barbara was partially correct, or perhaps Bruce and Tim were a little afraid of Cassandra because of her past. She could only hope to learn the truth one day.

“I’m very disappointed,” Bruce said.

At first, Cassandra wasn’t sure that was aimed at her. But after a long paused, and feeling his eyes finally turned toward her, she broke free of her own thoughts and gave him her full attention.

“I know where you went last night,” Bruce said, his gaze steady and cold. She could tell he was Batman already. “But I don’t know why.”

Cassandra thought about giving Bruce the silent treatment she had become so fond of giving him, usually leading to a cold shoulder from Bruce which makes the North Pole seem like a paradise. But something in her wanted to put Bruce on the defense for a change. Maybe it was the conversation with Barbara, or what had happened with Tim the day before. Or maybe she had finally reached some kind of limit.

“I’m disappointed too,” Cassandra said softly, giving Bruce a serious look. “I thought you trusted me. Instead you spy on me.”

At that moment, Cassandra realized that she seriously underestimated the level of arrogance and self-importance which Bruce carefully hid behind a calm facade at the request of Barbara. That facade crumbled quickly, revealing a solid frown and a set of cold eyes which chilled her to her core.

“Don’t try to stare me down, Cassandra. You’re way out of your league.”

“And you’re out of your mind,” Cassandra blurted out suddenly. A glint of fear, for just a moment, crossed her face. But once she realized that Bruce was now literally staring her down…as Batman…she cleared all emotion from her expression, and stared back.

She quickly realized the reason why a stare from Batman was so fearful. It wasn’t his hidden eyes, or the glassy stillness of them, leaving you wondering if those eyes were real. It wasn’t even the fact that he literally would not blink. Instead, it seemed to bring on the combined fear of everyone who had ever been large, frightening, intimidating in your life. His eyes made a person feel like a child before him, only seconds from being whipped into submission by an angry headmaster.

Cassandra, however, had another reaction to it. His eyes conjured up the image of someone who used to frighten her, but would no more. She launched herself at Bruce suddenly before she had a second to think.

As she suddenly found herself airborne, she regretted not taking a moment to plan better, to think about the consequences of attempting what she did. She closed her eyes and rolled into a ball as she cringed, waiting for the inevitable crash to the ground, tumbling through a few chairs and a table as she landed.

By the time she rose to her feet again, he was there, right in front of her, waiting. It was easy to understand why he was such an unbeatable foe out on the street – he would always be there, right on top of you…but you could never touch him.

“Want to try and be smarter this time?” Bruce asked, obviously taunting her.

“Go to hell,” Cassandra mumbled in reply. She turned and headed away from Bruce, walking just fast enough to keep him too far behind to reach for her.

“Cassandra, wait.”

She stopped and turned slowly. Not because Bruce demanded it, or ordered her to. This time was different – his voice sounded like he was pleading, as if he genuinely didn’t want her to leave.

Cassandra stood still as Bruce walked closer, standing in front of her with his arms folded. He still didn’t look happy…but the coldness in his eyes had vanished. He was just Bruce now.

“I admire your spirit,” Bruce said. “You might have lost the physical battle, but you managed to break my resolve.”

She continued staring at him, waiting for an apology that would never come. In Bruce’s case, apologies were rare – but she did manage to get the next best thing. He gave her respect instead.

“Let’s put this aside and do what we came here to do.” Bruce extended his hand, offering to shake Cassandra’s.

“Agreed.” She nodded as she shook his hand twice slowly, letting go to slip her Batgirl mask over her head and run to the car to wait for Bruce to change. It would only take a few minutes.

“I never thought I’d see the day,” Alfred joked as he held open the door to the small closet which held the Batman costume.

Bruce didn’t react – but having known him since childhood, Alfred knew he would have, if he hadn’t shielded himself behind his emotionless alter ego. There was cause for celebration after all – Cassandra and Bruce nearly fought…both won, and both lost. But in the end, they set aside their disagreement in favor of something they both enjoyed.

