A dark female form stood over two neighboring graves, he cape and her head both drooped down, motionless. The only witnesses were the moon and the birds as the form heeded neither the sounds of the night nor the stiff wind caused by an approaching storm. Even a sudden flash of lightning did nothing to capture her attention.
Batgirl stood in front of those two gravestones even as rain began pelting her costume mercilessly. She stood, eyes closed, trying to fight back tears which were trying to force their way through. She had to keep control of her feelings. She had to face her fears.
As she opened her eyes to look at the two graves once again, her feelings of regret and inward turned anger gave way to a wave of loneliness. She knew was an orphan now, and had no close friends to share her thoughts with. Her mind looked back at her thoughts before she set that fateful fire – for some reason, at the time, she thought she would finally gain some control over her life. She was wrong.
Her parents’ graves would stand forever, an eternal monument to her arrogance, and her stupidity. She had taken their lives without a second thought as to how it would affect anyone besides herself. The two gravestones would stand for centuries, mocking her and every one of her future descendents. No matter what she could possibly do to try to redeem herself, it would never be remembered as long.
Batgirl turned away from the graves as she hung her head and walked back toward the cemetery’s entrance. As she paused to take one more look at the two graves, she decided – for the sake of her future, she would never return here again.
As she stepped out onto the sidewalk, she glanced upward toward the roof of a nearby building. She knew Batman was there, watching over her. But that didn’t upset her. She knew he watched over her because he saw something of himself in her – and she knew that was the one thing he didn’t trust.
“Yo! Why don’t you mind your own damn business!” The man who uttered those words in a threatening tone couldn’t have been more then nineteen years old – and yet he had the courage to talk that way to a forty-five year old father of two who politely asked him to move somewhere else.
“I have kids, you little jerk!” The older man’s face began turning red as he screamed at the younger man in torn jeans and an oversized jacket. “You can’t stand here on my corner and sell your…your–”
“It’s a free country, man”, the younger man said as he stepped closer to the older man, “I can sell whatever I want, wherever I want. Whatcha gonna do?”
The older man frowned as he snatched the plastic bag the younger man held and threw it into the sewer. Feeling proud of himself, he stood once again to face the younger man. He thought he had prevailed.
He was wrong.
As he stood up, his forehead met the cold steel muzzle at the end of a stolen nine millimeter Baretta. He froze, trying to think of a way he could plead his way out of this. He quickly contemplated begging for his life, offering to go down into the sewer, anything to take back the last ten seconds.
“Say good night, chump.”
Three flashes of the muzzle blast filled the streets as the accompanying sharp, loud snaps echoed off seemingly every building in Gotham City. Seconds was all it took for three hunks of lead, each only nine millimeters across, to tear their way through the older man’s brain.
As the older man’s shattered skull hit the concrete sidewalk, the younger man calmly climbed into the driver’s side of his old blue Buick and drove away. He gave no thought to the older man’s two children, or the fact that he was the only source of income for his family. He gave no thought to the fact that somewhere on that street, two children’s hearts had been broken, and the woman who was his wife had just lost her will to live.
“This used to be such a nice, quiet neighborhood. But lately–” An old woman cut off her sentence as she quickly removed a handkerchief from her purse and resumed her sobbing. She knew the man who had been shot. He was her son.
Commissioner Gordon frowned and stared up at the top of a nearby apartment building as the old woman’s words echoed in his mind. He knew what those words meant – sooner or later, Batman would hear about it – and play vigilante in this neighborhood. He immediately closed his eyes and looked down at his boots as a painful image overwhelmed him – His daughter lying in the hospital, paralyzed. He half hoped Batman would give the shooter exactly what he deserved. Both of them.
As Gordon looked back up to the top of the building again, he noticed a dark, caped form standing atop the roof. But something about this form was…different. It was smaller then Batman. And female? Gordon squinted a little as he tried to concentrate. Another Batgirl? A villain?
