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It Wasn't Supposed to be Goodbye

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Sometimes, miracles are small. Small like a styrofoam cup that manages to keep a rose from wilting months and months after your mother -- your… mentor -- tells  you how to keep a flower alive.

Miracles are like… beginning at a new beginning. Like feeling homesick for the home you only just made for yourself. Like feeling you've known someone your entire life, when you've really only known them for what amounts to a few hours and a few teas.

"Hey, Cassandra. What's up? Goin' somewhere?"

Cass looks at her. At Brenda. At her… friend. At her best friend, at least since losing Stephanie. After never getting to say goodbye. Brenda doesn't talk as much as Steph, doesn't fill Cass' silence with conversation that same way. But Cass enjoys her. Cass thinks Brenda fills something else in her life. She's just not so sure what that is yet.

"Um… yeah," is what Cass can say about it. It's not the story of how, why, or even where. It isn't letting Brenda know that the small business owner's own words have sent her on a quest, have made her determined to find the mother she never really knew. "I was wondering, um, would you -- take care of this?"

The rose is small, a little sad with its lack of light. (Barbara told her to let it -- let herself -- out in the sun more, to not wilt, but like so many other things… Cass isn't so good at listening when she doesn't like hearing things). Cass holds the cup preciously, in both hands, so lovingly.

"Yeah, sure totally," Brenda says without hesitation. "It'll stay right here 'til you get back."

Cass feels something lift in her chest, like a fluttering warmth. "Thanks, Brenda," she whispers.

It's the last exchange they have directly. It's a long, long way from a parting goodbye.

Cass has learned to not really like goodbyes, has learned they feel too permanent. It doesn't make it hurt any less when it ends up being goodbye regardless.

*

When Stephanie Brown, the ghost of her best friend that she never said goodbye to either, attempted to tell her that Blüdhaven was gone -- that Cassandra's home  was gone -- she hadn't wanted to believe her. Even in the face of facts, even on the race back to the first real city she had ever called her own -- Cassandra could not make herself believe that it was truly gone.

That everything she had ever worked for could be erased off a map. For no reason. For no sense.

In her fully covered suit, enhanced since her and Tim's encounter with the Penguin had proved its flaws, she sped toward the quarantine zone on her bike.

Camps were still overflowing on the other side of the bridge, people cluttered and children crying and police barricading -- preventing the Haven's residents from returning even as army issued vehicles barreled over the bridge, recovering trapped people still.

Everyone seemed stunned as Batgirl flew past them, the police barely reacting even as she jumped the barricades and took to the bridge to return to her city. She ignored their calls.

Just as she would have continued to ignore Batman's call if the Batcave's computer hadn't had the ability to override her communication system in her helmet.

"Batgirl, return to Gotham," he growled out. "We have an all-hands emergency. And Blüdhaven is off limits."

"My city," Cass hisses. "It needs me."

"Needed."

That almost takes the breath out of Cassandra's lungs, but she grits her teeth, tightens her grip on the handles, and continues barreling toward the city.

"Nightwing almost died going back," Batman continues. "Don't make me call the same backup I called for him. I will not have you killing yourself out there."

The froth of the Lazarus Pit is still running hot in her veins as Cassandra lets out a low laugh to that innocuous statement. She tosses her helmet and speeds toward the same streets she once jogged in the morning.

The old home and likely her Batgirl Cave are in ruin. As are the dilapidated buildings that surrounded her home -- all rubble and smoldering ash. A wave of nausea crosses her as she continues on, using the bike's computer to scan for life while she does.

She tells herself the suit's full insulation are enough to protect her.

But she comes to a full stop as she at last reaches the corner where the café once stood and sees… nothing.

There is nothing left of Cassandra's new life. Of her new beginning.

There's no cliche rose left, no smell of crepes and eggs. There's no Zero or BPD or Penguin or…

There is no Brenda, no smile and hug, no smell of nicotine in the air, no soft words or hugs, no dance parties or talk of getting Batgirl tattoos.

Brenda is gone. Just like Stephanie was before her.

Because everyone leaves Cassandra before she's ready to say goodbye. She realizes this, choking down a breath as she drops to her knees, clutching at her chest. It hurts -- the air of this ruined city, the pain of goodbye -- and Cassandra isn't sure what to make of any of it.

Even as the gentle arms of Superman himself carry her away from the city's ruins.

*

The residue of radiation sickness was still making it through her system weeks later, her mostly unused room in the Manor getting the workout of its existence.

Sometime between her arrival via Kryptonian guardian and the move from the Cave's infirmary unit, Cassandra's room in the Manor received an update and makeover. She hasn't given the who behind the change a lot of thought -- the fever and vomiting removing most of her capacity for thought as the days have gone on -- but the thought of Bruce trying to decide what was "girly" enough for Cass' room to make her feel better in it is, on its own, adorable.

It might have been Alfred. Probably was Alfred.

Still, it hurts. It hurts as she tosses in her ornate bed, kicking the duvet to the floor, to think of how stripped of the women's clothing, the makeup box on the dresser, and the pastel colored plush creatures, the furniture and color and style of this room is like any other guest room in the Manor.

Cass' room isn't really Cass' room.

She had a room, in Blüdhaven. It was close to the café where Brenda lived and worked. Cass went there every day. Or, at least, she wanted to be there every day.

