#21 – Made In America, Part 2

Batgirl was much better prepared for the cold this time. She wore a specialized water-proof insulating layer of black fabric under her costume, and one over her head underneath the mask. It both kept her warm, and protected the part of her face that was normally exposed due to the costume’s design. Only her eyes could feel the chill in the air.

Rain was falling again, but it wasn’t freezing as it was the night before. It was still rather chilly – the cold snap affecting Gotham City showed no sign of letting up anytime soon. Completely water proof with her hair tucked inside her costume, she didn’t feel the cold or wet at all.

That gave her the advantage this time, as she was able to sit atop a two-floor apartment in a soaking rain without feeling a drop of it transmitted to her skin. She could sit atop that building all night if she had to, no matter the weather.

Two cops inside a police car below finally exited, batons drawn. They headed over to a large cardboard appliance box, turning it over suddenly. Inside was a man, huddled for warmth, looking up at the two officers as he suddenly found himself exposed to the elements.

Batgirl tensed as she watched the two cops lift the man by his arms, and pull him, stumbling, toward the car. But then she calmed herself when she realized that they were simply loading the homeless man into the back seat. It saddened her to see the poor man arrested for simply taking up space on the sidewalk…but politics wasn’t her business. And while the particulars of right and wrong were worked out, at least the man would be able to stay somewhere warm and dry for a night.

She sighed as the police car moved on. All of that anticipation and time spent stalking the officers, and they simply made a routine arrest and left. Now she would to go home after having spent nearly two hours doing nothing.

But just as she started to rise, she heard voices. Then suddenly the louder shattering of glass. She crouched even lower, trying not to be noticed as she spotted a small group walk toward the building she stood atop…and then across the street, to stand in the doorway of a shop.

There were four of them, and none spoke a single word. They used a series of hand signs and nods…which seemed very suspicious, almost ominous. Two of them were just lookouts, who seemed to be watching the police car which just left. The remaining two seemed to be lighting the top of a glass bottle with a cigarette lighter.

Alarm bells went off in Batgirl’s head. If they were standing in that doorway, they were either going to torch the shop behind them – which would be very dangerous to them – or more likely…

Another alarm went off in her mind when one of the two raised an arm and pointed up at a second floor window below her. Batgirl stood quickly, not caring if she were spotted by the group, and raced for the back of the building. She suddenly froze as she passed the door to the stairway below – it was emitting a telltale rotten-egg smell of gas!

She leapt across to the next building, still running as she realized…with the gas she smelled, it wouldn’t just be one building that blew. A full block’s worth could collapse if the buildings were old enough.

Batgirl removed a small radio device from her belt. She knew she promised never to use it while out on a separate mission from Batman…but she had no choice at this point. There was about to be an explosion, which meant she had to get away – big explosions attracted lots of cops, and the fire department. A stealthy retreat was no longer an option.

With a press of the button on the device, she whispered one word – “Batmobile.”
Batman turned suddenly and looked out through the fourth-floor window of an office building he was making his way through as he heard a familiar sound outside. His suspicions were confirmed when he saw the headlights of the Batmobile switch on and the car quickly slip out of the alley by itself. He narrowed his eyes as he realized…the only other person to be given a remote control for the car was Barbara. Since Robin would never steal from her, that meant Batgirl was in possession of the remote.

He wanted to reach for his own car remote and order the Batmobile to stop…but he had not yet secured the floor. He couldn’t risk speaking a word and attracting the attention of someone he had not yet located nearby. Batman had to hope, instead, that Batgirl had good reason for hijacking his transportation.

It didn’t take long for him to understand the reason. An explosion suddenly rattled the windows and shook the floor. He looked in the direction the explosion seemed to have originated – a large cloud of smoke was quickly rising from a faint orange glow.

He raised an eyebrow, pausing for a moment before quickly heading up to the roof. At least up that high, he would be able to get a better look.

Batgirl, a few blocks away, saw the Batmobile approach. She whispered one more command to her remote – ‘Open’ – and then dove from the top of a two-floor building just as the car was approaching. Her timing was almost perfect – she glided to a semi crash landing, bouncing off of the passenger seat and landing face-first into the driver’s seat.

Just as the sound of sirens began to approach, she sat up quickly and closed the canopy, taking control of the car to head back to Batman’s location. It was a rather long trip, considering that she had to go a roundabout way to avoid the approaching police cars and fire engines.

By the time she pulled into the alley next to the building she knew Batman was somewhere near. She felt slightly nervous – she had stolen one of Batman’s most valuable ‘toys’ – there was no way he would remain calm about that.

Batman appeared next to the passenger side of the car suddenly, opening the canopy without a word. Batgirl expected to have to slide over…but was surprised when Batman sat in the passenger seat instead and closed the canopy behind him. He only said two words. “Let’s go.”

Not a word was spoken even as Batgirl began driving away…and the car remained silent even after she arrived at the Bat Cave, and Batman climbed out to head to his dressing room to change.

She removed her mask, carefully stuffing it behind her belt, as she approached the computer terminal in the Bat Cave. Barbara was sitting there, doing some sort of research…and as she turned, she noticed the concerned look on Cassandra’s face.

“Don’t worry, he’s not upset with you,” Barbara whispered as she spun her wheelchair around to avoid having to twist her neck to look at Cassandra, “He just has a lot on his mind.”

Cassandra didn’t respond – she just slumped into the deep office chair next to Barbara and sighed. “I waited too long.”

“I’m not sure I understand.” Barbara shook her head.

“The explosion. I could have stopped it.”

“That’s my job,” Bruce’s voice suddenly interrupted. He pulled up a chair and sat down across from Cassandra, smiling for a moment at her confused gaze. “Look, Cassandra…there’s a reason my costume looks heavier and more expensive than yours. It’s not so I can show off…it’s designed to resist bullets, flames, and the like. Yours isn’t.”

He frowned when he heard a dismissive sigh from Cassandra. “What would you have done if those who caused the explosion would have decided to light you on fire instead?”

Cassandra didn’t respond. Instead, she looked at Barbara, her eyes giving away that she felt Bruce was underestimating her again.

“He’s right,” Barbara said, quickly diffusing the tension she could sense between Cassandra and Bruce. “If you light his costume on fire, he’ll walk right through it. You can’t do that.”

“I know.” Cassandra sighed. “But…I wouldn’t give them the chance.”

Bruce suddenly stood, frowning at Barbara again before silently leaving the room. As Cassandra watched him leave, she knew that she had a point…but that she also had exhausted Bruce’s attempts to make his own.

She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to clear her mind. Once again, she had managed to create more confusion by not communicating well. “Barbara,” she whispered as she stood behind Barbara’s wheelchair.

Barbara turned around to face her, waiting for her to continue.

“I understand,” Cassandra whispered. “I just…don’t like people talking like I’m a stupid kid.”

A big smile suddenly formed on Barbara’s face. She leaned forward and held both of Cassandra’s still-gloved hands. “I know how smart you are, Cassandra. You just need to learn how to talk to people while keeping them calm. It’s a valuable skill. More valuable than any device, or combat skill, or any acrobatics…”

Cassandra turned to leave, thinking the conversation was over…but Barbara still held on to her hands.

“…and I want to teach you,” Barbara continued, “Because I want you to be complete.”

A smile and a nod from Cassandra earned a quick hug from Barbara. Cassandra then headed toward the house, almost running into Alfred along the way. She remembered his promise to teach her more about the workings of everything around her in the Bat Cave.

Once she headed into her room and closed the door behind her, she glanced out the window for a moment into the darkness. There was still time to get plenty of sleep. She knew that between lessons from Barbara and Alfred…she would need it.
“What’s that?” Cassandra asked as she entered the kitchen late the next morning. Or what was left of morning – it was actually almost noon.

Sitting in the center of the large rectangular wooden table was an electronic device – a black box about the size of a VCR. The front panel was covered with lights…the rear, small twist-on connectors which looked like they went to television cables.

Alfred raised an eyebrow as she headed to one of the chairs and sat down, watching him adjust some small plastic screws on the back of the unit. “Up bright and early, aren’t we?”

Cassandra smiled. “I needed sleep.”

“This, Cassandra, is what allows all of those television screens downstairs to work.” Alfred paused, making one more adjustment before picking up the box off of the table. “You see, each screen has it’s own identifier, so the computer knows what to send to which screen.”

“I understand.” Cassandra nodded. “Did you build that?”

Alfred laughed. “Heavens no. I ordered it from a catalogue. It was rather expensive, too–”

He suddenly paused as the distant sound of the door bell rang through Wayne Manor. “Odd,” he said as he left the kitchen to head for the front door, “I wasn’t expecting company.”

Cassandra followed too, at a safe distance. If it was someone looking for her – like the police – she was better off not being noticed. She watched as Alfred opened the door…and smiled at whoever was outside. It was someone he knew. Just when she was ready to excuse herself and retreat back to her room, Alfred motioned to her to move closer.

As she approached, the three people who were outside of the door came into the entry hall. Alfred pointed them all to the study, and then gave Cassandra a sideways nod to encourage her to follow. She recognized two of them – a blonde in her twenties, and a slightly taller man with dark hair – but she couldn’t place their names right away, having only met them each briefly. The third, a shorter blonde teenager, was a mystery to Cassandra. And oddly enough, the blonde teen was the only one to notice he presence.

Her curiosity now solidly raised, Cassandra headed into the study. She entered slowly, walking around to a spot behind one of the couches. Once everyone else sat down, she picked a spot on the arm of one chair furthest from the others – she wanted to start as an observer rather than a participant.

“Cassandra, you remember Charlie Lewis and Linda Danvers, don’t you?” Alfred asked.

She nodded. Now that she heard the names, she did remember. The last time the two were in Gotham, they brought trouble with them, and lots of it. That was one of the few times Cassandra might have actually agreed with Batman’s endless hatred for meta-humans – he said that they always seemed to attract trouble.

“And this is Kara,” Alfred added, pointing to the blonde teen. Cassandra immediately felt sorry for her – she sat slumped in one of the large chairs, her eyes staring directly into the cold fireplace in the study. It seemed like she wanted to be anywhere but here. Something about Cassandra’s instincts told her that there was a reason for her presence…and when Batman heard about it, he’d be less than pleased.

“Make yourselves comfortable,” Alfred said as he stood and headed out of the study, “I will inform Master Bruce that you’ve arrived.”

With that, he suddenly left Cassandra alone with three virtual strangers. For a while, Charlie and Linda just stared at her uncomfortably…and Kara kept looking at the fireplace. That’s when Cassandra noticed that the logs in the fireplace were just beginning to burn. She didn’t remember Alfred lighting them.

She narrowed her eyes at Kara and stood up suddenly. “Who…are you?”

Linda seemed confused at first, looking at Cassandra, then at the fireplace, and then at Kara. Once she put it together, she sighed. “Nice going, Kara. Now I have to explain this twice.”

“Nah…don’t bother,” Kara said in a near whisper. “She already knows the answer to her own question.”

Cassandra frowned at that…but the strange teenager was absolutely right. Superman was the only one she knew could light up a fireplace with a stare. That made this teen…an alien. Or an approximation of one, anyway.

She started remembering back in recent history…a hint of a memory…to a newspaper article about an object that fell from the sky and crashed through a street in Metropolis. An object that was attended to by none other than Power Girl…a metahuman. Space junk didn’t require the attention of masked super types…it was something else that fell. “You were what fell to Earth in Metropolis–”

A glance at the look of horror on Linda’s and Charlie’s faces caused her to stop. The blonde teen, Kara, didn’t seem to react to Cassandra’s discovery at all. Without another word, Cassandra quickly retreated out into the hall.

“She’s smart,” Cassandra heard Kara comment as she left the room.

Just when she thought she was going to make a permanent escape, Barbara seemed to come out of nowhere and block her way with that wheelchair of hers. There was no way around it without rudely climbing over Barbara’s head. “Thinking of abandoning our guests?”

Cassandra bowed her head and sighed. “I…sounded like an idiot.”

“I headed up here as soon as I heard what you said through the security camera.” Barbara smiled mischievously. “The alien kid’s right. You are smart. Took you all of five minutes to figure out.”

“It…it was obvious,” Cassandra started to whisper, keeping her voice low enough to prevent the ‘guests’ from hearing.

“To you, me, and Bruce, maybe.” Barbara urged Cassandra to move out of her way with a jerk of her head. “We notice everything that goes on around us. Most people just don’t pay attention.”

Silence passed between the two suddenly as Bruce walked by, headed for the study. He paused for a moment to look at them both, as if he knew they had stopped conversing for his benefit…but then he continued on.

“I’m going to talk to them,” Barbara said, “You can either come along, or return to your room and hide. I promise you one thing…if you choose the latter, you’re gonna miss a lot.”

With that, Barbara vanished into the study. Cassandra stood in the hall for what seemed like an eternity, her mind struggling with the two choices. She knew that if she re-entered the study, everyone’s eyes would be upon her, watching her…waiting for her to say something else – something profound, or stupid.

Ultimately, she decided that so early in the day, she wasn’t quite ready for so much excitement. She turned to head back to her room…hesitant, but feeling sound in her reasoning. That was until she heard a knock at the front door.

She glanced toward the study, and then toward the kitchen – Alfred was in neither place. He had most likely gone down to the Bat Cave to clean up after Bruce, since he was now upstairs. No one was available to answer the door…except her.

Cassandra took a deep breath and quickly opened the front door. She said nothing, and simply stared at a young blonde woman who stood on the stoop.

“Um…sorry to disturb you,” the woman said in a voice soft enough that it was almost as if she were afraid to speak at all, “Is Charlie here?”

A nod from Cassandra, but still no words.

“He…uh…asked me to meet him here. I hope I have the right place.” The woman leaned sideways a little, trying to peek into the main hall.

“He’s in the study,” Cassandra finally said. She stepped aside casually, letting the blonde enter the house, before she closed the door. Having watched Alfred ‘escort’ people to various rooms, it seemed like an easy enough task. All she had to do was head directly to the study, and hover in the doorway as the blonde met Charlie. Then, Cassandra figured, she could return to her room.

But that’s when something which never seemed to happen to Alfred occurred. The blonde stopped, and reached out and tapped Cassandra’s shoulder gently. Cassandra responded by turning quickly, a little surprised at the action. “I’m Lara”, the woman said, “You weren’t told I was coming, were you?”

Cassandra smiled at that. She couldn’t help it – she wasn’t expecting anyone to show up, let alone someone she had never met. Besides, there was something about the mannerisms of this woman which seemed a little familiar…and which began to draw Cassandra out of her shell. This ‘Lara’ appeared to be almost as shy and withdrawn as Cassandra was herself….almost, but not quite.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” she said with a smile. “You must be Cassandra. Charlie told me you were kind of quiet.”

“What’s there to talk about?” Cassandra shrugged.

“You’re right. I much prefer listening,” Lara said, chuckling slightly. “I suppose you’re wondering who I am?”

Another shrug from Cassandra. She didn’t really care, but didn’t want to be rude by saying so. Then again, she felt grateful that this woman wasn’t putting nearly as much pressure on her as Linda, Charlie, or that alien teen.

“I’m a close friend of Charlie’s,” she said quickly. “He invited me to lunch here. I wasn’t sure if I’d show up…but something told me I should.”

All of a sudden, thoughts connected in Cassandra’s mind. She thought of a way to avoid hanging around in the study, looking lost…and Lara would be the key. “Want a snack?”

Lara peered around the corner into the study. The people inside were having some sort of conversation about a man who was opening up sweat shops in Gotham City stocked with migrant workers. She wrinkled her nose, apparently not interested in the topic. “Sure, why not. Conversation’s a little dry in there.”

Cassandra was a little surprised that Lara had agreed to come along, and was following her still as she headed to the kitchen. In fact, she had to turn around a couple of times to make sure Lara was still there. Once she reached the refrigerator, she pulled out a large tray that she spotted earlier – it was covered by various cheese appetizers prepared earlier by Alfred. She noticed it shortly after she woke up, but didn’t try to reason why it was there.

“Don’t tell anyone,” Cassandra whispered as she placed the tray atop the kitchen table and sat down at one end.

Lara slid into one of the nearby chairs and took a cheese cube and a cracker. “I won’t if you won’t,” she whispered with a smile.
“…and the guy only left Metropolis after the Daily Planet exposed his sweat shops, forcing the cops to move in. But you don’t have anything like that here.”

Bruce sat leaned back in one large chair, staring over the large study coffee table at Linda Danvers, as she tried to quickly give him as much information as she knew. She seemed unsure of herself as she spoke…most likely knowing that Bruce already had most of the information she spoke of.

Once she finished speaking, several seconds of silence prevailed before Bruce finally spoke up. “I assume you know why I requested your presence here?”

Charlie and Linda looked at each other, before Charlie spoke first this time. “I guessed that you would like us to help. That this job is too big for just you…simply because of the number of migrant workers involved.”

Barbara looked at Bruce. He remained silent, though it was apparent to her that he was impressed. She’d known for a while now that Bruce would need outside help…but she dared not suggest it. Bruce was a loner at heart, he didn’t like the idea of having to share with others unless he had to.

And in this case, he had to.

Bruce had to keep a clear line between his daytime business dealings, and his evening investigations as Batman. In the case of the sweat shops, that put him at a disadvantage – because it was a situation best dealt with publicly, something he couldn’t safely do as Bruce Wayne.

So he brought in two private investigators he had spoken with before. Two people he knew he could trust – oddly enough, because one of them was a type he usually trusted least…a ‘metahuman’. When not playing private investigator, Linda was known to a trusted few as Supergirl.

Barbara found the whole situation rather strange, as she sat across from everyone where she could observe the entire conversation, and watch people’s reactions. It was her way of figuring out parts of the interaction which were non-verbal – such as each person’s temperament, or how cooperative they were going to be.

Even as Linda and Charlie had a nice conversation with Bruce – as if they were old friends – there was a slight tension in the air. Linda knew, somewhere deep behind those calm blue eyes, that Bruce resented her because of what she was – and during her investigation, any kind of ‘metahuman’ activity would quickly incur his wrath. Nobody liked to make Batman angry. Not even Superman.

“Actually, Linda would do most of the investigating at first,” Charlie said, in answer to a question from Bruce on which steps they planned to take first. “I promised to show a close friend around town first.”

A shock ran through Barbara’s mind as she suddenly remembered hearing the door bell ring a short time ago. She ignored it at the time, as usually in Wayne Manor, Alfred would automatically get the door. But this time, she noticed that the door bell seemed to coincide somehow with Cassandra neglecting to return to the study.

She quickly excused herself and rolled her chair quickly into the main hall, the wheels squeaking against the tile floor as she turned toward the kitchen. She could hear distant voices drifting from the doorway…and the last words she heard echoed in her mind again…’I promised to show a close friend around town first’.
“…so I followed her eyes to the fireplace, and…you know…it lit up.” Cassandra took another cracker and bit into it. She looked toward the doorway, thinking she heard someone approaching.

“And no one else noticed?” Lara chuckled. “That Kara has a strange sense of humor. She probably did it just for you to–”

“Shh!” Cassandra stood suddenly and paused, listening toward the doorway intently. She thought she heard something…the sound of rubber squeaking. Before having a chance to say a word of warning, she snatched the appetizer tray and quickly shoved it back into the refrigerator, leaving a confused Lara at the table. “Someone’s coming.”

Lara turned around just in time to see Barbara roll into the kitchen in her wheelchair. “Um…hi. I’m Lara.” She offered a hand to Barbara.

“Oh…pleased to meet you.” Barbara shook Lara’s hand, briefly giving Cassandra a mock frown, to note that she didn’t approve of whatever Cassandra was doing before she arrived. “What brings you here?”

“She’s Charlie’s girlfriend.” Cassandra joked. She smiled as Lara’s gasped in false shock.

“I didn’t say that!” Lara laughed and pretended to throw a napkin at Cassandra, before placing it back on the table. “I’m a close friend of his, yes.”

“Yes. His girlfriend.” Cassandra joked again, laughing this time. Lara covered her face with her hands and started laughing too.

“All right, you two,” Barbara said, as she turned and headed back toward the study, “We’re almost ready for lunch. Bring out what you’ve left of the appetizers.”

As she rolled toward the ‘small’ dining room, Alfred met her in the doorway. “It appears Cassandra has found an unlikely friend.”

“That figures.” Barbara smiled. “We try for months to break through her shell, and some stranger walks in and does it for us.”

Alfred raised an eyebrow. “I watched the entire conversation, Barbara. This Lara made no effort at all.”

“Really?” Barbara lowered her voice slowly, intent on making sure neither the party in the study nor the one in the kitchen heard her. “How did she do it, then?”

“It was quite amazing, really.” Alfred began spreading out a stack of plates onto the table slowly as he spoke. “She simply sat there, having a snack, and staring at Cassandra. Eventually, Cassandra just…felt obligated to say something. It was a sort of duel of listeners.”

Barbara smiled and laughed suddenly. “Oh, why didn’t I think of this before? You put two listeners in the same room, and eventually one’s gotta speak.”

“Yes.” Alfred nodded slowly, pausing his work to look at Barbara. “And since you, Tim, and Bruce are all rather extroverted…tending to speak to think…it’s no wonder Cassandra’s remained silent. She simply lets you do all of the talking.”

“Yeah,” Barbara sighed, suddenly depressed by the thought that soon enough Cassandra would return to silence again. “Too bad we can’t keep this Lara around so Cassandra has someone to talk to.”

“It is a shame.” Alfred chuckled and went back to work as Barbara headed to the study to tell the others that lunch was almost ready.
Barbara watched everyone enter the dining room and pick their seats at random. She, on the other hand, had to plan carefully. If she raced to a spot at the table, she would end up with everyone falling over her – the wheelchair would no doubt block the way as she set it aside to sit in one of the dining room chairs. It was usually best to wait until everyone else was seated, so she could make sure she had a clear route.

But, she found, she could forget about that habit this time. Cassandra silently stood and strategically blocked access to the last chair at the end of one side of the table…next to the seat she had selected for herself. Once their eyes met over the table, Barbara realized what Cassandra was trying to do – and she rolled straight over there.

Cassandra did nothing as she watched Barbara lift herself out of the wheelchair and into the wooden dining room chair. She simply waited until Barbara was settled in, and then moved the wheelchair aside. It might seem rude to an outsider…but she knew very well how much pride Barbara took in being able to maneuver by herself.

“Thank you,” Barbara whispered, as she unfolded the napkin placed in front of her. Cassandra didn’t respond with more than a look and a slight smile – Barbara knew that was her way.

By the time she sat and looked up, Cassandra realized that Lara was directly across the table, with Charlie next to her. She smiled briefly, and received one in return. Next to Charlie sat Kara, and then Linda. Since there were a total of four places set at either side of the table, Cassandra assumed that Alfred and Bruce would sit at the opposite end on her side.

But just as Cassandra became comfortable with the idea of being at the far end of the table, well away from the middle of the conversation, she found herself cast into the center of it. Bruce managed to pick up the last chair and move to the head of the table, between Cassandra and Lara.

“He just wants to be closer to the pretty girls,” Barbara joked with a whisper in Cassandra’s ear. Cassandra nearly laughed.

“Hey, Bruce,” Charlie suddenly piped up as Alfred began bringing in various light foods, “You’re doing this to deduct the time as a business lunch, aren’t you?”

Bruce chuckled slightly. “I don’t make money being stupid, Charlie. Kidding aside…do you and Linda think you can help?”

“If there’s money in it, yeah,” Linda interrupted. “We’re not exactly loaded with cases lately.”

“I don’t think I have to stress that I’m hiring you in an investigative capacity only.” Bruce took a sip of the soup place before him, looking at Linda as he did. He waited for some kind of angry response from her…but he saw none. She simply nodded slowly, knowing exactly what he meant – no appearances by Supergirl in Gotham City.

“Bruce, there’s no need to speak in metaphors.” Charlie glanced at Lara for a moment. “Lara knows everything we do.”

Cassandra cringed for a moment. Even though Bruce was not looking directly at her, she could feel his soul hollowing for a moment, as if the spirit of death itself had taken possession of his body. At the thought of someone else learning his identity through a third party, he became angry. And when Bruce becomes angry he becomes, at least at heart, Batman.

“Everything, you say?” Bruce said in a low, almost threatening tone.

“I figured out the Batman part myself,” Lara said with a slight laugh. Her smile suddenly disappeared when Bruce turned his icy gaze upon her. “I…read about your parents’ murder by this Napier guy…and you seem to have this grudge against him–”

“And neither of you tried to deny it?” Bruce looked at Linda and Charlie, neither of whom responded.

By that point, Cassandra was getting tired of Bruce’s accusatory tone. She finally spoke up. “It is kind of obvious. The grudge, I mean.”

He then turned his attention on Cassandra – but his cold look was lost on her. She simply returned one of her own…and it was obvious that she could stare silently as long as he could. He finally gave up after a few seconds and returned to calm conversation.

“What do you do for a living?” he asked Lara.

“I’m an actress.” Lara smiled. “Well…not in the classic sense. I get paid to make appearances and such.”

“So you live in Los Angeles?”

Lara nodded. “Part of the time.”

Bruce leaned back and smiled. It was obvious by now that he was springing some sort of trap. “You must have a lot of frequent flyer miles.”

Without looking away from Bruce’s gaze, giving any sort of telltale pause, or even a disarming laugh or smile, Lara simply ended the line of questions with, “You could say that.”

Cassandra held back a smile. She remembered what Lara confessed about herself in the kitchen a short time ago…but Cassandra decided to keep it a secret. Bruce didn’t have to know everything, after all…and it was kind of nice knowing something he didn’t. Rather than do something to give away the fact that she knew, she just quietly returned to eating.

“What steps do you have planned in your investigation?” Bruce asked, abruptly turning his attention back to Charlie and Linda.

“First, we will attempt to get someone inside,” Charlie said. As he spoke, he glanced across the table, directly at Cassandra. “Or possibly two people. I’d like to learn how they do business.”

“And how would you earn their trust?”

“That’s where I would need your help.” Charlie leaned back in his chair. “I need to create an identity, one which has a reputation as someone who would be very important to the sweat shop’s business. Perhaps someone from whom they would fear blackmail.”

“We’re halfway there.” Bruce smiled. “I managed to collect some of their files. Very interesting reading.”

“Excellent.” Charlie smiled too. “All I need to do is convince them that I have information, and arrange a meeting–”

“And then they try to kill you,” Linda added. She turned to face Charlie, even as he looked annoyed at the interruption. “If you send me to meet them instead, they can at least try and fail.”

“That’s not the best idea,” Bruce responded, his tone lowered as if he meant to be both polite and threatening, “If they learn there is a metahuman in town, they’ll become more cautious. They’ll send the people and files we need elsewhere.”

“Yeah, but…by then, it’ll be too late for them,” Linda suggested.

Before Bruce even completed his frown, or came up with another excuse to keep Linda out of the investigation, Cassandra suddenly stood and leaned over the table. “I’ll do it.”

Once again, all eyes were upon her. But this time, it wasn’t because she said something bordering on nonsense – in fact, she made perfect sense. Bruce’s eyes told her that she was better off keeping quiet…but she ignored that.

“You won’t,” Bruce said. “I can’t afford to have you–”

“As a courier,” Cassandra said, “People give papers to couriers. Even important papers. I can bring them to Charlie.”

Barbara smiled as Charlie and Bruce looked at each other. “I told you she was smart.”

“Yes. Yes, this can work.” Charlie leaned back again. “I can call the office, and tell them I’m sending someone to pick up paperwork. Since you trained Cassandra, Bruce, I doubt anyone can follow her back to me.”

Bruce shook his head again. “Absolutely not. It’s too risky.”

“Why don’t you let me decide?” Cassandra suddenly growled, as she leapt to her feet and leaned close to Bruce. She didn’t see Barbara’s reaction first-hand, but she could sense the look of shock on her face. Charlie and Linda stared in awe, and Kara…her attention seemed to be elsewhere. But Lara, on the other hand…she seemed perfectly calm, as she split a piece of bread in half, and began chewing on a piece.

With an exasperated sigh, Cassandra shoved her chair aside and quickly left the room. For the second time, she had to bail out on a conversation with these ‘guests’ because she knew she was in way over her head.

“I like Cassandra’s idea,” Lara said, quietly, her voice trailing off when she realized she was treading on dangerous ground. She pushed her chair back and stood slowly. “Excuse me. I’d like to talk to her,” she said, before following Cassandra into the hallway.

“Unusual woman, isn’t she?” Charlie asked, as Bruce watched Lara walk through the doorway.

Bruce gave Charlie a questioning look, but said nothing.

“That’s why I love her.” Charlie smiled.


Cassandra heard someone approach her as she sat in the small garden just outside the kitchen at Wayne Manor. Unlike usual, she had to turn around to see who it was – she heard footsteps, but they were lighter than Bruce’s, and the stride was smaller than Tim’s. It was someone who was female, and not very tall.

“I have a pretty nice garden at my place,” Lara whispered, as she sat cross-legged in the middle of the path, next to Cassandra. “Don’t worry, I won’t talk much. I know you come here for quiet.”

The first thought Cassandra had was that Lara had been sent out by Bruce, or maybe Charlie, to try and coax her back into the dining room. But after several minutes of perfect silence, it was apparent that her first assessment was wrong.

In fact, Lara seemed to become completely absorbed by the garden’s environment. She sat very still, leaning her chin on one arm, watching a colorful bird fly overhead with her eyes.

“Do you think I’m wrong?” Cassandra suddenly asked. It was a question that had been on her mind since she left the dining room.

Lara leaned back, placing her palms on the stone path for balance. “Well…you were a little rude. But you were also right.”

Normally, Cassandra would have felt insulted. But the smooth, calm way which Lara’s words just flowed out without pause had to make her smile instead. “Very honest. That will hurt you one day.”

“It hasn’t yet.” Lara shrugged.

“What should I do?” Cassandra asked, looking down as if she felt ashamed to ask such a question.

“You know Bruce better than I do,” Lara chuckled, “But…it seems that it’s pointless to argue with him. I think…you should just work around him. Help Charlie if that’s what you want.”

Cassandra considered the possibility that Lara was simply agreeing with her to get her to go back inside and re-join the pointless discussion. But another look at Lara made it easy to tell that she wasn’t in such a hurry to go back in, either. “You think I should?”

Lara turned her head slowly, giving Cassandra a sly smile. “It’s what a true hero would do.”

That moment, as Cassandra stood and straightened herself, was when she realized that this woman, who was a stranger to her only hours earlier, was proving to be an intriguing mystery. But first, she had another mystery to solve…one that could lead to her helping to save people’s lives. Whether Bruce agreed to it or not.


#20 – Made In America, Part 1

A young boy, perhaps nine or ten years old strolled down a street in Gotham City just after 8 p.m., carrying a bag full of groceries. His parents were going to be home soon after working a twelve hour shift at the factory – and it was up to him to bring the raw materials to make dinner home.

