“I swear, this city’s getting worse every day.” A tall man laughed at his own comment as he sat on the stairway of the Gotham Public Library, loading nine millimeter shells into a gun clip. “One of these days I’m gonna head for Metropolis, or Leesburg. Anywhere but this sewer.”
“Kenny, you’re such a pessimist.” Another man sat next to him, leaning against one of the decorative gargoyles near the staircase. “This city’s not getting any worse. It’s you, Kenny…you just notice more of it lately.”
“Yeah, Max?” Kenny snapped the clip into his gun, pointing it at Max while turning it sideways. “Dead men can’t be optimistic.”
“Knock it off, Kenny!” Max pushed the barrel of the gun away from him, and gave Kenny a shove. “You do that again, and Jack’s gonna hear about it.”
Kenny smiled and snickered to himself. “Jack’s an old man…and he spends too much time running from the law to care…What’s so funny, Max?”
Max looked up at Kenny, suddenly pausing in the middle of loading shells into his shotgun. “I wasn’t laughing.”
“Well then who–” Kenny suddenly turned pale as he turned slowly toward the doors of the library. There, standing in front of him, was a man with a white painted face, wearing a purple suit. “What in hell–”
“Tell me…Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” The figure stepped out of the dark doorway – and as he passed into the faint light from the street, Max and Kenny had no doubt as to his identity – The Joker.
“Wh-what?” Kenny began to move away slowly, as he raised his gun toward The Joker – but he couldn’t aim, as his hand began shaking. The more he tried to tell himself not to be frightened, the more his hand shook.
“Kenny, Kenny, Kenny. Tch, tch.” Joker calmly walked over to Kenny and smiled as he looked down at him. He shook his head mockingly. “And you call yourself a criminal. Pitiful.”
Kenny’s mouth fell open as Joker aimed his gun, point blank, at Kenny’s forehead. Kenny closed his eyes, expecting to feel the bullet tearing through his skull. He began to pray for a quick, painless death – that the bullet would put his lights out instantly, and he would feel nothing.
“New shoes. Don’t want to get blood on ’em.” Joker suddenly put his gun away, and walked past Kenny and a frozen Max, and saluted the two of them. “See you ’round.”
Max and Kenny didn’t move a single muscle as they watched Joker calmly walk down the street, whistling. They were both afraid that somehow, even if they would breathe wrong, they could cause the Joker to change his mind, turn around, and murder them.
Kenny let out a deep breath as soon as The Joker was safely out of sight. “My God, Max–”
As Max stood up slowly, Kenny could see that his pants were literally soaked through. He was shaking violently, and his teeth were chattering out of shock. Max dropped his gun to the ground and shook his head slowly as tears began forming in his eyes. “I’m…I’m out, Kenny. You’re on your own. I’m going home to my wife…while I still can.”
Kenny watched Max walk down the dimly lit street, headed for his home. He envied Max, a little, for having somewhere to go, for having a wife that loved him. As much as he thought of Max as a coward for bailing out he couldn’t help but think…Max was right.
Commissioner Gordon watched from his seat on the hood of his car as around a half dozen agents from the Immigration and Naturalization service swarmed around the port of Gotham among a dozen paramedics, treating refugees who were just escorted out of a large ship’s cargo hold.
From his best estimate, they spent a week or more inside that hold, with no food, water, or plumbing. The smell that came from the place…the looks on those people’s faces…they were things that would haunt him for a long time.
He placed his head in his hands and sighed. “Jim, get a hold of yourself. You’ve seen worse. You work in Gotham City, after all.”
As he raised his head back up, he realized that his hands were shaking. Yes, he had seen worse – mutilated dead bodies lying in the street, murdered children. But somehow, this was much more personal. He saw their eyes, pleading to him for help. It made him feel…angry.
Commissioner Gordon turned as one of his detectives approached. “What is it, Renee? Did you find out who this boat is registered to?”
Renee sighed. “Well…It took a bit of searching, Jim. It’s real owner was hidden by several corporation names.”
Gordon stood up and faced Renee. He had a bad feeling all of a sudden. “Who is it?”
