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Reinterpretation

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Patrol was going well. Smoothly, even, considering Steph had stopped three separate crimes (a mugging, a liquor store robbery, and had taken out a dealer trying to hook little kids) and was now sitting on a rooftop looking out over Gotham itself, trying to decide which direction to head next.

She heard the slightest scuff of a boot against the rough surface of the roof, and turned, expecting to see-- well, she wasn’t sure. She mostly patrolled alone, these days. Batgirl didn’t precisely have a partner, and everyone else was pretty wrapped up in their own deals.

It was Cass.

Steph beamed, and threw herself at Cass the same way she always did. Having her back in Gotham was a continual gift -- Steph hadn’t quite adjusted to it as normal, not yet, not after missing her for so long. Cass laughed and squeezed her back, face tucked into Steph’s neck, her breath a sigh.

“Patrol?” Cass said, and Steph nodded. Cass was her favorite person to patrol with -- always had, from the first realization that Cass respected her determination. Them running across the rooftops as Batgirl and Robin were some of Steph’s most cherished from that brief, bright stint of her life.

Steph filled the silence with chatter as they traversed the rooftops-- telling Cass about the successes of the night, commentary about the relative merits of each restaurant and kiosk they passed, about her frustrations and pride in college. Cass listened and laughed and shared a few scant, precious details about her life in Hong Kong, and Steph hoarded those details close, trying to create a picture of what her best friend’s life had been like.

It was wrong to feel joy when finding a crime in progress, but it meant they got to fight together, and Steph pushed away the vague sense of guilt and instead threw herself into the fight full-force. It was a skirmish between two groups of goons -- Steph thought they were associated with the same gang, but apparently a splintering had happened she wasn’t aware of -- and for a time the world narrowed down to just action. Kicks, punches, spinning out of the way, the bark of gunfire and the groan of pain after a wrist was broken. Cass was a marvel to watch, as always, effortlessly dancing between goons, leaving mayhem in her wake.

Steph gave as good as she got, and before she knew it, all the goons were incapacitated. Steph called it in, and they fled the scene, swinging through the city.

Breathless, they landed on a rooftop that had an overgrown garden. It was private and lovely, and felt strange, standing amongst plants instead of the cold expanse of concrete she was used to. Cass was looking at her in that strange way she had since her return to the city, and all Steph could think about was how strange it would be to see someone else wearing your uniform. How she would feel if she saw a Spoiler swinging between buildings, at that faint, regretful stab of emotion she’d felt seeing Tim back in the uniform, at seeing Damian in it.

Cass had to feel the same, seeing Stephanie as Batgirl while she forged ahead anew as Black Bat.

Steph wished, quietly and desperately, for a fraction of Cass’s ability to read people. To be able to be sure of what she was interpreting. “You know I’d give Batgirl back to you in a heartbeat,” she said, because while her own heart might break at giving it up, she knew that she couldn’t step into the costume every night knowing it upset Cass.

Cass paused, just for a second, then shook her head, her hair fluttering around her face. Steph loved that she could see Cass now, that the quirk of her lips was visible, even though a part of her felt like it made them both more vulnerable. When they’d started -- both of them had kept every bit of skin hidden, had shielded themselves from the night and all its terrors, and she wondered if maybe they’d been smarter. They’d definitely been happier. More innocent.

At least, she had.

“I mean it,” she insisted, not sure why she was choosing now to push this, but knowing it was a conversation they needed to have. And a conversation they had to have alone, without anyone else, not even Babs, weighing in.

Cass reached out and traced the Bat on Steph’s chest. Steph felt her breath stutter, even though Cass’s touch was delicate and there were enough layers of the suit that she couldn’t actually feel the touch. Then Cass touched the Bat on her own chest. “The symbol is… what’s important.”

Steph could take her at face value. “Yeah, but Batgirl is... You made it yours. It’s who you were. It’s who you are.”

“So have you,” Cass said. “You’re… different. Not as scary.” Steph huffed out a tiny laugh; it was too true to argue, and she could tell that Cass meant something else by it. “Batgirl isn’t a… weapon. When it’s you.”