He walked with his head down, cringing at every voice, every crash of breaking glass, or clink of aluminum cans hitting the street. Just like every week, he prayed that he would be left alone to complete his small mission – or that he would simply slip through unnoticed.

But tonight, he realized as he saw tall shadows blocking his way, that would not be the case. There were three shadows – one took the paper grocery bag from him and began emptying the contents onto the street. Another shadow shoved him into a brick wall. The three shadows then began laughing as they picked up the most valuable of the grocery items and wandered off, fading away into the darkness of the street.

The boy sighed as he looked at what was left – a loaf of bread and a head of lettuce, both purposely torn open and cast into the rain-slicked street. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked down again, quickly shuffling toward home. His mom and dad would be very disappointed…again. For the second time this month, they would spend the week hungry – sadly, there was no more money for groceries.

One day, he remembered his dad tell him, they would have enough to move away from this place. Enough to afford food for the entire week, and to be able to safely transport it home. And maybe enough to have a real home, with electricity and telephone.

As the boy rounded the corner into an alley between rows of crumbling apartment buildings with boarded up windows, he sighed. For now, this was home. And in spite of his dad’s dreams, he instinctively knew that there was no escape.

One day he would be bigger and stronger, like the shadows which took his groceries…and maybe he could become a shadow himself. Someone who rules this place, instead of being crushed by it. One day…he would be king.


It was unusually cold that night, as Batgirl crouched inside a window well alcove several stories above the street to shield herself from the icy rain which was falling, as she silently watched and waited.

Robin sat next to her, casually leaned back against the wall of the building next to the window. He seemed so relaxed, he could have well been asleep – while Batgirl, on the other hand, wrapped herself in her cape and hoped that Robin wouldn’t notice her shivering.

“A little chilly out,” Robin whispered. He looked at Batgirl, who still crouched at the end of the rear of the alcove, wrapped in her cape. He could see her breath as clouds of smoke as she stared straight ahead, refusing to speak or gesture a response. “I know Bruce asked us to wait outside…but he didn’t say where.”

Batgirl looked at him for a moment as he carefully forced the window open and slipped inside the building, motioning for her to follow. She did so, without speaking a word…but she did silently wonder where he was leading her, and how upset Batman would be when he found out they weren’t outside.

Batman was in the building across the street, which was taller than the building she was following Robin through at the moment. He was the one who picked the alcove because it gave an excellent view of the street and most of the building across the way.

As she followed him up a flight of stairs toward the roof, she began to wonder if he’d been in this building before. He seemed to know the place pretty well. She followed him through a door and onto the roof, only to be greeted by icy rain pelting her leather costume. She was almost ready to curse him for luring her up there…

…until she realized where they were headed. One corner of the roof, just above the alcove where they were hiding earlier, was covered by a glass pyramid. It was some sort of greenhouse.

Robin opened the glass door, and she followed him in quickly to get away from the relentless icy drops of rain. He closed the door behind them, offering her one of three plastic lawn chairs left there by the garden’s caretaker.

She sat down quickly and rolled into a ball, wrapping herself in her cape. It wasn’t much warmer in the greenhouse than in the alcove…but at least it was dry and less windy.

“You’re hopeless, you know that?” Robin joked. He leaned over Batgirl suddenly…and she turned around to see that he was turning on a propane heater installed in the greenhouse which had been installed by its builder to keep the plants from freezing on cloudy Gotham winter days. It was powerful, too – warmth began oozing from pipes along the bottom of the walls almost immediately. “How are you going to survive the winter?”

“I wear more layers under this in winter,” she replied in a whisper.

“What’s under the costume now?” Robin asked. He almost didn’t expect an answer after Cassandra gave him an icy glare.

“Not much,” she replied, eyeing him as she suspected her answer might make him more curious. “Something, but not much.”

“Ah. Underwear.” Robin leaned back in his chair, ignoring the even colder glare Batgirl sent his direction. “Does it match the costume?”

“Shut up,” Batgirl warned. “At least I wear mine inside the costume.”

Robin whistled out loud. “Ouch. That hurt, Cassandra. You’re becoming more like Barbara every day.”

Batgirl gave Robin an icy glare before removing a set of powerful binoculars from a pocket on her belt, quickly unfolding them to look at the building across the street. It was a four floor office tower stacked atop a four-story factory, totalling eight floors tall. The roof of the building she was on was about the level of the sixth floor across the street.

And Robin was right. They did indeed have an excellent view – the sixth floor was where she caught fleeting glimpses of Batman moving from office to office. He was searching for something, trying as much as possible not to leave any evidence of it by moving furniture or leaving drawers open.

“The factory across the street’s a sweat shop,” Robin whispered as Batgirl silently watched. “That’s why it’s camouflaged to look like part of the office tower.”

Batgirl nodded silently, dropping the binoculars in her lap as Batman vanished across the hall to more offices. “In Gotham?”

He nodded. “The workers probably live in broken down apartments near here.”

“Or under here.” Batgirl pointed around the greenhouse at the sparse foliage and hand-cleaned panes of glass with rusty steel between them. “This is…hope, put here by someone who has none.”

Robin looked around at the greenhouse quickly as he remembered the empty, crumbling apartment and dark stairway they used on the way up to the roof. “You know…you’re probably right. Nice going, I didn’t know you were so observant.”

She smiled, her eyes closing for a moment as she remembered the rose bulbs she had planted somewhere on the grounds of Wayne Manor, and watered daily. She made a mental note to herself to check on them later. It was own her symbol of hope.

“Don’t you feel lonely sometimes?”

Batgirl turned to face Robin just as she raised the binoculars again, giving him a suspicious look.

“It’s just that…most of the time you’re either fighting with Bruce, or hiding from him. Sure it’s a big house, but–”

“Sometimes I do”, Batgirl interrupted. She paused long enough to smile at Robin. “But you’re always nice to me…so are Barbara and Alfred. I survive.”

Robin smiled and waved a finger at Batgirl as she returned to her binoculars. “Don’t let Bruce hear you use the word ‘survive’. He’ll tell you a whole story about bats being survivors.”

Batgirl shrugged. “I’ve heard it.”

She looked up suddenly as the sound of the rain suddenly changed from a light tapping on the glass to louder clacking. It was falling harder now, and leaving a shiny coating atop the glass panes of the greenhouse.

Robin removed a small electronic device from his belt and pressed it against the glass for a few seconds. A number flashed on its small display for just one moment. “It’s dropped below freezing. The building’s going to be really slick.”

“We’ll just stay in here.” Batgirl looked at Robin for a moment, and found him looking back, before she wrapped herself in her cape again and leaned her head back against the glass behind her.

A few seconds of silence passed as Robin removed his binoculars and watched Batman attempting to open a safe in an office across the street. “Might as well. Batman’s doing a thorough job, he’ll be there for a while.”
“I hate freezing rain.” A young man, perhaps eighteen years old, wrapped his jacket tightly around him as he watched his friends approach through the darkness through a window. Well…they were less friends, and more like employees – though he let them think they were ‘partners’.

They would rob neighborhood residents of money and food, and return them to their hiding place – not that they needed one, since the cops never lifted a finger to stop them. The hideout happened to be a storage room for a factory which was closed at that time of the night. The factory’s owners had no clue that the room was being used after hours…and they probably didn’t care.

“Big score, Zeke,” one of the returning ‘partners’ said, “Some old guy was carrying 1200 bucks.”

Zeke held out his hand and waved his fingers in the younger man’s direction. “Great. Hand ’em over.”

“But…what about my cut?”

With that, Zeke whipped out a switchblade in a blur, slicing open a gash on the younger man’s arm, forcing him to double over in pain. “There’s your cut. Now hand it over.”

He handed the bundle of money to Zeke, and started backing out of the small room quickly. “You’re crazy man. You’ve totally lost it. I’m not coming back here again.”

“Yes you will,” Zeke said calmly, “Or the others will be hunting for you tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. Get the picture?”

The younger man, blood flooding down his arm, backed up until he felt the wall behind him, and then slid down to the floor. He mumbled something unintelligible to himself…but the expression on his face confirmed the realization that he knew he had no choice.

“Any competition yet?” Zeke asked.

Most of the young men he’d recruited from the street shook their heads, bringing him a smile…almost. One young boy simply bowed his head, avoiding Zeke’s gaze. “Who is it?”

The boy looked up slightly, but remained silent at first – up until the point where Zeke drew his blade again and took a step toward him. He stammered something quickly just to stop Zeke from slicing him to bits, though at first it made no sense.

“J-Joker’s g-gang has been m-moving in.”

“You’re lying,” Zeke said, dismissing the boy as he turned to walk away.

“I’ve seen ’em. Guys with white painted faces wearing purple and green. I’m tellin’ you, they’re around.”

“Me too. I’ve seen ’em too.” another youth volunteered.

“Anyone else seen ’em?” Zeke asked. Another round of shaking heads. “All right…I’m getting us some weapons for tomorrow night. I’m not letting ’em on my streets. I’m still the king around here.”
The minutes seemed to run together as Batgirl sat in a plastic chair, leaning her head back against a glass pane and looking straight up through the glass insulating her from the freezing rain falling outside. Inside the greenhouse, it was warm…toasty, even. She wrapped herself in her cape more for comfort than to conserve heat.

Robin was still all business, and highly vigilant. He divided his attention between looking through his binoculars at Batman sneaking around the office building across the street, and glancing around the greenhouse to make sure no one was visiting the roof.

Batgirl, on the other hand, had her own method of watching the area around them. She remained perfectly still and silent, until she could hear every frozen raindrop tap on the glass around her. It wouldn’t take much of a sound to break her concentration and earn her attention…only problem was, every time Robin moved, she felt disturbed by the sound of the fabric of his costume rubbing together.

“Let’s go.” Robin suddenly said.

The two words Batgirl found most irritating – just when she had warmed up and relaxed, now she would be forced back out into the cold. She stood reluctantly, cringing as Robin opened the door, allowing a blast of icy air into the warm greenhouse…

…and promptly slipped and fell on his back. “Ow,” he groaned, slowly propping himself up against the doorway.

Batgirl removed a cable launcher from her belt, waving it under Robin’s nose. “Want to try that again?”

He frowned at her before removing a launcher of her own, waiting for her to lead the way. She aimed at a ledge on the building across the street…and then Robin stopped her.

“No. It won’t be able to retract if ice forms on the cable. We’ll have to walk down.”

“You walk down,” Batgirl responded. She tossed her cape behind her as if to underscore what she planned to do – dive off of the building, using the cape as a parachute. She knew full well that Robin’s lighter, smaller cape lacked that ability…but she didn’t care, as she still felt annoyed at having been pulled from the warm greenhouse.

“Hey, wait,” Robin whispered behind her. He waited for her to stop and turn to face him. “How much weight can that cape support?”

She sighed and waved for him to move closer to her. “One way to find out.”

Robin barely had time to scream silently as Batgirl suddenly clipped two climbing hooks to his belt and pushed the both of them off of the edge of the roof. He heard a loud ‘whoosh’ as Batgirl grabbed the fringes of her cape tightly in her gloved hands and strained it, trapping as much air as possible beneath the cape to slow them both. But…

…they were still going too fast. She heard Robin audibly gasp as she purposely aimed for a large car parked on the side of the road. With a crunch of metal and the sound of exploding glass, the two of them tumbled from the roof of the car onto the hood.

Batgirl quickly unsnapped the two climbing hooks and stood, tumbling off of the ice-slicked car onto the pavement. She didn’t let it slow her, though – she stood quickly, placing one hand on the slippery pavement to stabilize herself before she raced quickly to the alley, where the Batmobile was parked.

Once she slipped the Batmobile’s remote from a pocket on her belt and opened the car, she glanced behind her. Robin was doing his best to keep up on the slippery street – his softer shoes, designed more for acrobatics than traction, weren’t making it easy for him.

“Come on,” Batgirl slid back to the entrance of the alley once she realized that he had been hurt in the fall, which was slowing him down even more. She pulled his right arm across her shoulders, gently helping him into the Batmobile, climbing in herself a moment later. “Are you okay?”

Robin nodded, pausing to take inventory of himself again before giving her a weak smile. “Yeah. I just…landed badly.”

She closed the top of the Batmobile and slipped her mask off, sliding into the passenger seat as she watched Robin crawl into the nearly non-existent back seat and curl into a ball. He seemed to be in pain, yet he was trying to be brave about it. She didn’t quite understand why at first…but then she figured it out by recreating the landing in her mind.

A slight smile formed on her face, but quickly disappeared, as she realized how insensitive that was. A light throb from her leg confirmed her suspicions – when she had landed on the car, she attempted to break her fall by extending her feet below her, collapsing her knees, and rolling onto her back, just as Batman taught her to do.

What she forgot…was that she was carrying a passenger – and that the act of breaking her fall had caused her knee and thigh to slam into…well…everything between the legs and chest of her passenger during first impact. Cassandra didn’t even think about it before – because when she released the climbing hooks and sat up, Robin was on his back on top of her. She remembered having to push him off.

“I’m really sorry–” she started to say, before Robin finally sat up and leaned back in the rear seat.

“It’s okay. Really.” Robin whispered. “I’ll take a little pain over becoming road kill any day. Besides, if you hadn’t jumped off of the building voluntarily, we probably would have slipped and fallen off due to the ice.”

“The ice.” Cassandra bowed her head and gently smacked her forehead. “That’s why we came down so fast.”

“That’s right.” Robin nodded slowly and smiled to spite himself. “The freezing rain made your cape too heavy.”

“I’m so sorry,” Cassandra apologized again.

“You know, Cassandra,” Robin continued, “Maybe Bruce is right…maybe you are a little reckless and crazy. I was never more terrified than the moment you threw us off the building.”

“I’m–” Cassandra started to say again.

This time, Robin interrupted her by covering her mouth before the word ‘sorry’ came out again. “On the way down, however, it was one heck of a thrill. Sure, it ended kind of…painfully. But at that moment…” Robin smiled suddenly. “Now I know. I understand perfectly.”

Cassandra gave Robin a confused look. “And?”

“It’s because you can see the result…you can see how everything will work out–” Robin leaned closer to the front seat wincing as he felt pain from his ribs. “–and it all seems so easy to you. Easy as falling off a building, in this case.”

“Hmm.” Cassandra leaned back against the front passenger seat and shrugged. She hadn’t actually thought about any of that before…which is why Robin’s thoughts rang true. It was indeed easy for her, and her actions were as quick as her thoughts. Need a quick way down? Just jump off the building. It truly did seem so simple and logical to her. “Maybe you’re right.”

Silence suddenly took center stage as the shadow of Batman approached the car. Cassandra slipped her mask back on just as he opened the car and climbed in, removing it again after Batman was secured inside. He gave her a cold look as a result – he knew what she was up to – but she ignored it.

“How did it go?” Robin asked.

Batman shoved a folder in Batgirl’s lap – it was full of newly made copies. He began driving the Batmobile as finally spoke. “Zachary Key, known to his friends as Zeke. He watched his parents die at the Joker’s hands.”

“Just like–” Cassandra looked down at the folder as she caught an icy glance from Batman.

“Except he vowed to take the city from Joker. He’s forming his own gang–”

“So why was he on file at this office?” Robin interrupted.

Before Batman responded, a half hour of silence passed. It was almost as if he couldn’t concentrate both on speaking and driving at insane speeds toward the Bat Cave. Once the Batmobile pulled into its parking space and stopped, Batman opened the door, and Cassandra and Robin followed. He then paused to finish the conversation he started a half hour ago.

“It’s a sweat shop. Zeke and his gang have been employed by the factory to make sure none of the employees – all illegal aliens – become brave and decide to turn the owners in to the authorities.”

“But I think,” Bruce said, as he pulled off his mask suddenly and headed toward his computer console, “The file on him was placed there just in case. So if police ever search the factory’s records–”

“I think I get the picture,” Robin said. He then headed up a stairway toward the house to change.

Cassandra, on the other hand, simply stood there, looking at the file still in her hands, and then at Bruce. He glanced for a moment at her, and then at the small steel closet where he would store his costume.

After a moment’s pause, he pointed at the folder. “Give this to Barbara,” he said, before disappearing into the small steel closet.

Before even bothering to change herself, Cassandra raced up the stairway into the house, and headed straight into the study. Her guess paid off – Barbara was there, seated in a comfortable chair with her wheelchair nearby. She was quietly reading a book in front of the fireplace.

Cassandra headed straight for her, approaching her from behind. Without a word, she waved the folder under Barbara’s nose.

“What’s this?” Barbara asked. She ended up answering her own question before Cassandra spoke a word, as she opened the folder and began leafing through it. “This is interesting. Very interesting.”

“What?” Cassandra asked. She sat down on the arm of the chair, trying to look over Barbara’s shoulder.

“I know this Zeke,” Barbara said, holding up a few papers from the folder. “Back when I was–” She suddenly stopped, worried that she was about to tread on a gentle subject.

Cassandra followed Barbara’s gaze down at the yellow bat symbol on her chest. She gave a slight smile to show that she wasn’t the least bit offended by Barbara’s trip down memory lane.

“When I was Batgirl,” Barbara continued in a softer voice with renewed confidence, “I broke up his gang a few times. He started forming it as a teenager.”

Cassandra shook her head slowly. “He’s gonna get himself killed.”

“Yeah, I know,” Barbara whispered, “One of these days, he’ll anger someone powerful, like the Joker.”

Nodding politely, Cassandra looked at her own gloved hands, wondering to herself if they would end up killing again. She happened to be referring to herself…not Joker. She didn’t want to tell Barbara that…because it scared her.

But she didn’t have to. Barbara could read her reaction. “Are you worried that he’ll force you to kill him?”

Without giving a verbal answer, Cassandra gave her a weak smile, just for a moment, before looking down at her hands again. That’s when Barbara reached over and squeezed both of Cassandra’s hands in hers.

“These doubts you’re having are good, Cassandra,” she said calmly, “They show that you’re learning and growing as a person. But don’t let them affect your judgement. Lives are at stake every time you go out at night.”

Cassandra nodded slowly. She knew Barbara was right, because her own fears were not the source of the doubts running through her mind. She was more afraid of disappointing Barbara, Tim…or even Dick and Bruce.

“One more thing,” Barbara said, looking around the room for shadows before lowering her voice again. “This…sweat shop you found tonight. Families are being hurt by this place…and kids, too.”

“You…want me to shut it down?” Cassandra smiled and rose to her feet, slowly. To date, only Batman had been allowed to take on such ambitious projects. Batgirl and Robin were simply a support team.

But Cassandra’s hopes were momentarily crushed when Barbara answered by shaking her head quickly. “If you do that, the families will no doubt be deported. See, that’s the handle the factory owner has on them. He virtually owns these people.”

“Hmm.” Cassandra rubbed her chin gently, leaning back against the arm of the second chair alongside the one Barbara sat in. “So how…?”

“They can be freed…but it would take a huge sympathy vote by the people of Gotham to keep them here.” Barbara smiled and leaned on one arm. “We’d have to secretly get the press involved. Batman has done it before, but it takes a lot of planning. That’s something the computer in the Bat Cave can help us with.

Cassandra noticed Barbara attempting to pull herself out of the chair to climb back into her wheelchair. She moved stood in front of Barbara’s chair, offering her a hand…but wasn’t at all surprised when Barbara declined.

Instead, Cassandra watched in amazement as Barbara slid forward in the deep chair, placed both hands on one of its arms, and then launched herself over the side of the chair and into her wheelchair. She was smiling as she straightened herself, and noticed Cassandra staring. “Pretty amazing for someone who can’t walk, huh?”

“Yeah,” Cassandra laughed. She led the way down to the Bat Cave as Barbara followed.
A Gotham City police officer stopped his car and sighed as he noticed a man in a tattered coat and long, scraggly beard curled up in the doorway of a closed shop. The steel blinds covering the windows and door were a fairly good indication that the store wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods, prompting the officer to check the man out.

He turned the car’s spotlight on the doorway and climbed out of his car, grumbling about the fact that he had to leave the warm comfort of his car to brave the freezing rain and deal with some miscreant.

“All right…on your feet.” the officer said. The man ignored him completely…so he approached cautiously, pulling up on the man’s coat as he got closer. “Let’s go. This isn’t a hotel, bub.”

The man still refused to budge. Even as the officer pulled him up by his arm, he just hung there like dead weight, shivering.

“Possible code six,” the officer said into his radio, looking down the street at the nearest intersection. “I’m on sixth street. Request backup.”

The man finally looked up, shivering uncontrollably as he tried to force a few words from his quaking jaw. “C-Can’t…w-walk. S-some o-one stole…wh-wheelchair.”

He slumped back into the doorway as another police car pulled up, red and blue lights flickering throughout the street. A large officer stepped out and headed toward him.

“Clarkson, right?” the larger cop asked.

The officer who had arrived first nodded.

“You’re new here,” the larger cop said, as he slowly drew his nightstick from his belt, “You don’t know how to deal with these types yet.”

“No…p-please!” the old man sputtered.

“Hey, wait,” Clarkson started saying, “He was saying that he can’t–”

Before Clarkson finished his sentence, the first blow from the larger officers’ club struck the shoulder of the old man. He howled in pain, his screams echoing off of the surrounding buildings.

“Stand down, officer!” Clarkson yelled, his voice nearly muffled by the sounds of the old man crying and begging as the larger officer raised his club again. “I said, stand down!”

“I outrank you, Clarkson!” the larger officer yelled back, “Either back me up…or don’t bother to report for duty tomorrow.”

Before Clarkson could protest again, the larger officer brought his club down upon the old man again. More screams of pain. Clarkson became numb as the other officer brought the club down again, and again. The echoing of the old man’s screams began to fade into the darkness around him…and then it stopped.

Clarkson took a step forward to look closer as the larger officer backed away. He was lying in a quickly growing pool of blood, which ran with the rainwater across the sidewalk toward the drain. “Oh, hell,” he whispered as he began walking backwards slowly, “What did you do?”

“Hey, the mayor himself wanted these filth off the streets,” the larger officer said calmly as he slipped the night stick back onto his belt, “He didn’t move when I asked him to.”

“What the hell did you do?” Clarkson yelled this time. He angrily shoved the larger officer…who promptly shoved him back. “I’m reporting this. There’s no way–”

“You do, and your career is over.” The larger officer stood in front of Clarkson, pointing a finger accusingly at him. “You’ve got a wife and a new kid, Clarkson. Think they want to see you go to prison?” He tapped the gun at his side gently. “Or worse?”

“Are…are you threatening me?” Clarkson asked, his voice wavering slightly.

The larger officer shoved him again. “Go home to your wife. Go on…get out of here.”

Clarkson sighed, hanging his head as he returned slowly to his car. Before he opened the door, he glanced up at the top of the buildings nearby…but there was nothing. He remembered hearing the urban legends about a man dressed as a bat…and he kind of hoped that such a man would be a witness to what had happened this night. No such luck.

He did go home to his wife that night…and he told her everything he had seen. When she asked him why he didn’t do anything to stop the larger officer, he only shook his head and began crying.

That night, as he awoke during one of his bouts with a fitful sleep, he realized that he had a visitor. A large shadow, the shape of a tall man, wearing a cape. One eye blink later, the shadow disappeared. But after that, he was finally able to sleep soundly. There was indeed a Batman…and he had seen everything.
Cassandra walked through the Bat Cave, noting as she did that the Batmobile was missing. He apparently had returned earlier just to bring her and Tim back – and then he went right back out again. She felt a little jealous that she wasn’t invited along, but she also could appreciate his need to work alone once in a while. Sometimes she wanted to work alone, too.

Barbara rolled across the concrete floor of the Bat Cave in her wheelchair, just ahead of Cassandra. She was rolling down a wide ramp, heading directly toward the computer center.

It amazed Cassandra to see how quickly and easily Barbara worked with the computer system – she must have truly been a marvel as Batgirl. Cassandra was far from being technically illiterate, but, as Barbara’s expertise seemed to accent, there was always room to learn more. Barbara knew everything; every inch of Bruce’s computer system, and how each of his devices were designed.

She watched for a moment as Barbara began looking through the public library computers with frightening efficiency. They weren’t exactly open to just anyone…but Barbara seemed to find their security to only be a minor distraction.

“Can you teach me to do that?” Cassandra suddenly asked.

“Huh?” Barbara seemed confused at first, her concentration on her work having been broken by what seemed like a question out of the blue. But after a second or two, she figured out what Cassandra meant. “Oh. Yeah, I guess I could. You really want to learn this stuff?”

Cassandra nodded. “I want to be as good at it as you are.”

Barbara stifled a laugh. “That takes a lot of time, Cassandra. If you want to do something to impress Bruce, then learn more about the Batmobile than he knows.”

“No.” Cassandra shook her head…but then paused thoughtfully, and smiled at Barbara. “Well…maybe. But not to impress Bruce. I just want to know things.”

“That’s good.” Barbara smiled. “Sure, I’ll teach you. If you really want to know a lot, though, the man to ask is standing right behind you.”

Cassandra turned around slowly, expecting to see Bruce standing behind her. After all, he had an annoying habit of sneaking up on people and just standing there, silently, until he would be discovered by accident. But instead, in his place, was Alfred…just as silent, as a result of training himself to stay in the background.

“Alfred?” Cassandra asked.

“Sure,” Barbara laughed, “He sees everything that goes on around here. Even things I don’t know about. Right Alfred?”

“Absolutely, Barbara.” Alfred smiled at Cassandra. “When shall we begin our lessons, Cassandra?”

Cassandra looked at Barbara, and then back at Alfred. “Won’t Bruce be upset?”

Alfred chuckled and placed a hand on Cassandra’s shoulder. “Why Cassandra, who do you believe taught Bruce? Did you assume he was born with the knowledge?”

She had to smile at the mental image of a small child named Bruce Wayne skulking around the dark corners of Wayne Manor. Of course, the concept was ludicrous…he had to have a teacher.

“Uh-oh.” Barbara whispered, loud enough to attract the attention of both Cassandra and Alfred. “Remember when the mayor said he wanted to clean up the streets of Gotham? Looks like some cops took it too seriously.

Cassandra leaned over Barbara’s shoulder at the computer screen. A small homeless advocacy newspaper showed fuzzy pictures of a bloodied old man with a beard, with the headline, ‘Mayoral Decree Claims First Victim’. The neighbors, who wouldn’t be identified, said that the police did it – and that the victim was a Vietnam Veteran who couldn’t walk. The local news web sites had no such information…as if the story were simply being swept under the rug. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Barbara whispered, “I really don’t know.”

With that, Alfred headed back into the house to finish a few errands…and Cassandra wandered outside, this time in a heavy raincoat. She wandered to the edge of the property, to a spot she had visited many times before.

She was a little afraid as she approached the small grove of trees next to the walled-in border of the Wayne Manor grounds. It had been raining off and on lately, but she had forgotten to return and water the rose bulbs for a few days. She feared that nothing would be left but shrivelled buds and overturned earth. But as she approached, she realized there was a lot more.

Several small leafy vines were beginning to grow, but they lacked support. They leaned away from the tree line, looking like they were in danger of falling over. She looked at the small piece of green wire mesh she had stolen from the gardener’s shed and carried out there – she brought it just in case her fear of the roses’ demise was unfounded. Now it would come in handy.

Cassandra gently shoved the wire mesh into the ground as close to the rose vines as possible, making sure it was secure. When she drew her hands back, one of them brushed against a vine…and came away with a scratch. They had thorns already. She felt a little amused that something she had planted learned to defend itself before it did anything else.

Then she just stood and watched them for a moment in the moonlight as the freezing rain pounded on her raincoat, and left a glittering icy coating on the vines in front of her. The image of the old homeless man with a beard, beaten to death in a doorway, flashed through her memory for a moment. It was done by cops, the people charged to protect the citizens of Gotham.

She frowned and took a deep breath as she watched the rain come down. It wasn’t fair – Bruce thought she was dangerous…yet she couldn’t stomach the thought of an innocent man, unable to run away…beaten to death by clubs. Her hands clenched into fists. What if the next victim would be Tim, or someone else she knew? Or…she thought with a painful cringe…what if it were Barbara?

Something had to be done…she knew that much for sure. And something would be done. Tomorrow night, she would put a stop to it once and for all.


#19 – Savior, Part 2

As the Batmobile came to a screeching stop, it was obvious to Batgirl that Batman wasn’t just driving around frantically out of aimless anger. He knew exactly where he was supposed to be headed, exactly where the Joker had been holed up since he was forced from his last hideout.

A converted warehouse on the edge of town, painted purple.

Batgirl exited the car, mentally kicking herself for not noticing the place before. Joker always had a flair for being blatantly obvious – why should his latest dive be any different?

She suddenly focused her attention as she watched Batman leap out of the driver’s side of the car and head straight for the warehouse, pausing only to fire a steel cable up at the roof and take off. It was well known that entering one of Joker’s places through the front door was a deadly proposition – he made sure to place armed guards and traps to catch those who lacked such knowledge.

Then again…it was also his nature to be unpredictable. The only sure way to catch him was to be thoroughly unpredictable–

Batgirl’s mouth hung open for a moment as her own thoughts led her to a revelation. Joker had been studying Batman’s style! He always knows what Batman would do…and those who follow in his footsteps as well. That’s why Batgirl has been able to come close to killing Joker, while Batman seemed unable to do the same.

To Joker, she was completely unpredictable – an ‘X factor’ that he couldn’t seem to figure out or get a handle on. And because he was a certified nut-case…he somehow translated that to believe that he had a crush on her. No, wait…it wasn’t all insanity. It was because he thought of her as…an equal?

She shuddered at the thought of Joker considering her in the same league of mental instability as himself, placing a cable launcher in her left hand to ready herself. It had been several seconds since she managed to catch a glimpse of Batman on the roof. He was either holding still to stalk someone or…he was in trouble.

But then something else caught her eye…a possibility. A light on the second floor of the warehouse turned on, and she watched Joker walk past a window for just a fleeting moment. She knew exactly where he was…and clutching the cable launcher, she realized that he was within reach.

Batgirl held the launcher at arm’s length in front of her, aiming it directly at the window. Her heart was beating quickly – she planned to let the claw at the end of the cable crash through the glass, and then come flying through herself before they could react.

But the plan changed suddenly…when Joker stepped in front of the window and looked outside. Batgirl knew that he could see her standing outside. It was all too obvious, especially when he seemed to give her a salute through the glass. And worse yet…if he knew she was there, he knew Batman was around somewhere as well.

Her teeth clenched tightly as she gripped the cable launcher with both hands now, reaching for the trigger with her right thumb. She had no choice, it was now or never. The cable launcher fired, a crashing of glass…

…and there was a horrifying scream as the claw dug into Joker’s right shoulder. Batgirl could see a few of his henchmen rush to help…and she reacted quickly again, throwing her full weight backwards against the cable.

Joker began cursing as he tumbled head-first out of the window, a streak of his blood smearing across the windowsill as he fell on a narrow ledge a few feet below.