“Who in heck…?” Without another word, Gordon slipped away from the police units nearby and headed into the building. Pure adrenaline powered his trip up four floors to the roof, a trip he would never have thought he could make on his own without taking a break. He burst through the door only to see…nothing.
Gordon sighed as he turned slowly toward the stairs. He felt a little…rejected. Batman never ran from him – he would always stand his ground and give Gordon a chance to explain himself. He froze in mid-stride as he felt a tap on his shoulder from behind. Gordon turned slowly, expecting to see someone holding a weapon on him – but instead, it was a young woman, shorter then himself, wearing a dark bat costume. It was Batgirl.
He froze as he stared into her dark, intense, unwavering gaze. She seemed to hypnotize him with her eyes as he stood frozen, not sure what to make of her. Not sure if she was friend or foe, or what she was capable of.
Then she smiled. A warm smile, accompanied by her holding out her gloved hand in an attempt to shake Gordon’s hand. He slowly extended his own hand, and shook hers slowly.
Still smiling, Batgirl took a couple of steps away from Gordon and removed a cable launcher from her belt. She gave him a thumbs-up sign just before she launched the cable – and was gone in seconds.
Gordon smiled to himself as he watched Batgirl disappear off into the darkness. She was no danger, she was just a sweet young woman trying to follow in Batman’s footsteps, in search of justice. Just like his daughter, Barbara.
Bruce didn’t even wait until he was completely seated at his desk before he activated the recording system. His mind was racing over what he saw, and he had to run through his thoughts to make some sense out of them.
“Cassandra appears to be…feeling remorse? Could she be feeling regret at killing her parents?”
He rubbed his chin briefly as he recalled the scene at Cassandra’s house during her rescue. The whole house was going up in flames, no hope to save anyone. He spotted a shadow in the window – a young woman trying to escape the searing heat of the fire closing in on her. He remembered grabbing her quickly, pulling her out of the window…and watching her promptly lose consciousness from the smoke inhalation.
“This is becoming rather…frightening, even for me. This young girl is like a dark mirror of what I was at her age – only she’s more…driven. She’s more–”
Bruce interrupted himself and slammed his hand on the ‘stop’ button as he spotted a small bat-shaped object on the corner of his desk. He had been bugged! And he knew who the culprit was – Barbara would be much more subtle, and Tim depended more on his own ears then technology.
As he stood up, he angrily ripped the listening device from the corner of the desk and began storming toward Cassandra’s room – only before he even reached the door of his darkened office, he could see the door opening slowly. He could see Cassandra’s head peeking in through the partially open door.
Suddenly at a loss for words, Bruce just stared. He was waiting for her to give an excuse, apologize, anything. She had just broken one of his cardinal rules, not to mention breaking the trust he had in her.
Bruce’s frown turned into an expression of confusion and curiosity. Cassandra was trying to tell him something, but he didn’t understand. “Yes, what?”
Cassandra stepped into the room and looked down at the floor as she approached Bruce slowly. “I…I feel regret.”
Bruce’s heart sank as he watched a single tear slide off of the end of Cassandra’s nose toward the floor. He now understood – before him stood not a powerful super-hero. She was simply a young woman looking for a place in the world. She wanted only for someone to care.
“Cassandra, you’ve taken the first big step.” He held her chin up so her eyes met his as he smiled. “You want to be a crime fighter? A real crime fighter?”
Cassandra nodded a ‘yes’.
Bruce headed toward the door, turning around to face Cassandra again just before he left. “Meet me downstairs, one hour. It’s time you had some real training.”
Cassandra entered the large room downstairs to be surprised by it’s new surroundings. Where there was once a huge dining room table was now a soft, cotton-covered white mat. At one end of the mat stood a tall, obviously very strong man wearing a white robe with a black belt around his waist. Bruce sat on the only chair in the room, at the opposite end of the mat.
