Crouching next to Timothy as he typed away on his keyboard, Cassandra guarded the boy who was too focused on the screen in front of him to notice any incoming threats. Not that there would be any incoming threats. Alfred had shown her the security measures in place in and around Wayne Manor. She still wasn’t fully convinced, but Alfred hadn’t taken no for an answer. It had taken her an embarrassing amount of time to realize that he was the leader of Wayne Manor. Everyone argued with Batman’s orders, but no one disobeyed Alfred.
That shocking revelation had led to her moving from the safety of the Batcave into a bedroom she had yet to use in Wayne Manor. Once she realized Alfred was the one in charge, she knew better than to disobey his orders, even the ones that were implied – especially those. But the leader of the house seemed content for her to stay with Timothy.
She liked Tim. He was by far the least confusing of all the occupants of Wayne Manor. Well, besides Bruce. She liked Bruce most. His whole body screamed his intentions; she didn’t understand why so many of his trainees misunderstood him. Protect shouted from each of his movements, and yet, Dick and Jason seemed angry about it. She didn’t understand. Why would they hate protection? She couldn’t comprehend them. She was glad they were only in the house on Sundays.
Tim, though, she liked him. He was quiet and never asked her for anything. Unlike Barbara who demanded improvement. Always. How many books had she read? Which words were still difficult to pronounce? (All of them.) Were the speech techniques she had found on the internet helping? She knew Barbara was trying to help, but Cassandra didn’t understand why. Weapons didn’t need to speak. She had tried to explain that once with words painfully scrapping her throat as they escaped. It had caused the older girl to form tears and pull Cassandra into a too tight hug. She had given up explaining after that. If speaking was the price she had to pay for safety, it was a small one. She would learn. And then, Barbara wouldn’t cry. She didn’t like it when Barbara cried.
Tim didn’t cry. Well, he didn’t cry about her. Tim had cried a lot when his parents died, and then he stopped. Like all his tear ducts had been dried up. Then he stared at the wall with unseeing eyes wide-open. He looked like a corpse. Cassandra hadn’t liked that at all. She focused her attention on possible intruders from the windows, keeping watch without having to look at him.
And then one day, he whispered, “I don’t even know why I miss them so much.”
Cassandra turned her head to find Tim sitting on the edge of his bed bent forward so his stomach practically collapsed onto his thighs. He wasn’t looking at her.
“They weren’t here,” he continued. A harsh, brittle laugh escaped. “They were never here.” He sounded angry, but he looked defeated. Tim pulled his knees to his chest. “Except when they were. Mom always made it special, ya know? Like she knew what I most wanted or what I had been studying and she’d suddenly find all the time in the world to dive headfirst in a new project with me. We once spent an entire summer building cameras.” Another harsh laugh/cry escaped. “It was that fall I started following Batman and Robin.” Tim grabbed the sheets in tight fists. “It’s not fair. It’s not fair. She shouldn’t have,” The words cut off as a choked sob escaped Timothy’s throat, and he buried his head in his knees.
Cassandra had never been allowed to cry, but when Barbara cried she demanded physical touch, reassuring herself that Cassandra was still there. Cass had never understood it; of course, she was still there. Since she knew no other response to tears, she crept closer to the grieving boy and sat next to him, allowing their sides to touch. She sat with her hands in her lap with perfect posture. After a long moment where she wondered if she was doing this wrong, Tim unraveled.
“Thanks Cass,” he whispered.
She gave him a small smile. Her bangs falling in front of her face as she ducked her head. She retreated back to her preferred spot on his desk.
Now though, Tim was typing furiously on his laptop. She wished she could understand the words and numbers on his screens. She wanted to know what had captivated his attention. Perhaps Barbara was right; she did need to learn to read. Unlike Batgirl, Tim didn’t mumble or murmur under his breath as he worked. He was focused and silent. Something Cassandra could appreciate. She was used to long periods of silence, waiting for orders. But since she had been here, she was included in conversation. Even Batman would involve her.
But sitting in silence while Timothy worked brought uncomfortable memories to the surface. Her skin itched. She took one more look at Tim who hadn’t shifted his focus in hours and fled to the Batcave.
Entering the Batcave silently, she noticed a video of Harley Quinn and Batman was playing on the main screen of the Batcomputer. Bruce sat in his large black desk chair; arms steepled at his chin as he studied the screen in front of him.
Harley was devoid of face paint; her blond hair was down and unbrushed. Her eyes had a lifeless quality to them, but there was a deranged smile on her lips. Her arms were cuffed to the bolted down table. Her body was relaxed, and she wasn’t going to attack anytime soon.