She took a deep breath before speaking. “Oswald Cobblepot.”
“The restaurant owner?”
Renee nodded in response.
Gordon looked over at the paramedics treating some more weak, malnourished refugees. He knew, though they didn’t, that their trip was wasted. The INS would send them back home, where they could be tricked yet again by someone else into cramming into a boat headed for the U.S. “All right…pick him up.”
Renee nodded again, this time more sadly, as she turned toward her car. She knew as well as Gordon that nothing she did could help these people. All she could do was clean up after a disaster that had already happened.
“Oh, and Renee?”
“Yes?” She stopped and turned to face Gordon again.
“Thanks for coming out here.”
Gordon watched as Renee smiled at him, and then turned toward her car. He thought about coming along – but the way he felt, he was afraid he might do something to the restaurant owner that he would regret.
“You don’t understand.” Oswald Cobblepot was the picture of a rich businessman in his dark suit, as he sat at one of his own restaurant tables. “It is my ship…but I only rented it to someone.”
“Give me a name.” Renee stood a short distance in front of him – well aware that he was almost always armed. Her courage came from the fact that two uniformed officers were with her. “Or you’re going to jail.”
Oswald shrugged, as he began tapping a glass on the table with his fountain pen. “Sorry, officer. I can’t divulge my customers, it would be bad for business.”
“It’s detective.” Renee stepped a little closer, encouraged a bit by Oswald’s apparent nervousness – the tapping pen was her first clue. “And if you don’t tell me, it’s gonna be worse for your business.”
“Renee, is it?” Oswald began twirling the pen between his fingers. “You’re kind of cute. It’s a shame I can’t take you with me.”
“With you…?” Renee looked behind her at the officers, to make sure they were still there. “What are you talking about? And how did you know my name?”
“So many questions…so little time.” Oswald suddenly dropped the fountain pen to the floor, which suddenly exploded into a huge, thick cloud.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Renee tried to reach for him quickly – but found he was no longer in the chair. She couldn’t see where he went with the thick smoke in the room. But that didn’t stop her from trying. “Spread out! We’re taking him in.”
Oswald laughed to himself quietly as he slipped into a door just to the right of the entrance to the kitchen, and quickly locked it. “They’ll never even look for me here.”
He reached over to turn on the light in the small room – only to realize that the switch did nothing. He took a match out of his pocket and lit it quickly, intent on giving himself just enough light to find the exit to the outside. Someone blew out the match as he held it.
“Who’s there?” Oswald began walking around the room slowly, trying to feel his way around in the near total darkness. “Is that you, Renee?”
Oswald suddenly felt a leather-covered fist punch him in the face, hard – enough to knock him off of his feet, and land him on a pile of boxes full of flower. Fear began to fill his mind – it had to be Batman.
He heard metallic squeaking come from above him, and a second later the room suddenly became bathed in light. It was no Batman which stood above him – it was Batgirl. She was putting the light bulb back in the socket in the ceiling. The light didn’t work earlier because she removed the bulb.
Oswald smiled at Batgirl, hoping to disarm her a little. The female super-hero types in Gotham had always been more gentle with him then Batman, who regularly abused him physically. He figured he would have no trouble charming her, and eventually getting away – even if he had to kill her first.
Before he could finish his sentence, Batgirl’s boot sent blood from his mouth and a chunk of one of his teeth to splatter on the wall behind him. She then grabbed him by his suit jacket, pulling it tightly around his neck, and started lifting him slowly.
As his shirt slowly tightened around his neck, he looked into Batgirl’s eyes – and saw nothing but intense hate and anger. He’d looked into Batman’s cold eyes before, but he’d never seen more then an icy, emotionless stare. At that moment, he began to fear…Batgirl would kill him!
“Help! Help me!” Oswald began to try and squirm away from Batgirl, but her grip on his shirt proved too difficult for him to break. He could see her smiling as he struggled – she was enjoying watching him suffer.
The door to the room crashed open as Renee and the two officers entered the room quickly. Renee stopped as she watched the spectacle – Oswald Cobblepot being choked by a five foot four woman in a costume resembling Batman’s, one of his deadly umbrellas lying just out of his reach.