Bruce smiled. “Welcome to your training lesson, Cassandra. This man, who’s a friend of mine, is a black belt in Karate. Your object is to take him down without seriously hurting him, and learn his name – if he doesn’t take you down first. My job in this is to interfere with you as much as possible.”
Bruce stood up and shoved the chair aside. “Good luck, Cassandra.”
Cassandra stood for a moment staring at Bruce, waiting for him to give some kind of signal. She quickly found that there was none – she felt a shift in the air behind her, and ducked just in time before the strange man’s foot passed only inches above her head.
She quickly charged the man and tackled him, intent on pinning him to the mat – but she was seriously outmatched in strength. The man easily threw her to the mat and leapt back to his feet. Cassandra rolled away from him quickly only to catch Bruce out of the corner of her eye, trying to reach for her feet. She curled up to avoid Bruce and then jumped to her feet quickly.
Cassandra learned by now that fighting two men who were stronger then she was meant she would have to avoid assaulting either of them directly – she would have to remain on defense, and use her wits. She turned her head back and forth quickly to see that both Bruce and the strange man were heading toward her at the same time, quickly. She also spotted the chair again – she knew it was there for her to use.
She quickly curled into a ball and rolled past Bruce as he came toward her, grabbing the legs of the chair just as she sat up. When Bruce charged toward her an instant later, she leaned the chair and jammed the back of it between Bruce’s ribs, causing him to flip over the chair to the floor. She then jumped to her feet, lifted the chair up, and hit the strange man in the face with the wooden legs, causing two of them to break off. As soon as he fell to the ground, she reached down and folded the heavy safety mat on top of him, and jumped on top of the folded mat. He was trapped.
Keeping one eye on Bruce to make sure he didn’t interfere again, she grabbed a handful of the strange man’s hair and tugged on it gently. He howled in pain. “Name?”
Cassandra gripped his hair a little harder, twisting a little bit as he screamed in pain again. She knew he was lying. They always lie the first time. “Name?”
As she spotted Bruce in her peripheral vision heading toward her from behind, Cassandra let anger fill her quickly. No more playing nice, it was time for her to get tough.
She kicked the approaching Bruce in the stomach, and hit him on the chin as he fell. She then wrapped her fingers around the strange man’s neck and snatched one of the broken chair legs laying on the ground nearby. She began shoving it mercilessly into his mouth.
The man began frantically waving at Bruce, who was slowly trying to rise to his feet and regain his equilibrium. As usual, he did so rather quickly – only this time, instead of rushing to stop Cassandra, he opted to try and talk to her this time.
“Cassandra, stop!” Bruce stepped toward her slowly. “His name is Bob Sampson.”
Cassandra released her hand from the man’s throat and tossed the chair leg aside. She then stood up and unfolded the mat, releasing the man, and held out her hand to help him back to his feet. Naturally, he refused her help and stood up on his own.
She stood a few feet away from the two bruised and exhausted men, smiling. Bruce stared at her in bewilderment before starting to laugh out loud. ‘Bob’ began laughing a second or two after. Her smile started turning into a frown – she didn’t understand what was so funny.
“I’m sorry, Cassandra.” Bruce stepped toward her and put one hand on her shoulder. “We can’t believe you beat that training exercise so easily. Tim had trouble with it, so did Barbara. Even Dick had trouble.”
“Congratulations.” Bruce leaned closer to Cassandra and looked right into her eyes. “You’re the only person who managed to learn Bob’s name.”
Cassandra smiled brightly as her mind completed Bruce’s next sentence before it left his mouth.
Curtains and blinds were instantaneously closed along a residential street as a blue Buick slowed to a stop on the corner. The same corner still stained with the blood of a man who wanted only to protect his family, and his neighbors. He learned the hard way that often no good deed goes unpunished.