Batman, on the other hand, radiated tension; he was coiled with a barely restrained need to attack. To most people it looked like fury, but Cass knew it was a fierce desire to protect.
“Where did you get the kryptonite?” Batman asked.
Harley laughed. The sound sending a chill up Cassandra’s spine. Laughter didn’t belong in this conversation. “Is there an echo in here? You’ve asked me the same question six times, Batsy. My answer hasn’t changed. You want answers. I want Nightwing.”
Batman’s right fist tightened, but other than that, there wasn’t a sign that he responded to her demand.
“Where did you get the kryptonite?” Batman repeated.
The blonde threw her head back and laughed. “Maybe you should get your ears checked. I am not offering you anything until I speak with Nightwing.”
Cassandra saw the decision in Batman’s shoulder before the man recognized that he was moving. He slammed his fist onto the table in front of Harley.
“No,” Batman yelled as his fist dented the table.
“My my, what’s gotten your panties in a twist, Bats?” Harley’s face started to glow as Batman turned to leave the prison room. “What do you think I’m going to do to your poor boy all locked up in here?”
Batman didn’t turn around, but the security footage captured the grinning Harley with thoughts dancing behind her eyes. She looked far more dangerous than when Batman had first entered the cell.
With silent feet, Cassandra padded the rest of the way to Bruce’s chair.
“Why not?” She asked as she pointed to the screen.
Bruce studied her a long moment; she didn’t squirm. “It’s too dangerous,” Bruce finally offered.
Cassandra’s face scrunched. Too dangerous? Harley wouldn’t be able to hurt Nightwing with her hands cuffed to the table. Besides, she had seen Nightwing spar Barbara. He needed work, but he was far from defenseless.
A large sigh drew her attention back to Bruce. “Dick needs time to heal.”
Confused, she replied, “Not broken.”
“Not physically, no.” Bruce had a far off look on his face, and Cassandra had no idea what that meant.
“Need answers?” She tried, though her tongue caught on the sw sound.
“Nightwing?” She tried again. Maybe Bruce hadn’t understood her.
The lines around Bruce’s face grew taut. He was angry. “No.”
Shifting her weight to the balls of her feet, she watched Batman for any sign of physical aggression. His eyes flicked to her feet, and his whole face softened.
“I’m not going to hit you, Cassandra,” he stated.
She relaxed her weight down and nodded. She didn’t understand Bruce’s refusal. He protected Nightwing, but there was no danger here. Harley Quinn couldn’t hurt him. If that wasn’t an option.
Bruce scrutinized her. “How?” He repeated.
Frustrated, she tried again, “Answers.” The word still felt wrong across her tongue.
“How will I get answers?”
“I hacked into the military’s database and security feed. The small sample of kryptonite was stolen the night of September 25. I’ve used the tire tracks and images of the van caught on the security tape to locate approximately 2500 possible getaway vans. I’m cross referencing with the data from the registration of motor vehicles to narrow down the possible matches,” Bruce replied, pulling up the grainy secret feed to show her.
Cassandra tilted her head to the side. She only understood half of what Bruce had said. This seemed like a lot of work. It would be easier to let Nightwing have a conversation with Harley, but she wouldn’t press it again.
Bruce noticed her confusion. “Would you like me to show you?”
Nodding, Cassandra grabbed the other chair and scooted close, so Batman could teach her.
“No! No! No!”
Barbara raised her hands defensively like Cass was some wild animal. It infuriated her more. Cassandra didn’t hurt people by accident. But she wasn’t going to do this anymore. It hurt. Barbara had promised not to hurt her, but her brain hurt. She almost wished Barbara would strike her instead.
“Cass.” Barbara’s tone was soft, and her posture radiated the same calmness she used when dealing with victims.
Cass kicked the books in front of her into the wall; she enjoyed the loud bang they made as they collided with the obstruction.
“Cass, please,” Barbara said again, but this time the words sounded desperate.
She stopped in the motion of kicking another book; leg bent at an awkward ankle as she turned to study the redhead in front of her. Wild hair escaped from her low ponytail. Green eyes were wide, and her hands were in an aborted posture as if she tried to touch Cass and decided against it. Her mouth was parted, and her weight rested primarily on the leg closest to the door. Oh. Babs was afraid. Babs was afraid of her.
She didn’t like the feeling that squished inside of her at this revelation.
Picking up the book she had been about to kick, she offered it to Barbara. “I am sorry.”