“Looks like you picked the wrong woman to mess with, Oswald…twice.” Renee stepped toward him as she removed handcuffs from the back of her belt. Her hands shook a little out of nervousness as she watched Batgirl dropped Oswald to the floor and stepped out of the way.
As the two uniformed officers pulled Oswald out of the room, Renee stood between Batgirl and the door – they both knew that the door to the room was the only way out. “Trespassing, assault. Taking the law into our own hands, are we?”
She suddenly looked down as she watched Batgirl slowly extend her hand – and she was smiling. Renee sighed out of relief as she shook Batgirl’s hand quickly. “I’m pleased to meet you, too. Look, whoever you are – I’m supposed to arrest you. It’s my job, even though you did help me out.”
Batgirl gave her a ‘thumbs up’ sign, and then pointed up at the light bulb in the ceiling.
Renee looked where Batgirl pointed. “The light? What about–”
Before she finished her sentence, she watched the bulb suddenly shatter, and felt a breeze move past her, accompanied by a slight sound of rustling fabric. She thought about asking one of the officers for a flashlight – but she knew very well that it would be futile – Batgirl was gone.
Bruce sat down slowly in his desk chair. He’d been keeping a close eye on Batgirl lately – even though he had reduced his own activity to heal after the ordeal with Lex Luthor, she seemed more driven, and was more active then ever.
“Cassandra is becoming increasingly reckless in her actions. A police report specifically mentioned Batgirl, though no charges were filed…luckily.”
He paused to read the report again, just to make sure there were no charges. The last thing she would need at this delicate point was every cop in the city to be looking for her.
“She’s becoming more bold…and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. Especially since…he…has been sighted around town lately.”
Bruce took a deep breath to steady himself before he continued. Even the mention of Joker’s name in the same sentence with Cassandra’s made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Ever since he shot Barbara, paralyzing her for life, Bruce knew that Joker meant to make his life miserable, in literally any way possible.
“I worry that she may get herself killed on her next encounter with The Joker…and I also worry as well that she may kill him–”
He suddenly stopped as he watched the curtains in the room, lit only by his computer screen, shift slightly. He knew what that meant – but he decided to finish his recording anyhow.
“It’s almost as if she’s…trying to make up for her past somehow.”
Bruce put down his microphone quickly as his desk lamp lit up, seemingly by itself – only once it was on, he could see Cassandra standing on the opposite side of the desk.
She smiled shyly and kneeled down, so only her head and neck were visible behind the tall desk. “You worry too much.”
Bruce shook his head. “Must you practice your stealth skills in my office?”
Cassandra nodded and smiled again.
“Alfred sent you, didn’t he?” Bruce sighed. “I guess that means dinner is served.”
As soon as Bruce stood up, Cassandra left the room quickly and headed toward the kitchen. Bruce sighed as he watched her silently slip out of the room, her soft sneakers not making a sound on the carpeted floor. He wished he could move as quickly or silently. With age came experience – but sometimes experience can’t make up for simple agility or strength.
He paused in the hallway for a moment to ponder his last thought. Cassandra’s lack of experience was balanced by her agility and strength. He only hoped that it would save her when the time came.
Batman and Batgirl looked at each other in surprise as they stood at the top of a twelve floor, broken down apartment building in one of the seediest parts of Gotham City. They thought they had chased two men they caught robbing a nearby check cashing store to the roof – but they were gone.
“It’s a trap.” Batman quickly removed a cable launcher and aimed it across the street, just as the door to the stairway flew open. A dark form stood in the doorway.
Batgirl squinted and took a step toward the dark form just before Batman grabbed her arm tightly. She realized that he did so because he could see that the man was drawing a large pistol from under his jacket. She also noticed at least a dozen heavily-armed shadows stepping through the door around the dark form.
Batgirl turned her head to face Batman as she heard that single word come from his mouth – but she didn’t get the chance to look at him. She could feel her arm being pulled by Batman’s hand, his grip tightened, until her feet were no longer touching the roof. She was falling.