The same nineteen year old man stepped out of the car and lit a cigarette in his mouth, carelessly tossing the match onto someone’s manicured lawn. He didn’t care – he was there on business. A smile curled on his face as he could plainly see the residents of the street peeking out at him from behind their blinds. He laughed to himself – they thought they were safe, but he could take any and all of them down at any time. He knew at least one of them had already called the cops – but he didn’t care. Cops were only human, they died just as easily as anyone else.
He held his breath and turned quickly as a car approached from behind him, and then exhaled as he realized it was only his ‘customer’. He walked up to the car and leaned in the window. “Got the money?”
The man inside the car bowed his head, giving away his answer as an obvious ‘no’. “Frank, I…”
“Don’t call me that, deadbeat.” Frank lit another cigarette, tossing the burning remains of his old one into the car of his ‘customer’. “You know what I do to deadbeats?”
With one swift motion, Frank removed a nine millimeter pistol from behind his coat, the light from a nearby street glinting off of it’s steel surface as he brought it level with the head of his ‘customer’, who was now babbling and begging for his life.
Just as he began to squeeze the trigger, a black wing-shaped piece of metal hit his hand, knocking the gun to the ground. “What the–”
He leaned over to grab the gun off the ground only to be hit on the chin by what felt like a very powerful fist, and knocked flat onto the concrete sidewalk. Fear began to fill him as his mind put the ingredients together – he was sure he had finally met the infamous Batman. Frank looked up at his assailant as he leaned on his elbows for leverage. He then realized that it was no man who assaulted him, but a woman – Batgirl.
Frank smiled mischievously as he tried to return to his feet – only Batgirl’s boot immediately pinned his shoulder to the ground painfully.
Batgirl turned around quickly as she heard the doors open on the blue Buick. Three more thugs were exiting the car, each carrying a nine millimeter pistol. Batgirl knew she could easily disarm them all – but with innocent civilians so close by, she couldn’t take the risk of even one stray bullet.
She fired a cable launcher at a nearby apartment building and sped skyward as the launcher retracted it’s cable. If they were going to shoot, she had to keep them firing skyward. She wanted to make sure there were no innocent casualties.
She kneeled down and glared at the four thugs from the top of the apartment building, watching them squint toward her with their guns pointed skyward – they couldn’t see her in the dark. More cowards. They appeared to be everywhere these days. Batgirl waited patiently for the four of them to either split up or cluster together – either way, she would have the advantage.
As soon as the four crashed through the glass front door of the apartment building, Batgirl tensed a little bit – they were on their way up to the roof. But she still had the advantage – the roof was not lighted, and she had the element of surprise. She raced over to the small shack which housed the door between the stairway and the roof, jumping on top of it and crouching down. They’d never think to look there.
Batgirl waited calmly as the door opened and they began to step onto the roof, one by one. She wanted them all out in the open, in her world. That way she would be able to target them swiftly and silently. As soon as the last of the four stepped through the door, she leapt at them feet first. Batgirl knocked them all off of their feet like a row of dominoes collapsing on top of each other.
The first of the four to reach for his gun was met with a fist on the side of his head, the second a boot to the forehead. She was quickly losing patience with their persistence as she snatched the third by the back of his shirt, tossing him as far as her strength allowed.
As Batgirl turned to the other three again, she watched them freeze in wide eyed horror, just before she heard a terrified scream behind her. A quick glance behind her told her what they already knew – the man she quickly tossed out of the way had gone right over the side of the building.
Knowing she had the advantage now, Batgirl smiled at the other three men standing in front of her. She took a step toward them – they took a step back. Feeling more confident, she lunged toward them. As soon as she did, the three raced for the stairway, nearly tripping over each other to get out of her way. They were so frightened, they even left their guns behind. Batgirl carefully picked each of them up, slipping them behind her belt – she wanted to make sure no children found them lying there.
She stepped toward the edge of the roof, looking down toward the street to see the three tearing away in their cars. They didn’t even stop to check on their friend who fell off the roof.
