Disclaimer: Ok, I don't own Batgirl. I don't own Robin. I don't own Batman, Oracle, Nightwing, or any of the aforementioned character's "secret" identities. In fact, I don't even own the Joker or any other DC characters who might randomly pop into this story for a visit! Come to think of it, DC owns everything! (I think they might even own me! I've certainly sent them enough money over the years)
So please don't sue! You won't get much, besides, I'm just using my amazing powers of creativity in homage of the amazing people who really do own everything!
Author's note: Please review! I am a review monster who eats, drinks, and breathes reveiws and who cannot survive without them! :)
Now.....on with the show!
Once upon a time, in a far away land, there lived a princess. She was the most exquisitely beautiful princess to have ever lived and...
...well, maybe she wasn't the most beautiful princess who ever lived. But she was fairly pretty, and incredibly kind hearted. She had never ever in her life hurt even the tiniest insect, and would never dream of doing so.
Ok, so maybe she had hurt some people, but it was surely in self-defense.
Or not. Anyway, the princess lived in a gorgeous castle in a land of beauty and light which was swarming with knight-errants...
Maybe it wasn't so bright...
...and it's true that there may have been a shortage of knight-errants, but...
A prince! A prince!! All fairy tales have to have a handsome prince for the princess to fall in love with!
Cassandra Cain, defender of justice, current bearer of the dark mantle of Batgirl, and protégé of the Dark Knight himself, stood in the middle of an alley, surrounded by unconscious thugs and sighed deeply. Of all the silly ideas she had been dreaming up, that last one had to be the most far-out. Cassandra had had exactly two real "encounters" with members of the opposite sex. Only two boys whom she had felt any kind of interest in at all. One had been Superboy, Connor Kent, who hadn't returned her feelings. In fact, he had been nearly scared to death of her when she went to visit him. Besides, he was in love with Wonder Girl.
Though, truth be told, she really hadn't felt anything special for him anyway. She had just been discovering boys and he had been a convenient distraction from the man who had really held all her attention.
Tai'Darshan. A meta-human terrorist who had ended up sacrificing himself to save her and countless others from Dr. Death's formula. Cass sighed again as she set to work tying up the gang members who, until a moment ago, had been planning to go after a rival gang with a most disturbing array of weapons. One of the gang members moved a little, and groaned.
He returned to his heretofore unconscious state. Maybe she didn't deserve a boyfriend. She had, after all, done unspeakable things when she was with Cain. Flashing lights and the sounds of sirens told her it was time to return to the shadows. She melted into the night and watched to make sure the GCPD found her little present. Once the perps were in custody, she continued her patrol, avoiding contact with Batman and any other operatives who may be in the city.
She didn't know why, but tonight she just felt like being alone. The fact that she usually enjoyed her rather solitary existence didn't make tonight any less strange. For while she typically was happy to be by herself, tonight she desperately wanted to avoid any company.
It was all Babs' fault. Cass shrugged away the thought that laying blame for her current mood with the woman behind Oracle was highly unfair. It was true, in a way, so how could it be wrong? It was better than blaming herself, anyway. As the first touch of morning blush stole across the horizon, Batgirl slipped silently into the apartment so recently provided for her. She took no notice of the pile of neat laundry that had not been there the previous evening, nor of the suddenly sparkling floor where before there had been mud tracked across it.
Alfred had been here. His presence was a constant, and though he had occasionally attempted to point out to her that he did, in fact, endeavor to keep everything tidy, she normally just assumed that when things got dirty they would clean themselves.
She was ready to fall into bed... ready to sleep off the night's exertions... when she saw them. Them! Those horrible objects responsible for her black mood all night. The foul articles that had brought such confused ramblings upon her. The evil materials forced upon her by an obviously ill-meaning Barbara Gordon... children's books.
It wasn't enough, Cass reflected irascibly, that she hadn't been able to speak or understand spoken words for the first sixteen years of her life. It wasn't enough, even, that, once she had been given the gift of gab, she had had to fight to regain her ability to "read" people's body language. No. Now that she could finally talk and fight...now she had to learn to read. Books. Written words. All of it foreign to her, yet so important in the course of everyday life, that she was forced to master this art as well.
She hadn't planned on it. She had thought life was going along quite well. She had Oracle to interpret any written clues important in her crime-fighting endeavors. And everything else had been taken care of by Bruce. She had no need of money, no desire to go out in the "real" world, and so no need to read.
Except it wasn't as simple as she had thought. It had all started when Oracle had sent her to defeat a robot in the library. Who cared if a bunch of books got destroyed? They were just books. Not people. But the librarian and Babs had passionately argued against this belief, causing Cass to have the first doubts about herself. Babs had called her stupid. She had felt stupid. Then the gang wars had erupted and the whole of Gotham City had been swallowed up.
The next clue that she was in any way deficient had been inside the high school. Tim's high school. They had all spread out, gone to stop the terrorists and also to find Tim, to see if he could fill them in. Luckily he had been able to. Nightwing had encountered Tim first, but Cass hadn't been too far away and she had heard part of their exchange.
"And the Galante thugs retreated down into the pool locker rooms. Well, here, you can read my notes as well as I can."
It wasn't much, but it was enough. Cass had been forced to admit that if she had been the first to find Tim, she would have had to make him read all the notes to her, costing valuable time. This, combined with Oracle's disapproval, had finally broken through.