She instinctively spread out her cape, using it as a parachute – enough to save her life, but not enough to prevent a painful landing in a construction area below. She braced herself for the impact – but was surprised when, instead, the wooden structure protecting the construction area collapsed, sending her a full story below the street level.
Batgirl stood up quickly, removing a cable launcher from her belt, and aiming it across her arm as an archer would, to get a more sure hit at the top of the building. But then she froze – she could hear distant automatic weapons fire. She began to shiver a little bit at the thought that…that Bruce might very well be dead.
As soon as she spotted one of the heavily armed men leaning over the edge of the building to look for her, she ducked out of view quickly, crouching among the wreckage of the smashed wooden structure. She hoped he didn’t see her – she didn’t want him to come down there and complete the job.
“Would you like some help, Miss?”
Batgirl turned suddenly to see a filthy old man in rags standing next to her, offering her a hand. She wasn’t sure exactly how he managed to sneak up on her – unless he was already there when she landed. But she did understand, at least, that the smell he carried was definitely masked by the general sewer smell coming from underneath the city. She stood up quickly and pointed up at the armed man standing on top of the building, still looking for her.
The filthy man waved a finger at her, indicating that she should follow. She walked behind him, through a hole in the wall. Within seconds, she found herself in a large, well-lighted, concrete walled room filled with two dozen other filthy people. From old subway maps she’d seen on Bruce’s computer, she figured out that these people were hiding out in a old sealed subway station which was no longer used – the painted boards blocking where the stairway used to be, and where she should be able to see the tracks confirmed her suspicions.
“Pardon our appearance, Miss.” The old man looked over at a shivering young man who was trying desperately to light a fire in the cold room. “But this aint exactly the Palace Hotel.”
Batgirl walked over to the young man who was trying to light the fire, and removed a small two-inch flare from her belt. She hit the ignitor against her palm, and dropped it into the pile of wood he had collected on the floor. As the wood began to quickly catch fire, she removed two more flares and pressed them into the young man’s palm.
“We’re all homeless, Batgirl”, the old man continued as the younger man smiled at Batgirl and began warming his hands over the now raging fire, “We’re each in here because we can no longer walk the streets in safety. We’re either beaten by the criminals for simply existing, or harassed by the cops as if we were the criminals.”
The old man pointed at a woman curled up in the corner of the room, next to one of the concrete columns. “She was beaten and nearly raped last night when she ventured outside of here to find some food. She would probably be dead if she hadn’t jumped into the sewer to escape. It was someone from Napier’s gang. They’re all insane, I tell you.”
He turned to look at Batgirl, who was now frowning and holding her fists tightly clenched. “Oh no…You’re not thinking of taking on Napier’s gang, are you? You’d need a small army–”
Batgirl shook her head and pointed at the ceiling quickly. She wanted to get back outside, to search for Batman. She hoped he was okay. Her thoughts interrupted as she heard one of the wood planks at the subway entrance being moved. A bloodied, beaten young man stepped through the opening, careful to replace the plank behind him.
“Oh my God.” The old man raced over to him quickly as he collapsed to the concrete floor. “Steven…are you all right?”
“I’ll survive…dad.” Steven spit up a little blood as he spoke. “It’s Napier’s guys. They…destroyed the soup kitchen…The shelter. I just wanted to…bring back some food.”
The old man barely had time to turn around before he noticed Batgirl moving the same wood plank and slipping through, closing it behind her.
“Batgirl, wait! We…need you–”
“Alfred…Cassandra check in yet?” Batman sped along in the Batmobile, driving with one hand as he kept another pressed against his opposite arm.
“No, Master Bruce. I haven’t heard from her since the two of you left.”
Batman cursed to himself and shook his head. “I hope she’s okay.”
“She’s a survivor, Master Bruce. Much like yourself.”
“I hope so, Alfred.” Batman smiled, almost forgetting about his injured arm until a shot of pain caused him to wince.
“Are you injured, Master Bruce?”
“Not badly.” Batman started driving a little faster, as he began to realize that blood was pooling inside his costume. “I’ve taken one bullet, and my arm is dislocated. I’ll be better in a couple of days.”