Somedays, Cass slept in too long after a hard night's patrol. Somedays, like Father's Day, the café wasn't open. Somedays Cass just never managed to leave until it was night and Batgirl could fly through the night's sky.

She thinks of all the times she could have seen Brenda, talked to her, stayed with her longer and how it all didn't matter.

It didn't matter how Cass felt, because Blüdhaven was gone. Not even Superman could have saved it.

Knocked with a new wave of sickness, Cassandra rushes to her adjoining bathroom and retches into the stomach. She rests her sweating forehead against the porcelain and waits. For what she isn't sure. But it doesn't come.

When she feels limber enough to move again, she can hear bustling outside her doors. It's unfocused, unnecessary noise. Distracted -- that's how everything in the manor has felt lately.

After the noise persists for a while, Cassandra pushes herself to her feet and makes her way out to the hall.

Dizzy, she grasps to the wall as she continues down to the foyer.

Alfred, Bruce, Dick, and Tim are all lining up next to the door, the latter three with filled hiking packs within their grasps. Cass had a similar one that she lost in the flurry of tracking down the League of Assassins.

"How much time do we have before the yacht takes off?" Tim asks the others, voice still a little blank and without his old enthusiasm. "Are you sure we don't need our suits?"

"Sure, and the yacht takes off when I tell it to," Bruce says. He then looks to the stairs, eyebrows raising as he locks eyes with Cassandra. "Cassie."

She feels an unfamiliar heat raise across her cheeks and ears as all the eyes turn to her. Her sight dances a bit, but she stands firm, clutch on the corner of the wall tightening.

"You're… leaving…" she says weakly.

The boys shift, looking at Bruce uncomfortably, as if they're unsure whether or not he was going to tell her before they were gone. Cass merely narrows her eyes. She can tell. He wasn't.

"We are," Bruce admits. "You were very sick when we decided this," he says, moving toward the stairs. He stops when Cass takes a step back. "And… you still haven't told me why you went back to Blüdhaven."

She looks at all that's left of them -- no Barbara, no Leslie, no Stephanie, no Gavin or Jean-Paul or Helena or even Selina or Jim or Renee or Onyx. She sees those losses, those deaths and those friendships burned, written all over their war torn faces.

But she still doesn't see in them what she feels breaking and crushing and pulling her from the inside out. They didn't lose what she just lost, even Dick was able to save the people in Blüdhaven he went back to save.

She turns and goes back to her room, feeling Bruce's confusions and conflict. He wants to go after her. He doesn't.

Cass watches from her room as the car leaves with her family. She watches as it returns with only Alfred inside.

It probably would not have picked up her broken heart to have them around her, but she can't help but think that her family could have at least tried.

*

Alfred makes for good company. Better company than Cassandra's righteously bad mood can be truly appreciative during these long, terrible weeks, but good company all the same.

It's only the two of them in the Manor, which still stands to be better than the long nights. She hasn't gone out as Batgirl just yet, but she's put on the suit. Just to feel it, to make sure it feels like the second skin she's always needed.

(The fact that it doesn't is worrisome. The fact that Batman left the reformed Two-Face in charge of the city instead of Batgirl is another thing entirely.)

Alfred is always so kind and gentle. He reads to her, but in turn she has to read back. He cooks and cleans, Cass learns to sew and to run maintenance -- the things important for a Batman's future regardless.

Because of her early nights, she's waking earlier and earlier -- getting done with her morning exercises in time for breakfast and the morning news.

She likes it, she thinks. Living with Alfred. But her gut is always hollow and her shoulders lean forward so heavily. She's angry and she hurts physically in her chest. She can't have assam tea without choking on its taste. And she asked Alfred to stop serving her eggs until she feels a little better.

He never asks about why she makes these demands, but then again he's probably been asked to do many strange things over the years.

After a morning of waking before nine, Cassandra feels bold enough to seek out Alfred before he can find her. Unfortunately, of course, Alfred is too good for that.

In the gardens around the back of Wayne Manor, Cassandra finds Alfred hunched over his flowerbeds, pruning the rosebushes. She grins like a cheshire cat before the expected,

"Good morning, Miss Cassandra, you are bright and early today."

Cass allows herself to drop from her sneak and loosen her muscles. She smiles softly and waves. "Morning."

"I shall begin breakfast momentarily," he assures her. "Unless, of course, you are a fan of gardens."

She thinks on it for a moment. "Don't know yet," she admits, taking it as an open invitation to dig around in the tool box.

Finding a pair of pruning scissors, Cassandra turns to the bushes, eyes flickering over them before resting on one of the new blooms.

"It'll stay right here 'til you get back."

Cassandra's breath hitches, hands covering her mouth to choke out the gasping sound.

"Careful, my dear," Alfred whispers, suddenly beside her, gently guiding the scissors from her hands and Cass' body closer to his.

"My friend…" Cass hiccups into Alfred's shoulder, eyes fluttering, eyelashes clumping with tears. "My friend… she's gone…"

"I know," Alfred whispers.

She presses her face into his chest and lets out a scream she didn't even know was there. It's for Stephanie and Gavin and Jean-Paul and Zero -- for Blüdhaven and the Assassins and for a café and for Brenda.

It's for Brenda. And Cass can't deny it anymore.