Cassandra needed to learn to read. And she needed to learn fast. She had tried, she really had, before everything had happened, but she could never seem to get the shapes of the letters. Every time she looked at them it was as if she were seeing them for the first time. She supposed it had something to do with the way she was raised, like her not being able to talk.
Or maybe the guy who "fixed" her brain so she could talk had messed something else up. She didn't know, and it wasn't really important. All that mattered was that she had to read. Perhaps this knowledge, this determination alone made the difference, but somehow this time things were different. It still was taking her forever to learn words, but she had finally learned the letters. In the process, though, some strange things were beginning to happen to her.
She had found herself strangely attracted to children's shows. They didn't make her feel stupid. She hadn't wanted anyone to know that she was trying to read, so she had snuck back into the library late one night and encountered the same librarian who had helped defeat the Mars Project robot. She had explained quite briefly that a "friend" of hers was trying to learn to read.
The librarian was not deceived.
Batgirl had returned home that night with a library card, of all things, and a bag full of tapes and videos aimed at young children learning to read. Everything had been going along swimmingly, until Babs decided to pay her an unannounced visit.
Cass sighed as she pushed the books off her bed and sat down to remove her boots. She supposed that Babs had been feeling badly about calling her stupid. Well, in fact, she knew this was the case, as Babs had arrived that day with apologies on her lips and the intention of taking Cass out to lunch. But the learning aids had betrayed her as they had sat there, spread out over the floor. Faced with the prospect of interrogation on the scale of the Spanish Inquisition, Cassandra had quickly admitted that she was trying to learn to read.
"Cass, that's wonderful!" was not the reaction she had been looking for. "Let me help" was even less welcome. But, as every super-hero in the world knows, one simply cannot say "no" to the mighty Oracle.
And so Cass had given up the idea of learning in secret, had admitted how far along she was, and then, horror of horrors, she had accepted Babs' gift of a set of children's books. They were easy reading, made for beginners like herself. But it had been her first exposure to the world of "happily ever after" and she found that she was unable to get certain thoughts out of her head.
Having removed her costume and changed into some more comfortable clothes, Cass went in search of breakfast. Or was it dinner? She didn't know and really didn't take a lot of time to think about it. She wanted food. So she ate food. Easy. She ate food and watched T.V. That was her life outside of Batgirl. And she liked it that way.
Except she couldn't read and recently she had begun to want to meet a... a... well, if not a prince, then at least a boy. And how was she going to do that when she couldn't even read a street sign or a menu? She flipped off the television and flopped into bed. Being a late-night super hero had some benefits, she mused briefly as her head hit the pillow, she was always tired enough to fall swiftly into a dreamless sleep.
It was the smell that woke her. A pungent aroma of... coffee? Cass pried one eye open, the rest of her remaining motionless, yet completely alert, as she registered the presence of someone in her apartment. She stifled a groan when she saw who it was.
"Good morning!" the evil Babs was back. And it looked like she had plenty of new torture devices with her.
"Ungh!" Cass rolled over and covered her head with the blanket. No way, no how! No more reading lessons! She would run away and be just Batgirl again. She would...
"Wake u-up!" Babs actually had the audacity to tug Cass' covers off of the bed. Cass rolled off the other side, coming up in a half-crouched fighting stance. Barbara completely ignored her obviously hostile body language and rolled over to the table, chattering nonsense to give Cass time to wake up completely.
She shouldn't have bothered. Cass was plenty awake, and...well... even if she wasn't, she was sure that any more reading lessons with Babs would end in one of them bleeding and quite hopefully unconscious.
"Did you get to Snow White last night?" Cass considered the window, gauging the distance, the angle, and the fact that it was locked and tried to determine if Babs could catch her before she escaped or if she should rather simply run into the window as hard as she could in the hopes that the impact with the bomb-and-bullet-proof glass would knock her out.
"No." Take that, Miss Know-it-all. But if Barbara could read minds, she let the thought pass unchallenged.
"Ok, good. You can read it to me." Cass scowled, but Babs seemed unfazed. Cass knew she was only the second-best glarer in Gotham... Batman, of course, could out-glare anyone! But as she found herself being pulled to the table and seated in front of a colorful storybook, Cass wondered if even Batman's patented Bat-Glare (capital letters!) could stop an Oracle on a mission.
"..." She felt an unfamiliar sensation snaking up her chest and realized, with a strangely detached air, that it was panic. She was trapped. Trapped! Let me out!!!!
"Now," Babs sounded so pleased with herself, "let's hear it." Cass looked down at the bright cover and saw the letters begin their familiar morph into the unknown. She took a deep breath.
"Snow White." She peeked over at Babs, only to find her frowning.
"Read the whole title, Cassandra." Darn. So much for that idea. She stared at the words for a minute. Then two. She could hear the second hands ticking away the seconds and a cold sweat broke out along her brow.
"Cass?" Though there may have been a concerned note in her voice, Cass didn't notice. The whole apartment seemed to be closing in on her. She jumped up, suddenly unable to breathe. "Cass, are you ok?" Barbara was definitely worried now. But Cass simply stumbled away from the table, fumbled with the door, and fled out into the street.
"O-kay..." Babs was left wondering what had gotten into her young friend.
To be continued...