She tugged hard on the cable again, intent on bringing Joker to the ground hard, leaving him tangled in steel cord and vulnerable. It was perfect, easy…way too easy.

…and just like that, it was over.

As she pulled hard against the cable, she watched helplessly as a Bat Wing thrown from the roof whisked past, slicing the steel cable and sending her tumbling onto her back. She stood quickly, frowning, as Batman came running toward her from having just landed at the side of the building.

“Get in the car!” he said in a low, threatening voice as he climbed into the driver’s side himself.

Batgirl complied…and as the car drove away, she continued frowning at him until they were out of view of the warehouse, waiting for some kind of explanation that would never come.


The silent treatment continued even as the Batmobile came to a stop inside the Bat Cave, and Bruce climbed out. But then he did something unusual which made Batgirl cringe – he tore off his mask and threw it across the room.

As Cassandra slipped her own mask off, tucking it behind her belt, she watched Bruce pace to the far end of the cave, and then back toward her, wearing an angry frown. She gave him a frown of her own…only Bruce’s should have warned her away from pushing her luck any further.

“Idiot,” Cassandra said in a low whisper, gritting her teeth, her voice seething with anger as her mind relived the scene of the Bat Wing snapping the cable which would have led to the capture of Joker. “Why?”

Bruce seemed even angrier now as he leaned close to Cassandra becoming intimidating enough to force her to lean away. “I will capture Joker, and I alone. Is that too much for you to understand?”

“What’s your problem?” Cassandra asked, this time in a more accusatory tone. “You’re as crazy as he is!”

Cassandra cringed as Bruce pulled one of the monitors out of his research station and threw it across the room to shatter against the concrete floor. He had an angry, fiery look in his eyes when he turned to face her again…and she squinted and turned away, almost sure that she would be the next object thrown across the room.

But instead…he just silently left. Cassandra stared at the closed door, her heart still beating quickly. All of the anger she felt had slipped away by that moment, and had been replaced by fear. Not for herself – for Bruce. If he was indeed crazy, there was no telling what he would do next.

“That wasn’t too smart.”

Barbara’s voice was calming, as usual, tinged with a little humor as she spoke. She was always the voice of reason of the Bat team, someone who was very good at resolving conflicts with nothing more than a little wisdom and a smile.

“Why not?” Cassandra asked.

“Because he’ll never let go.” Barbara rolled her wheelchair closer to Cassandra, spinning around quickly to face her just as Cassandra sat down in an office chair.

“Deep in his mind somewhere, he’s still that little boy who’s parents were killed in front of his eyes…and one look from the man who was once Jack Napier terrifies him. He knows he needs to face that, but he can’t if someone gets there first.”

“That’s crazy,” Cassandra said, “What if someone else kills Joker…or he kills himself? Will Bruce go insane?”

The solemn look and sudden silence from Barbara gave Cassandra her answer…and her heart sank when she realized just how sad Bruce’s situation was.

“Damn–” Cassandra whispered, shaking her head slowly. She stood and headed toward the stairway up to the house. “I have to tell him I’m sorry.”

“Hey, Cassandra.” Barbara announced as she rolled after her, “You’re a lot more mature than Bruce gives you credit for. Always remember that.”

Cassandra nodded and raced up the dark stairway to come out behind a clock in the study inside Wayne Manor. She snapped the clock shut carefully and headed straight to Bruce’s office – she knew he would be there, it was the one place he went to seek solitude.

When she entered the office, Bruce was sitting at the desk, elbows on the blotter in front of him, his hands clasped behind his bowed head. In front of him sat a small crystal glass filled with a clear liquid which, even across the room, smelled like alcohol. The room was dark with the exception of a small amount of light from a lamp on the desk.

She sat on the edge of the desk silently, reaching between his elbows quickly to snatch the crystal glass from next to Bruce and place it just out of his reach. “I’m sorry I was such a jerk to you.”

Bruce looked up slowly, staring at Cassandra before reaching for the glass…which she just moved farther away. “No need to apologize. It’s just something you just don’t understand.”

“I want to understand.” Cassandra picked up the glass again as she noticed Bruce eyeing it. She dumped its contents onto the carpet next to the desk. “So tell me…what’s it like?”

Bruce sighed, looking at the empty glass for a moment before picking up a letter opener. “I believe I’ve told you that story already.”

“No, not the story.” Cassandra shook her head. “Your feelings. What did you feel?”

“Cassandra, I will tell you the same thing I told Barbara when she asked the same thing. You’re not a professional therapist, and if you were, I wouldn’t need one.”

“You wanted to kill him, didn’t you?”

A few seconds of silence passed between them…but Cassandra was already sure of the answer. The letter opener Bruce held was being subjected to torture between Bruce’s fingers, twisting and bending as he was lost in thought for a moment.

“Yes,” he finally answered, “Yes, I did. But I was only a kid…so I didn’t stand a chance.”

“And now?” Cassandra asked.

Bruce gave Cassandra an icy look, dropping the letter opener onto the desk. “I think you know the answer to that.”

Cassandra suddenly frowned as Bruce leaned back in his chair and stared at her over the top of the desk. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing – Bruce was actually admitting failure? He believed that he still didn’t stand a chance at catching his ongoing nemesis? Then again…he was probably still reacting to having just missed catching Joker again.

“Why didn’t you let me capture him?”

Bruce frowned again, nearly launching into another lecture…but he paused and seemed to calm himself as the door to his office opened wide, and Barbara rolled in without saying a word.

“He would have forced you to kill him,” Bruce said calmly, his confidence seemingly boosted by Barbara’s presence, “And if it came to that…I’m reasonably sure you would have.”

“He…what?” Cassandra looked at Barbara, seeming confused, as if to verify with her whether Bruce was correct, or simply paranoid as usual.

“See this wheelchair?” Barbara spoke softly as she wheeled closer to the desk. “I was put in it because I wasn’t willing to kill Joker…and because Bruce didn’t.”

“But–” Cassandra shook her head and slid off the edge of the desk, looking behind her at Bruce. He suddenly turned silent, and was looking down at the desk’s surface.

“Cassandra…the longer Bruce fights with Joker, the more he loses. His parents, his friends…and maybe one day his sanity.”

Bruce looked up as he heard that last part, prompting a weak smile from Barbara. “You’ve seen what happened to Barbara,” he said, “I don’t want the same to happen to you.”

“And,” Bruce added, interrupting Cassandra with a raise of his hand, before she could reply, “I’m certain you wouldn’t allow it to happen to you. Which is why I believe you would have killed Joker to protect yourself.”

“Who will protect you?” Cassandra looked at the sad expressions on the faces of both Bruce and Barbara. She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment before quietly slipping toward the door.

As she turned to close the door behind her, she gave the two of them one last look. “Let me know when you decide to trust me.”

Bruce sighed out loud as he leaned back in his chair. Barbara sat across from him, giving him a sly smile.

“What?” Bruce asked.

“Oh, nothing. I just remember saying the same thing to you once.” Barbara turned her wheelchair around, intent on leaving Bruce alone in his office…but paused along the way. “She’s a smart girl, Bruce. Maybe she just needs a chance to prove it.”

“She’ll have her chance–”

“–when it’s ‘safe’…right?” Barbara indicated toward Bruce’s computer with her chin. “There’s your daily journal. Read through it…and when you find something that looks ‘safe’, you be sure and let me know.”
It was pouring down rain when Batgirl went out again, lightning flashing like an out of control strobe light, thunder crashing loudly enough to set off car alarms on the streets. She drove the Batmobile into a dark alley between two tall gothic designed buildings downtown, only one of which was her destination.

She figured that Bruce could learn that she had taken the Batmobile at any moment, so she had to use her time wisely. The canopy of the car opened quickly, and then shut, leaving her only a second or two to clear it. She did so on purpose, to minimize the amount of time she had to spend in the rain.

Her destination was the Gotham City Public Library. Ironic, however, that she was entering at such a late hour…because during the daytime it would be an ideal place to seek shelter during a storm. She wasn’t there to seek shelter, however…she was attempting to satisfy her curiosity by doing some research.

Bruce’s computer in the Bat Cave was very efficient with its task – to store and organize information in as pure and as dry a form as possible. It was all raw data. But she wanted more.

Cassandra slipped off the mask once inside the library, reasonably sure that no one would be inside the dark building at that time of the night, especially during a storm. She headed straight to a computer which indexed the newspaper archives, immediately searching for any article referencing ‘Wayne’.

Newspaper articles contained more than just raw data. They contained eyewitness accounts, interviews…feelings. The facts of what happened to Bruce’s parents were terrifying enough. But she had to know more…like what people around him thought, or whether he was well taken care of after it occurred. That’s what the Bat Cave computer was missing…and what Bruce held close to his heart.

But to her dismay, she learned that much of the newspaper articles were a lot like Bruce’s computer’s archives. Not much was really known about the Wayne family itself – they kept a shroud of secrecy around themselves, no doubt because of their wealthy status in Gotham City. The only witness interviews mentioned just what the police reports already had – gunshots, and fleeting glimpses of a possible perpetrator.

A flash of lightning quickly put an end to her research as the screen flickered off and on, causing the computer to restart. She shoved the screen hard…and it slid off the desk to crash to the floor.

The last image she saw on the screen stuck in her mind. It was a specific newspaper, published on a specific date. Something prompted her to dig through the microfilm file for it…but it was gone. The slot for that date was clearly marked, but there was no film.

Before the computer had been knocked out, she had paged forward through a few days’ worth of newspapers published after Bruce’s parents murders. One thing in particular caught her attention – a single rose placed on the site of the Wayne murders days later. The caption below claimed that it was placed by a man who’s description sounded a lot like Alfred’s.
“We need to talk.”

Alfred turned around and smiled at Cassandra, who stood behind him wearing jeans and a black long-sleeved shirt. Her clothing was dry, yet her hair was wet – it didn’t take a genius to figure out that she had just returned from an excursion in costume.

“Certainly, Cassandra. Would you like some tea?”

Cassandra nodded as she sat down on one of the couches in the study, staring into the roaring fireplace until Alfred returned with a tray carrying two cups of tea. He sat down across from her, placing the tray on the table between them.

“Tell me how Bruce felt after his parents were killed.” Cassandra took a sip of her tea as she looked across the table at Alfred.

“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Alfred responded quickly, seeming to be unaffected by the weight of her question, “Master Bruce is entitled to his privacy.”

“It’s very important to me.” Cassandra leaned toward Alfred, keeping her eyes steadily on him as she placed the teacup on her hand back on the table. “I have to know.”

“Very well.” Alfred took a deep breath. “However, if I betray Master Bruce’s trust, you will have to betray your own secrecy. Agreed?”

Cassandra blinked once and nodded, leaning back with her tea cup, eager to listen to every word Alfred would tell her.

“At first, he simply cried. For days, weeks…I honestly can’t recall. But I do remember that he seemed to fear leaving his room. He even took his meals there. It was almost as if he believed if he waited there long enough, his parents would return and ask him to come out.”

“How did you get him to come out?” Cassandra asked.

“I didn’t,” Alfred continued, “Eventually he did so on his own. He began asking me lots of questions about death, and about heaven and hell. He told me once that one day he would die…and he hoped it would be soon, so he could see his mum and dad again.”

“But just when I had begun to worry about him, he suddenly returned to normal. He returned to school, and excelled in his studies. He became driven to success at the expense of his childhood – it seemed he was obsessed with leaving it behind.”

“As he aged, however, the anniversary of his parents’ deaths haunted him more and more every year. He would eventually spend weeks surrounding the date miserable, and deeply depressed. He never would tell me why, but I suspected it was because his parents never had the chance to be proud of his success.”

“Is that when he became Batman?” Cassandra interrupted.

“Yes, in a way, it was. One day, he read an article in the newspaper about a child who had been killed in a gang dispute. He cried for days after reading it, as if he had returned to the moments following his parents’ murder.”

“Literally days later, he started channelling a lot of his time and resources into a strange project – remodeling a cave which was adjacent to the Manor. He begged me to help him without asking a single question – and I did so. The cave was outfitted with impressive technology, computers, furnishings…but one item which arrived finally caused me to break my promise of silence.”

“The costume?”

Alfred nodded. “Smart girl, Cassandra. The costume. I confronted him about it, telling him that his behavior was bordering on insanity. I still remember what his answer was – ‘Insanity is allowing murderous criminals to rule the streets while we hide in our homes, afraid. It’s time they were afraid.’ It was a rebuttal to which I could not, in good conscience, argue with.”

Cassandra’s eyebrows raised with interest. “So then you agreed to help him?”

Alfred shook his head. “Not ‘help him’. Rather I forced myself upon him. At first, he thanked me for understanding, and told me I needn’t become more involved. But I insisted upon it.”


“I suppose it was the excitement of the whole thing. The sense of adventure.” Alfred looked down at the table and sighed. “And because I knew…deep down…that he was absolutely correct. We Gotham citizens have been afraid of criminals for much too long. We’ve been hiding like frightened children while they turn our streets into their own private playground.”

“I haven’t been hiding.”

“And that’s the next topic, Cassandra.” Alfred sat up, placing his empty tea cup on the table. “Why are you not afraid?”

Cassandra shrugged and looked down. “I used to be. But I stopped being afraid when–”

“When your parents were killed.” Alfred nodded when Cassandra suddenly looked up, giving him a quick nervous look. “Do you feel any remorse at their deaths?”

“No…no, I don’t.” Cassandra shook her head slowly. “They deserved it. But I feel bad that I had to be the one…”

Alfred turned slowly as he noticed Barbara entering the room silently in her wheelchair. Cassandra had stopped speaking as soon as she entered.

“Continue,” he said.

“It’s kind of like–” Cassandra took a deep breath and purposely looked away from Alfred. “I knew something bad had to happen to them…because of everything they did to me. It’s almost like…the fire was meant to happen.”

“Why did you find it so easy to kill them?” Barbara suddenly asked. She noted that Cassandra seemed to cringe at her question.

“I didn’t at first. I cried…but because I was the cause. But then–” Cassandra gave Barbara a sad look for a moment before returning her gaze to the table in front of her. “–then I felt…free.”

“What about the ‘bad guys’ you killed on missions?” Barbara asked. Alfred gave her a warning look, telling her that she could possibly be digging too deep.

“I…I remember the freedom I felt. And I want it for other people, too. I can’t let an innocent die because I was afraid to kill.” Cassandra calmly stared at Barbara as she spoke. “You understand…right?”

“How do you know those people were going to kill?”

“Because I grew up in that world,” Cassandra whispered, “I know.”

“I’m really sorry if it seems like I don’t understand,” Barbara said, wheeling backwards a little, “But I just can’t think that way. I worry about if someone I’m faced with has a family, or loved ones, or someone who cares–”

“Is that what you think about the Joker too?” Cassandra asked, rising from her seat on the couch and kneeling next to Barbara’s wheelchair, “Or do you want to see how many more he can put in a wheelchair?”

“Wh-what?” Barbara leaned back in her chair slightly.

“He shot you, and put you in this chair. He took your whole life away.” Cassandra leaned her elbow on the arm of the chair, noting the look of anger which swept across Barbara’s face. “Would you like to see him do the same to someone else? Like me, or Bruce? Or would you rather see Joker die?”

She looked at Alfred for a moment as Barbara hid her mouth behind her trembling right hand. It was clear that Cassandra had hit upon one of her worst fears.

Cassandra rose to her feet quickly and frowned at Barbara, and then at Alfred. “That’s what I thought.”

As she headed out into the hallway, Cassandra could hear whispers from inside the study. Barbara sounded truly shaken…and Cassandra’s heart sunk as she heard Barbara’s voice asking Alfred if Cassandra even understands what happened to her.

She bowed her head and slowly walked back into the study, heading directly toward Barbara, noting the fact that she looked away. She kneeled next to the wheelchair and looked at Barbara’s eyes. “I’m…sorry I said that. I don’t want you to be angry with me.”

“I’m not angry, Cassandra. Not anymore.” Barbara smiled slightly as Cassandra stood again and left the room. She was glad that Cassandra had displayed evidence of a strong conscience. It meant that she was more reasonable than Bruce, in some ways.

She looked up slowly to watch Alfred stand and head toward the doorway with the tea tray in his hands. “I was right all along, Alfred. Do you believe that?”

Alfred turned and nodded. “Yes. Master Bruce will be pleased to hear that.”

“I don’t think it’ll be long before he does,” Barbara said, as Alfred left and headed toward the kitchen. “Right Bruce?”

A grandfather clock on the study swung open, and Bruce stepped out, closing it carefully behind him. “You knew I was behind the clock all along?”

“It was a guess.” Barbara shrugged.

“What are your thoughts on Cassandra’s behavior?”

Barbara took a deep breath and frowned. “She’s cocky, even a little arrogant. She may be even more dangerous than you–”

“More dangerous?” Bruce interrupted.

“–But she’s also more sensitive, too. She seems to know when she’s pushed things too far…but sometimes, she doesn’t care.”

Bruce sighed. “That makes her an extreme risk to herself…and to me.”

Barbara shrugged again. “Maybe so. But with her watching my back…I’d could be sure that I have nothing to fear.”

“What I’m saying, Bruce,” Barbara yelled after him as he turned to leave the room, “Is that it’s good thing that she’s on our side. What we have in her is some of what makes your worst enemies powerful…but controlled, and with a sense of what’s wrong or right.”

“And what makes her so powerful?” Bruce raised an eyebrow.

“Always go to the heart of things, don’t you?” Barbara smiled. “She doesn’t let fear cause her to hesitate. It’s something that’s caused each of us to fail. Me, you, Dick, and even Tim.”

“Sometimes, lack of fear can be worse.”

Barbara shook her head. “She feels it. She just never lets it slow her down. And yes, it can be dangerous – but so far, she’s managed pretty well.”

“Until she gets shot.”

Bruce and Barbara cringed in unison at his words. They both knew what it was a reference to. Barbara looked down, sighing loudly. “Let’s pray she doesn’t.”
Cassandra shut the door of her room and launched herself onto the bed, to lie on her back and stare at the ceiling, her hands lying across her stomach. She knew that Bruce and Barbara were talking about her down the hall…about how dangerous she was, and how much of a risk she was to the ‘team’.

She wanted so badly to explain herself…to answer their persistent questions. But she didn’t know the answers herself.

Her eyes closed as her mind went backwards through time.
she remembered feeling anger as she pushed a man off a building…and then the feeling of terror as she realized she had just sent him to his death. She tried to capture her thoughts at the moment when she pushed him – that she was smaller than he was…and if she allowed him to get too close, he would hurt her.

Cassandra’s mind went back even further…to a time when she was even smaller. She sat on the carpeted floor below the window in her bedroom, holding something in her hand…it was a dictionary. She felt anger, and someone…her dad…stood in the doorway, screaming. She was threatening to throw the dictionary at him if he came closer – so he cursed at her, and then shut the door and locked it. He thought he was punishing her by locking her in. But she felt safe in that locked room, protected.

She took a deep breath as she finally began to realize what had been plaguing her for so long – a need for control she had been lacking through her childhood…and a feeling that she required solitude whenever she felt trapped. A feeling that was so powerful, she was willing to kill to achieve it.

But should she tell Bruce and Barbara? Or would that just lower their opinion of her further? She knew that they never truly listened to her – they asked her questions, but then came to their own conclusions. Asking questions for them was simply a test of their own theories.

No…it would be better if they didn’t know. The mystery Cassandra left for the two of them was one of the few things that kept them interested in her. Otherwise, Bruce would simply go back to treating her like a child, making up nonsense rules and insisting that she follow. As long as he saw her as a confusing mystery, he would be more careful with her.

She smiled and moved her palms behind her head, still staring at the ceiling. She felt a little bad about purposely misleading them…but she also feared that the truth about herself could be much more damaging.

“They think you’re gonna get yourself killed.”

Cassandra didn’t even look up as she heard Tim’s footsteps and voice enter the room. He closed the door behind him to make sure no one else could sneak in behind him.

“Good,” she replied.

“Good?” Tim sat down on the edge of the bed, looking down at Cassandra with a questioning gaze. She didn’t seem to notice, as she continued staring at the ceiling. “It’s not good. You don’t really want to get yourself killed, do you?”

She shook her head ‘no’. “Of course not.”

“So why don’t you tell Bruce the truth, then?” Tim asked, his voice sounding more desperate. “Or at least me?”

She shook her head again. “You’ll tell Bruce.”

“If you don’t want me to tell him, I won’t. Just…I’m worried about you is all.”

Cassandra sat up suddenly and eyed Tim suspiciously. “You won’t tell him?”

“I promise I won’t. Even if it’s something he really should know.”

“Okay.” Cassandra nodded and straightened herself, taking a deep breath, purposely acting as if she were about to say something Earth-shattering. It worked, she could see the anticipation in Tim’s eyes. “It’s very simple. Bruce has his mind games, I have mine.”

Tim sat with his mouth hanging open, half an expression of horror, and half an expression of surprise, for several seconds. He almost spoke a couple of times before finally gaining enough coherence to put together a sentence. “You’re trying to outplay the master, are you?”

“I’m winning, too.” Cassandra looked down, trying her best to stifle a laugh. “Look, Tim…I’m not crazy, really. I don’t want to die. Every time I’ve killed was either to protect myself…or you.”

“Oookay.” Tim pressed his hands together and held them to his mouth for a moment as he took a deep breath. “What I’m not clear on, Cassandra, is why you react so violently to danger. And why you take so many dangerous risks.”

“I do get scared out there, you know,” she responded quietly, “Just like you do. When I get scared…I become protective. Of myself, and even you.”

Tim nodded. “And the risks? Why do you keep coming back here with bruises and broken bones?”

“Because I want to be the best,” Cassandra replied. “I can’t if I hold myself back.”

An amused smile formed on Tim’s face. “You know what? Everything you’ve told me makes perfect sense. Why didn’t you say something before?”

Cassandra shrugged. “I guess I didn’t really know the answers myself.”

Tim slid off of the bed and nudged Cassandra’s shoulder. “None of us do, really. So tell me…how has Dick been getting along with you?”

“We got some ice cream and talked.” She shrugged again. “Nothing special.”

Tim turned and headed toward the door. “Just keep one eye on him. He kind of has a reputation with the ladies.”

“How about you?” Cassandra smiled as Tim stopped suddenly and turned to face her with a look of surprise. “You know an awful lot of blondes.”

“That’s none of your–” Tim stopped himself and sighed. He expected Cassandra to be honest with him, and yet he lashed out when she asked him to do the same. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do. Does that bother you?”

She shook her head. “No. Just something I noticed.”

“Kind of like when I noticed you were growing your hair longer?”

Cassandra laughed, bringing a smile to Tim’s face for a moment before he turned to leave again.

But then he paused again, and pointed toward Cassandra. “It looks nice. Don’t let Bruce talk you into cutting it short again.”

“Hey, Tim,” Cassandra said, as he opened the door and headed into the hallway. She slid off of the bed suddenly, holding the television remote in her hands. “You’re a good friend.”

Tim smiled and stepped into the hallway, sticking his head into the room again to add one last comment. “For a dark haired girl, you’re not so bad either.”

She laughed again, pretending to throw the remote at the door as Tim closed it quickly. Then she switched the TV on, sitting on the edge of the bed to watch some mindless entertainment and relax for a while.

Cassandra needed to unwind – it had been a long, stressful night. While she liked matching wits with Bruce and playing mind games to occupy his time, it took a toll on her nerves – because he also supplied the tools she used for her late-night ‘recreation’ atop the buildings of Gotham City. At any moment, she could push things too far…and be left as a boring civilian as a result.

She couldn’t allow herself to be left as weak and helpless again as she was the day before she left her childhood home. She couldn’t allow it. What she was now…as Cassandra, and as Batgirl…gave her a feeling of power, and gave her a purpose. It would be hell to lose it.

Her mind drifted away as boring late night television began to hypnotize her, finally bringing her racing mind to silence. Sleep then overtook her quickly…and she could only wait for tomorrow.


#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.


#17 – Running In The Dark, Part 3

Everything turned to hell so quickly.

Broken glass littered the concrete floor of the basement of the Gotham City public library. Billows of smoke began pushing through the huge boiler room as flames licked at the ceiling.

Batman carried the weakened Batgirl over one shoulder, and the unconscious Robin over the other. He was the only one of the three to have a breathing filter with him – he wasn’t immediately overcome by the smoke and heat. The night vision added to his mask allowed him to navigate through the totally darkened room toward the stairs.

Once he use a fireman’s carry to race up the stairs and out to the street, he realized that Robin was in much worse shape than he originally thought. His hands and arms had been burned somewhat…while the skin wasn’t severely damaged, it was bright red.

He pulled a small tool from his belt and opened the valve on a fire hydrant nearby, letting the water douse Batgirl and Robin as he pulled a high-tech burn kit from inside the Batmobile. Time was running out – the sound of fire engine and police sirens began to echo off of nearby buildings. There wasn’t time to stick around.

He heard a cough and sputter, and watched Batgirl sit up quickly and begin to take in her surroundings.

“I need your help,” he whispered almost immediately, giving Batgirl little time to overcome her weakness and dizziness, “Robin’s in bad shape.”

Without another word, she returned to her feet quickly and doused herself in the stream of water from the hydrant again, before kneeling next to Robin’s head.

“Hold him still,” Batman said, louder this time, “We need to get him taped up and out of here before the cops show up.”

“You hold–” She tried to speak, but ended up choking and coughing instead. Rather than try to explain again, she snatched the first aid tape from him gripping her own wrist tightly to demonstrate that her costume was looser-fitting, allowing her to move faster. He nodded in agreement, and held up Robin’s left arm.

It only took Batgirl seconds to wrap the cooling pad and tape around his arm, and switch to the other. Batman then lifted Robin quickly, and placed him in the passenger seat of the car.

Just then, the first police cars arrived on the scene. Batman froze, and turned briefly to look at Batgirl – he didn’t say a word, but she knew what to do. She jumped into the driver’s seat, and drove away quickly, leaving Batman to keep the police occupied. She was sure he would escape – he always did – but the priority was to keep Robin, and her weakened self, from being captured.

“What happened?”

That was the first question Alfred asked as he helped lift Robin out of the passenger side of the car. Cassandra didn’t answer right away as she pulled off her mask, revealing her soot-covered face. “Oxygen”, she said, her voice cracking.

As she was handed an oxygen mask, she watched Alfred wrap larger cooling pads with straps around Robin’s arms and, and place corresponding gloves on his fingers. He plugged the small tubes from the pads and gloves into a pump below the medical bed he had placed Robin on top of.

He still hadn’t woken up, even after an oxygen mask had been added. The look Alfred gave Cassandra told her that it would be a long night. But that’s what happens when everything turns to hell.


“What happened, Cassandra?”

Alfred sat across from Cassandra at a small wooden table which could very well be called a kitchen table if it were actually in a kitchen – but instead, it was located next to a stairway in the Bat Cave. He drank tea, brought from the house along with a huge mug of streaming hot cocoa Cassandra drank slowly. It was both to soothe her nerves, and help restore her voice.

“It was a trap,” Cassandra said. “The boiler in the library…exploded. Tim was burned by the water.”

Alfred looked confused. Her wording didn’t make sense, and she was speaking in fragments – most likely, the trauma of the evening still left Cassandra feeling confused. “Why were you in the basement of the library?”

“Chasing…we were chasing a man who broke in.” Cassandra leaned over her cup of cocoa and took a deep breath of steam as he voice began to make her throat feel sore. “It was…Joker. We didn’t know, and he…he blew up the basement.”

“My God.” Alfred looked at Robin worriedly, and then back to Cassandra. “You two are lucky to have made it home alive. And Master Bruce?”

As if to punctuate Alfred’s question, a door slammed at the far end of the Bat Cave. He stood and headed toward it quickly – Cassandra did the same, only walking slower to avoid over-exerting herself too quickly.

But she began moving quicker when she heard Bruce’s strained voice, and Alfred saying, ‘Easy, Master Bruce.’

“He’s been shot, Cassandra. Fetch a first aid kid, quickly,” Alfred ordered.

Without a second thought, Cassandra raced across the room and pulled out the largest first aid kit she could find, tearing open the box quickly. She delivered it to Alfred in another second, placing it on the edge of a medical table Bruce was sitting on.

“It just barely punctured the armor and cut my skin,” Bruce said, producing the bullet in his palm.

“I’ll still need to clean and disinfect the wound,” Alfred said, as he began pulling off the rubber and kevlar alloy armor and tossing pieces of it onto the floor.

Cassandra wanted to watch at first, but ended up taking a step back when she saw just how much blood was hidden behind Bruce’s costume. She heard him groan in pain as Alfred began cleaning the area slowly with rubbing alcohol. Then he said the inevitable…

“This cut is too deep, Master Bruce. I shall have to stitch it.”

“Do what you have to, Alfred,” Bruce said, wincing in pain once again.

By that point, Cassandra was determined not to watch any more. She raced back to her room quickly, determined to wash the scent of the fire out of her hair and skin, and change into clean clothing, placing her costume into a special chamber where it would be electronically cleaned, removing the smoky odor it carried in a day or so. It was a good thing she had two, something which was necessary when the costume got so much daily use.

But once she stood in the shower, with the warm water cascading through her hair, the urgency she felt to try and escape her memory had vanished. Images of what had happened – the explosion, the Joker’s horrifying laughter, Tim screaming in pain before he passed out…they all came rushing back to her.

She remembered the burning feeling in her lungs, everything fading away…and Batman lifting her off of her feet when she didn’t have the strength to stand on her own any longer.

Then she thought about something else – about how easily they were beaten by one madman. They didn’t even see it coming – and given another set of circumstances, they could all be dead. Cassandra remembered Tim, still lying on the medical bed unconscious, his arms wrapped in cooling pads…and she worried that one of them still could be.

By the time she stepped out of the shower and got dressed quickly, that last thought dwelled in her mind. If Tim died, it would be her fault. Why didn’t she see it coming? Why didn’t she tell him not to try and duck behind the boiler when the explosion went off? Why…wasn’t she the one burned instead of Tim?

Her mind was spinning by the time she reached for the doorknob…but then she hesitated. Out there, outside the bathroom, was reality. For the moment, it seemed one that was much too harsh to be true.

And the fire…she remembered the fire around her, the burning in her lungs. She remembered once, being in a fire, reaching for the doorknob. She remembered opening the door, and feeling such a powerful heat…and screaming as she knew that everyone on the other side of it was dead.

Cassandra could feel the heat in the room as she tried to run away from the door, and slipped. She backed away from it across the floor, placing her back against the first solid object she could find, curling into a ball…and cried, wishing for freedom and a better place.

She heard a sound…and looked up to see Bruce standing in the doorway of the bathroom, looking down at her. He was leaning against the doorway, looking shocked as she sat on the floor, curled up, and sobbing.