Alfred smiled in return. “I don’t doubt it, Master Bruce.”
As Batman turned off the viewscreen in his car, he began to worry about Cassandra. She’d been out on her own before, but this time it was different – someone was out to kill her, and Batman.
“Alfred’s never wrong. Please, God…don’t let him be wrong this time.”
Batgirl regretted leaving that subway – a decision she made in a moment of anger. Those people in the subway having to endure pain and misery, as if they lived in a war zone, was just too much for her to take. She finally decided she had to do something when she watched Steven, a man about her age, beaten into near unconsciousness simply while searching for food.
She regretted her decision now as she found herself surrounded by a dozen men and women, some carrying guns, some carrying bats or metal pipes, and some simply smacking their fists against their other palm. It was a little surreal – until now, she’d never seen a ‘classic’ gang scene like that anywhere except in the movies.
As one man behind her swung a metal pipe, she could feel the air movement ahead of it, and ducked just enough to avoid it. She reached up quickly, grabbing the pipe as it completed it’s swing, and took it from the man. All the man could do was stare in surprise as Batgirl jammed the end of the pipe into his chest so hard that everyone standing on the street could hear his ribs fracturing.
She then turned her attention quickly on the four men carrying guns – they were the biggest threat of the entire group. She punched one in the face while kicking the man next to him – they were nice enough to stand close together – and threw their pistols down into the subway’s staircase. She felt someone hit her in the back with a baseball bat, hard – but it didn’t hurt. She wheeled around, grabbing the one who hit her by the back of the neck, and twisted, hard. She smiled as she heard a satisfying ‘snap’, and felt his body drop lifeless from her arms.
That’s when she heard a loud ‘pop’ come from behind her, and almost immediately felt something tear through her left arm. It felt like someone had jammed a large metal object right through her arm – but as she glanced at it, she realized it was just a small hole with blood coming out of it. She knew then that she had been shot.
In a fit of rage over being shot, Batgirl leapt off of the ground, aiming at the man who shot her – hands first. She collided with him, knocking him to the ground, and she punched him hard enough to shatter one of the bones in his face. She felt several people hitting her with bats and metal pipes at once as she began slamming the man’s head against the street again and again until he stopped moving.
She stood up, dizzy, and looked down at her hands – they were covered in blood, mixed with some kind of pale grey colored specs. She turned around quickly, and swung her fist at a woman carrying a metal pipe – Batgirl missed, just as she felt another bullet pierce her left leg. This one hurt more then the one in her arm, and was different – it felt like the bullet went all the way through this time. It was enough to take her completely off balance – she fell to the ground, and watched the remaining gang members closing in on her.
It was time to escape.
Batgirl fired a cable launcher quickly at a building above, letting the tension pull her right off of the ground, and straight up. She knew she had to make it home – if she didn’t, Bruce would never forgive himself for leaving her behind.
“Bruce? Where’s Cassandra?”
Bruce sighed as Barbara Gordon rolled through the Batcave on his wheelchair. He wasn’t really in much of a mood to talk with her – he was sitting on a table while Alfred patched up the hole in his arm after removing a bullet. “I don’t know, Barbara. I hope she’s all right.”
“You left her out there?” Barbara rolled up to the table Bruce sat on quickly enough that she nearly collided with it, causing Bruce to wince in anticipation of the shot of pain that would come with the table shaking. “She’s not ready for that, Bruce! You said so yourself!”
“I was wrong.” Bruce slid off of the table as Alfred finished his work on a tightly wrapped bandage. “She is ready. She can handle herself.”
Bruce and Barbara both turned as the electronic lock on the exterior door ‘clicked’, indicating that someone had entered a correct code. The door opened, and Cassandra slipped in slowly, still wearing her costume except for the mask – and she was covered in blood.
“Oh my God–” Barbara wheeled across the room quickly, with Alfred and Bruce close behind.
Bruce grabbed Cassandra around the waist just before she lost her footing. He looked down to see that she had been shot in the leg and arm – and she seemed so weak, there was no telling what other damage had been done. That’s when he noticed that his grip on her was shifting – a few of her ribs had been broken as well. He decided instead to lay her down on the table.
