It's a long time before she returns to Gotham. She has worn many things, and been called many names. Her favourite, she thinks, stems from a popular misunderstanding - Crane.
She read a book on birds, and what they mean to different people. A simple book, with pictures, but Barbara was so proud; she said it was great progress. She’s helped her figure out how to learn, as she walks the world.
Now she’s back. Back home. But there is no one here to greet her. They knew she was coming, but...
Cass turns, and a smile lights her face at the sight of Alfred at the manor gates. “Alfred!”
“My, look at you!” His smile is warm, but she can see hesitance in his movements. “Has it only been a year?”
“Almost.” She tilts her head, peering at him. “There is something…you do not want to say, but should.” His smile turns rueful as he shakes his head.
“Always perceptive. Probably moreso, now that you’re a seasoned traveller.”
“Yes. I know...when people are stalling.” Her smile lingers, and Alfred chuckles, but it’s a sad sound.
“Yes. Well. I’m afraid Masters Bruce, Dick, and Tim, are…away.”
Cassandra frowns. “Away? For...how long?”
“The rest of this year, so the plan goes. On a…family retreat.”
Softly, “I...see. Thank you, Alfred.”
He wants to reach out, she knows, to take her hand or clasp her shoulder. “Won’t you come in? I can make you some tea.”
She shakes her head. “Maybe...maybe later. Is - my cave, is it - “
“Quite the same as you left it, I’m sure." A smile curves his lips again. "Oh, but you may want to pay Miss Barbara a visit first.”
Cassandra turns back, eyes wide. “She’s in Gotham?”
“Oh, yes - I believe she wanted to surprise you. The clock tower has been rebuilt, I’m sure you couldn’t miss it.”
“No.” Already, she’s turning again, ready to run.
“Be well, Miss Cassandra.”
The new tower has the same sort of security, and it still recognises Cass; she’s able to reach the upper level, where Barbara is gazing intently at her monitors at -
Barbara tenses as she turns – she always does, when her tower is breached unexpectedly – but when she turns, she's beaming. “Cass! I didn’t think you’d get here today. How’d you know - “
Barbara’s smile freezes. She was relaxing, but there's a different strain in her shoulders now. “So...you know.”
“Yes. He’s...with family.”
Barbara shakes her head. “I told him to tell you. He said it would - distract you. I told him he was making excuses - it doesn’t matter. I - family is something I wanted to talk about, anyway. Put down your bags, huh?”
Cass lets her bags drop, managing an impish smile. Barbara rolls her eyes with a fond grin before patting her desk. Cass promptly makes her way over, sliding onto it.
“So - I’ve had a lot of time to think, lately. And I’ve realised a few things. Some of them about you.”
“Me,” Cass repeats. She can’t tell where this is going, and it's…perturbing and exciting, all at once.
“Yeah.” Barbara leans forward, putting a hand on her knee. “Cass - I’ve missed you. More than I ever thought - I knew you’d be okay, but I still lay awake worrying some nights, you know? Yeah, yeah, I know it's silly,” she said, when Cass began to protest. “But you get silly about family.”
“We…are still family?”
Barbara nods, immediate and intent. “Yes. Always. And I’m sorry for - every time I ever made you doubt that. I’m not...I’m not always very good at showing people how much I care. Guess I’m like him, that way.” She shakes her head with a wry, slightly bitter smile. “But if there’s one thing I do know, it’s - you’ve got to let people know before it’s too late. Cass, you’ve died on me twice.” Cassandra has never heard her voice shake like that. She thinks that’s why she pulls back, but no - she’s pulling something from the drawer of her desk.
“You won’t be able to read all of this, I can dictate anything you have trouble with, and then you can decide - “
But Cass can see a word she recognises, large and bold.
The smile makes her face ache.
Barbara looks up, her expression a picture of shocked hope and hesitant joy. “I - are you completely - “
Cass lurches forward, wrapping her arms around her shoulders.
It’s startlingly easy to introduce herself as Cassandra Gordon.
Barbara's been easing her into a side of Gotham she'd never explored; never allowed herself to enjoy. She was starting to, in Bludhaven, and maybe that's why she's been hesitant everywhere else.
They go to parties, where Cass is tentative and uncertain only until the dancing starts. They watch movies (animation, otherwise the dissonance gives her a headache) and dancing and sports.
They do not, of course, neglect the night.
Cassandra doesn't reclaim the Bat.
She could, she knows, but she hasn't worn it in over a year, and it doesn't feel like the mask would fit. Now she fights in simple black body armour, only her lower face obscured.
This is how she meets Stephanie again.
It's not that Cassandra didn't want to see her; she did, desperately. But she was never sure how. Her best friend's death had left a gaping wound, an aching emptiness, and news of her return hadn't really filled it properly. She doesn't know how to act around someone she thought she'd lost forever.
But the choice is finally made for her, when the last few gangsters begin to crumple to the ground, revealing the Spoiler.
Cassandra can only stare.
Stephanie's face is hidden, of course, but she's never needed them. Spoiler's movements are fervently familiar, but they're not the same. Cass scrambles for the words she needs, and can only settle on "older". More than she should be.
When the streets are silent, Spoiler looks at her with desperate uncertainty, hands clutching at her cape.
"Hi. I mean…" Then the words start tumbling out, fraught and frantic. "I'm so, so sorry. I didn't know she was going to – but I should have told you sooner. As soon as I woke up. I should have – "
But Cass has already closed the difference between them, and she places a gentle finger over Spoiler's lips.
"No apologies. Not your fault." She swallows hard. They're so close, and Stephanie is real, and – "Missed you. So much."
Then Steph is in her arms, and everything is okay.
She and Oracle sit in the clock tower, watching stolen footage of thwarted crimes.
"Are you sure about this?" Barbara doesn't look doubtful, or disapproving; just concerned. Cass is quick to nod her assurance.
"Don't…need it, anymore. And I – "
Barbara smiles. "You want to give it to someone you care for. Someone you know would respect it, and make it her own."
Cass smiles back, dipping her head. "Yes."
Barbara reaches across her desk, resting her hand on her daughter's. "She'll be honoured." Then, as their fingers intertwine, "You don't have to be Batgirl to wear the Bat, you know."
Cass frowns. She hadn't considered that, really. Bruce is still Batman, and he's coming back.
Barbara's other hand drifts to her mouse. "I've been coming up with some designs…" Cass laughs quietly, shaking her head, but she doesn't protest. Barbara's started designing Steph's costume, too, complete with a hood and an eggplant symbol.
Barbara turns the monitor towards her, giving her a better look, and Cass's eyes widen.
It's not so different from her current costume, really, except for a cape that writhes from her shoulders in ragged tendrils, and a rounded, shining Bat symbol glaring from her chest.
"I was thinking…BlackBat?"
Cass tilts her head, thoughtful. And then she smiles.
"I like it."