“It was the explosion and fire we were in, wasn’t it?” Bruce asked in a soft, almost concerned voice. He walked into the bathroom and kneeled on the floor next to Cassandra, wincing as he did so. “It brought back things you would rather not remember.”

Cassandra nodded slowly. leaning her chin against her knees as she wrapped her arms around her legs. “And Tim…I’m…afraid for him.”

Bruce opened his mouth for a second, almost ready to give her some canned response, some reassurance which was intended to make her feel better. But he started to understand that it didn’t work with Cassandra. She valued honesty above all else. Instead, he decided to tell her his true feelings.

“I’m afraid too, Cassandra.”

The hug that Cassandra gave Bruce suddenly reminded him of another Batgirl he used to work with…one who he still knew well, and hoped would become a role model for Cassandra. It was a sign that maybe hope would become a reality.
Cassandra returned to the Bat Cave to check on Tim, hoping that he would at least be awake by the time that she returned from her shower. Unfortunately, he was still unconscious…which quickly soured her now calm mood.

“Tough break, huh?”

She heard Dick Grayson’s voice, but didn’t look his way, trying to avoid letting him see the sadness and fear in her eyes. She could hear him approach from behind her, and could see his shadow tower over her as he leaned close to check on Tim.

“Look…For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I got so upset about my bike.” Dick walked around to the other side of the bed, leaning his palms on its edge and staring at Cassandra to try and get her attention. He was wearing his Nightwing costume, but not his mask. “I like you, Cassandra. You show imagination…something you-know-who lacks.”

He seemed satisfied with himself for a moment when Cassandra cracked a slight smile for just an instant. Satisfied enough that he decided to try and make peace with this Batgirl he barely knew. He held a gloved hand under Cassandra’s nose. “So…what do say? Truce? Hell, maybe we can even work together one day.”

Cassandra shook his hand slowly, finally giving him a half-hearted smile that told him she had other things on her mind. That’s when she finally spoke to him. “You’re too eager to please.”

Dick laughed out loud. “Cassandra, you’re the first person who’s ever said that to me.”

She looked down at Tim again, her smile vanishing suddenly as she watched him quietly sleeping, his body trying to heal itself. “Want to help?”

“Help?” Dick looked confused as he watched Cassandra stand and head up the stairway to the house. He tried to follow as she raced ahead of him, walking quickly through a darkened hallway until she suddenly stopped in a large room which contained Bruce’s ancient weapons collection.

She turned around looked up at an old decorative Japanese Katana sword mounted over the doorway, and pointed. “Get that for me.”

“You want to see that close up, do you?” Dick ran into the next room, snatching a big chair from the dining room. It wasn’t nearly tall enough – but with his skills, he could easily stand on the back of the chair and balance long enough to reach.

“No.” Cassandra shook her head and took a couple of steps back and watched Dick place the chair just in front of the doorway and jump up to its back in two leaps. “I want to use it to kill.”

“Wha…?” The chair wobbled suddenly, and Dick crashed to the floor as Cassandra leapt out of the way quickly. “I hope you’re joking. It’s one thing to play with Bruce’s collection…but it’s another to–”

“I’m not joking.” Cassandra stood the chair back up and looked at the sword again. “Joker almost killed Tim. Will you help me, or not?”

Dick stared into Cassandra’s angry, determined eyes, his mouth hanging open trying desperately to respond. He wanted to say something profound, which would make Cassandra reconsider. But at the same time…she was right. Bruce would disagree…but that was one of the very things which caused Dick to constantly fight with him, and eventually go out on his own. Bruce was never willing to go far enough.

Without another word, Dick climbed the chair again quickly and snatched the sword off of the wall. He jumped to the floor and held it out to her…but then drew it back before she could reach it. “First, I want you to promise me something. Promise me that whenever you carry this weapon, you’ll think of me before using it.”

Cassandra gave him a questioning look, apparently confused by what he had said.

“I’m a great judge of people, Cassandra,” Dick explained further, “I know that you trust me more than Bruce…but you’re also more intimidated by me. I want you to think about what I would do before you use this. That’s all.”

A few more seconds of silence passed before Cassandra smiled and held out her hand. “Deal.”

Dick gently placed the center of the sheathed sword in Cassandra’s palm, and folded his arms. “Don’t forget what I said. Otherwise I’ll have to take this back.”

Cassandra laughed and headed toward the hallway quickly with the sword in hand, intent on returning to her room to hide it until she would go out later and make use of it. But at the last second, she paused before she left the room. “Dick?”

“Yes?” Dick said, sticking his head back into the room from the doorway at the other end, carrying the chair back to the dining room.


Dick smiled and put down the chair for a moment. “Good luck, kid. If you need anything else, just tell me.”

Cassandra walked into the hallway smiling as she carried the sword toward her room. She didn’t have the heart to mention that she had already borrowed his name…but he would find out soon enough.
It was raining again when Batgirl went out later that night. But instead of the rain being soothing, or relaxing, it gave her a sense of power. She felt as if nature itself was urging her on.

Besides her usual costume, cape, and belt, Batgirl carried the Japanese Katana taken from Bruce’s trophy room, still in its sheath. She had a specific target in mind – the man who had set the trap for herself, Bruce…and the still unconscious Tim. She had to teach him that there were direct consequences…and that he must fear hurting the ones she cares about.

She believed that more than anything…but as she crouched atop an apartment building, looking down at a purple limousine parked across the street, her hands shook and her heart was beating quickly. Damn that Dick Grayson…his words left her mind spinning, unable to concentrate on the task at hand.

But she knew she had to. Her heart started beating loudly in her ears as she saw a light turn on in one of the apartments across the street. She pulled a pair of small binoculars from her belt and looked through the window. It was…him. He had just punched one of bodyguards in the stomach, and was heading toward the window. She watched as he stopped just short of the window, and moved his purple suit jacket aside, slipping a silver gun from a holster under one arm.

Batgirl felt a sense of alarm as he started to turn slowly. She tossed the binoculars aside and quickly aimed a double anchor cable launcher directly above the window across the street, tossing her cape behind her as the other end of the cable lodged noisily into a brick chimney a few yards behind her. She grabbed the launcher with both hands and launched herself toward the Joker…

…and with a loud crash, and a shower of glass, she found herself pinning him to the ground with her knees as his gun went sailing across the room. She eyed the two frozen bodyguards, as she reached down in a flash and launched Bat Wings at the weapons they held. The Bat Wings each hit their target with an audible metallic ‘clang’ before lodging themselves into the wall.

She then turned her attention entirely on Joker, introducing herself only by slamming her gloved fist into his face. She could feel the cartilage in his nose snap, giving her a moment of satisfaction – but she wasn’t done yet.

Batgirl rose quickly, the wind blowing the rain in through the window behind her as she held the Katana’s sheath in her left hand, drawing out the blade with her right. She eyed the two bodyguards…they were too close again. A quick sweep of the Katana fixed that.

But she didn’t realize how sharp the blade was. She watched as the right hands of each of the two men, raised to protect themselves as the blade swung past them, went tumbling to the floor with a soft, wet ‘thud’. A shower of blood covered the carpet and the opposite wall as the two began screaming, and retreated to the hallway.

A little shaken by the power she held, yet somehow feeling more confident, Batgirl placed her left foot firmly in the center of Joker’s chest, and wrapped both of her gloved hands tightly around the Katana’s handle. She raised it above Joker’s head, feeling nothing but anger as she watched him begin to chuckle – he was laughing at her on the eve of his death.

Her arms started to weaken as his chuckles turned into laughter – but through her boots, she could feel the tension in his body. It was pure terror. The man reacted to fear by laughing…and he had absolutely no control over it.

She took a look around the small apartment as laughter began filling the room. The kind of life this empty soul led…it was no life at all. He had no home, no loved ones. He knew only murder, death and…seedy apartments like the one he hid in now. Batgirl started to feel a little lucky, a little privileged. Bruce had no idea what he had over the criminals he chased every night.

As she looked down at the Joker one more time, she remembered words she heard recently…’Spare the life of someone who you consider evil beyond redemption’. There was no one more evil in Gotham than Joker. He was born and bred into evil, and could be nothing else.

Batgirl sheathed the Katana quickly and removed her foot from Joker’s chest, watching the confused expression on his face. He was even confused enough that he had stopped laughing.

She headed over to a phone next to a doorway on the room, and dialed nine-one-one, tossing the handset on the floor purposely. As a last gesture, she flipped the Katana around, slamming the handle hard into Joker’s temple, knocking him unconscious. It was better that way…the police would find him lying there, and would be able to arrest him safely.

But there was still too much evidence of her presence. She leaned out the window, grabbing the metal base of the cable launcher, using the small motor inside to quickly pull up to her previous location atop the building across the street. She then grabbed the cable and pulled hard, dislodging it from the building across the street, taking the time to manually wind the cable back into the launcher.

Once she had latched the device back on her belt, she headed back to the alley below, satisfied that firm evidence of her presence had been eliminated. She quickly climbed on Nightwing’s motorcycle – ‘borrowed’ yet again – and headed quickly to the Bat Cave. She had done her good deed for the night.
Cassandra awoke the next morning with a start. Someone was shaking her – and as she rolled over, she discovered that it was Tim. She looked at her clock – it said ’10:45′. He was saying something to her…but she only caught part of it as her senses slowly began to tune into the real world. He said something about…cops?

“…they’re waiting in the study,” Tim continued, “Come on, hurry up!”

“Shower–” Cassandra mumbled as she slid out of her covers onto the floor, hands first. She finally rose to her feet and grabbed some clothing quickly before heading into the bathroom. She could hear Tim giving a frustrated sigh, but she wouldn’t care until she woke up more.

Finally emerging into the study fifteen minutes later, hair still soaked, she stopped in the doorway. Sitting on a couch, listening to Alfred talk, were the same two detectives she had talked to at the police department a couple of days before. Tim was not in the room, but Bruce wore reading glasses, and sat in the opposite couch, looking at an old text.

“Here she is now,” Alfred announced as Cassandra walked through the doorway.

She froze for a moment as the two turned to look at her. Neither seemed happy – but she put on a slight smile anyway, to try and un-nerve them a bit.

“Cassandra Grayson? Is that what you told me your name was?” One of the Detectives stood and looked down at Cassandra. “What’s your real name?”

Without saying a word, Cassandra laughed slightly. She knew she had been caught in a lie…but it was one that was fairly harmless. Nevertheless, she didn’t want to tell the Detective…or Bruce…or anyone her real name. She wanted to leave it behind forever. Luckily, she didn’t have to spend much time arguing about it.

“She doesn’t remember,” Bruce interrupted. “If you must know, Alfred and I found her wandering the neighborhood, confused. We took her in, and found that she had almost no memory of where she came from or who she was. She told us later that she had been rescued by…Batman…from a fire.”

The two Detectives looked at each other. It was easy to tell that neither believed the part of the story involving Batman. One of the two spoke up again. “And why did she give us the name Cassandra Grayson?”

Bruce laughed and leaned back comfortably on his couch, giving no indication of being uneasy. He was an expert at that – he could tell any lie, and make it more believable than most people’s truths. “A man named Grayson was here a few days ago. He’s a business associate from out of town. She simply borrowed his name.”

“Any relation to a cop named Richard Grayson?” the other Detective asked.

“I don’t ask my business associates personal questions about their relatives.” Bruce shrugged. Cassandra tried hard to not to smile too much. She enjoyed watching Bruce spin such a complete story.

The two detectives finally rose, one of them heading toward the door as the other stopped to shake Bruce’s hand as he stood as well. “I’m sorry to have taken your time, Mr. Wayne.”

“Not at all, Detective,” Bruce said in a smooth, quiet manner, “I feel a little more secure knowing that Gotham’s finest are looking after my welfare.”

As soon as Cassandra heard the door close, and the two Detectives were outside, she started laughing out loud. Bruce frowned at first, but then began smiling once he realized why.

“It takes a lot of practice to do that, Cassandra.” Bruce squeezed her shoulder as he walked past her, and headed back to his office. “You’ll learn one day.”
Detective Callahan tore through the streets of Gotham City, his partner, Detective Williamson, clinging to the dashboard as he took corners quickly. A blue light spun quickly just in front of the windshield, and a siren blared to tell traffic to clear the way.

Moments earlier, when the two had just left Wayne Manor, they got word over their radio that the police station was on fire. All Detectives were requested to report to the station ‘Code 3’ – that meant lights and sirens, with total disregard for traffic safety.

Callahan practically drove onto the lawn of the police station, leaving forty foot long skid marks on the pavement as his car screeched to a halt. His partner leapt out before the car had even come to a complete stop.

The two raced for the doors of the police department – but were immediately grabbed and held back by two fire fighters loaded down with gear.

“Whoa, whoa,” one fire fighter told them, “If you two go in there, you’ll both end up extra crispy.”

“What’s going on?” Williamson asked.

“A fire. Duh,” the other fire fighter responded.

Callahan shoved the ruder of the two fire fighters aside, becoming impatient as he purposely tried to intimidate the other. “Where’s the fire chief?”

Williamson and Callahan headed toward the fire chief after being pointed toward him. When they approached, the chief was busy yelling to a few men on a fire engine about hooking up another hose.

“Any idea what’s going on?” Callahan asked.

“Looks like a fire started in one of the garbage cans near the homicide office,” the chief said, “The contents of a few desks and file cabinets have been burned. My guess is someone was smoking in the office.”

Williamson looked at Callahan. “One of your cigars?”

Callahan shook his head. “Don’t look at me. I toss my matches at you, not into the trash can.”

“Chief, as soon as you get some information, let us know,” Williamson said.

“No problem,” the chief replied.
“You took my motorcycle again. I can’t believe this.” Dick Grayson paced around the dining room at Wayne Manor, attempting to hold a conversation with Cassandra. But he found only frustration as she continued eating a bowl of chocolate ice cream and reading a book, seemingly oblivious to his presence.

“You know,” he added, pausing for a moment as he watched Tim enter the room, “I check the mileage on that bike every day. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”

Dick turned around quickly as he heard a snicker from Tim. “Do you think this is funny?”

“No,” Tim said, barely containing laughter, “What’s funny is she stole your last name, and you’re busy whining about your bike.”

Cassandra smiled slightly, trying in futility to bury her face in the book she was reading in the hopes that Dick wouldn’t see that she was amused. His mouth was hanging open, and she could see the veins in his forehead stand out – he was left wordless by the anger he felt.

“She told the cops her name was Cassandra Grayson,” Tim added. An angry look from Dick told him that he wasn’t helping.

“I need you to understand, Cassandra,” Dick said slowly, “I need you to promise that you’ll stop stealing my bike.”

“It’s just a bike.” Cassandra didn’t even look up from her book as she spoke, seeming not to worry even the slightest bit about the fact that he was angry.

Dick turned to look at Tim, who was smile smiling in amusement. He motioned for Tim to leave…and then again, more urgently, after Tim didn’t take the first suggestion seriously.

As Tim finally left the room slowly, reluctantly, Dick leaned over Cassandra’s shoulder, carefully prying the book from her hands and lying it down on the table. Cassandra turned and gave him a quick glare.

“The day I stopped being Robin, Cassandra, I was prepared to leave here as an outcast…to be a nobody again. I wanted to make a clean break. I didn’t even want to see Batman or Bruce ever again.”

“What happened?” Cassandra asked.

Dick stood up and took a deep breath, looking at Cassandra for a moment as if he wasn’t sure if he should tell her any more. “He gave me the bike. No strings attached, no questions, nothing. He’s never said a word about it since – he’s never held it over me.”

“It was a gift of love.” Cassandra had turned completely around now, her arms hanging over the back of the chair as she gave Dick her full attention.

At first, Dick visibly cringed at Cassandra’s assessment. He remembered hearing so many sick jokes about his old Robin costume, he didn’t like the implications of the word she used. “I wouldn’t say ‘love’, exactly. More like a gift of mutual respect.”

Cassandra nodded and smiled. “I understand.”

He continued staring at her as she kept smiling at him, just knowing that somewhere behind it was one of those jokes he dreaded so much…or perhaps he’d just become paranoid after hearing so many of them. “So lay off the bike, all right? If it were ever damaged or destroyed, I’d lose a precious gift. You understand, right?”

“Yes.” Cassandra nodded again, still smiling. Dick began to feel a little frustrated, wondering what kinds of thoughts were swimming behind that calm expression of hers.

“Any questions?” Dick asked, almost sarcastically.

“Just one,” she said, her smile disappearing as she looked up at Dick. “You wanted to leave this all behind…so why did you come back?”

Dick opened his mouth to answer, but found no words. He sighed as he looked down at Cassandra, knowing full well that she had seen right through his tough exterior to his core. If she had any talent worthy of the Bat-family, that was it.

“Sometimes, I’m not sure myself. But I have discovered over time that…you really can’t go forward until you’re willing to go back a little. Keep that in mind, Cassandra.”

Just as Dick turned to leave the dining room, Cassandra slipped out of her chair and grabbed his arm tightly, stopping him before he took more than a few steps. “What do you mean…go back?”

“I mean no one can just abandon their past. It always comes back to haunt them.”
It was just after dusk as Bruce entered his office, neglecting to turn on the light as he approached his desk. He had accustomed himself to seeing fairly clearly in near darkness – which was no small feat considering that he was at an age where he needed reading glasses to see the morning newspaper.

As he entered that office, he could tell something was different. A quick glance around told him exactly what it was – Cassandra was sitting in his desk chair, her black costume boots propped on the surface of his desk. She had the leather seat leaned way back, and she was fidgeting with a letter opener.

“You watched your parents die…just like I did.”

Without saying a word, Bruce swallowed hard as he approached the desk, and sat down in one of the chairs in front of it. He knew very well that the two situations Cassandra likened were very, very different…and he already didn’t like where the discussion was headed. But he learned to be patient with her, to listen.

“What was it like for you?”

“Well–” Bruce shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He didn’t like talking about that event in his life, but he hoped opening up would bring Cassandra into an actual conversation. “–At the time, I was just a kid. When you’re a kid, you think everything lasts forever. And then…”

“Go on,” Cassandra urged, noting the pause from Bruce.

“And then,” Bruce continued calmly, “It’s all taken away. Not just one thing, like a bike or a toy that’s lost. Everything. My whole world had been taken away from me.”

“Did you cry?”

“No. No, I don’t remember ever crying.” He paused for what seemed like an eternity, as he dug through his memory to make sure he was correct. “It’s strange…that something so traumatic could happen to me, yet I didn’t cry. I guess I was in shock.”

“Oh. Good.” Cassandra looked down, away from Bruce, continuing to fidget with the letter opener.

“Why did you ask, Cassandra?”

“I wanted to know if I was normal.” She shrugged, looking at her reflection in the letter opener. “Because I didn’t cry for my parents either.”

Bruce stood suddenly and leaned over the desk, finally deciding to go for as much information as he could get. She seemed ready enough to talk.

“I know why you set the fire that killed your parents, Cassandra. I know you only meant to scare them…but you didn’t understand how fire worked.”

Cassandra sat up slightly, suddenly giving her full attention to what Bruce was saying – but she didn’t give any indication to whether he was right or wrong.

“You expected them to run from their room, screaming in terror while you laughed. You did hear them scream…but they never came out. The fire, however, did…and forced you to the protection of your room.”

A long paused was filled by the slight audible sound of Cassandra rubbing the point of the letter opener against her fingernails. “I didn’t know they died until after you brought me here–”

“–And you knew you couldn’t tell anyone. Especially me…because you didn’t want me to be afraid.”

She closed her eyes and nodded slowly. She looked sad for a moment, like she was expecting some kind of penalty. After all, she had spent the entire time she’d known Bruce lying to him, even though he offered her a home and a large part in the Bat-family.

“I know your real last name, Cassandra.” Bruce picked up a green folder which had been lying in a bin on the desk the entire time. “It’s on the former title to the house. This is the only remaining copy after the bank took possession of it.”

Cassandra cringed as she watched Bruce open the folder slowly and glance inside. She had a look of panic on her face for a moment as he looked directly at her…and then Bruce quickly shoved the entire folder into a shredder positioned next to his desk. A loud grinding sound, and a flutter of paper chips was all the noise that the infamous folder had created. She felt grateful for what he had done…but she wondered why.

“A man named Jim Gordon discovered Batman’s identity once,” Bruce began to explain calmly, smiling in an almost amused manner at the expression Cassandra gave him, “He almost used it to bring me down. But then he decided against it. He invited me to his office, and shredded the file before my eyes. He gave me the freedom to start over…and I’ve given you the same.”

She shook her head slightly, seeming calmer now. “Why are you doing this?”

Bruce simply smiled and turned to leave the office, heading toward the door quickly. He paused for a moment just before he cleared the doorway. “I believe you have a meeting with Shiva. Don’t be late.”


#16 – Running In The Dark, Part 2

The sounds of cursing filled a suburban street as Detective Williamson stood outside the former home of a young girl they knew only as Cassandra. They had returned to the burned-out shell of a building to seek evidence…a specific kind of evidence.

He came, with his partner, to try and decide whether the window of the girl’s bedroom had been blown out by fire, or if it had been shattered – either by the girl herself, or by someone on the outside. Williamson’s theory was the latter on both counts.

But by the time they had arrived, they almost immediately realized that the crime scene had been tampered with since their last visit. The cursing only started after he realized that the car which just drove past them with the brights on most likely contained those who did the tampering.

“Fred, are you sure you didn’t get anything on the car?”

Detective Callahan shook his head as he held a cell phone next to his head. His current task was to call a supervisor and re-secure the crime scene. He and his partner would have to wait for a uniformed officer to arrive to guard the scene.

Williamson sighed and kicked some debris on the sidewalk outside the house. “Someone’s playing games with us, dammit.”


Tim knocked on the half-open door to Cassandra’s room, peeking inside when he heard no answer. He immediately discovered why – she was wearing a set of expensive earphones taken from Bruce’s study, using them to play a console video game without making any noise. He approached her slowly, tapping her on the shoulder once he was right behind.

Cassandra turned around abruptly, tapping ‘pause’ on the joystick in her hand before sliding the earphones around her neck. She didn’t say a word -she simply stared at Tim, waiting for him to explain his interruption.

“Bruce wants to talk to you, Cassandra. He sent me to find you.”

She sighed and rose to her feet slowly, carefully placing the joystick and earphones on the floor, almost turning toward the door before realizing that she was wearing only socks on her feet. She glanced around looking for her black sneakers – Tim was holding them, dangling them by their laces as if to taunt her with them.

As she took the sneakers by the laces, she smiled at Tim, thanking him silently as she quickly put the shoes on and headed toward the Bat Cave. Her detective skills were improving – she figured that the surprise Tim registered at seeing her with Bruce’s expensive earphones meant that Bruce wasn’t in his office. He would have noticed them missing.

Doing her best to move silently, she entered the Bat Cave via a back stairway, to make sure she wouldn’t have to open any doors. She snuck up behind Bruce as he worked on his computer and took notes. He didn’t even flinch or react as she approached and sat in a rotating office chair next to him – yet she was sure that he had already noticed her enter as soon as she stepped off of the staircase.

“You’re planning to go out alone again tonight, aren’t you?”

“Maybe,” she replied in a calm voice. Cassandra leaned back in her chair, sliding her feet underneath her. She didn’t feel the least bit intimidated by Bruce, especially since his question had been posed without any implication of superiority. It seemed to be just…a question.

Bruce looked up from his work for a moment and looked at Cassandra before reaching for a piece of paper he had left on one corner of the counter in front of him. He handed it to Cassandra, and leaned back in his chair as well. “That’s everything the cops know about you. Lucky for us, they have a habit of storing everything in reports.”

Cassandra looked at the piece of paper for a moment, reading through the dry information on it quickly. The one thing she immediately realized was that Bruce had been over-reacting. The entire report consisted of knowing her first name, and the address of her childhood home, as well as a couple of accounts from neighbors.

“That’s not all there is,” Bruce interjected as Cassandra tossed the paper back onto the counter, “They suspect that Batman rescued you from the fire. After that, they have no idea where you’ve gone. Problem is…they also have pictures of you. Sooner or later, they’ll spot you, and then trace you here.”

“So what?” Cassandra shrugged and looked down.

“If they do that,” Bruce said patiently, “I’d become the target of the investigation. Yes, I could say I adopted you, but they’ll want to know how and where.”

Bruce paused for a moment, waiting for some kind of response from Cassadra…but got none. “You’re wondering why I’m trying to help…aren’t you?”

She shrugged again.

“Would you believe that Alfred asked me to?” Bruce smiled and leaned back in his chair as he watched Cassandra look up, satisfied that he got her attention. “I’ve always trusted his opinion, Cassandra. And so far, he’s never been wrong.”

“You’re afraid.” Cassandra pushed against the counter, closing her eyes as the chair began spinning slowly. “Afraid of the spotlight, because of the secrets you keep.”

Bruce chuckled a little and smiled. “Maybe you understand me better than I thought. I try to keep a low profile, just in case. I want to seem as boring as possible, so no one will–”

“I have secrets, too.”

He stared as the chair holding Cassandra spun around twice more, her eyes closed, unsure of what to say at first. His mind filled with dozens of questions, as images of he and Robin rescuing Cassandra…and that fire…and the deaths of her parents…filled his head.

It seemed to him that she wanted to say something – but he didn’t want to push her, for fear that she would shy away. Bruce knew he would have to be patient…and let the answers come in their own time.

“Want to know what happened?”

Her eyes were open again, and she was smiling. Bruce’s mouth hung open as, for the second time now, he found himself unable to form any words.

Cassandra seemed amused by Bruce’s sudden silence. She smiled as she stopped the spinning chair and slid to her feet. Without a hint of dizziness, she headed back toward the stairway. “One day, Bruce.”


Batgirl knelt on the edge of the roof atop a familiar building, watching people walk by. It was only midnight, and a weekend – people hadn’t yet returned to their homes to sleep. Usually she wouldn’t go out until hours later…but this time, she had to catch someone who would have been gone by then – Catwoman.

Almost like clockwork, she could hear the almost imperceptible squeak of the door to the roof opening, and Catwoman’s thick-soled boots just barely crunching along the gravel covering the roof’s surface. It sounded louder than the last time – Batgirl was almost sure it was because Catwoman wanted her to know she was there.

“I found the info you asked for.” Catwoman knelt beside Batgirl, looking over the edge to see what was so hypnotizing down there. “The poor kid wasn’t in any gang. He was the target of an initiation. He was murdered so new members could prove how tough they are.”

Batgirl sighed quietly, never taking her eyes off of the streets below. She could hear the sadness in Catwoman’s voice, knowing that there was more…and that she wouldn’t like it.

“The parents didn’t answer the door, Batgirl. They didn’t on purpose.”

Her heart suddenly beating quickly, Batgirl’s eyes widened as she turned to face Catwoman. “Why?” she whispered.

Catwoman sat down on the edge of the roof, holding on to its edge with her hands. “Because in that neighborhood, Batgirl, you’re either in a gang or killed by one. The parents were in a gang…but the kid wasn’t. They simply thought he was being ‘jumped in’. Boy, were they surprised–”

She suddenly stopped as she noticed the cold stare from Batgirl. But it only lasted a few seconds before Batgirl returned to staring down at the street.

“Don’t take it personally, kid. If you do, you might as well hang up your leather and belt, and become a cop or something.” Catwoman rose to her feet quickly, and took a deep breath, holding her arms skyward. “Personally, I’d rather do this. The fresh, cool air, the excitement…and I really do look good in black.

Batgirl finally smiled for a moment as she slowly rose to her feet as well. She looked down at the street once more before turning toward Catwoman – who stood in front of her, leaning against a discarded storm window.

“Go ahead, toss it,” Catwoman invited, “It’ll make you feel better. Breaking things always makes me feel better.”

Still smiling, Batgirl walked past Catwoman and headed toward the stairway. She heard a loud crash as she entered the stairway, screaming people on the street, and Catwoman laughing. Batgirl knew that Batman, at that point, would have returned to the roof to debate public safety…but she was no Batman.


It only took an instant for anyone passing through the neighborhood to spot the point where a kid was killed by a gang, right in front of his home. While the crime scene tape was long gone – Gotham City Police didn’t like to stay in that neighborhood any longer than they had to – neighbors and relatives had left an array of now dried-up flowers on the doorstep.

Batgirl watched from the second floor of a small abandoned apartment building across the street. She hated having to hide there – it smelled sickening, and she could hear rats and bugs running rampant in the place – but hiding atop the angled roof on a two-story building would have been too obvious.

She stared for the longest time at the door across the street, her mind drawing images of a teenager frantically trying to open the door as others crowded around him, and began hitting him with baseball bats and sticks. What her imagination saw sickened her, and made her angry.

Suddenly torn away from her thoughts, Batgirl sensed movement in the room with her. She froze, and slowly turned, backing up against the window which was now behind her. She saw glint of steel for a moment, and some fabric – but she thought only that it made a good reference point to keep an eye on the other person.

Everything after that happened in a flash. A glint of steel swept past Batgirl’s head – she ducked barely out of the way. She swung wildly with her arm, hoping to hit someone…and did. She could hear a knife being drawn, and she swung a foot at random trying to hit someone – this time she missed. It was time to bail…she turned and tried to dive out the window…

…but she was too late. Her head slammed into the window frame, and she could feel the cold steel blade against her neck. She closed her eyes, expecting to feel the blade slide through her costume and skin. Batgirl waited for the moment pain, the drained feeling…and then the darkness.

“Don’t know, do you?”

Batgirl opened her eyes slowly, turning to face her assailant as she felt the knife move away from her neck. It was a woman with short, dark hair, only slightly taller than herself, wearing a red robe which resembled something out of a martial arts movie over what seemed like a simple black jump suit. She vaguely recognized her.

“You don’t know why I’m here.”

The woman stepped closer to the window, finally allowing the light from the street outside to illuminate her. She seemed to smile as Batgirl’s stared at her – she remembered the woman from Batman’s files. No…her picture wasn’t in her files. It was a wanted poster Bruce had hung next to his desk, which he gave a wary glance every time he approached his desk. The one person who, if he knew was in Gotham, would upset him greatly just on principle – Shiva.

Shiva slipped the knife back into a sheath on her belt, and walked closer to Batgirl, grabbing her chin tightly as she gripped the top of the mask with her other hand, yanking it off with one smooth motion.

Seeming satisfied with herself, she took a step back, enjoying the look of shock on Batgirl’s face. “That’s different. I didn’t expect you to look so…warm. So…innocent. I expected something cold, heartless…like Batman.”

Batgirl reached for her mask with one hand, snatching it just as she spun around quickly and slammed the back of her left leg against the side of Shiva’s head. But just as she finished her spin kick, she found her leg held fast under Shiva’s surprisingly strong arm. Her back slammed onto the floor as Shiva pushed her down with very little effort, holding on to her leg for leverage.

“What’s your name? Your real name?”