“Barbara, I need your help.” Bruce walked around the table and looked down at Barbara’s wheelchair.
“The chair, right?”
Bruce nodded. “I need to borrow it, to get Cassandra into the house. Then I’ll come back and get you. We need to get her out of her costume…she needs to go to the hospital.”
“No–” Cassandra tried to sit up, but was met with pain that she didn’t seem to feel during the battle. Now that all of her adrenaline was gone, she was in a world of pain.
Bruce leaned over her as she sat up slowly. “Cassandra, you have internal injuries. There’s a bullet in your arm, and you’re bleeding. If you don’t go to the hospital–”
“No!” Cassandra reached into a drawer below the table for a pair of tweezers sealed inside a sterile pack, and tore open the pack.
“Cassandra, don’t!” Bruce reached for her, only to be stopped by Barbara’s hand.
Alfred and Bruce had to turn away as Cassandra gritted her teeth and jammed the sharp tip of the tweezers into the small hole in her arm. Blood began running out of the hole a little faster now as she used the tip of the tweezers to find the bullet, and yank it out quickly. She then snatched a small bandage and some tape and began struggling to open the tape roll.
“Here, Cassandra. Gimme that.” Barbara snatched the tape roll from her, and opened it quickly. She then snatched a bottle of disinfectant, and poured it liberally over the wound, ignoring Cassandra’s surprised, painful scream. “Don’t want you to get infection.”
After both Cassandra’s arm and leg wound were carefully bandaged and wrapped, Barbara looked at Alfred, who still had his back turned on the whole spectacle, and then to Bruce – who was staring wide-eyed, nervously rubbing his chin.
“Men can be such babies sometimes.” Barbara smiled at Cassandra and rolled out of the way to allow Cassandra to slide off of the table. “Now be careful. You still have a couple broken ribs that need to heal.”
Cassandra nodded, and left the room quickly, only to return a moment later in different blue jeans and a short-sleeve shirt. She headed toward the refrigerator to remove an ice pack and a bottle of water.
As Bruce watched Cassandra walk back toward him from the refrigerator, he turned to Barbara. “Do you think she’s upset with me?”
Barbara just smiled as she watched Cassandra walk past her to hug Bruce gently before sitting down in one of the chairs in front of his console. “I dunno, Bruce. What do you think?”
Bruce looked at Cassandra, and couldn’t help but smile as he watched her wrap the ice pack around her arm. “We both need a few days off, don’t we?”
Cassandra’s eyes looked toward Bruce as she returned a smile and took a sip of water from the bottle.
“Days off? Yeah, sure.” Barbara laughed and rolled toward the ramp that led toward the house. “It’s more likely I’ll get up and walk tomorrow morning.”
Cassandra couldn’t remember ever being in so much pain. As she woke up in her bed, it felt like the gang she fought the night before came back to beat her as she slept. She glanced over at the clock, wishing that she could get more sleep – but she knew she would be unable to in her condition. She sat up slowly, realizing that she also had a splitting headache as she headed toward the bathroom.
After she turned on her shower, she paused in front of her bathroom mirror and stared in horror. She’d never seen so many bruises. Some of them were frightening colors like deep purple and black, and were rather large. As soon as she stepped into the shower, she immediately felt like someone was trying to rip off her skin. The sensation of the water hitting her from the shower head felt like a million small drills trying to burrow through her skin. She turned down the temperature and gritted her teeth as she vowed to get out of there as soon as possible.
Several minutes later, Cassandra sat down at the breakfast table wearing black jeans, a black long sleeve buttonless cotton tee-shirt, and sunglasses. Her clothing choice was dictated by the fact that synthetic materials, buttons rubbing against her skin, and bright lights tended to make the pain from the bruises worse.
She was a little annoyed to notice that Bruce, who had been shot the day before, was cheery, and dressed in a business suit.