Batgirl glided down to the street as she noticed the man who fell lying on the pavement, one of his hands twitching – he was still alive! As soon as her feet touched the ground, she kneeled down to examine him. He was still breathing, though unconscious. He needed medical help badly – and she couldn’t take him to a hospital herself, it was too dangerous to move him.
She remembered seeing a telephone just inside the window of a ground-floor apartment behind her. She turned quickly, punched through the glass window without a second thought, and threw the telephone handset on the floor. She then dialed nine-one-one. A dead-air call would alert both the police and a rescue unit to show up.
Silence filled the entire neighborhood as it’s residents started to slowly come out to watch Batgirl kneel down silently next to this stranger, holding his hand as distant sirens approached quickly. She wasn’t going to leave him to let him die alone on the cold pavement. To hell with Bruce’s rules.
“They could have arrested you, Cassandra. They could have discovered your identity.”
Bruce paced the room angrily as Cassandra stood silent with her arms folded, watching him with her eyes. He didn’t understand. He never would.
“Cassandra.” Bruce stepped in front of her, and looked down into the same deep brown eyes which had been following him around the room. “If you’re arrested and discovered, there will be no more Batgirl…Ever. Understand?”
Cassandra frowned and looked at the floor. She closed her eyes for a second as an image appeared in her mind of the man she ‘rescued’, lying on a stretcher, his eyes open. She saw so much sadness and confusion in those eyes, as if he was grateful, but couldn’t understand why Batgirl had come to his rescue.
As she reopened her eyes, she could see Bruce standing in front of her. She could feel a tear rolling down her cheek slowly. More a tear of frustration then sadness – she wanted so badly for Bruce to understand how she felt, what she saw…It was something that touched her to her soul, made her feel like a real hero. And yet here she was afterward, being made to feel ashamed for her actions.
“Are you okay, Cassandra? Do you feel sick?”
Cassandra shook her head ‘no’ as she turned a defiant gaze up to meet Bruce’s eyes. “I care.”
“You care? About what?” Bruce was a little intrigued now that he got Cassandra to talk to him for the second time today.
“People. My work.” Cassandra sat down on Bruce’s desk and hung her head. She felt a little ashamed to admit her weakness to Bruce, who told her every day that she must remain objective and out of touch with her feelings when taking the role of Batgirl. He always said that emotions cause irrational actions, which could get them both killed. She always knew something was wrong with that – and now, more then ever.
Bruce sighed. “I understand. You’re letting your feelings get involved with your work.”
Cassandra nodded a ‘yes’.
Bruce walked over to Cassandra and lifted her chin to meet her eye-to-eye. “Cassandra, you’re not the same as I am. You work differently. If you work better with your emotions then I do – and you can control them better – then so be it.”
Cassandra looked at Bruce with a little surprise over his sudden change in attitude. Could he no longer be obsessed with making everyone a mirror of himself?
“You do well as Batgirl, Cassandra.” Bruce took a step back as Cassandra slid off the desk, to her feet. “You have the courage to do things I never could do. And while Batman is just feared by everyone…People like Batgirl.”
Cassandra smiled, and turned her head to see that Alfred had just entered the room.
“Dinner is served, Miss Cassandra. Master Bruce.”
After Cassandra raced into the dining room ahead of the other two, Bruce stopped in the doorway. “How did I do, Alfred?”
Alfred smiled. “Excellent, Master Bruce. You gave her my speech almost word for word.”
Bruce laughed and shook his head as he headed toward the dining room. He didn’t let Alfred’s humor diminish his good mood – he was happy to finally understand Cassandra a little better.
As was traditional for Bruce, he spend almost every evening after dinner recording his thoughts…just in case.
“Cassandra appears to be unable to suppress her emotions as Batgirl, to separate herself from her work. But it’s not as bad as it sounds – her feelings seem to augment her instincts and skills somehow.”
Bruce paused in thought for a moment. Could he have been wrong all along? Could using his own emotions help him now that he has the experience?