Cassandra stared up from the floor for what seemed like an eternity, trying her best to be uncooperative. But Shiva seemed infinitely patient – she just stared back, holding that leg with little effort, pinning Cassandra to the floor. Cassandra was at a disadvantage, being in such a painful position.

“Cassandra,” she whispered softly.

“Good. Now, Cassandra…Are you going to be a good girl if I let you go?”

A quick but painful nod from Cassandra led to her leg being let go slowly. She sat up and began massaging the twisted muscles and tendons in her leg and knee as she watched Shiva kneel down beside her.

“I will be honest with you,” Shiva said as she leaned close to Cassandra and tapped her knife, “I was hired to kill you. But…I don’t like to kill innocents. I want my target to know exactly what is happening and why. I don’t believe you know.”

Cassandra paused for a minute and stared at the smiling Shiva. This woman, a seasoned assassin, wanted to spare her? “Who wants to–”

“–kill you?” Shiva laughed. “I’m sure you know I can’t tell you that. But I can tell you that it is someone I do not trust. Someone who’s motives I question.”

With a painful sigh, Cassandra propped her back against a wooden box left on the floor and continued massaging her leg. She didn’t respond even as Shiva stared at her again – but she began to get the impression that Shiva found her to be pitiful somehow.

“However, Cassandra, I also cannot just let you walk away. So I’m going to give you a chance to prove yourself worthy of being spared. Would you accept such a challenge?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Cassandra nodded slowly.

“You must spare the life of someone who you consider evil beyond redemption. You must control your anger. When you are able to show that restraint…you will earn my respect. Then I will protect you.”

Cassandra stood frozen, feeling confused, as she watched Shiva walk toward the stairway and disappear into the darkness. She emptied her lungs in a sigh as soon as she heard the soft footsteps disappear.

She quickly glanced out the window, across the street at the collection of flowers on the doorstep of that home again. Trying to focus on the task of watching the neighborhood proved more difficult now – her mind was swimming with questions about Shiva, and what she meant by ‘someone you consider evil beyond redemption’. Gotham City was a strange place…and Cassandra was sure that she had encountered one of its strangest inhabitants.

It was time to go home and call it a night. By this point, even the most predictable sounds of Gotham were starting to make Cassandra feel uneasy. She didn’t fear Shiva’s return…rather she dreaded it as yet another interruption in her evening. Unfortunately, it seemed that just one visit was already enough to ruin Cassandra’s night watch.


Batgirl walked into the Bat Cave, in search of silence. It was dark in the large high-ceiling room carved into solid rock – and it was still early enough in the evening that she was convinced that Batman was still out patrolling Gotham City. It felt good not to be tied to him, to make her own schedule.

She pulled her mask off and headed silently to Bruce’s computer. That’s when she froze suddenly. The screen was glowing faintly, spreading a blue-green glow across the room. That meant someone was using it.

“You’ve met Shiva.”

Cassandra frowned, but didn’t bother to turn around at the sound of Bruce’s voice. Instead, she grabbed a rolling chair and sat down quickly, folding her legs beneath her. She felt a little annoyed that Bruce was still playing stealth games with her – by this point, it happened so often that he wouldn’t even give her the usual commentary about being ‘too loud’ or ‘too obvious’. She already had guessed it by that point.

Bruce walked around her slowly, sitting down in the chair across from her. He looked at the computer screen for a moment. “That’s how you knew I was here, wasn’t it?”

She nodded and smiled. “She was hired to kill me.”

“I know. I also know what else you’ve been up to.” Bruce didn’t seem the least bit surprised. He didn’t even blink at the news. Taking advantage of the lull in the conversation, Bruce stood quickly and headed to a table across the room. He grabbed an envelope and handed it to Cassandra. “Don’t open it. Give it to Catwoman next time you see her.”

“What is it?” Cassandra looked up at Bruce as he approached again and sat down. She took the envelope, folded it in half, and placed it behind the collar of her costume.

“Legal papers. She made me a promise, and kept it. This is what I promised her in return.”

Cassandra nodded and slid out of the chair, heading toward the stairway quickly. She paused after ascending partway up, and turned to look at Bruce. He had resumed working at his terminal, no doubt doing more research that he would use tomorrow night.

As she walked down the hallway toward her room, she noticed light peering out from under her door. She slowed down, moving silently – she didn’t remember leaving the light on. After her last encounter with Shiva, she was feeling a little paranoid.

Opening the door slowly, silently, revealed that it was just Tim, sitting at the table in her room, waiting for her to return. He didn’t look up even as she entered and threw her mask onto the bed and stood over to him, arms folded.

“Wonder why Bruce is working so hard to be nice to you?”

Cassandra leaned closer to Tim, looking down at him. She did want to know…but she was so grateful for Bruce’s sudden, unexplained cooperative attitude that she didn’t want to sour it by asking too many questions. Besides, she had to learn to trust him at some point.

“It’s because he’s afraid of losing you.” Tim leaned back and turned his head around to face her. “Barbara and I had a talk with him that night you left on your own. He was afraid you weren’t coming back. He’s afraid that if you do, he may end up having to fight you one day.”

“Don’t worry,” she said as she smiled at Tim. She sat down across from him at the table, noting the worried look in his eyes.

“I was afraid you’d left, too.”

Cassandra took Tim’s hand in her still gloved one, and squeezed it gently as she looked directly at him. “I can’t leave. Who’d look after you?”

Tim laughed quietly. “I believe that’s the longest sentence I’ve heard from you all week.”

Cassandra smiled again and placed her index finger across her lips. She stood quickly and grabbed some clothing left in a pile atop a dresser and headed toward the bathroom.

“Hey–” Tim interrupted as he stood and headed toward the doorway, “Are you letting your hair grow longer? Bruce won’t like that.”

She could hear Tim leaving the room as she shook her head, and closed the bathroom door. She had to change quickly and get some sleep…something she’d been lacking much too long. There was a certain peace she felt now, an overwhelming calm which came from the satisfaction of finally holding her own.


“We got it!” Detective Williamson slammed a crumpled piece of paper on his partner’s desk. “We know where the girl is now.”

Detective Callahan raised an eyebrow and looked at the piece of paper carefully before frowning, and looking at his partner as if her were insane. “Wayne manor? Are you kidding me? Where did you get this?”

“One of our officers spotted a girl with her description in a shop in one of Gotham’s suburbs this morning. He followed her to her car – it was registered to Bruce Wayne at this address.”

“And?” Callahan shrugged and leaned back in his chair. “Maybe he’s looking after her. Maybe he adopted her. He’s done it before, you know.”

“I talked to the butler of one of Mr. Wayne’s neighbors,” Williamson added, “He said he’s seen the girl around off and on, exploring the grounds.”

“So what do we do? Knock on the door and ask for the teenage girl of the house?” Callahan paused for a second, before he stood quickly and grabbed his jacket, motioning for Williamson to follow as he headed toward the exit. “On second thought, that’s not a bad idea.”

“Wait…Fred!” Williamson raced ahead of him, blocking his way. “What are we gonna do, arrest her?”

“Only if we don’t shoot her first,” Callahan joked. “What was her name again?”



Hearing her name faintly through the earphones she wore – expensive ones she had stolen the day before from Bruce’s office – Cassandra turned quickly to face the door, unconsciously tapping the ‘pause’ button on her video game system. Tim was standing in the doorway with Alfred behind him.

She looked at the window quickly, worried that she’d been playing so long that it was already dark outside. But the sun streamed in – it wasn’t even dusk yet.

“Alfred says two police detectives were here earlier,” Tim said, looking dead serious as he sat down on the carpeted floor next to Cassandra. “Callahan and Williamson. They were asking about you.”

“Me?” Cassandra looked at Alfred. He seemed serious, as well as a little nervous – yet he kept up an almost blank expression at all times.

“They asked for you by name, Cassandra,” Alfred added.

“We need to talk.” Tim gently took the earphones off of Cassandra’s head and gently put them on the carpet in front of her. She bowed her head slightly as he did. She was starting to feel afraid…that everything she’d known over the last year or so would soon vanish from around her.

Cassandra watched Alfred left the room quickly, leaving the door open as he went. Tim was still staring at her…waiting for her to say something? “I…don’t understand.”

“Bruce doesn’t know yet…but he will,” Tim said, “I asked Alfred not to tell him right away, but he will find out eventually. He always does. And then–”

“What?” Cassandra sat up suddenly when she noticed Tim biting his lip firmly. “What will he do?”

“Think, Cassandra. Nothing means more to him than protecting his secret identity. If it even has a hint of being compromised…”

She suddenly stood and straightened her jeans and black shirt quickly, heading out into the hallway without a moment’s hesitation. She didn’t care that Tim had followed. “I’ll talk to them.”

“What if they want to arrest you?”

Cassandra shrugged. She knew that she had nothing to lose. There was no saving herself – it was simply a matter of whether she would become a victim or a willing participant. At least with the latter, she had a fighting chance, and might come out of this without a scratch.


She stopped walking for a moment to turn and face Tim, giving him a questioning look.

“I’d like to come too. I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

At first, Cassandra just stared at Tim, making it clear that he was completely nuts. But after a few seconds, his eager smile finally made her chuckle…and she waved him to follow her.

It took her a half hour to drive into town and find the Gotham Police Department. It was much more difficult to find downtown buildings from ground level during the daytime, considering that most of the time she would be looking for night time landmark cues such as lighting – which didn’t exist during the day.

She parked right in front of the police station and stepped out of the car, heading quickly to the door. Tim raced in behind her, only catching up after she had reached the front desk.

“Detective Callahan?” Cassandra asked the man behind the desk. He pointed toward a glass door on the left labeled ‘Arson/Homicide’. She walked through it quickly, practically throwing the door open as she headed toward a cluster of desks in the center of the room.

At first, Tim didn’t understand how she knew which Detectives were Callahan and Williamson. But a second or two of thought, and he realized that it was obviously the only two people to look up, and then stare, as they recognized Cassandra and watched her approach.

“Looking for me?” she said, confidently. Williamson and Callahan looked at each other for a moment before staring at Cassandra again.

Callahan seemed the more confident of the two. He finally leaned back in his chair and smiled, before asking, “And you are?”

“Cassandra.” she folded her arms and started across the desk at Detective Callahan, just daring him or his partner to move. But the two of them just stared.

“How about your last name, kid?” Callahan asked, his voice becoming slightly more ominous.

Cassandra closed her eyes for a moment. She knew what her last name was…but it was a part of her life that she wanted to leave behind her forever. It represented the part of her life where was a victim, cowering in darkness. Since that fateful fiery night, she knew she was stronger, strong enough to stand up for herself any anyone else who needed her help. She knew that she would have to leave that name behind her forever.

But she had to tell the two detectives something. They wouldn’t believe that she had abandoned her last name. Cassandra began searching her memory, deciding ultimately to say the first name which came to mind. She almost laughed at the first image…Dick Grayson leaning over the kitchen table, yelling at her about his motorcycle. Grayson…why not? She already stole his bike, why not his name as well?

“Grayson,” she said out loud as she opened her eyes. It was spoken – too late to change her mind now. The two Detectives looked at each other, confused – Cassandra decided to take advantage of that, turning around and heading toward the door.

She could peripherally see the two standing and heading toward her as she passed through the doorway, closing the door behind her. She motioned for Tim to follow once she reached the lobby…and slipped out of the front door in an instant with Tim close behind.

“Classic misdirection. Bruce would be proud,” Tim said as he climbed quickly into the passenger seat. Cassandra didn’t answer as she started the car and drove away quickly, nearly skidding out of the exit across the damp pavement.

In the rear view mirror, Cassandra saw exactly what she expected. The two detectives raced out of the police station, and tore out of the parking lot after them, followed by two police cars.

“Uh-oh. Cassandra, we got cops–”

“I know, I know!” she impatiently barked at Tim as she took another hard turn, the engine of the car roaring as the front wheels spun wildly, seeking tracking on the slippery surface.

Tim began screaming as the car began a high-speed run down a concrete ramp, out of view of the police, and blasted into a tunnel. She zipped past a sign that said something about ‘no entry’, and ‘under construction’.

“Slow down! You’re gonna get us both killed!”

Cassandra ignored him as she sped down the empty concrete tunnel. She was concentrating on a light she spotted just ahead on the left side – she knew that it could be an exit much like the one she had just entered through.

Unfortunately, the exit wasn’t nearly as wide as the entrance. Tim buried his head and began screaming again as the car clipped a small bulldozer blocking part of the exit, causing the passenger side mirror to shatter and tear away. The car then crashed through a wooden barrier…and more screaming as all four tires left the ground, sending the car through the air…

…and landed hard. Cassandra turned hard again, missing cars parked along the street by only inches, and accelerated. She almost laughed as Tim mumbled an ‘ow’ as his head hit the dashboard.

He began to sit up slowly as the car left the city limits, still tearing down the streets at deadly speeds. At that rate, it was only a matter of minutes before they had returned to Wayne Manor.

Tim didn’t go directly inside after crawling out of the passenger side of the car. He stared at the torn passenger side and front corner of the car. “Oh, God…Bruce is going to kill both of us.”

Cassandra laughed and took his hand gently, leading him into the house. He almost stumbled – he was still shaking from his terrifying ordeal in the car.

“Where did you learn to drive like that, Cassandra?” Tim finally asked, once he calmed down enough to speak clearly.

She shrugged as she headed into the kitchen and dig in the refrigerator for some kind of snack. It was obvious that Tim was annoyed with her lack of response…but she didn’t really have a good answer to give him. Her driving was zero skill, all instinct. Keeping herself and Tim alive and away from the cops was the only thing she had in mind.

“Hey, Cassandra?”

Cassandra closed the refrigerator and turned around to lean against it, holding two green apples in her hand. Tim was smiling now – he didn’t seem as upset as she though he was. That was good – it meant that he was getting used to her tendency to handle stressful situations so calmly.

“As I was saying earlier…Bruce may not like that you’ve grown your hair longer,” he said, “But I do. It looks nice.”

She laughed and tossed Tim an apple as she headed back toward her room. “Thanks. I like it too.”


In the dim evening light just past sunset, Cassandra walked through the grounds of Wayne Manor, the dry grass crunching softly beneath her sneakers. She was headed to a spot where she visited late at night a short time ago.

Once she reached a point where she could see the wall surrounding the Manor, she looked up at the grove of trees next to her and switched on a small flashlight she had carried outside with her. Right in front of her was a small patch of earth that had been turned over…and beneath it lied a most valuable treasure.

She kneeled down and examined the surface of the ground carefully. Two small green buds poked through the dark ground, desperately reaching toward the sky. She smiled to herself…it was alive.

Cassandra looked skyward as a flash of light from all around attracted her attention. A cool, refreshing wind blew through her hair, and rustled through the trees. She could smell moisture in the air…a storm was coming. It would bring life-giving water and nutrients to her roses, and wash the city clean. And it would make her outing that night just a little more calm – criminals didn’t like going out in the rain.

As the first raindrops began to fall few and far between, she took a deep breath. It was nature’s renewal…just as she was trying to do for herself. She only hoped that it was all a sign. That some day, just like the roses she had planted, she would grow into something that could be appreciated.

She headed back toward the house slowly, allowing the sudden downpour of rain to douse her until she was soaked through. She had to get used to it – after all, a little later she would be going out in her leather costume and boots. It gave considerably more protection from rain than the cotton jeans and shirt she wore at the moment – but she could still feel the cool rain pounding against her skin, even with leather protecting her from being soaked.

As Batgirl, rain wasn’t something to be feared, or to hide from. It was refreshing and hypnotic. It was something to enjoy, because it cleansed all kinds of filth from the streets. It restored a different kind of life to a dying city…a kind called peace and quiet, where for a few moments, people didn’t have to be afraid of what was outside their doors.

It was nature’s version of what she and Batman tried to do each night. Only nature was a lot better at it – much more widespread and persistent. If only it could rain every night.



#15 – Running In The Dark, Part 1

Detective Williamson kicked a chunk of burned plaster which settled on the charcoaled carpet below a small bedroom window. The house had been a crime scene for at least a year – and so far, the Gotham City Police had been unable to gather enough evidence to convict the murderer of the couple who lived there.

The top suspect in the case was the couple’s only daughter. They had no idea what her name was, where she went, or even if she was in the house at the time of the fire which killed her parents. The broken window in the room meant nothing – glass windows often shatter spontaneously due to the heat of a fire. Even the clothing left in the daughter’s closet was burned to the point of being useless.

Being the lead Detective in the case, his job was becoming frustrating. Every day, the Chief pressured him to either close the case or shelve it as unsolvable. Outside pressure was most likely primarily coming from the bank, which foreclosed on the house months ago, but has been unable to fix it up or sell it until after the police were done with it.

“See anything new?”

Willimason stuffed his hands into his pockets and shook his head at his partner, Detective Callahan. “We may as well just write this one off.”

“Hey, Williamson. Get a look at this.”

He followed his partner over to the window, and looked next door. An older man, presumably retired, stood only a few feet from the corner of the house, trimming some bushes separating his own yard from the crime scene. “Hmm…You think?”

“Can’t hurt.”

The two of them headed outside quickly, standing to either side of the neighbor, hovering over him until the man noticed them standing there, and turned off his hedge trimmer. Detective Williamson spoke first, asking the neighbor if he’d seen the fire, or if he knew anything about the previous occupants of the house.

“Well, they pretty much kept to themselves”, the neighbor said, “Except for their daughter, this short dark haired teenager with brown eyes. She was kind of an adventurer, always walking around on the roof. One time I even kicked her out of my garage. She was playing with my power tools.”

The two Detectives looked at each other, wondering why neither thought to question this man before. Detective Callahan spoke next, asking what else he knew about the daughter.

“Not much. My wife fed her dinner once. I kicked her off of the roof, and when she came down, she told me she was afraid to go home. She looked…terrified. She ate like she hadn’t had any food in days, and told us her name was Cassandra. But she never gave us her last name.”

“She told us a terrifying story, that she hid on the roof of my house because she couldn’t let her dad find her. She had been locked in her room for two days…and she said that her dad would hit her with a bible if he’d find her. A bible, of all things!”

“And you didn’t call the police?” Detective Callahan asked.

The man shook his head. “No, no. She said her dad would kill her if the police got involved. From what she told me, I believed her. I offered her our guest room…but she wouldn’t take it. She said I didn’t know what I would be getting into.”

Detective Callahan pulled out a paper pad and began writing. “Did you ever meet anyone else who lived next door?”

He nodded. “Once. After his daughter went home that same day. He had a bible in his hand, and he told me that he ‘knows people’, and how easily terrible things could happen to me.”

“Did you call the police then?” Detective Williamson interrupted.

“Heavens, no.” The man shook his head slowly, worry beginning to furrow his brow. “I feared that man. Something in his eyes made the hair on my neck stand on end…and I decided, at that moment, that I would keep myself and my wife away from them all from that point on.”

The Detectives looked at each other for a moment again before Callahan shook the man’s hand and thanked him for his help. They no longer needed the house, or to worry about losing the case. New life had been breathed into their investigation – they had a suspect.

“I guess we now look for this ‘Cassandra’,” Detective Callahan thought out loud as he opened the passenger side of Williamson’s car.

Williamson nodded. “Yep. If only we knew where she was.”
Batgirl sat on the edge of the roof of a building which she remembered from some of Bruce Wayne’s personal files. It was the home of Selina Kyle, known to some as Catwoman. She had a mystery to solve, criminals to find – and it was a well-known fact that the best way to find criminals was to work with someone intimately familiar with the seedier side of the city.

“You’re lucky I’m a sucker for a girl in trouble–”

Amused that she heard Selina’s voice before she actually noticed her walk up behind, Batgirl rose to her feet and turned to face her.

“–because if you were…him…I would have pushed you right off.”

Selina’s sly smile was one that made it impossible to tell whether she was joking, or if she genuinely found the image of Batman falling to his death humorous. “I need help.”

“You’re right, you do, considering who you work for.” Selina sat down on the edge of the roof, inviting Batgirl to sit next to her. “I don’t suppose you’d remove your mask for me? Or do you take after Bat-boy in that respect, too?”

Batgirl laughed a little as she sat down next to Catwoman. She looked down to make sure no one was listening, and then handed Selina a newspaper. The headline read, ‘Gang Killing Of Teen Still Unsolved’.

“Ah, I understand. A little sensitive, are we?” Catwoman folded the newspaper and stuffed it down the front of her costume. “All right, I’ll give it a shot. Normally I wouldn’t help a rodent, but I’m a sucker for a girl in uniform.”

Without a another word, Catwoman rose to her feet and raced, almost noiselessly, toward the stairway entrance at the center of the roof. Batgirl could hear only the wind blowing across the rooftop as Catwoman seemed to disappear about halfway there, without a trace.

She rose to her feet and looked at the street below. Lots more work to do, if she planned to make her own mark as a detective in her own right. The police worked much too slow…and they cared little about just one more murder in the city. But Batgirl felt driven…something about that one incident stood out, cried out to her, made her want to solve it.

Batgirl snapped a cable launcher against the edge of the building, sliding one foot off of the edge…but she froze as she heard, or felt a slight breeze behind her. She dropped the cable launcher to the gravel covered roof and stood quickly, her eyes darting from one side of the roof to the other. She clenched her fists, noting the slight creaking sound her gloves made as she did.

One of the shadows on the roof moved…and she put her left foot behind her, to get better leverage as she prepared for a fight. The shadow began to materialize as a young man wearing a cape…someone she recognized. It was…Robin?

“How can you and Batman do that?” Robin asked with a smile as he stopped just in the one spot where his face was illuminated by the streetlights below. “You always know when I’m sneaking up on you.”

Batgirl sighed and turned around, sliding herself back down to sit on the edge of the roof, her legs dangling toward the street below. She didn’t look at Robin, or even respond to him.

“After what happened earlier, I was a little afraid you’d go out and do something crazy.” He looked behind him toward the building’s stairway as he frowned. “But…Catwoman? What’s on your mind, anyway?”

“I think you know.” Batgirl picked up the cable launcher lying next to her and snapped it closed, attaching it to her belt quickly. She stood and began heading toward the stairway – if Robin was going to follow her around, she figured she might as well not make a spectacle of them both swinging from the buildings of Gotham City.

Robin sighed as he raced after Batgirl, doing his best to keep up as she walked dangerously fast on the slippery tar and gravel rooftop. “It’s about that kid in the newspaper, isn’t it?”

Batgirl suddenly paused as she reached for the door leading to the stairway. She didn’t respond as she delayed for only a second before heading down the steel staircase quickly and silently. She could hear Robin follow – but she didn’t care. She cared even less that her hesitation gave him the answer he was looking for, even if she didn’t say a word.

It was amusing for Batgirl to see Robin stop at the building’s exit and look back and forth suspiciously, even while Batgirl walked right down the stairway to the street. He seemed terrified that she would simply walk out onto a public street in Gotham – but then he relaxed when he realized why she had done so. While she was sitting on the roof, looking down, she probably noticed that the street was completely deserted…

…or perhaps, he thought as he froze once again at the sight of movement in the shadows between the tall apartment buildings…

…she was out to stir up trouble.

He stepped backward quickly, himself vanishing into the shadows to avoid a surprise attack. But Batgirl…she walked out into the middle of the street, offering herself as an obvious target for anyone brave enough to pick a fight with her. Naturally, in such a crime-ridden neighborhood, it didn’t take her long to get her wish.

Batgirl stood and waited patiently as one large man carrying a heavy section of steel pipe walked out into the street and began circling her. Two more armed with only their fists appeared. They were three members of a local Hispanic gang, each wearing black bandannas and muscle shirts. They began waving their fists, and cursing at her in Spanish. She didn’t move.

She decided to strike first once four of them had begun circling her. Her right elbow made a full arc, hitting the man behind her, at the same time she bent down slightly and leapt into the air, sending her left foot into the face of the large man carrying the pipe. It landed with a loud ‘clank’ as she landed, and ducked quickly as the other two men swung wildly at her.

They both tried to grab her, but ended up with nothing as she tumbled out of the way, snatching the pipe as it began rolling away. Batgirl stood and faced the two men as they approached her – she was holding the center of the pipe with both hands – and she spun the pipe quickly, hitting them both hard. The two of them stumbled backwards as she swung the pipe in an arc behind her, hitting a third man.

By now, all four were bruised or bleeding…which only made them angrier. And Batgirl was losing patience. One of them yelled something…and a fifth man appeared from an alley, armed with a shotgun. The sound of the shotgun firing echoed off of the walls of the nearby apartments…but he missed as a small bat-wing grazed the weapon and lodged itself into the brick wall next to him.

Robin watched as Batgirl’s bared her teeth, allowing anger to boil quickly into a rage. In a split second, she removed another bat-wing from her belt and snapped it to its full size – much larger, and much more razor sharp. She let it fly with the full fury of her anger…and watched as its wings were clipped just before it wedged itself between the gunman’s eyes…

…by a bat-wing owned by Robin.

She turned to face him as he swung toward her, dangling from a cable-launcher. Before she had a chance to even give him an angry look, he snatched her around her waist and hit the retract button on the launcher – sending them both skyward. Batgirl looked down as they ascended, noticing that a car full of six more gang members armed with pistols had pulled up and emptied into the street.

“You owe me one, Cassandra,” Robin confidently joked as he pulled her up to the roof and retracted the cable launcher. “Those guys were gonna–”

The next thing Batgirl remembered was seeing a look of surprise and confusion on Robin’s face…before her fist slammed into his nose, sending him tumbling into the gravel. But she was far too angry to allow that to satisfy her. She walked over to Robin casually, grabbed him by his cape, and lifted him slightly as she drew back her fist again.


Her grip on Robin’s shirt loosened, and her fist disintegrated into gloved fingers as she saw a genuine look of panic in his eyes. His nose was bleeding and changing colors, and small cuts covered his face where he had landed in the gravel. She knew Robin as someone who could fight with nearly equal skill to Batman. Yet now, rather than fight back…he was begging?

Batgirl let go of Robin, letting him slowly rise to one knee. “I owe you nothing.”

“You…hit me!” Robin felt his nose, cringing as he touched it with his fingers. “And you broke my nose, too! And I thought we were getting along.”

She closed her eyes for a second before turning abruptly, and heading toward the edge of the roof. “Go home.”

“Cassandra, wait.” Robin stood quickly and raced after her, grabbing her shoulder to stop her as she walked away. She shrugged him off and kept walking. “Do you want to know why I didn’t fight back?”

She froze, turning slowly as she removed her mask. Robin could see now what she had hidden behind her turned back – she was fighting tears. She did indeed feel guilty for hurting him. Yet she still kept her head high.

“You were going to kill the man with the shotgun, Cassandra. I saw it.” Robin paused and bowed his head a little. “I was afraid that…the same might happen to me if I were to fight you.”

He cringed as he heard the crunch of gravel under her feet – she was slowly approaching, but he dared not look up. But then he heard something unusual from her, under the circumstances – she laughed. Softly, but a laugh just the same.

Cassandra propped up Tim’s chin and removed his mask gently, storing it on the edge of her own belt – retrieving a small handkerchief from a pocket on the belt with the same motion. She gently dabbed some blood away from his nose and pressed it into his hand. “I will never hit you again. Promise.”

“Th-that’s it? You promise? No matter how angry you feel, you won’t hit me?”

She nodded, smiling at him as she stood next to the edge of the roof and looked down at the car parked below. It was an old convertible, the gang left it behind as they scoured the nearby buildings to find her and Tim.

Her hand reached down to her belt again, and removed another device…and she watched Tim’s mouth drop open as he recognized what it was – the security remote control to Nightwing’s motorcycle.

“You stole…?” Tim shook his head in disbelief as Cassandra laughed again and headed toward the alley at the other end of the roof. “Where is Dick, anyway?”

Cassandra shrugged and leapt from the edge of the roof, her arms and cape spread wide, and her feet close together, much like a diver headed toward a pool filled with water – only the own buffer between her and the ground below was air resistance pushing against the cape. Tim used a cable launcher instead – he trusted gravity less than she did, and his cape was made of a more permeable fabric.

She hit the ground hard, yet almost silently, allowing her legs to collapse to absorb the force of the landing enough so both of her gloved hands touched the ground before she stood again and slid onto the motorcycle. She waited a second for Tim to retract his cable launcher and jump on as well before she started the engine and tore out of the alley.

The gang noticed – but they were too late. By the time they began firing dozens of rounds in the motorcycle’s direction, it was far out of range. The powerful engine of the bike pushed the laws of physics to the limit as Cassandra sped out of the city quickly.

“Where are we going?” Robin asked.


“Finally…now we’re getting somewhere, Fred.” Detective Willamson tossed a handful of photos onto the desk of his partner, Detective Callahan.

Callahan picked up the photos and looked at each one slowly. They were fuzzy pictures of a dark-haired young girl, perhaps ten or eleven years old, playing in a neighbor’s yard. “Where did you find these?”

“Funniest thing.” Williamson laughed. “They were in Detective Vincent Magnotta’s office over in Homicide. He used them when he worked Grand Theft Auto.”

“She jacked cars at nine years old?” Callahan laughed and shook his head. “That’s one screwed up kid.”

“No, no. These are the only pictures of her. At the time, she was sixteen or seventeen.”

Callahan sat up suddenly. “You mean to tell me that she started jacking cars a year or two before the fire?”

Williamson sat down and leaned back, placing his hand behind his head as he gave Callahan a triumphant smile. “You got it. Looks like she wasn’t exactly the ‘girl next door’ type.”

“So we can just search the court records, then.” Callahan looked up from the pictures and eyed Williamson.

“No use.” Williamson shook his head and shrugged. “The only thing I know is in Magnotta’s files. She called herself just ‘Cassandra’, and she stole a dozen cars. She even out-drove the police once.”

Callahan laughed for a moment, but then turned serious again. “Why did Magnotta take the files with him to homicide?”

“Now that’s an ironic story.” Williamson looked around to make sure no one was listening before he leaned closer to his partner. “Magnotta said he met her father once. He was so sure she would end up dead one day, he decided to keep the pictures just in case. Now he’s in Homicide…investigating the father’s death.”

“So…why did he hand us the case?”

Williamson picked up one of the pictures and waved it in Callahan’s face. “He has bigger fish to fry than looking for an eighteen year old girl. He’s on the Batman case.”

Callahan laughed again. “Magnotta? On the Batman case? What, is he chasing ghosts now?”

“Apparently there’s a whole family of ’em.” Williamson shook his head a laughed as well. “Batman, his daughter, and his son. This city scares me sometimes, Fred.”

“Not me, John. I’ve gotten used to this stuff in my old age.” Callahan stood up slowly, lifting up his empty coffee cup to take it for a refill. He nodded toward one of the photos on his desk. “What would really be scary is if Batman’s daughter is this little girl.”

Williamson laughed and shook his head as he looked at the photo in his hand. “Yeah. Imagine if that were true.”
Upon spotting Tim’s broken and bloodied nose, Bruce insisted on getting a blow-by-blow account of what led up to that event. Cassandra expected no less – but even as she knew she was heading toward another lecture, the look on Bruce’s face when she drove into the Bat Cave on Nightwing’s motorcycle was enough to make nearly any penalty worthwhile.