“Good morning, everyone!” Bruce felt a blueberry muffin bounce off of his forehead as soon as those words left his mouth. He knew Cassandra threw it, though Alfred was trying his best not to laugh. “Sunglasses, Cassandra?”
Even though her eyes were obscured, Cassandra could tell from Bruce’s change in expression that he knew she was staring at him. She was hardly ever a ‘morning person’ – and since she felt pain from every corner of her body, she was now less so. She glanced over at the window for a moment and then quickly turned away – the bright sunlight was painful.
She didn’t feel hungry, but she felt compelled somehow to sit and watch as Bruce and Alfred went through their morning breakfast ‘ritual’ – something she usually missed since she usually woke up about three hours later. The two seemed so close – they were family.
Cassandra knew Bruce’s history well – the fact that his parents were murdered, and he had been driven to take back the streets from rampant crime ever since. Maybe it was a little revenge that drove him too…not that it mattered since he was fighting on the side of the innocents of Gotham.
But as he sat at the table talking about his schedule and eating blueberry muffins with Alfred, he seemed so…normal. She knew deep down that this was the true face of Bruce Wayne – a lost child who had never grown up.
She felt a little sad as she watched the scene before her – she couldn’t help but feel left out. She had no family other then Bruce and Alfred, and yet she still didn’t really feel like she…belonged there.
“If you’re not busy today, Cassandra, how would you like a tour of my office?” Bruce smiled at her as he spoke. It made her feel like an important part of the conversation.
She nodded and raced back to her room to grab her jacket.
“Showing her the ropes today, Master Bruce?” Alfred chuckled a little as he started clearing the table.
“Alfred, I think I know who took a shot at me last night.” Bruce leaned on the kitchen table, watching Alfred move the plates and glasses to the sink. “I heard his voice yelling after me as I was making my escape. It was the Joker.”
Alfred paused and raised an eyebrow. “Is he back in town again?”
Bruce nodded. “That’s not what bothers me. Hell, even his taking a shot at Batman is normal. What bothers me is what I heard him say.”
Bruce took a deep breath and stared at Alfred for what seemed like an eternity. “I think he said…’Tell Bruce Wayne I’m looking for him’.”
“What do you suppose that means, Master Bruce?” Alfred’s hands began shaking a little bit as he began washing one of the glasses in the sink. He already knew the answer.
“I can never be sure where Joker is concerned.” Bruce pointed at the doorway as he continued. “I have to admit, one of my reasons for bringing Cassandra along is a little selfish.”
Alfred turned off the water and stared at Bruce, frowning. “You believe her identity is expendable compared to yours?”
“Not at all, Alfred.” Bruce sighed. “It’s…complicated. I believe that if her identity were exposed, people would…accept it easier. People seem to like her. They just…fear Batman.”
“I see your point, Master Bruce. I just hope she does as well.”
As she heard Bruce’s footsteps, Cassandra raced from a spot around the corner from the kitchen, headed back toward her room. As soon as she was inside her room, the door safely closed, she leaned against the foot of the bed and slid to the floor.
“Cassandra? Are you ready?”
Cassandra just froze for a moment, pondering whether she wanted to go. She didn’t want to disappoint Bruce – but she didn’t care for being used as his pawn, either. It wasn’t Bruce’s true motive that upset her – it was his lack of honesty, masquerading her little field trip as a ‘distraction’.
She jumped up and stormed to the door, yanking it open suddenly. As soon as she saw Bruce’s eyes, she gave him an angry look – which only vaguely masked the pain and betrayal she felt underneath.
Bruce looked down at Cassandra’s angry eyes and smiled weakly. “I wasn’t entirely…honest with you, Cassandra–”
“I know.” Cassandra flashed Bruce a mischievous smile as she grabbed her jacket and headed out of the front door ahead of him. She felt a little better now that Bruce at least attempted to tell the truth – though she still wondered if he actually trusted her.
She turned to face Bruce just before she entered the back door of the car, held open by Alfred. Bruce smiled at her in return – a polite smile, which hid what he felt more deeply…a fear of the unknown.
As she entered the car and heard the door slam behind her, she realized that Bruce had protected her long enough…now it was her time to return the favor.