‘Sorry’ she had learned was some form of magic word. It erased past misdeeds and allowed a fresh start. Alfred gave her plenty of practice to use the word. An impeding punishment could be turned into a soft smile with the right use of the word. Cassandra had no interest in learning what a punishment from Alfred would be like. If he was able to keep Batman in line, his punishments had to surpass even those of David Cain’s.
Unfortunately, ‘sorry’ didn’t always have the same impact with Barbara.
The older woman accepted the book and sat down on the floor. “Thank you for the book. Can you tell me what happened?”
Cass made a face.
“That’s okay. Something upset you?”
“Can you tell me what upset you?”
Cassandra shook her head. She heard the soft tap of Alfred’s house shoes against the rugs in the hallway. A moment later, the man joined them in the room.
“What happened here?”
Cassandra shrunk. Throwing things inside the manor was not allowed. The ‘sorry’ was forming on her tongue when Barbara saved her.
“It was my fault, Alfred,” Barbara stated easily, rising to her feet. “I didn’t realize how much time had passed.”
Alfred studied the room and occupants. He stared at Barbara as he spoke. “Perhaps a break is in order.”
“Of course,” Barbara conceded gracefully. “I’ll just clean up.”
He cleared his throat. “I did not mean a break just for Miss Cassandra. When was the last time you used your time for recreational purposes, Ms. Gordon?”
“Yesterday, I –“
Alfred raised a hand to cut her off, “A recreation that is in no way connected to your nightly activities?”
Barbara, who normally looked composed and patient, flailed like a fish drowning on air. Cass surprised herself and the others with a laugh. She covered her mouth with her hands as wide eyes took in the others. Alfred and Barbara both smiled, very different smiles, but still smiles.
Knees cracking as he squatted, Alfred looked directly at her. “Laughter is always permissible, my dear.”
Cass felt a warmth spread through her; she chased it and locked it down. Laughter ended in bruises. Laughter was unnecessary.
“You’re right, Alfred. We could both use a break. How about we watch another Disney movie? How does that sound, Cass?”
Nodding, Cass followed the older woman out. She didn’t always understand Barbara, but she liked being with her. …most of the time.
Sometimes Barbara would ask a question, and then tears would leak out of her eyes. Cassandra didn’t understand it. She had seen Batgirl fight; she had seen Barbara shake off a painful strike, but she’d cry when Cass answered her questions.
The worst was when Alfred, Bruce, and Barbara had all tried to figure out her age. She didn’t understand the question, still didn’t. But Barbara had asked if she had ever bled from her lower regions before. Bruce turned bright red at the question, and Alfred made some sound before stifling it. She nodded and then with clumsy words and hand gestures explained that David Cain had given her some type of surgery, so it wouldn’t happen again. It hurt, but she hadn’t bled again. She was grateful for that.
She must not have communicated clearly because Barbara started crying; Bruce looked ready to murder someone. In an instant, she realized that protect applied to her as much as it did his children, even if she didn’t understand what he was trying to protect her from. Barbara had pulled her into a desperate hug, and Alfred mentioned something about calling a doctor. The whole thing confused her more than anything, and she fled to the unexplored caverns of the Batcave to process. She still didn’t understand.
Although, she also didn’t understand why Barbara kept suggesting Disney movies. Cassandra enjoyed the singing, colors, and happiness of the cartoons, but Batgirl always looked discontent with the choice.
“Let’s watch Mulan,” Barbara announced as soon as they entered the room.
Cass shrugged and sat with her legs folded under her on the couch. Babs joined her on the opposite side of the couch. Before the movie finished its title sequence, Alfred dragged a bleary-eyed Timothy in. Alfred had Tim’s laptop tucked under his arm, and Tim looked disgruntled and adorable. Cass giggled at the sight.
Barbara and Alfred smiled again. Tim’s heavy eyelids sprang open and stared at her. Curious about how far she could push this, she stuck her tongue out at Timothy in a gesture she had stolen from Dick. Barbara laughed loudly. Alfred hid a smile behind his hand, and Timothy made a strange face at her.
“Well, if even Cass thinks I need a break,” he replied and hopped into the middle seat.
Before ten minutes had passed, Tim had slumped over and fallen asleep. Barbara pushed him down to rest on her shoulder, so he didn’t end with a crick in his neck. After another ten or so minutes, Bruce walked softly in as well. He didn’t say a word, just sat on the floor in front of the couch. She almost didn’t see Alfred hiding in the doorway, watching them as they watched the movie.
Safe, she thought to herself. Safe and good. She wanted to stay here.