Without saying a word, or even bothering to pause and see if Bruce would say anything, Cassandra headed directly to her room. But while she left Wayne Manor with a frown on her face, she had returned smiling. That added to Bruce’s confusion and shock, and led him to say nothing as she walked past him toward the bedrooms.

Cassandra couldn’t help smiling – but she didn’t know why. She raced into her room, and headed straight for the closet and bathroom, changing out of her costume quickly and into civilian clothing – black jeans and a dark purple long-sleeved shirt. As she carefully stored her costume in her closet, she noticed something…green. She had forgotten to remove Tim’s mask from her belt.

That’s when she realized why she was smiling. She didn’t understand how, but she felt that she had finally earned Tim’s complete trust. That was something she knew that she could never earn from Bruce – he distrusted everyone, no matter how close they were to him.

But even more than that, she felt she had accomplished something. For just one night, she was just like Batman. She felt the legend grow around her, in whispers which telegraphed among the criminal element of Gotham City – ‘Beware, a costumed woman who will take you on’. She may not have won her battle on the streets, but they would remember, and maybe even respect and fear her next time.

She was still smiling as she put on black sneakers and headed out of her room, toward the kitchen. But even on the high she felt, it didn’t take long for her to be brought down quickly. Someone she didn’t expect to see stood in the kitchen, talking to Alfred…

…Dick Grayson.

She quickly frowned and turned to head back to her room…but it was too late. She had been spotted.

“Just a minute, young lady!” Dick raced into the hallway, gripping Cassandra’s shoulder tightly and steering her back into the kitchen. “You have some explaining to do.”

He led Cassandra to the kitchen table, where he urged her to sit down by gently pressuring her into a chair.

“Why did you take my bike? No, wait, I don’t want to know that. I want to know how.”

“You’re sloppy.” Cassandra found her smile again as she looked up at a frowning Dick. She thought it was encouraging that Alfred found it amusing as well.

Dick responded by slamming a fist down on the table. “You have to understand, Cassandra…stealing a guy’s wheels is very personal. Very, very personal. Do you understand?”

She rolled her eyes and reached for a cup of hot cocoa that Alfred had just placed on the table in front of her – only she never got her fingers around the cup. Dick snatched it from just beyond her grasp and placed it at the other end of the table.

“No way, Cassandra. You’re not going to ignore me. You’ll get this cocoa back when you apologize.”

Cassandra tried to stand to leave the room – but she found herself pushed back into her seat with a heavy hand on her shoulder. As Dick stared at her angrily, she frowned and looked at Alfred. She knew at that moment that something in her eyes told him that she was thinking of reacting violently to Dick – Alfred shook his head slowly, and waved his index finger.

She smiled at Alfred – which further angered Dick, since he thought she was amused by his attempts to force an apology from her.

“You think this is funny?”

Something about the way Dick spoke those words edged Cassandra from a smile to a slight chuckle. She was even more amused that Alfred had to bite his lip and pretend to work in the kitchen sink to keep from laughing himself.

“Fine”, Dick said in a dark, threatening voice. “We’ll see what Bruce has to say about this.”

Almost on cue, Bruce entered the kitchen just as Dick left. He was frowning, trying to make it obvious that he heard every word of the conversation in the kitchen. Without a word, he sat down at the table across from Cassandra and slid her hot cocoa toward her, encouraging her to drink it.

She sipped the cocoa slowly, watching Bruce stare at her from behind his clasped hands, his elbows perched on the table. He didn’t speak a word, even as she emptied the cup and slid it away from herself across the smooth table into Alfred’s waiting hand.

“I don’t know what to say to you anymore.” Bruce shrugged and leaned back in his chair, seeming to ignore the concerned look that Cassandra gave him. “I wish you would tell me something…anything. I need an explanation.”

Cassandra felt a sense of peace come over her as she looked across the table at Bruce. For once, instead of interacting as teacher and student, or parent and child…they were virtual equals. Bruce had his secrets, and she had her own.

But unlike Bruce, who prided himself on secrets, Cassandra’s made her feel only guilt. She knew she had to tell him something…anything…but she just drew a blank. Her mind was swimming with thoughts about Catwoman, the gang, Tim’s broken nose, the motorcycle – the stream of images seemed to have no beginning or end, no way to explain them easily.

Instead, she leaned across the table and smiled at Bruce, her eyes bright with her new found confidence. “Trust me.”

Bruce furrowed his brow and stared across the table at Cassandra, seeming confused by her words. “Trust you?”

Cassandra nodded, her smile never disappearing as she watched Bruce’s expression blank. “You’ll be proud.”

He looked at Alfred as Cassandra stood quickly and headed back into the hallway, toward her room, turning to show her smile once more as she left. “What do you suppose that means, Alfred?”

Alfred shrugged as he placed a cup of tea in front of Bruce. “I suppose it means she wants you to trust her, Master Bruce.”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Bruce mumbled as he lifted the cup and took a sip.
Cassandra sat on her bed, staring across the room at a television which had recently been added to her room. She had no idea who had installed it while she was gone – but she did have an idea of who did, since it picked up more than just local and cable television channels. Also available were views from various police cameras placed around Gotham City.

She didn’t have long to thank the person she guessed was responsible. Almost as soon as she turned on the TV, the door to her room swung wide open, after a quick knock. Barbara Gordon rolled in quickly, pushing the door closed behind her.

“Like the little gift I left for you?” Barbara smiled and rolled next to the bed. Cassandra sat up and crossed her legs, but didn’t say a word. “I’ve got another one, too.”

A small brown paper bag was tossed onto the bed next to her. Cassandra opened it slowly, pulling out one of the small objects inside and dangling it in front of her eyes. Some sort of plant bulb?

“Roses, Cassandra. They’re very fragile, short-lived plants. They need constant care to grow and thrive.”

Cassandra dropped the bulb back into the paper bag and placed it gently on the night stand next to her bed. “Why?”

“Every time you’re home, you retreat to this room and sulk.” Barbara rolled closer to the bed, keeping eye contact as she leaned closer. “You need a hobby. Something you can work for, and take pride in the result.”


“Think about it, would you?” Barbara stared at Cassandra for a moment, smiling, before she headed back toward the door. Before she managed to reach for the doorknob, Cassandra managed to get there first, to hold open the door for her. Normally, that would have annoyed her – but she knew that Cassandra wasn’t someone who felt pity for her. She was genuinely trying to help.

Cassandra returned to the bed, flipping through a few more channels before the bag of rose bulbs caught her attention again. She stared at them for a while this time, watching them warm under the incandescent lamp on her night stand. They weren’t safe there…they would die.

She snatched the bag quickly and raced out into the hallway, taking a side door outside. It was windy and kind of cool outside, and starting to drizzle, but she didn’t feel it. She cared only about the contents of the bag she held.

A quick look around revealed that she was in the middle of Wayne Manor’s own garden. Safe…but not safe enough. She worried that her bulbs would disappear in the sheer volume of plants contained there. But she did think to grab a small spade.

Still farther, Cassandra went, carrying the small brown bag. She stopped once she was in sight of the stone wall surrounding the Manor, close to the edge of a small natural grove of trees. She remembered walking past that point once before…during the daytime, the sun poured over the top of the wall into the tall trees, casting a shadow through all of the first-floor windows.

She smiled as she dropped to her knees quickly, and furiously dug six small holes, one for each bulb. By the time they had all been successfully buried, she had no need to find water for them – it had just started pouring rain, finally bringing the reality of the cold air around her directly to her skin.

Cassandra returned to Wayne Manor shivering. She discarded her mud-covered shoes in the hallway before heading to her room to change to dry clothing. She returned to the bed, wrapping herself in a blanket to warm herself as she turned the television on again.

But her rest would be short lived. She heard another knock at the door – this time, it was Bruce. He stuck his head in the room, seemingly ignoring her wet hair as he spoke.

“Let’s go. We have work to do.”
“Something bothers me about this picture.”

“Hmm?” Detective Callahan looked up from behind his steaming hot coffee mug at his partner.

“It was taken at the original crime scene,” Detective Williamson said, “Look at the window outside the girl’s bedroom. The fire didn’t start anywhere near here, yet the eaves above it are blackened by smoke more than any other window.”

“So what?” Callahan took another sip of steaming coffee, his eyes cringing as he realized that it was still way too hot.

Williamson waved the photo in front of Callahan’s eyes. “That means the window was broken before the fire reached the room. It was pulled in because if fed off of the oxygen–”

“What if the girl broke the window?”

“No.” Williamson sat on the edge of his desk and shook his head slowly. “The investigator says the window ‘imploded’. He thought it was because an oxygen starved fire pulled the window in to get air…but that doesn’t explain how the girl escaped.”

Unexpectedly, Callahan suddenly rose from his seat and grabbed his jacket, abandoning his hot cup of coffee on the edge of his desk. “Well, what are we sitting around for? Let’s go check it out.”

“Uh…wait–” Williamson started to follow, but went back quickly to grab his jacket, putting it on quickly as he rushed to keep up with his partner. “What are we looking for?”

Callahan paused and looked at his partner, a look of mock confusion on his face. “Evidence, of course.”
Batgirl felt bored as she leaned against the Batmobile, parked near the corner of a suburban street. Batman had headed into the neighborhood under cover of darkness…toward her childhood home, leaving her to look out for police and neighborhood watch.

At first, he didn’t want to tell her why. But then, for just a moment, a his Batman persona showed a small crack – he knew he was dealing with something which would naturally raise Batgirl’s curiosity, leaving him without a lookout. She wasn’t someone prone to blind obedience.

“The cops are learning too much about you”, he said in a low, almost threatening tone. “If they track you to Wayne Manor…they’ll start to wonder how I found you. If there’s any evidence here that you were rescued, I’ll be the next one investigated.”

Much to Batman’s surprise, she nodded as if she understood perfectly, and agreed to remain behind without a single protest as he went to find any evidence of a rescue that the cops had left and remove it. What he didn’t know was that she was more than happy to stay behind – the neighborhood itself brought all kinds of painful, unwanted memories to the surface. If she were to see the house–

She shuddered and shrugged off that thought as she noticed a pair of headlights approaching in the distance. A quick peek through the small binoculars Batman handed her earlier proved that it was just a regular car, not the police. Still, she raced around and ducked behind the Batmobile as it passed by – no sense on her being spotted.

Batgirl imagined what she had seen Batman do dozens of times before. He was going over the area around the window with an electronic magnifier, an infrared scope, and a pair of tweezers, looking for the smallest hair, thread, or piece of glass. He would then go outside and perfectly turn over the dirt near the foundation and pack it down, so it looked like it had never been touched – erasing any footprints.

Alarm bells suddenly went off in her head as Batgirl saw another almost normal car turn the corner. She could tell it was an unmarked police car – the spotlight next to the driver’s door was a dead giveaway. No time to find Batman and warn him – instead, she climbed into the car quickly, and made a quick u-turn, heading toward the house which haunted her memory.

As soon as she drove up, headlights still turned off, Batman met her at the street. She figured that he heard the distinctive sounding engine and came out to meet it. The urgency at which he climbed into the passenger seat and closed the canopy – rather than asking Batgirl to move out of the driver’s seat – prompted her to speed quickly out of the neighborhood. It was nonverbal communication at its best.

Batgirl turned on the high-beam headlights just as she passed the police car, to make sure they were blinded and unable to see the car flying past them. They didn’t seem to notice – they were too focused on their destination. As she headed out of the city quickly, she turned to look at Batman – for just a moment, he gave her as much of a glance of approval as he ever would.

She felt satisfied with herself once they returned home. She removed her mask and said good night to Bruce and Tim, heading toward her room as the exhaustion of two excursions in one night began to set in. Along the way, she stopped to look outside at the grove of trees where her rose bulbs would grow one day.

As she retreated to the silent solitude of her room, however, her head began to spin with images, sights, and sounds from her own memory. As much as she tried not to, she saw the house…and that window. Terrified screams and distant sirens filled her ears…and the smoke, choking her, keeping her from speaking.

Cassandra climbed into bed and squeezed her eyes shut as the sounds torturing her soul, held at bay for so long by a veil of confidence, came flooding to the surface. She pulled the covers up to her chin, trying to sing to herself to abolish the images and feelings…only to find the music sinking her deeper in emotion.

She cried for an hour or two that night before finally exhausting herself and falling asleep. Dreams filled the hours, comforting dreams, making her feel warm…making her feel wanted and cared for. She could see all of the people who cared for her, and helped her, no matter how strange they may be.

Her last dream spoke of truth – that Bruce, the man who rescued her, did so in every sense of the word. He stole evidence now to protect her, to make sure that she would never again have to suffer the life she knew before.


#14 – Rhythm, Part 3

Cassandra felt the room spinning as she opened her eyes slowly. Above her she could see only a white painted ceiling, lit from below. Her face and all of her limbs still felt numb, but she could feel something on her hands. She squeezed her left fingers into a fist, hearing a distant creaking sound…leather. She was still wearing her costume.

She gasped as memory rushed back to her of the Joker’s face. He had shot her with some sort of paralyzing tranquilizer and had his henchmen load her into a purple car which smelled like…either baking powder or theater makeup. She lost consciousness before she figured out where they were taking her.

Her arm began to regain some of its sensation…and she used that to try and get a sense of what she was wearing. She began to feel confused as she realized that she was still covered from head to toe in leather – her costume hadn’t been removed, not even her mask!

Was Joker just really stupid? She began to wonder why he would pass up the change to learn her true identity. Her costume was still fitted to her just as it was the moment she put it on, save for a small hole where the tranquilizer dart punctured through. No one had even attempted to figure out who she was…Joker was indeed completely insane.

But she had no idea just how crazy her situation was until she propped herself up on her elbows. Cassandra had been thrown onto a soft waterbed, and surrounded by red rose petals. She felt even more confused – especially as she looked around the rest of the room, which had been set up like some kind of high-priced honeymoon suite in an expensive hotel…complete with a champagne bottle on ice, sitting on a table in the center of the room.

Cassandra reached down to her waist, hoping that Joker was stupid enough to leave her with her tools…no such luck. The belt was still in place, but all of its contents had been removed. She slid off of the bed slowly, almost collapsing when she realized that her legs still weren’t completely awake – and that the bed was a full four feet high. More evidence of Joker’s warped view of the world.

She headed over to the room’s only window, hoping for an escape route…but as she pulled back the heavy curtains, she was only slightly surprised to see that it was only a lighted painting of the Gotham City skyline behind glass. She sighed to herself – she should have know it’d be something like that. For all she knew, she could be in a basement, or a bank vault.

Cassandra turned quickly as the door knob clicked. The door opened quickly, and Joker stepped into the room in a bright purple tuxedo which resembled the suit he usually wore. His hair seemed more slicked back than usual…and his permanent smile somehow seemed less terrifying in the ample lighting within the room.

“Ah, you’re awake.” Joker headed straight over to the table containing the ice bucket, and quickly poured two glasses of champagne. “Come, beautiful. Have some champagne with me.”

She frowned and folded her arms, refusing to budge from in front of the ‘window’. It didn’t seem to affect Joker in the least – he simply leaned back and drank his glass of champagne, adding an exaggerated ‘Ahh’ as he put the glass back on the table.

“I suppose you’d like to know why you’re here.” Joker stood slowly, and walked across the room to hand the second glass of champagne to Batgirl. He made his best attempt to slip the glass into one of her partially exposed, gloved hands – but the glass simply ended up plummeting to the floor, smashing into small tumbling beads of glass as he let it go. “I asked myself the same question…but getting answers from me…”

“…is like pulling teeth.”

Cassandra leaned back quickly against the false window as Joker shoved a handful of bloody, recently pulled teeth under her nose. She slid her boot-covered feet back a few inches as he dropped the teeth to the floor in front of her, chuckling to himself as he watched her reaction. As she looked down at the teeth for a second, she instinctively ran her own tongue along the inside of her mouth, feeling relieved that those weren’t her own teeth.

“You see,” Joker continued as he crossed the room quickly to slowly begin to dim the lights, “I’m an artist. And when I see something as beautiful as you are…”

As Cassandra’s eyes began adjusting to the now dim lighting, her eyes began to widen in shock. In colored florescent paint, only visible when the room’s lights were dimmed, were outlines drawn along the walls and carpeting.

By themselves, chalk outlines are harmless…but these had names written in the center of them. Cassandra’s heart sank as she began to realize that each outline was a human being which…she shook her head, deciding not to follow that road mentally. Joker was, undeniably, an insane serial killer. It was in his nature…and something she knew she would have to stop.

“…you see, these women made a lasting impression. Don’t you wish you could live up to their example?”

Cassandra frowned as she tightened her fists. She was ready to fight him, even kill him if necessary. She wanted to see his bloody teeth on the floor next to…whoever’s teeth those were. She wanted him bleeding, unconscious…and yet, as her hands began to shake, she realized that she was terrified to go near him, or even touch him.

She remembered the lessons from Bruce, that Joker often carried poisons, acids, and deadly gasses on his person, and almost always carried a gun or knife. If she did fight him…maybe that’s what happened to the women whose chalk outlines adorned the room?

Her eyes turned toward the door, focusing on the silver knob which had, until Joker entered, been unlocked. If she charged the door quickly, Joker would be hard-pressed to stop her. And even if he did get in the way, she would be able to fight him off…or maybe that’s how those other women perished?

Cassandra took a deep breath, and began watching the Joker carefully as he poured himself another glass of champagne. She had to concentrate, to see everything as it was, and anticipate every move. That was key – the only way she would know the consequences of each action.

Then it came to her. Her mind became clear as she watched bubbles rising in the swirling glass of champagne Joker held below the champagne bottle. The last time he poured some, he was careful to return the bottle to the ice bucket. It was going to be Cassandra’s key.

She began walking forward, almost as if on a scripted cue, as soon as Joker began walking toward the ice bucket. Just as with the last time, he had one hand filled with his champagne glass, and his other occupied with trying to seat the bottle in the ice bucket. That meant he couldn’t reach for any poisons, darts, or guns until he put down one of the two items…and the ice bucket was far enough from the door to allow a possible escape.

Cassandra’s heart began beating faster as she made it silently across the room and turned the doorknob with one smooth motion. It was locked! She felt a shock of terror run through her…Joker was turning around. But she refused to panic – she took a couple of steps back and threw herself, feet first, at the door latch.

Unfortunately, she was distracted by Joker’s movements at the time, and ended up crashing through the solid plaster wall next to the door. She felt lucky that the building was apparently old, and in terrible condition – but less so as she felt a burning, crawling sensation down one arm and leg. She had become tangled with an electrical cable, and it was shocking her…she ripped it out of the wall quickly to prevent it from burning her skin or costume.

But she had only a moment to take in the surroundings again before two men with machine guns raced up the steps toward her. In the instant they paused to take aim, she launched herself into the air, and crash-landed into the stairway behind them. It was an old wooden staircase…and naturally, gave way immediately to the stress.

Cassandra felt herself crash through untold flights of wooden steps, before she finally found herself lying on a concrete floor in a musty smelling room. She sat up, trying to fight the pain radiating from every muscle and bone in her body. Directly in front of her was an old coal-fired boiler. She had fallen to the basement…and now she needed to hide.
“Where is she?”

A man wearing a purple jacket gasped as he hung by his collar over the edge of a roadway overpass. A quick, panicked glanced told him that he was nearly a hundred feet above the ground – a sure death if he fell. The only thing keeping him alive were the fingers within the dark leather glove which tightly held onto the thin fabric of his jacket.


“That’s not an answer.”

The leather glove suddenly opened, allowing the man to drop a few feet. He screamed…until another hand snatched him out of the air. It was the Bat again. The man knew that Batman was toying with him, trying to scare him out of his mind. It was working.

He looked up to see Batman’s brow furrow, and his frown appear much deeper – Batman was becoming angry. Those soulless eyes moved closer to him, sucking away his very life…he just had to turn away.

“I’ll only ask one more time…where is she?”

The man shook his head slowly. He couldn’t tell Batman a thing…or his boss would give him a fate worse than death. He remembered seeing one of his co-workers slowly poisoned to death by injection over a period of weeks. He shook his head again at the image, and closed his eyes to try and push it from his mind.

“Then you’re no use to me.”

Batman released his hand, watching the man in the purple jacket plummet a hundred and thirty feet to his death on a roadway below. Hearing the dull thud of the man’s body hit concrete below, leaving a stain forever on the concrete, gave him no pleasure. It was something his kind deserved…but it wasn’t quite justice.

He turned and headed back to the Batmobile quickly…suddenly pausing as he realized something. The man who just fell to his death must have gotten to this area somehow. He wouldn’t have simply walked out here by himself.

In an instant, he snapped a cable launcher against one of the bridge’s concrete guard rails and reeled himself down to the ground quickly. A search through the dead man’s pockets revealed just what Batman anticipated – matches, cigarettes…and keys.

A quick glance at the pack of matches gave him a much-needed clue. It was from a tavern called Mackey’s…he hoped it was one which the man frequented after work. Anyone who worked with Joker had to drink heavily. Another look at the pack of cigarettes confirmed that…the price tag was from a convenience store only a block from the tavern.

Batman tugged on the cable, reeling himself back to the roadway above. He looked down at the keys in his hand…they were from a vintage Corvette, late 1960’s. He glanced around, noticing a group of overhead light poles clustered behind a small grove of trees. A parking lot.

He dashed undetected through the trees, and paused just short of the light cast by the nearby overhead lamps, surveying the parking lot from his perch in the darkness. One silver 1969 Corvette was parked in the last row, just on the other side of the trees – a source for more clues.

As soon as he prepared to move toward the car, however, he froze and ducked low into the trees as his eyes caught motion. It was some sort of security patrol, moving slowly along the aisles of the lot. Batman looked at the building at the end of the lot, noticing that it was some sort of apartment complex…and they had their own patrol.

A quick flick of his wrist sent a small bat-wing flying. It impacted one of the lights above the parking lot, causing it to shatter…just when the security patrol drove beneath it. Just as he predicted, they stopped to get out and stare up at the light in confusion.

It not only created a distraction, but left the Corvette in darkness as well. Batman easily slipped over to the passenger side, and opened the door using an electric lock-opening tool unique to his own collection.

The car’s security alarm went off. By the time the security patrol shined their flashlights toward the car, however…no one was there. The car appeared as if it hadn’t even been tampered with.

But Batman already had what he needed. In the car, he found an envelope full of cash. It would only take an hour to analyze them back in his cave for fingerprints, traces of chemicals, and even track which bank they came from.


A water heater is a rather small appliance in any basement, and it’s round. It’s not something to hide behind, as its rear is almost visible from every angle. But the key is almost. Someone talented enough with stealth and evasion, especially when dressed all in black, could get away with hiding behind a water heater in a dark basement.

Batgirl stood with her back solidly against the water heater in Joker’s basement, feeling the heat from it seep through her leather costume. She could hear footsteps all around the basement – three, maybe four people wearing heavy boots. She could hear the clatter of the machine guns they carried as they searched for her.

She guessed that Joker asked for them to capture her alive, since they didn’t simply shoot the entire basement to shreds. They searched for her, meticulously, and hoped to find her and bring her back upstairs.

As she heard one of them move closer, she slowly pressed two fingers against the pressure relief valve on the water heater, just behind her left shoulder. Her plan was to release the nearly scalding hot water suddenly, burning the feet of anyone who came too close. It would give her a few seconds to escape, if necessary. But it was risky…a last resort. For now, she would simply wait them out.

She did have one disadvantage, however – remaining perfectly motionless meant that she couldn’t see where each of her stalkers were. She had to rely on the sounds of their feet shuffling on the concrete, the rattling of their machine guns – even clothing rubbing together – to keep track of them all. It was the first time her training with Batman paid off enormously.

Batgirl shuddered as she heard one of the men’s weapons clink against the steel side of the water heater, the sound echoing through the water within so it seemed to come from under an ocean. She felt the need to run away, as her heart began to beat loudly enough that she was sure one of them could hear it.

A cough…very close. Too close. One of them was right on the other side of that water heater. Her right hand reached instinctively to her belt…but the belt contained nothing. Joker had emptied it earlier. Her left fingers tightened against the water heater’s pressure release valve.

…And the water heater fired up, with a deep ‘whoosh’. Batgirl almost jumped, but seized control of her muscles just in time. But she wasn’t the only one who was a little bit jumpy. She shuddered as she heard three rounds fire in quick succession behind her…and then the sound of trickling water. She could feel heat suddenly searing the left side of her costume.

“Quit playing around!” A voice boomed into the darkness from one of the Joker’s associates. “Now you’ve busted the water heater, you idiot!”

Batgirl reached down quickly to check and make sure she hadn’t been shot. She was rewarded with a stream of hot water bathing her hand as she accidentally pushed it through the stream to feel along her waist. She breathed a sigh of relief – she was only slightly burned, not bleeding.

But now her hiding place had been compromised. She would have to make a run for it. As the four men moved closer to examine the water heater, she descended to the floor quickly, wrapping herself in her cape as she pointed herself toward the stairs. There would only be one chance at this…but first, she needed a major distraction.

She smiled as she realized how close she was to the water heater’s natural gas line. It was made of old, rust iron pipe…which, considering its age, would be relatively easy to break with enough force.

Clasping her hands together and slamming them down on the pipe wouldn’t work, she guessed. She would need much more force…which brought more risk. She would have to jump up, and bring her entire weight down on the pipe, yet retain enough balance to run and escape unscathed. No problem.

Two of the men spotted her as soon as she leaped into the air. They pointed their guns and fired…but by then, Batgirl had landed, shattering the aging, rusted pipe. She rolled past the two men, and headed immediately for the stairs. She began to worry that she wouldn’t make it as she heard the other two right on her heels.

But luck, and the four’s lack of any kind of intelligence, helped immensely. As Batgirl headed up the stairs quickly, gunfire erupted from the basement below. The four men hadn’t been taught two important things – it’s nearly impossible to hit a moving target through a doorway, and, most important of all…it’s dangerous to fire weapons in a room full of natural gas.

A huge fireball erupted behind Batgirl as she raced through the first floor of the building, and spotted a window. It was the quickest exit, considering the flames licking at her costume and cape…probably the only one she would make it to alive.

Someone grabbed her, threw her to the ground…a man…someone familiar. He dove to the ground as well, wrapping them both in a heavy…cape? Batman? She didn’t have much time to speculate as the air around her turned hot…very hot. She held her breath quickly, as she had been trained to by Batman, until she felt that it was safe to take a breath again.

Her first breath gave her a lungful of smoke. She knew she didn’t have much time…but she still felt Batman lying on her back. He should have gotten up by now, unless he was unconscious or close to it.

She heard him groan, and struggle to sit up. As he moved, she could hear something creaking around them…and a sense of horror hit her as she realized that the ceiling must have collapsed on top of them during the explosion.

“Go,” He said. “Get out. Save yourself.”

Batgirl slipped out of underneath Batman, as he struggled to hold himself up with his arms and legs. She stopped and turned as she started to crawl away under the smoke, and saw a painful, defeated expression on his face. He still struggled…yet he was ready to give up. “No. Not without you.”

Batman shook his head. “You’ll…never make it with me. Go!”

“No!” Batgirl sat up on her knees, coughing as she breathed a lung full of thicker, darker smoke. She slid alongside Batman, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders tightly, trying to pull him free. He felt too heavy with all of that debris pinning him down. “Don’t give up…Help me!”

“Go!” Batman used one of his free arms to try and shove Batgirl toward the exit. “Get out of here!”

Batgirl simply wrapped her arms around his shoulders again, and resumed pulling him free of the debris. “If you give up…I die with you.”

That did it…but not for the reason Batgirl expected. He seemed angry as he pushed himself beyond the limits of his human body, lifting himself quickly to his hands and knees, and then leaning backwards using Batgirl as leverage, causing much of the debris pinning him to the ground to slide off, and land on the floor with a crash.

Not a word was spoken between the two as they raced toward the now-broken window and dove outside…or even after they had entered the Batmobile, and began driving home. Cassandra removed the mask from her costume as they drove toward the Bat Cave, looking over at Batman occasionally. His emotionless expression was practically set in stone…but she could tell he felt something. She wished she knew what.
As soon as the Batmobile arrived in the Bat Cave, Batman jumped out without saying a word. He walked right past Alfred, who attempted to offer him a bottle of cold water, past Tim who attempted to ask a question as he breezed past. He headed straight for the large walk-in closet where his costume was stored, and where it would later automatically be cleaned.

When Bruce finally emerged from the small closet, he glared at Cassandra – who was still in costume, sans mask – momentarily before taking the bottle of water from Alfred…and proceeding to smash it violently against his wall of TV monitors. He ignored it as it bounced off of one of the screens and hit the floor, rolling toward him slowly.

Instead, he continued glaring at Cassandra. She froze, contemplating whether to run back to her room…but instead, she chose to face him, in spite of the obvious fear in her heart and eyes.

“Next time I tell you to go,” Bruce said in a low, chilling monotone, “You go. Understand me?”

She looked at Tim, who responded by turning his eyes away. Alfred, as usual, remained completely neutral even in his body language. Cassandra thought about responding…but decided against it, wisely. His eyes told her that he still wished to say more.

“Understand me?” Bruce repeated, more insistently – almost as if it were a threat.

Cassandra closed her eyes and nodded. While her heart wasn’t in her answer, she felt it was best if Bruce heard what he wanted to from her at the moment.

“Good.” Bruce kicked the bottle, hard, ignoring it again as Alfred quickly reached down to pick it up off of the floor. “Because if you don’t…”

Bruce quickly walked over to Cassandra and snatched the mask from her hands. “…I will reclaim this, and you will go nowhere at night but here. I make the rules, Cassandra. Remember that.”

As she watched Bruce leave the Bat Cave and head upstairs, she just stared after him, stunned. He had no idea what she went through…meeting Joker up close and much too personal, nearly being killed several times. He didn’t even ask her about it. He didn’t care.

She bowed her head and closed her eyes again, trying to hold back the tears she felt in her heart as she slowly began shuffling toward her room, upstairs. She opened herself to him, tried to let him into her world…and he did nothing but tear her down. She began to think once again that no one cared what she thought…and attempting conversation was only an excersize in futility.

Exiting the Bat Cave, she encountered something she didn’t expect. Tim raced up behind her, and gripped her shoulder with one hand, turning her turning her toward quickly. She felt like shrugging him off, and retreating back to her room, salvaging what little dignity she had left. But there was something in his eyes which stopped her. She saw…sympathy.

“Are you okay?” He asked sheepishly, almost as if he had only just earned the right to do so.