“Her methods give her a little unpredictability, however. She may ignore important orders, or jump into a dangerous situation without looking–”
He shuddered for a moment at the thought of what could happen. But then he reminded himself that so far, it hasn’t happened. Cassandra always seemed to be able to take care of herself somehow, in a way even he didn’t fully understand.
“The fact that she’s almost as good as I am at this…and in some ways better…it sometimes makes me start to…rethink my own methods.”
Methods. He had to pause at the sound of that word. It made his work seem almost mechanical, scientific in nature. Cassandra, on the other hand, was more of a natural, her style more chaotic. Bruce sighed before he continued.
“Cassandra is a lot like me, but nothing like me as well. I figured out Dick and Tim very quickly…even Barbara didn’t take this long to figure out. Cassandra’s a mystery to me. And like every good detective…I feel I must solve this mystery–”
Bruce put down his microphone and frowned as he suddenly realized that something was different. He suddenly realized that he wasn’t the only one breathing in the room. Simple deduction told him exactly who it was.
“I know you’re here, Cassandra. Come on out.”
Only silence answered Bruce as he slowly reached for the switch on his desk lamp. He turned it on, filling the room with a pale yellow glow – only Cassandra was gone.
Bruce smiled. “Clever. Very clever.”
Batgirl stood high atop an apartment building, watching an old blue Buick drive up to the corner slowly. She glanced around the neighborhood quickly, and it made her sad. A formerly quiet neighborhood where kids would be outside playing, where parents would be sitting on porches being eaten alive by mosquitoes – it had been reduced to a neighborhood of fear, where people hid behind locked doors and drawn blinds.
She watched the car come to a stop as her fists clenched in anger. All of the fear surrounded this one coward and his friends. That’s what they were – only cowards prey on the weak for their own entertainment. It takes real strength to protect those within your reach.
Batgirl didn’t even move a muscle as she sensed someone walking up behind her. She knew exactly who it was by the sound of his footsteps, and of the wind tossing his cape – Batman. She was not surprised that he knew where she went, but she wondered why he came to help. She turned to face Batman, her eyes silently asking the question on her mind.
Batman put one hand on her shoulder. “Sometimes you have to follow your feelings. Let’s go, your lead.”
Batgirl smiled as she leapt off of the edge of the building, using her cape to glide gently down to the roof of the blue Buick just as it’s owner climbed out of the driver’s side.
“What the–” The man drew his pistol just in time for his chin and nose to meet Batgirl’s boot. He fell to the sidewalk, his broken nose and scratched up chin bleeding onto the concrete.
“You’re gonna pay for that”, he sputtered as he tried to spit the blood out of his mouth. Just as those words left his mouth, he saw a shadow hanging over him. Before he had a chance to look to see what it was, he felt himself being lifted up abruptly by his shirt collar. He began to shake uncontrollably, as he now realized that he was face to face with his worst fear – Batman.
“I’ll be watching you.” Those were the only words Batman said to the man before slamming his head into the side window of the car, and leaving him to slump to the sidewalk among beads of broken safety glass.
Once the man’s vision focused, he could see that Batman was gone – but Batgirl was still standing over him. The man cringed and held his arm up to try and shield himself from her inevitable assault. A second later, he realized there would be no such assault – she was holding her hand out, offering to help him to his feet.
As soon as she pulled the man up to his feet, she pointed at his car and then down the street. The man reluctantly climbed back into his car and began driving away. Just as she guessed, he was reluctant to try and argue with her in his condition.
Batman stood high atop the apartment building across from where Batgirl stood on the street. He watched the old Buick drive away. He watched people coming out of their homes, as porch lights began slowly filling the streets with light. He watched people shake Batgirl’s gloved hands. They all wanted to meet her, to thank the one who helped to save their neighborhood.
He smiled to himself and shook his head as he turned to head home. “Amazing. Simply amazing.”