“Cass--” Steph said, choosing to totally disregard the no names in the field rule. “It wasn’t when it was you, either. Watching you as Batgirl was like…” She reached out and took Cass’s hand, palm-to-palm. “I never thought of you as a weapon. Watching you fight is like seeing… seeing poetry in motion. Like you’ve achieved the potential that we all have, and you’re allowing us to see what we could be capable of.”

She pulled their joined hands closer and pressed a soft kiss against Cass’s knuckles. “We aren’t who our fathers made us to be, Cass. We aren’t even what Batman wants us to be. We’re more than that.”

Cass breathed out slowly. Her body language was guarded; tense shoulders, jaw tight. Stephanie desperately wished that she could see her actual eyes, but then the tension just… eased out of Cass. “We are,” she said. “More.”

“So much more,” Steph agreed. She was still clutching Cass’s hand like a lifeline.

“I like seeing you as Batgirl,” Cass said. Her tone was matter-of-fact, but in their joined hands, her thumb traced a slow circle against the side of Steph’s. “I like us… being Bats. Together.”

“Together,” Steph repeated.

Cass nodded once, assuredly. Like she’d made an important decision that Steph hadn’t quite caught on to. She hated that Cass could clearly see her own uncertainty about what was happening, but Cass didn’t seem upset. She seemed almost amused, like she was waiting on Steph to catch up. Like rooftop tag; her expression was like the one she wore when she would look back at Steph in pursuit, knowing that she would escape, but taking a moment to share her joy.

Steph absurdly wanted to break the moment and suggest rooftop tag, to settle back into territory where she was confident.

Maybe she could read Cass better than she thought, if a single nod could launch Steph into a crisis.

Steph licked her lips nervously, and Cass’s eyes tracked the movement, obvious even through the domino, and… oh.

Oh.

Maybe she was in territory where she was confident after all.

“Cass,” she said. “I missed you so much when you were gone. When I was gone.”

They didn’t talk much about that time, about how Steph had been ripped from her life and set adrift, and how she’d let it go on for longer than she needed to, once she’d regained herself. They didn’t talk about what it had done to Cass. They didn’t talk about what it had done to Steph.

But with Cass, sometimes words were the least important part.

“Me too,” Cass said. “I… understand. Better, now.” Now that she’d left Gotham behind, too. It did something to you, escaping from this city. Leaving it behind and being someone new. It cast into stark light just who you were, and since they were both here, standing on a rooftop with Gotham’s lights twinkling behind them, beautiful through the fog that was settling into the city, she knew that they’d come to the same conclusion.

This was their home. This life was what they were meant for. And happiness wasn’t something to squander.

Steph didn’t hesitate a moment longer. She flung herself towards Cass, like she had when she’d appeared behind her earlier that night, only this time with different intent.

She’d kissed Cass dozens of times before -- soft forehead kisses, happy kisses on the cheek, gentle make-it-better kisses against sore muscles, even a few delighted smacks on the mouth -- but never like this. Never with this thrumming confidence that this was what Cass wanted, that this was what they truly meant to each other. Never with such hope.

This kiss was a thousand emotions twined together into a singular action. Cass’s eyes were shut, her ability to read body language unnecessary. It was perfect and it was messy and it was graceless, bumped noses and a soft giggle into another mouth, and Steph never, ever wanted it to end.

Their clasped hands were trapped between their bodies, a Bat pressed against them on either side, and Steph tangled her free hand in Cass’s loose hair. Cass’s hand scrabbled at her side, like she was trying to pull her closer, but unsure how, given that they were pressed as tightly together as humanly possible.

Steph understood the urge; it felt like madness that they’d never done this, that they had reigned in all this want and all this love for so long.

It came to her, suddenly, that she might have misinterpreted Cass earlier. That her tension had been unrelated to Batgirl, and instead related to something more visceral.

When they finally broke apart, breath coming fast and desperate, like they’d just single-handedly reigned in an Arkham breakout, Cass laughed, that bright, bell-like sound that Steph loved so much. She reached over, a mischievous grin on her face, and pressed two fingers against Steph’s shoulder. Pushed hard enough to knock Steph even more off-balance, then she said, “Tag.”

She took off, launching off the rooftop, her silhouette against the night a thing of beauty. Steph laughed herself, taking in one more deep breath of Gotham air, and raced off after her.

She thought that tonight, she just might catch Cass.