Cassandra stood frozen, teary-eyed as she accepted a hug from Tim. She wasn’t sure if she needed one…but she knew it would reassure him, anyway. Of course, she knew that she was pretty far from ‘okay’ – but for some reason, she didn’t want to say so. It was almost as if her ordeal had become something personal and private, a part of her which she could never reveal.
Bruce clicked the door of his office closed, examining the room in near darkness before heading to his desk. The only light in the room was a lamp on his desk – but it was sufficient, considering that it was a room meant for concentration on a task.

He sat down in the plush leather chair, and leaned back as he picked up a small microphone stored on a stand next to his computer, tapping a key on the keyboard before taking a deep breath to gather his thoughts.

“Cassandra broke rule number one. Not because she defied me…but because she used her defiance to dictate rules to me. That’s unacceptable, unforgivable–”

He paused and stared out of his office window into the darkness outside as he sighed deeply. He looked down at his hands as they held the microphone, and noticed that they were a little unsteady. The anger he felt was poisoning his thoughts…he knew that now. The question was…did he feel the anger toward Cassandra? Or toward himself?

As he stared out into the calming darkness, the answer started to become clear…and every one of his sore muscles screaming out to him provided the evidence. If weren’t for Cassandra, there was a possibility he may not have been able to sit at his desk and record notes that evening.

He sighed again as he clicked the microphone back on. “–But she saved my life, too. At the very least, perhaps…I owe her another chance?”

Bruce tossed the microphone on his desk and stood, walking over to the window to stare outside and sift through the thoughts swimming in his mind. He felt restless, like there was something he needed to do…or say.

“Another chance,” He whispered to himself. He furrowed his brow as he stared at a slight reflection of himself in the glass, cast by the desk lamp behind him. “There are no second chances in this line of work.”
Cassandra sat at a small table in the kitchen, holding a cup of hot cocoa with both hands and sipping it slowly. She stared across at Alfred, who was reading a newspaper. A steaming cup of tea sat on the table in front of him, as well as a small plate of biscuits. The newspaper’s headline said something about a teen murdered by a gang on his own doorstep.

She squinted to see the picture which was printed in the center of the article. It was a vanity picture – the teen, wearing a tie, smiling and posing for a professional high school yearbook photo. His black hair and thin face reminded her a little of herself. He had been murdered by cowards.

Cowards…she remembered having to endure them as a child. Her eyes closed as her mind raced back to a powerful, yet terrifying memory of the past…one of little violence, but much fear.

“I’m sorry…I’m sorry…please…” A seven year old Cassandra sat on her knees on the living room carpet. Scattered around here were the shattered remains of a glass coffee table she had broken by accident while playing with a football. Tears streamed from her eyes as she begged for forgiveness.

“Sorry doesn’t cut it!” Her father leaned over her – smelling like alcohol, though less so than usual – waving the football dangerously close to her face. “This is my autographed football..mine! You took it without my permission…and look what happened!”

“I didn’t mean to–”

“You never mean to!” He reached down and grabbed her by her collar, lifting her painfully to her feet. “You are completely useless, Cassie! You destroy everything in your wake without thinking!”

She cringed as her father literally dragged her to her room, leaving one of her shoes behind in the hallway as it came off. She hated being called ‘Cassie’ – any time the name was used, it meant that she was about to endure either embarrassment or pain. And pain was first this time…she felt herself being thrown onto her bed, face first.

Cassandra sat up just in time to see her father pick up a music box given to her by her grandmother on her fifth birthday. She gasped as she watched him throw it to the ground…but she had neither the power nor the voice to stop him as she watched him step on it, shattering it into pieces.

As he picked up the heart-shaped necklace her grandmother had given her the year before, something in her snapped. She stood up quickly, and launched herself at her father, knocking him to the ground. She screamed as she clawed his face, kicked, and screamed at the top of her lungs…but it was a losing battle. He easily threw her over the bed, to crash into the wall behind it.

He left the room, stomping his feet, as he went, slamming the door behind her. Cassandra was left behind to curl into a ball and sob as she heard him lock the door from the outside, and begin screaming at her mom. It would be a long night…but as she looked at her left hand, she consoled herself with the fact that she still had the necklace.


She opened her eyes to see Tim standing over her, giving him a half-smile to acknowledge his presence. Alfred had vacated his spot at the table – he was in the center of the kitchen, washing the cups used for the tea and cocoa. His newspaper sat in the center of the table, the teen on the front page staring back at her, as if asking her, ‘Why couldn’t you save me?’

As she rose to her feet slowly, Cassandra sighed to herself. Why was that teen in the newspaper haunting her? Did it remind her of something from her past?

“Cassandra, wait.”

She felt Tim grab her arm as she quietly tried to slink away to the peaceful solitude of her room. She needed to think, to sort out everything that had happened to her in the last day. Cassandra pulled her arm free of Tim’s hand, and left the kitchen without speaking a word.

“Master Tim.”

Tim paused just as he was about to leave the room to follow Cassandra. “Yes, Alfred?”

“Sometimes Cassandra prefers an patient ear over an urgent voice.” Alfred nodded at Tim and smiled when he noted the confused look his bit of wisdom had caused.

Tim nodded. “I get it. That’s why you were just sitting there silently across the table. Because–”

“Because when she’s ready to speak, Master Tim…I am ready to listen.”

Without another word, Tim nodded again and quietly left the room. He unconsciously passed by Cassandra’s room, wondering what she was up to…he was a little worried about her. But Alfred was right – when the time came, she would speak to whomever she felt most comfortable talking to.
“No, no, Bruce. You have it all wrong.” Barbara laughed as she spoke, trying her best not to laugh at Bruce’s reasoning. “Yes, there was a trail leading directly to Joker’s hideout…but that’s because he doesn’t hire the best help.”

Bruce raised an eyebrow and looked across the library at Barbara as he held a book stuffed with scraps of newsprint in his hands. “And you think Cassandra fits into that scenario?”

“No, actually she doesn’t fit. That’s the interesting part.” Barbara removed her reading glasses and tossed them onto a small table next to her wheelchair. “She wasn’t being used as bait. If she were, someone would have tried to kill her as soon as you arrived. She was being treated like she was…valuable somehow.”

“Meaning?” Bruce froze, staring at Barbara and waiting for an answer.

Barbara smiled. “I think Joker has a little crush on her, if he hasn’t fallen completely for her.”

“No.” Bruce shook his head quickly and put the scrapbook back on the shelf, removing his own reading glasses. “That doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit with Joker’s profile.”

“Dammit, Bruce!” Barbara playfully threw one of the pillows from the overstuffed couch on the other side of the table toward Bruce. “Joker is a raving lunatic! Everything fits with his profile! If he threw himself into the harbor one day just for yuks, that would fit too.”

“True.” Bruce rubbed his chin and paced the room once as he thought about Barbara’s theory. “But he usually has a reason. A sick, warped reason, but a reason nonetheless.”

Barbara shrugged. “There’s only one person who can tell us more. Want me to talk to her?”

“She’s not talking.” Bruce gave Barbara a chilly look, before turning to take another book off of the shelf.

“Did you even try to talk to her, Bruce?”

Another icy glare from Bruce earned him a frown in return from Barbara.

“So she broke those rules of yours. I think it was for the better, Bruce.” Barbara leaned her chin on her palm, trying to keep an eye on Bruce without having to twist her neck around. “Or you might not be here right now to argue with me.”

Bruce frowned even further. “The purpose of the rules, Barbara, is that I must take responsibility for everyone on my team. Cassandra and Tim have to be responsible only for themselves–”

“–And Cassandra has gone beyond that, Bruce. She made herself responsible for you, and Tim. That should be the accomplishment you dwell on…and you should be proud.”

Bruce sighed deeply as he stared across the room at Barbara, searching his mind for the appropriate response. There was none – she was right.
As he passed by Cassandra’s room once again, hoping she would emerge, Tim found a surprise – at the end of the hall, Cassandra sat on the window sill, in her Batgirl costume, looking outside. “Cassandra?”

She turned to look at Tim, ignoring the rain which blew in through the open window, peppering her leather costume with small raindrops. The wind chilled her, but she paid it no mind – she was preoccupied with other thoughts.

Cassandra tossed the newspaper she held at Tim’s feet, careful to land it so the front page faced up. She watched as Tim looked down at the headline, and the photo of the teenager who was killed at the hands of a local gang right in front of his home. He quickly read blurbs about the teen’s mother, that she was virtually destroyed by the death of her only child.

Tim shook his head slowly as he realized what she was going to do. She was going out to take on the murderous gang…and possibly kill them? “Cassandra…you can’t–”

Her soft brown eyes gave Tim a cold look, almost soulless in nature. There was nothing behind them but pure anger, and hate. She froze, staring at him, her eyes boring through his soul for what seemed like an eternity.

“No more suffering. No more cowards.”

With those words, Cassandra slid off of the window sill, and disappeared into the darkness outside. Tim felt his heart sink as he began to associate one thing with what she had just said…fear. He was not afraid that she would be hurt. Those eyes…they reminded Tim of…him. Of the worst Batman…cold, calculating, and dangerous. They were murderous eyes…that’s what he was most afraid of.


#13 – Rhythm, Part 2

“You’d better run!”

A young man, perhaps seventeen years old, ran through the streets of Gotham City, gasping desperately for breath. He was being chased by four thugs, at least twice his size – they spotted him as he walked from his grandfather’s house to his parents’, only a block or two away. Worse yet, he dropped the inhaler he needed to treat his asthma…and he was quickly blacking out from lack of oxygen.

As he paused for a moment to try and catch his breath and regain his bearings, he felt something impact the side of his head, and shatter. His head throbbed, his left ear partially deaf now from the sound of glass exploding so close to him. He could feel blood running down his scalp, inducing another wave of panic – he picked himself up and began running again as he heard them approach slowly. They didn’t bother to run…they were waiting for him to tire out.

His original plan was to try and lose them through the neighborhood – but now, as he felt blood running down to his neck, he began to realize that these thugs were deadly serious. He needed to run home, where he would be safe…

“C’mere! We just wanna talk to you!”

The teen bit his lip to keep from crying as another bottle went flying past him. His breathing was extremely labored now, as he struggled to process oxygen in his constricted lungs. With every breath, his vision became peppered with tiny points of light, and the colors before him washed into darker shades of grey.

Just when he began to fear he wouldn’t make it, he let out a sigh of relief as he turned a corner and saw his home right in front of him. He let adrenaline flood into his blood stream, as he poured on the speed, trying to put as much space between him and the thugs as possible. He raced up the stairs to his front door, turning the doorknob quickly…

…But it was locked.

He could hear laughing behind him as he pounded on the door frantically. The laughing came closer, and closer…And a hot twinge of pain tore up his spine like a lightning strike. His mouth opened to scream, yet the sheer terror and agony of the moment took his voice away.

Another blow, this time to his shoulder. The thugs were all around him. His eyes widened in fear, as he found his voice and yelled as loudly as he could. His terrified screams, his cries of ‘help me’ into the darkness, echoed off of the surrounding buildings in futility.

The teen turned around just in time to see a steel baseball bat descending upon his head, closing his eyes just before the impact. He never felt the hit…his senses eluded him, even as he felt himself fall to the ground.

He remembered hearing thugs cheering, as their voices began to sound farther, and farther away. He remembered feeling a breeze as the door opened behind his immobilized body, and hearing his mother’s voice shriek ‘Dear God, no!’ into the night. He heard only her whispers, and her sobs…and he felt comforted, as the world slipped away gently into silence.
“What do we tell the press?”

The mayor of Gotham City sighed and leaned back in the plush, leather chair behind his office’s heavy polished wood desk. He rubbed his chin nervously, looking at his aide after several seconds of silence. “Why do we have to tell them anything?”

“Sir, the public is demanding to know what’s going on.” The aide leaned against the desk. His face showed apparent panic at the realization that his political future hung in the balance of the mayor’s re-election chances. “People are dying on the streets. They’re falling off of buildings…one was even found beaten to death.”

“He was an armed assassin.”

“But the fact remains, sir”, the aide continued, “The public is frightened. Either this…Batman has turned more dangerous, or we’ve got someone else out there–”

“Dammit, Rick!” The mayor stood quickly and shoved his aide aside. “You will not mention the Batman to the press! Do you hear me?”

“Y-Yes sir.” The aide stumbled, but regained his balance as his back met the wall behind him. “Th-then what should I tell them, sir?”

“Tell them–” A long pause dominated the conversation as the mayor leaned his palms against the back of his chair, staring across the room blankly as his mind tried to put a definite political spin on his thoughts. “Tell them that we have everything under control…and that Gotham’s finest are on the case.”
“Help! Help me, please!”

Batgirl ignored the man’s pleas as she sat on a narrow ledge, legs slightly crossed and dangling high above the street. The man hung upside down from a horizontal flagpole extending from the ledge a short distance away, swaying in the wind as only his shoelaces prevented him from plummeting to the concrete below.

The one thing which made this man a little different from the others which Batgirl had encountered was that he wasn’t an average Gotham criminal. He was a Gotham City Police Officer. He was a rookie who made the gave mistake of shooting at Batgirl to as she walked the narrow ledge, trying to maintain her balance.

He was attempting to scare her into coming down, barking an order at her to do so as he fired the shot – but she was less than understanding of his motivation as she used a cable launcher to suddenly hoist him up to the flagpole against his will. Before he knew it, she was hanging on to the pole with her arm and both legs, using her hands to tie his shoelaces together over the top of the pole.

“Please let me down. I have a family–”

“Family?” Batgirl leaned closer to the officer, holding out one gloved hand within his reach. At first, he didn’t understand, until she waved two fingers in his direction. It dawned on him that she wanted to see pictures. He slowly slipped his wallet out of his shirt pocket, nearly dropping it before Batgirl snatched it as it began to fall.

She opened the wallet, looking at a couple of the photos quickly, and then placed it on the ledge beside her. This time as her hand extended, she gripped the officer’s wrist tightly, sliding his shoes along the flagpole until she had enough leverage to pull him up to the ledge without allowing herself to be pulled down.

Batgirl sat down and watched the officer pull himself up onto the ledge and slide away from the street until his back touched the building’s stone facade. His hands gripped the ledge tightly, until his knuckles turned white, and he had a look of apparent fear in his eyes. She laughed at him softly as she reached for the wallet, handing it back to him with two fingers.

“Nervous?” As he nodded in response, she noticed that for the second time, the officer seemed a little stunned that her voice sounded so soft, so normal. She guess that it struck him as unusual for someone who fought crime on the streets of Gotham City to be so soft-spoken.

“I…I’m sorry I took a shot at you. I was terrified, with all of those urban myths about you going around. But now that I’ve met you…you’re nothing at all like Batman.”

Batgirl nodded and stood up quickly on the ledge, looking down to adjust one of the cable launchers attached to her belt. She noticed the officer becoming more nervous as he suspected that she was preparing to leave.

“Hey, wait…How do I get down?”

Without speaking another word, Batgirl snapped the cable launcher off of her belt and fired it upward, tugging on it to test its security once the projectile at the other end had landed and gripped some surface above. She pressed the device into the palm of the officer, and gave him a quick two-fingered salute…

…Then, as he watched, she held the edges of her cape with her gloved hands, spreading it out to its full width, and simply stepped off of the edge of the building. By the time he leaned forward gently to try and see where she had landed…she was gone.
Cassandra sat on Bruce’s desk in the bat cave, still wearing her costume with the exception of the mask, which was neatly folded beside her. If there was one thing Bruce repeated to her many times, it was that her costume was extremely valuable and she needed to take care of it.

She twirled a white tulip between her fingers. It was now wrinkled and drooping since it had been delivered a day earlier. She stared sideways at the computer screen at the end of the desk as Bruce leaned back in his chair beside her, typing with blinding speed at the keyboard in front of him. He was searching orders for local florists.

“Bingo.” Bruce paused and leaned toward the screen, pointing at one line on the screen. He sighed as he realized that the ‘from’ phone number and address on the screen was obviously fake – but he was even more intrigued that the name was listed as simply, ‘Robert’.

“Didn’t Robert try to destroy your building?” Cassandra continued twirling the small flower, staring at it as if lost in thought. It was clear she was only giving Bruce half of her attention.

Bruce suddenly stiffened in his chair, the hair on the back of his neck standing on end as he turned around slowly to look at Cassandra. “What did you say?”

She dropped the tulip to Bruce’s desk and looked up, giving her full attention. She looked at Bruce, then at the computer screen. “You said an employee named Robert–”

“Yes. There may just be a connection–” Bruce began typing at his computer quickly – a search of all instances of the name ‘Robert’ in both police records and his own. As the computer ran through its records, Cassandra suddenly reached over and turned off the monitor. Bruce stared at her as if to demand a reason for her behavior.

“There is.” Cassandra slid off of the counter, as she began carefully removing her costume gloves. “He was there when I was arrested.”

Bruce paused as he watched her removing her gloves for a second, a thought seemingly crossing his mind. His eyes seeming to give her a disapproving look, she instinctively stopped to wait for him to say something.

“Keep the gloves on, Cassandra. We may be going back out.”

Cassandra sighed and pulled at the base of her leather glove to tighten it against her fingers once again. The leather was rather cozy to wear outside where it was often cool and wet, but indoors it felt a little constricting. She wondered if Bruce felt the same way when in costume…then again, at the moment he still wore civilian clothing.

“Yes. An arrest report…for rape.” Bruce wheeled around abruptly, as his memory found instant recognition of the arrest report on the screen in front of him. This man named ‘Robert’ was released because he was assaulted during arrest…by a young woman with dark hair. A slight smile formed as he began to put all of the puzzle pieces together. This ‘Robert’ was the same man who had been on parole from a mental institution, attacked his therapist…and murdered a hotel clerk. “Interesting.”

Cassandra gave Bruce a questioning look. She wasn’t sure if he was about to laugh at her, or try and help her.

“This man, Cassandra, is a classic serial murderer profile. He behaves violently in general until he focuses on a subject. Then he channels all of his effort toward romancing the subject, and when he fails…he kills the subject.”

“Me?” Cassandra blinked twice and leaned against the counter to steady herself. She shook her head slowly…how could some total stranger have selected her as the focus of his insanity?

Then she remembered…the police station. The strange man who she had punched only an hour before her arrest walked right past her as she sat on a bench in the booking room. His eyes seemed…amused as he looked down at her. At first, she thought that it was simply someone who took pleasure in seeing her on the verge of being locked away. But looking back…it was much more. It was as if he were trying to assert power over her, emphasizing that he was free and she was not.

She shivered slightly as that look began to haunt her. She remembered seeing it three times – once before punching the man, once in the police station…and in an anonymous a pair of eyes which she could feel watching her as she left the station with Tim.

“We have to hit him first,” Bruce said.

His voice sounded more hushed, more calm…more emotionless. Cassandra knew at that moment that he was one step away from putting on that costume. While he still appeared to be Bruce Wayne, in every other way he was already Batman.

Cassandra sighed and began fidgeting with her mask as she patiently waited for Bruce to step into the next room and don his costume. It didn’t take long – while his costume was complex, he was well-practiced in putting it together. She looked down at her own leather costume, and wondered if Bruce knew how difficult it was to put on.

“What about Tim?” She watched Bruce cross the room in costume, and type something at his computer terminal. He didn’t respond right away – she began to think he was ignoring her on purpose. But just when she gave up on hearing a response, he finally spoke up.

“He will remain here and feed me data through a comm link.”

“Isn’t that Barbara’s–” Cassandra interrupted herself as Batman gave her one of those chilling looks. It was the kind of stare that cut through to her soul, and made enemies wish he would just kill them and get it over with. While she knew that the look was essentially just an expression of determination, it still frightened her a little…because she knew that at its core was the fact that Batman did not fear death.

Not another word was spoken as Cassandra slipped her mask on and quickly and silently slid into the passenger seat of the Batmobile. As Batman began driving toward Gotham City, he didn’t speak or even look over at the passenger side. But she could hear him breathing heavily – he was angry! As unlikely as it sounded, Bruce’s own feelings were driving Batman’s actions.

That was when it dawned on her as she stared at him, his eyes fixed on the road ahead, his breathing and posture indicating someone bent on revenge. Bruce was attempting to be protective. He was going after Robert as if he were a grieving family member, or her father…and there wasn’t a thing she could do to stop him.
“It’s a shame. A real shame.” Catwoman walked across the lobby of a building owned by Bruce Wayne – or at least by a company owned by him. The building was still closed to the public, as it had been severely damaged by fire, and a crime scene had been set up in the lobby.

Once the fire had been extinguished, police found the body of a well-known foreign assassin tucked away in a dark corner of the lobby, lying in a pool of his own blood. A deep red streak led from that point to the center of the lobby, causing investigators to conclude that he had been dragged into the corner to prevent him from being discovered right away. Only that same investigation remained open, as there were no witnesses or fingerprints, and the cameras in the lobby had been destroyed.

“And I thought I would be able to fight him one day. Too bad.” Catwoman had a single purpose in mind as she scoured the lobby – keeping her own trail cold. She knew that she had been in the building during the fire to loot offices upstairs of important information. To her, it seemed like victimless crime – rescue paperwork on the verge of destruction, and demand a premium for its return. But now, she was in danger of having a murder rap pinned on her. All it would take was one strand of hair.

Unlike during her usual excursions, stealth was required. If she were detected somehow while trying to destroy evidence in a crime scene…a murder rap would become more of a likelihood than a possibility. She kneeled down as she spotted a shape cut in the plaster of the ceiling above, behind one of the cameras. It looked like the corner of one of Batman’s wing toys.

“Hmm.” She looked around the room quickly, finally spotting a chair sitting behind the security desk. It was a rolling chair, but easy enough to balance on as she moved it under the part of the ceiling she spotted a moment ago, she easily stood on the chair, keeping her balance as she looked closer.

Catwoman smiled to herself as she stared up at the ceiling, shaking her head slowly. She remembered that the last time she was there, Batman was nowhere in the building – and he would never be sloppy enough to leave a mark behind. That means it had to be…

“Poor, poor Batgirl,” she whispered to herself as she carefully removed a knife from behind her belt. She reached up and chipped away more plaster, converting the bat-wing shaped cut in the ceiling into a simple-looking chip in the plaster. Her free hand caught the plaster chunk, slipping it carefully into a backpack she carried with her. Any dropped plaster would look like tampering.

Careful to push the chair exactly to the spot she found it, Catwoman headed out of the lobby quickly. As she made her way quickly to the exit, she paused and glanced backward, shuddering a little as she imagined that five and a half foot young woman in a costume murdering an armed assassin practically in an open, public place. She smiled to herself…the girl had potential.

“You owe me one, Batgirl.”
Batgirl clung to the passenger seat of the Batmobile as she watched Batman careen through the damp streets of Gotham City at dangerous speeds. Of course, it wasn’t the speed which bothered Batgirl – it was the fact that she sensed that he was out of control, reckless. She worried that he cared little for his own life at that moment…and consequently, was putting hers in danger.

She wanted nothing more to ask Batman to allow her to drive – only she knew he would simply ignore her, as if she were a bothersome temporary passenger in the Batmobile, rather than someone who he worked with daily. So she did the only thing she could – lean back, keep the seat belt on, and hope the tough shell of the Batmobile would protect her.

“A kid died today. A young man only a few years younger than you.”

Batgirl bit her lip and looked over at Batman. Now she understood why he had been in such a mood all day. He tended to take Gotham City crime personally, as if it somehow reflected on his abilities as Batman.

Batman glanced at Batgirl for a moment, his emotionless eyes hiding everything she knew that he felt. “He was killed right in front of his house. His mother had to watch him die.”

“Just like you.” Batgirl looked at Batman again – he seemed to pause as their gazes met across the car. An awkward silence filled several seconds, as Batman seemingly shuddered at Batgirl’s all-too-true assessment of how he felt.

“Yes.” Batman seemed to retain perfect control of his demeanor and voice as he replied…yet somehow, Batgirl could sense a little sadness in his response. “There is some similarity.”

More silence filled the car as Batman seemed to concentrate fully on driving. He stared straight ahead, both hands on the steering wheel. Only Batgirl noticed that the car seemed to be moving noticeably faster. The brakes suddenly locked as Batman tore into an alley and stopped the car abruptly. The canopy opened briefly, and he stepped out.

“Wait here.”

Batgirl reluctantly complied as the canopy closed behind him. She watched him walk quickly into the darkness ahead…but something about the way they had arrived at that destination bothered her. It was almost as if Batman had some other agenda, something he didn’t want her to be a part of. She couldn’t remember him mentioning an alley at any point before they left the cave.

She grabbed the remote control for the Batmobile, and opened the canopy, stepping out of the car silently. The canopy closed by itself as soon as she left the car, and she tapped the security arm button to raise its shielding as she headed into the alley.

As she silently walked into the alley, she spotted Batman standing in its center, looking down at the ground. He stood frozen, frowning, as if he were lost in unpleasant thoughts. In his hands he held a damp popcorn box from a nearby movie theater – it had been discarded in the alley. But the strangest part was that he seemed to be staring at it in an almost sentimental manner.

“I watched it happen, right in front of my eyes…” He didn’t even face her, raise his eyes, or move at all as he spoke. It seemed to Batgirl as if he were almost afraid to move, lest it give away his true feelings – and she guessed that while it would be an honest Bruce Wayne, it would be far out of character for Batman. “…and I still see it, today. Every time I enter a dark room, I see and hear it.”

Batgirl’s eyes widened as a powerful thought occurred to her. Bruce essentially lived alone in Wayne Manor. If not on the streets at night as Batman, he would sit each night in his large, dark home alone, remembering what had happened to his parents and fuming – and that would quickly drive him to insanity or drink. Being Batman was his way of dealing with it, of feeling like he was doing something about it…or to feel like no one in this world would have power over him, ever again.

She walked over to Batman slowly, taking the popcorn box from his hands and discarding it quickly. He gave her a somewhat threatening look…but she ignored it as she took his hand and began walking backwards toward the car. She was surprised that he followed…only once they were safely in the car, he simply sat behind the wheel, staring into the alley.

“It’s okay, you know.” Batgirl paused as Batman turned to look at her slowly. She removed her mask, staring into Batman’s cold-looking eyes with her own soft brown ones. She echoed his borderline threatening look with one of compassion, and caring. “It’s okay to cry.”
“Do you think Bruce is torturing Cassandra again?” Tim stood next to one of the windows in the library of Wayne Manor, one hand holding back the curtain as he looked outside.

Barbara glanced at Tim quickly, smiling as she gently placed the book she was reading in her lap. “It’s just eating you up, isn’t it?”

Tim gave her a confused look. “What is?”

“Being left behind, with no information on what they’re up to.” Barbara laughed softly as she leaned her chin on her palm, staring across the room at Tim. “I see you staring out the window, pacing around the room–”

“All right, all right. I get the point.” Tim sighed and walked over to one of the large chairs and settled into it noisily enough to almost seem like a protest. “Barbara–”


Tim sat up in the chair and leaned toward Barbara, pausing for a moment as if to collect his thoughts. “Do you think Cassandra might have killed her parents on purpose? Or that assassin?”

Barbara’s smile disappeared as she blinked twice from surprise at Tim’s question. “Tim…why would you ask such a question?”

“I dunno.” Tim leaned back and scratch his head, suddenly ashamed by his own questions. “It’s just that…it seems like she takes it all too well. Like it’s too easy for her. Frankly…that scares me.”

“I know what you mean.” Barbara paused for a few seconds, tapping her chin as she thought to herself. “Problem is…she’s living the kind of life where it’s okay to kill. Kind of like a soldier in battle. She’s becoming desensitized.”

Tim visibly shuddered as Barbara spoke, taking a few seconds to finally speak. “Isn’t that…a bad thing?”

She shook her head slowly. “Not necessarily. Men have come home from Vietnam after wiping out whole platoons, and gone on to become schoolteachers, businessmen…the point is, they recover from it. I think Cassandra’s sweet nature will keep her centered.”

“She’s so difficult to understand.” Tim laughed a little as he leaned back in his chair again. “She gives Bruce a hard time. But I think she genuinely cares about him.”

“Bruce knows that, Tim. He trusts her. If he didn’t–” Barbara quickly rolled her wheelchair across the room, heading toward the kitchen. “–he never would have brought her here.”
The usual customers of a small pub near downtown Gotham City came to the place every day to get away from their dreary lives. They came to sit in darkness, where no one would recognize them, and quietly drown their sorrows in waves after wave of alcohol. Their only objective was to allow the drink, darkness, and hypnotic music to numb their senses until they were barely aware of who or where they were.

But this night, a few of them found a reason to remain sober – to permanently rejoin reality – in the very place they came to hide from it. It was the night that their small, unassuming pub was graced by the presence of someone who none of them even expected to see in person – the Joker.

Everyone froze as he stood in the doorway of the pub, his white face and permanent smile spreading fear through the eyes of everyone present. He didn’t speak a word even as he almost politely tipped his hat to the bartender, who immediately dropped a bottle of whiskey in response.

His footsteps echoed loudly in the small room, even louder now that the CD which had been playing music came to an end – the bartender was too frozen by fear to change it – and slight gasps could be heard as Joker, followed closely by two henchmen dressed in purple, stopped at each table to look at its occupant.

The footsteps suddenly stopped as Joker stood over a table in the back, where a man sat, quietly drinking a beer. As the two henchmen walked around the table and surrounded the man, a few people quickly dashed for the exit, never to return – but Joker paid them no attention as he calmly sat down across the table and leaned back, grinning at the man as if he had something on his mind.

“That must be a good beer,” Joker finally said after several seconds of silence. “Oh, bartender?”

He suddenly pulled a gun out from under his jacket, firing two shots toward the bar. Two bottles of liquor shattered, and the mirror behind the bar collapsed. The terrified bartender hopped over the bar and raced for the exit, abandoning the bar in short order.

Joker laughed, waving his gun in an exaggerated gesture as he spoke – which frightened the few customers which were still left. “And people wonder why the restaurant business is going to hell.”

“What do you want?” The man seemed either courageous or stupid as he interrupted the Joker with an impatient question.

“Robert, Robert, Robert…” Joker stood and gave an exaggerated sigh as he ignored a few more customers who made a run for the exit. “It’s not about what I want. It’s about what you want…something that’s mine.”

Robert shook his head slowly, still seemingly unimpressed by the Joker. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re nuts.”

“That,” Joker said as he leaned over the table, “From a man who slings insults at Gotham’s most dangerous man?”

Robert scoffed. “What are you going to do? Kill me?”

“No, no, no. I’m not a killer. I’m an artist.” Joker picked up a knife on Robert’s table, examining his reflection on one side of the steel blade. “All great art requires suffering. Suffering from which sweet death is a merciful release. I’ve suffered, Robert. Have you?”

“Is this supposed to frighten me?” Robert almost laughed as he took another sip of beer.

“No, it’s supposed to educate you.”

Joker slammed the knife point-first between Robert’s knuckle and the base of his middle finger. As Robert screamed in pain, and the remaining customers in the place squirmed and retreated low into their seats, Joker kept twisting the knife.