Alfred smiled as he watched the Batmobile head out into the cool, rainy night. Calm would prevail tonight.
The Batmobile arrived at the center of downtown Gotham City just in time for it’s huge, dark modern art museum to explode. Chunks of brick, glass and concrete flew into the rain-soaked streets, leaving the sounds of car alarms and distant sirens to break the silence.

Batgirl braced herself as the Batmobile came to a screeching halt, and large chunks of concrete and brick pelted the car from above. She heard Batman curse – and event in itself – and watched helplessly as he punched the console in front of him repeatedly until shards of plastic dropped onto the floor of the passenger side.

There was only one man who could make Batman so angry…and as he looked at Batgirl, still breathing quickly, she realized immediately who it was. It had to be Joker. That’s why Bruce was on-edge enough to pick a fight with her, and why he spent an unusual amount of time researching. He wanted to beat that lunatic just once…but the raining chunks of building and flames all around meant that he failed again.

“All of that work,” he whispered, “This building held some artists’ entire lives. Now it’s all gone because I was a second too late to stop–”

“No.” Batgirl suddenly sat up on her seat. Something didn’t seem right to her. “He…he took them. He had to.”

“Took them?” Batman shook his head. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“He always says he’s ‘an artist’. He didn’t destroy anything…he took it.”

Batman looked toward the burning building again, staring for a few seconds before turning back to Cassandra. “You’re right. Let’s check it out.”

Batgirl usually hated heading into burning buildings. Her heavy leather costume offered her little protection from the heat and smoke, yet kept her from remaining cool enough to work efficiently. But this time was different – she knew she was right, it was simply a matter of proving it to Batman and satisfying her own curiosity.

Luckily, they didn’t stay inside the scorching hot museum for long. They couldn’t anyway, considering that the fire department and police were literally moments away. As soon as they walked into the first exhibit, it was overwhelmingly obvious that the entire building had been cleared out. Empty rectangles marked the wall where paintings had been taken, and a dust-free shape on the floor indicated where a statue once stood.

Without a word, Batman motioned toward the exit. The sound of sirens outside grew dangerously close, and it was time to get out quickly. Batgirl followed, passing him quickly and racing across the street just as the first police car turned the corner.

By the time she climbed into the Batmobile, Batman had just dropped into the driver’s seat from above. He used a cable launcher to swing across the street, where he would be out of view of the approaching police car.

Just as Batman reached for the ignition, Batgirl pulled his hand away. “Wait.”

Just as she predicted, the two police cars which just arrived turned sharply as they approached the front of the museum, pointing their headlights and spotlights at the front door. A fire engine came around the corner about the same time.

Batman started up the Batmobile and drove away slowly, giving Batgirl a suspicious look as he turned the corner away from the museum. “You’ve been getting much too close to police, Cassandra.”

“Not anymore.” Batgirl smiled…’much too close to police.’ It brought images to mind of those two cops who came by Wayne Manor to question her. They wouldn’t be bothering her again for a while.

But Joker on the other hand…she shivered at the prospect of meeting him again. Every time she ended up close to him, either she almost killed him or he almost killed her. The last time, she almost killed him…but didn’t out of a promise to Shiva. She only hoped that the next time, the odds would be in her favor.

She took a deep breath as she watched Batman’s expression change from its general seriousness to one of anger. His driving was becoming more dangerous by the second. She could hear him breathing, feel the anger in the sound of it. His Batman persona was slipping, just as it did a little more with each encounter with his greatest foe.

Batgirl’s heart began racing. That’s why Joker kept winning – because he knew he scared Batman. He could feel it, taste it, smell it. But Batgirl, on the other hand…she didn’t know to fear him. That made her an even greater threat to him than Batman – and as well, made her Batman’s best protection.

She squeezed her leather-gloved hands into fists as the Batmobile exited the roadway and headed toward a warehouse at the end of a loading pier on the edge of Gotham City. She knew her mission now. She had to protect Batman from Joker…and from himself.


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