“That’s supposed to frighten you.” He held Robert’s severed middle finger in front of him, waving it tauntingly before his eyes. “Don’t be sad, Robert, you got what you wanted…to give me the finger.”

Joker began laughing loudly as he headed toward the front door, his two henchmen in tow. As he did, he paused to drop the severed finger into a woman’s drink next to the door. She screamed, but he paid no attention as he continued laughing. And then…he was gone.

The customers of the pub began to slowly emerge from their hiding places, each of them looking to the back of the place, to a table stained in blood. The man Joker called Robert sat there, crying and muttering to himself, trying as best as he could to bandage his hand with his napkin.

“Help me–,” he whispered in a barely audible voice as he stood and began stumbling toward the other customers. “Somebody…help me.”
“We’re too late.”

Batman looked at Batgirl momentarily as they stood atop a building, hiding in the darkness as they looked down upon a small pub across the street. Parked in front of the place were an ambulance and a police car. The ambulance began driving away, sirens blaring – meaning that Batman and Batgirl had already missed a chance to identify its passenger right away. The two officers remained inside, writing a report on what had happened.

“Enough distraction. Let’s go.”

Batgirl nodded and followed Batman’s cable launcher with her own, aiming carefully at some overhead power lines – a dangerous feat, but possible only as long as she kept her gloves on and didn’t allow herself to touch the ground and the steel cable itself at the same time.

It allowed for easy, unencumbered transportation from the commercial district into a small urban residential development nearby, one which contained a home that made the news yesterday…after a seventeen year old teen was murdered right in front of his own door.

As Batman landed atop a small apartment building on a corner, Batgirl was a little confused. It wasn’t like him to outright seek revenge. But as she looked down the street quickly, she started to understand…she recognized that neighborhood.

She reached into her belt and removed a small stainless steel chain with a Star of David at the end of it, dangling it in front of her own eyes. She remember the old man who handed it to her – given to her as a gift of gratitude, even friendship. She remembered the neighborhood clearly now…she had been there before, trying to stop white supremacists from preying on its older Jewish residents.

Batgirl smiled at Batman as she began to put it all together. As crime fighters, the two of them had to keep up on the neighborhoods they had been active in previously – otherwise the criminals just come right back. They must remain persistent, giving criminals little chance to regain a foothold. Criminals must always be made to live in fear.

“Wait here.”

By the time Batgirl found a voice to protest, Batman had already vanished off of the edge of the building. She found that more frustrating than an argument – she wouldn’t even have a chance to do anything except obey, because now he depended on her to remain in place.

She sighed and turned around, forcing herself to be content instead to wander the roof until he returned. If he returned. Her mind wandered for a moment, wondering how long she should wait before determining that he wasn’t coming back, either on purpose or otherwise. Then again, she knew that she was the most vulnerable of the two, as she was forced to remain in place while keeping it secure…

Batgirl sighed again. Her mind was running away with frivolous thoughts. Batman would simply run some reconnaissance, and return almost immediately. He always–

She jumped suddenly as she heard the door to the roof burst open suddenly. Light poured onto the roof from the now open stairway from below, stunning her eyes for a moment…yet she still managed to see three shadows appear. She could tell that two of them were armed.

“I never thought a bat could be so breathtaking,” The center shadow announced loudly, “Beautiful bat…may I have this dance?”

Batgirl began backing up toward the edge of the roof slowly, hoping not to startle either of the two armed men enough to fire their weapons. But there would be no such luck. She cringed as she watched both men level what appeared to be short rifles at her over their arms…and two loud snaps filled the air as one.

She nearly fell backwards as she felt two impacts, one on each arm. A quick gasp came from her as she felt the stinging pain of her skin being punctured, and she looked down to see just how badly she had been hit.

But those weren’t bullets…she started to feel dizzy as the two men approached her quickly. She wanted to fight them off…but her muscles simply would not react. Her knees buckled, nearly sending her tumbling to the ground, but the two men caught her and lifted her off of her feet.

The night started to seem darker as she was brought before the third man. He leaned forward, to examine her closer with his pasty white face…it was Joker! Batgirl tried to squirm away, but once again her own muscles and limbs failed her.

“Now, now…Why would you fear my friendly face?” Joker turned to his two henchmen waved quickly. “Get her into the car, quick. Before the bat returns.”

Batgirl fought for consciousness as long as she could, as the world began to fade from her grasp. As she was placed in the back seat of Joker’s bright purple car, she continued to struggle to keep her eyes open. The last thing she saw was a shadow atop one of the buildings as the car drove away.

She hoped it wasn’t a hallucination…as her senses slipped away from her, that image was the one thing she clung to for hope.



#12 – Rhythm, Part 1

Cassandra tapped a finger on a steel post as she waited impatiently for her turn. She felt like cattle as she waited in a lane marked by a velvet rope and steel poles much like the one she tapped on, staring at a sign which read ‘Wait here for next teller’. She was next, but it would apparently be a long wait – the man ahead of her asked for something beyond the abilities of the average bank teller, meaning the manager had to be called.

She began to feel a little conspicuous as she stood in line in her black long-sleeved shirt and blue jeans. Everyone else in the bank, the customer in front of her included, wore dark suits and formal wear. Sighing to herself, she wondered why Bruce sent her to the bank – it was just…strange for her to be standing there, thousands of dollars in cash to be deposited encased in a small leather pouch dangling almost carelessly from her left hand.

If anything, she guessed, it was an excersize in trust. Bruce simply handed her the pouch without hesitation, and sent her to the bank – totally secure in the knowledge that she would indeed be able to take it there with almost no risk to herself or the cash. He knew that no one would be able to successfully take it from her by force.

As she leaned against the steel pole, using her foot against the base for leverage, she felt both confident and bored. Bruce gave her an easy task, one that would take no effort to complete – once the man in front of her left – but she also felt that she had been given a task which fell short of her abilities.

Cassandra suddenly felt the heat of anger fill her as she watched a man in jeans and a dark jacket walk right past her, cutting ahead of her in line. She was just about to protest…but something didn’t feel right. He was much too focused as he approached the counter, not bored as she was. It seemed like he had a specific task in mind. She was a little surprised when she realized that none of the bank’s employees seemed to notice.

The man in the jacket walked straight up to the counter, whispering something to the teller softly as he hovered his hand over one of the jacket pockets. The teller turned pale, and the customer she worked with took a couple of steps back. It was a robbery.

Cassandra knew that something was seriously wrong by now – but she decided to remain casual, and pretend to be ignorant of what was happening. She continued leaning back against the pole as she eyed the pocket the man indicated to a moment earlier – it seemed weighted, as if there were something heavy in there…possibly a gun.

The customer wearing the suit was slinking toward the exit – a bad move when someone was attempting to rob the bank. The teller made the mistake of raising her eyes to look at the man as she loaded the cash from her drawer into a bag the robber brought with him. The robber quickly drew his gun, pointing it at the man trying to make a slow but sure exit.

He ran for the door once he saw the gun, another stupid move. Cassandra flinched as the ear-shattering sound of the robber’s gun firing echoed through the mostly silent bank. He missed – glass shards began crashing to the floor from one of the large outside windows as it collapsed from the impact of the bullet.

The suited man almost made it. He could have raced to his car, driven far away, and forgot about the robbery – and the robber would never have hit him with such horrible aim. But instead, he panicked as he watched the glass shatter next to him, and slowly shuffled back into the bank, hands raised.

“On your knees”, the robber ordered. He looked at Cassandra, who simply gave him a hollow look. He turned away from her, thinking her not to be any threat to his plans. He snatched the bag of cash, and turned toward the exit, suddenly pausing as he noticed Cassandra now standing in front of him silently.

“Out of my way”, he growled.

Cassandra smiled softly as she took two slow steps back. As the robber approached her, prepared to shove her aside, he found his feet tangled on one of her sneakers – and promptly fell flat on his face, dropping the gun to the floor next to him.

He rose quickly, anger rising within him as he heard the teller and suit-wearing customer snickering. He reached for his gun…but it was gone – and standing several feet away was the young woman who tripped him, casually holding the gun at her side. “Give me that, kid.”

Cassandra’s condescending laugh only made things worse. The man stood on his feet, and started walking toward her quickly.

“I’m going to take that gun, and then I’m going to shoot you.”

As he started walking toward her more quickly, she began backing away until she reached the glass wall of the bank. There was nowhere else to go. She slowly raised the gun, pointing it toward him as a warning. She really didn’t want to fight him, and risk giving herself away.

He laughed at the sight of her raising the gun, lunging at her for his own amusement. “What are you going to do, shoot me?”

As Cassandra watched the man’s amused expression, she imagined him reaching out to grab her by the throat, and shake her. She felt so small, so fragile as he yelled at her with enough alcohol on his bad smelling breath to intoxicate her. He shook her, and shook her…then carried her to her room to seal her in, as if it were a vault, for what would seem like days. Alone.

No more.

The sound of a gun firing once again filled the near silent bank. In front of Cassandra stood a man devoid of his formerly jovial mood. Blood streamed from the center of his chest, tricking down like a thick, red waterfall to the floor. His eyes registered surprise at being beaten by her…then fear as he felt the pain of his life slipping away.

He suddenly collapsed to the floor as silence once again filled the bank. Then a loud clack as the gun slipped from Cassandra’s hand to a spot next to the man’s head, followed by the leather pouch she held in her other hand. She looked at the teller and the customer who was in the bank – they both stared at her in shock.

“Oh my God”, Cassandra whispered softly. She had the strongest urge to run from the bank…to run away, never to be seen again by anyone. But she couldn’t – part of her new life was a new level of responsibility. It was something she hated, but she could no longer escape. She would face her fears, and be a better person for it…or so she hoped.
“What do you think?”

Barbara Gordon dismissed the question from Tim as she sat in her wheelchair in the doorway of what was once an entrance between a hallway and a room in someone’s home. Cassandra’s home, to be exact, before a fire reduced all of the walls and floors to ash.

The room was empty, covered in soot. But the one thing that made it unique was the window, which Tim, as Robin, broke while helping Batman rescue Cassandra from the fire.

The house had been boarded up and placed on the market for sale long ago. Its interior remained a time capsule, a window into a moment in time which remained a mystery to all but its sole survivor…Cassandra.

“I think this place could use a coat of paint.” Barbara smiled as she noticed Tim frown in response. She could tell he was trained by Bruce – always dead serious when investigating something.

“No, I meant–”

Ignoring Tim again, Barbara began tracing small lines etched into the darkened ceiling above. She remembered that the lines were layers of soot deposited by the flames, and would lead to their source. It would be an excellent way to estimate where the original fire was set.

She suddenly paused as the etch marks ran down a wall inside another bedroom. They all seemed to point to one corner…where a hole had burned through the carpeting and the underlying hardwood floorboards. She glanced around the room, noticing a bathroom off of the back corner. This was the master bedroom.

Barbara closed her eyes, trying to imagine a queen sized bed under the blinds-covered window opposite the door, and furniture lining the walls. The only source of light was from an alarm clock next to the left side of the bed.

A young woman stepped through the doorway, her path lit by flame. In her hand, a home-made torch of wood, cloth, and gasoline. Her angry frown lit from below by an orange-red flickering glow, and her eyes show pain from years of either abuse or neglect…as well as a certain sadness. Her life as she knows it was about to come to an end…and she was willing, if only to put an end to theirs as well.

The young woman eyed the bed, making sure that the two adults peacefully sleeping didn’t see her. There would be no escape once the fire began spreading. She dropped the torch to the floor, right next to the doorway, walking backwards slowly as she watched the flames spread. Burn. Burn, and never harm anyone again.

Barbara cringed as she opened her eyes suddenly. It was helpful to try and think like the suspect, but it was sometimes frightening as well. She looked down at her hands as she tried to calm herself – they were shaking. She could still feel the young woman’s anger.

“You okay, Barbara?”

“I was just daydreaming.” She smiled and nodded at Tim as she backed her wheelchair into the hallway and headed back toward Cassandra’s former bedroom. “Once the fire was set, she ran this way. This carpet started to burn quickly, so she probably barely made it to her room…and slammed the door shut behind her.”

Barbara rolled into the room and spun around to face Tim. “She was in here, scared…as smoke started to pour in around the doorway. She was next to the window because–”

“–Her bed was here”, Tim interrupted. I remember. It was right next to the window, and it was starting to burn. It flared up when I broke the window.”

“Hmm.” Barbara rolled over to the window to look at the window frame. It had nails in it. “It looks like she couldn’t get out. Her parents must have nailed all of the windows shut…which is why they didn’t escape, either.”

“Or maybe she did.”

“No.” Barbara shook her head as she spun around again. “She didn’t plan this. It doesn’t fit. This was a spur of the moment thing, probably right after she’d been punished somehow…”

“–yes, punished, young lady!” A tall man towered over a young, dark haired teenager. She looked at the floor, carefully avoiding his gaze.

Minutes earlier, the police had come knocking at the door. They were pulling the teen closely behind them in handcuffs. They calmly explained that she had been caught inside the a fenced-in garden at the park. She didn’t resist when they attempted to remove her…which is why they took her home instead of arresting her.

“But…I just went in to take some litter that–”

“I don’t want to hear your whiny excuses, Cassandra!” The tall man snatched a handful of her hair, pulling her down the hallway toward her bedroom. She could smell the alcohol on his breath…again…as he kicked open the door and threw her clear across the room, face first onto the bed.

She looked up to see a wild, crazed look in his eyes as he began shaking his index finger at her, his entire body trembling with anger. He reached for a heavy book sitting on a chest next to the doorway – a large bible – and threw it at her as hard as he could. She ducked, and cringed as it hit the top of her head faster then she could avoid it.

“You must repent, Cassandra! You must pray now, before your sins doom this entire family to the fires of hell!” He walked closer to Cassandra, angrily yanking the bible off of her bed and opening it to a bookmarked page. “You will be consumed in the eternal flames, Cassandra! Is that what you want? Huh?”

“Yes.” Cassandra gave her father a devilish smile as she slowly rose to her feet atop the bed. She watched him switch from anger to horror as she took the bible from his hands and threw it into the hallway.

As he began backing toward the door, she stared at him steadily, keeping her smile as she walked toward him. “I want the fires. I want them to burn us all.”


“…And then he must have slapped her or something. Or maybe locked her in the room…I can’t be sure. All I know is, there was a burned out bible still lying in the hallway.”

Bruce rubbed his chin slowly as he sat in his office chair, watching Barbara Gordon lean against one arm of her wheelchair as he considered the scenario that she came up with. Tim sat backwards in one of the office’s guest chairs, looking from Bruce to Barbara and then back, but remaining silent.

“I find it hard to understand how she can kill her parents simply because they weren’t caring enough.” Bruce stood and paced around the room once before finally leaning against his desk. “There has to be another ingredient in this.”

“There is.” Barbara rolled closer to Bruce’s desk, prompting Tim to lean in closer as well. “I don’t think she tried to kill them. I think she just wanted to scare them.”

Bruce nodded. “Go on.”

“You see, Cassandra has this fascination for danger, and dangerous things. She plays with fire, defies gravity, and takes on deadly criminals without much thought.”

“And she’s good at it, too”, Tim interrupted. He shrugged and placed his chin on the back of the chair when Bruce and Barbara stared at him.

“Tim has a point”, Barbara continued, “She is good at it. And that gives her power over those who fear the danger she toys with. I think she meant to scare her parents with a little fire and brimstone of her own…but it got out of control.”

“So she’s seriously disturbed”, Tim interrupted again, “But only dangerous to people who fear her?”

Barbara smiled and looked at Bruce. Just as she guessed, he seemed entertained by that idea – it made her just a little more like him. “In a way, yes. But she also needs to learn that the dangers she toys with can hurt her, as well. I don’t want to wait until tragety strikes for her to understand that.”

“She has already injured herself on several occasions.” Bruce returned to his desk chair and leaned back. “Yet it doesn’t even slow her down. She’s still extremely reckless. It’s putting both of us in danger.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” Tim sat up and stared coldly at Bruce. He took Bruce’s comments a little personally. “Cassandra did everything she could to protect me on that last mission, Bruce. She wanted me to return home safely. She made sure I would. Cassandra only puts herself in danger.”

“Then tell me, Tim”, Bruce said in a low voice, without even reacting to Tim’s stare, “Why did she go back into a burning building?”

“Because she wanted to make sure you were all right, Bruce.” Tim stood and shoved the chair aside, stepping forward to lean on Bruce’s desk. “She cares about you, like it or not. She doesn’t want you or anyone else hurt.”

“Explain to me then, Tim–” Bruce leaned forward on his desk, his eyes glossing over with his cold, Batman persona. “How our compassionate Cassandra beat a man to death with her bare hands.”

Tim angrily tore a small halogen lamp off of Bruce’s desk, and hurled it across the room hard enough for it to smash against the wood-paneled wall. He stormed all the way to the door, hand perched on its edge, prepared to slam it shut behind him. “Cassandra killed to protect me! Or maybe you would prefer if I was dead…so you can be right once again!”

Barbara cringed at the sound of the office door slamming hard enough to pressurize the air in the room for a moment. She gave Bruce a look of pity as he sighed and leaned back in his chair again. She knew that he prized control over all else – something that he was losing rapidly. But control was always an illusion – her wheelchair was a daily reminder of that.

“Bruce…you have to admit, the two of them made an excellent team. They improvised, and made it through that last mission without a single scratch.”

Barbara rolled closer to Bruce’s desk, noting that he seemed a little sad. It meant that she was getting through to him. “And it was a rough mission. You and I both know that. They went in blind, and came out intact.”

“I know that, Barbara…And I do appreciate it.” Bruce took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes. His office was getting darker, it was almost time to go to the Bat Cave. “I just worry about Cassandra. She’s not Supergirl…she can’t afford to be so protective.”

“When I first hit the streets, Bruce, I didn’t know my limits. So I was always cautious. And you know what?” Barbara quickly lifted herself out of her wheelchair with her arms and slid onto Bruce’s desk. She looked a little sad as she leaned across the desk to face Bruce. “It took confinement to a wheelchair for me to learn my limits.”

“I want Cassandra to learn her limits on her own”, Barbara continued as she turned away from Bruce. Her eyes were beginning to tear. “So she’ll never end up…like me.”
Cassandra silently closed the door to Bruce’s office as she watched him hand a tissue to Barbara. Not another word was spoken in the office, even as Cassandra turned and headed back toward her room. She would have left her listening spot behind the office’s door on her own eventually…but as she watched Bruce quietly hand Barbara that tissue, it suddenly didn’t seem appropriate to spy on the conversation any longer.

She paused suddenly along the way back to her room as she spotted Tim, sitting on a bench, leaned forward and staring out of one of the giant hallway windows at the pouring rain outside. He didn’t look happy, either.

“Hey.” Cassandra sat sideways on the bench, facing Tim. He didn’t respond. “I love rain.”

“Cassandra…do you enjoy killing?”

She laughed at first, thinking that Tim was joking. But then she frowned as she realized from his steady stare that he was absolutely serious. “N-No.”

“Frankly–” Tim turned away from her again, bowing his head as he looked out the window. “After what happened on that last mission…I watched you beat a man to death, Cassandra. It was one of the most painful things I’ve seen in my life. I’m…a little afraid of you, of what you’re becoming. But I’m also afraid for you. I can see Bruce killing, but for you…it just seems…wrong.”

“I’m sorry.” Cassandra continued looking straight at Tim as she spoke, exhibiting confidence…yet her eyes betrayed the feelings trapped behind them as her memory rushed back to the image of blood covering her gloved hands and costume. She visibly cringed as she remembered the feeling of panic when she saw the man’s body grow still in her hands. “I…I’m afraid too.”

“You’re afraid you’ll kill someone?”

A slow nod from Cassandra caused Tim to place one hand on her shoulder. She bowed her head and looked away from him, as if she were confessing to him a crime of weakness. Bruce disliked weaknesses – she assumed that his protegee would be the same way.

But she guessed wrong. Tim reached out and placed his other hand under her chin, turning her head to face him. His eyes looked serious as she stared into them. “I am too, Cassandra. It’s not unusual to be afraid of killing someone in this line of work. Even cops are afraid of that.”

“No. It’s…different.” Cassandra slid to the other end of the bench, away from Tim and took a deep breath as she looked away again. “I…lost control. I was angry, I just kept hitting him. He begged, but I didn’t hear.”

Tim opened his mouth for a moment to say something – but he couldn’t put together the words to respond. His eyes registered surprise as his memory recalled what he had seen in the lobby. The foreign assassin did indeed beg for his life. And Cassandra did keep hitting him…until he died.

“The good news, Cassandra–“, Tim said slowly, “Is that you know what happened. If you understand what happened, you can fix it.”

Cassandra was giving Tim only half her attention. The rest was focused on the fact that the sun had set, and darkness was about to descend on Gotham City. She nodded once to acknowledge that she heard what Tim said, and stood up slowly, offering a hand to Tim. “It’s time.”
“Excuse me?” A woman sitting on a bench in a Gotham City park looked up from her book momentarily to see who stood in front of her. She gasped out loud as she realized who it was – pasty white face, green hair, and purple jacket…

“I asked you, madam, if you had the time.” Joker leaned closer to the woman, hands behind his back. “You see, my watch seems to have come unwound.”

To punctuate his words, Joker’s watch suddenly blew apart, sending random metallic springs in the woman’s direction. She screamed and dropped her book before falling off of the bench, and then running as fast as she could across the park. Joker laughed to himself and shook his head. “I don’t understand. Who can resist a spring through the park?”

Joker began laughing out loud, as two men in purple jump suits approached him from behind, doing their best to humor him with laughs of their own as they carried two large steel boxes by their top-mounted handles to spots next to the bench. They quickly opened the boxes, and began removing metal and plastic parts.

“What’s this, boss?” One of the two finally had the courage to pipe up. Considering that Joker had just hired them off the streets an hour earlier, it was a brave gesture. “Looks like a satellite dish. We watching TV?”

The second man cringed as the crack of a gun going off broke the silence in the park. The first man collapsed, a red stain forming on his purple jump suit. A hole was left through both the front and back of his clothing…and Joker began laughing.

“Ask a stupid question.” Joker laughed as he blew on the smoke trail drifting out of the revolver he held in his hand.

“You…You killed him”, the second man stuttered.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Joker leveled the gun at the second man’s head, laughter quickly breaking through the mock sympathy in his voice, the man began to tremble in fear. “You two were a matching pair, weren’t you?”

The words ‘Please, no!’ drifted skyward into the darkness, just before another loud crack tore through the park. As the second man lay on the ground, his head shattered into several pieces by the overly-powerful ammunition Joker insisted on using, Joker simply left the boxes behind and began walking down the street, humming a happy tune to himself.
“Working late?” The lobby security guard at the headquarters of Wayne Enterprises nodded at a man in a suit, hat, gloves, and overcoat. He didn’t recognize the man, but since he wore an expensive suit, and was leaving the building, he couldn’t be much trouble. Though it did bother him a little that he couldn’t see the man’s face – his collar was turned up. “Sign out, please.”

The man approached the desk in the lobby, snatching the pen almost angrily from the guard’s hand and scribbling something in the log book. Without a word, he dropped the pen onto the desk, turning to leave quickly.

“Robert, huh? Mind telling me where you work?”

He turned around slowly and dug in the pocket of his overcoat for a moment, pulling out a shiny silver colored object, shoving it in the security guard’s face. “I’m a police officer. I’m looking for a young woman named Cassandra. She came here with Bruce Wayne a few times. Where does she live?”

The security guard narrowed his eyes. He was starting to become a little suspicious. “Police officer? Let me see some I.D.”

Robert slipped a business card out of the pocket of his overcoat and handed it to the security guard. It said ‘Det. Robert James.’ “Call my supervisor. He knows who I am.”

“At this time of the night? No one will be there.” The security guard sat down and looked at the log book again. “Look…this Cassandra you’re looking for is a close personal friend of Mr. Wayne’s. You can’t just walk in here and ask where she lives.”

The security guard suddenly screamed in pain as Robert grabbed a handful of his hair and slammed his head against the desk twice. “You will tell me…or you will die. Do you understand? You have a family, right?”

The security guard nodded quickly as Robert produced an automatic pistol and jammed it under his nose. He closed his eyes and began sobbing, and begging incoherently for his life. “Please…I–”

“That’s not the answer I was looking for!” Robert slammed the guard’s head against the edge of the solid wood desk again, causing his forehead to split open and begin spilling blood down his face.

“She lives at Wayne Manor! Really! Please, don’t kill me!”

“I won’t kill you. I promise.” Robert turned the gun around in his gloved hands, squeezing the handle into one of the security guard’s hand’s tightly. He turned the barrel of the gun toward the guard’s nose. “But I won’t stop you from killing yourself.”

He began laughing as he turned quickly and walked toward the doors of the lobby. The security guard wanted so badly to shoot him in the back, to do anything to stop him…but he couldn’t. He was simply paralyzed with fear.

The gun fell to the ground as the security guard began sobbing. Since his first day as a security guard with Wayne Enterprises, he thought he had a nice, quiet job with a pension. He would never get that pension…the next morning, he would turn in his resignation.
“I could never even think about quitting.” Tim, already fully in costume, leaned against the left fender of the Batmobile as he and Cassandra quietly waited for Bruce to finish looking up some information on his computer. Cassandra wore most of her costume, with the exception of the mask. She was lying on the hood of the car, staring up at the cave ceiling above, admiring the many ridges and features formed of solid rock.

“I know Dick sort of quit”, Tim rambled on, “But he didn’t really. He’s still doing this too, just with another name and costume.”


Tim turned around to face Cassandra, the soft sound she made convincing him that she wasn’t paying attention to anything he just said. He frowned as he noticed her lying on the extremely steep hood of the Batmobile. “How do you do that without sliding off?”

Cassandra shrugged, smiling in response to Tim’s question. She didn’t take her eyes off of the ceiling. The patterns in the rock were just mesmerizing. Some rocks were cut, some left natural. But the patterns the process of creating the Bat Cave left behind were accidental artwork in their own right.

She guessed that the cave was originally filled with water, hundreds of years ago – a relentless force which relentlessly chipped away and smoothed the rocks for decades until a cavern formed. She wondered if the water might return one day, only to eat away at all of Bruce’s valuable property and equipment.

“Let’s go.”

Watching Batman walk past her quickly toward the driver’s side of the car, Cassandra carefully rolled of off of the hood of the car and climbed into the back through the passenger side. Cramped as it was, the poor excuse for a back seat was where she liked to be. While she sat back there, she went virtually unnoticed by either Batman or Robin. She even remembered taking a short nap or two.

But not today. Their destination was only minutes away, and a rather unusual location – they stopped in the alley behind a hospital. Cassandra quickly put on her mask and tapped Robin’s shoulder, turning her palms up to silently ask him what was going on. He just shrugged.

“Robin, you’re with me. Batgirl, get to the roof…keep an eye out. And stay out of sight.”

Batgirl silently fumed about being left as a lookout as she watched Batman and Robin slip through a side entrance into the hospital. Now she would never know what was going on. But as she used a cable launcher to ascend quickly up the side of the building, and felt the cool rain on her face, she knew that she had the better part of the deal.

She quickly attached the cable launcher to her belt and gripped the edge of the roof with her gloved hands. Cable still attached, she pulled herself onto the slick gravel and tar roof, unwinding the cable from a small steel vent and reeling it back into the launcher.

As soon as she paused for a moment, she noticed a maintenance worker on the roof pointing a flashlight down a large vent at the other end of the roof. She didn’t even breathe for several seconds, until she was sure that he didn’t spot her. She felt relieved when she realized that he not only didn’t see her, but that the vent contained a rather loud air conditioning compressor. He wouldn’t hear her even if she stomped across the roof.

A quick dash toward a small shed and a carefully executed standing slide across part of the rain-slicked roof gave Batgirl some shelter, just in case the maintenance man decided to take a look around the roof. She slipped into the shed and closed the door behind her quickly, using a grated vent at the top of the shed to keep an eye on the man. She wondered when he would leave – but he just stood there, looking at that compressor.

She sighed and sat down on a discarded stool, leaning back against the shed’s steel wall as she began listening to the soothing sound of the raindrops hitting the steel roof above her head. The sound made her feel happy, contented. She was on her own once again, free to enjoy the environment around her. And most important, the fact that it was raining harder meant the maintenance guy would probably retreat back into the building, leaving the roof to her.

Or would he?

Batgirl sat up suddenly as she heard a faint sound just outside the shed. She silently rose from the stool, moving as far into a dark corner as she could. Another sound, still faint, but this time closer. Her heart began beating quickly as she reached down and picked up the stool, holding is as a shield, or maybe a weapon, in from of her.

The door to the shed creaked, and began opening slowly. As soon as it partially opened, a shadow of a man moved partway inside. Batgirl slammed the stool into the shadow, hearing the breath rush out of the man’s lungs from the impact. She spun around quickly, landing her boot on the side of his head, knocking him to the ground.

She raced out of the shed, intent on putting as much distance as possible between her and the man she had just knocked down. But her plans were cut short as she slammed into…Batman?

Batgirl turned her head quickly as she watched Robin stumble out of the shed, holding onto the side of his head and groaning softly. She rushed over to his side, propping one arm across her shoulders. “I’m so sorry”, she whispered. Robin just waved her apology away, and smiled at her.

As soon as the trio returned to the Bat Cave, Cassandra removed her mask and raced to a small freezer to fetch an ice pack. She offered it to Robin – he refused it at first, but relented when she became insistent. Neither one of them noticed when Bruce returned out of costume and stood imposingly in front of them. He didn’t look happy.

“Cassandra, you need to improve your recognition skills. And Tim…she wouldn’t have even heard you coming if you hadn’t made so much noise.”

Cassandra suddenly remembered why, while hearing the sounds from the shed, she assumed it was the maintenance man – she noticed, while the man looked at that air conditioning compressor, that he was fairly large. The sound she heard was a faint creaking caused by rubber boots rubbing against a rain-slicked tar roof – boots worn by someone big.

She smiled and shook her head at Bruce. “He’s lighter. I heard you.”

Tim wanted to gloat, to point out that Cassandra was right. But an icy glare from Bruce put an end to any such thoughts.

“I’m glad you’ve all returned.” Alfred walked into the Bat Cave carrying a small package wrapped in thin paper. They were some sort of flowers – tulips, to be exact. “A package was delivered while you were gone.”

“Looks like you have a secret admirer, Bruce.” Tim smiled and nudged him. He responded with a sly smile of his own.

“No, Master Tim. This package was addressed to…Cassandra.”

“Cassandra?” Tim and Bruce both spoke her name at once, as they turned to stare at her in confusion. She barely even left the house except with one of the two, or Barbara. A mysterious stranger sending her flowers was inconceivable.

As she gently took the package of white tulips from Alfred, she searched them quickly, only to find that no card or return address was attached. They were just flowers, from someone she didn’t know…

…And that thought terrified her.