Disclaimer: I don't own these characters but if I did I wouldn't try to kill off Cass like DC. However, that's not the point of this story. R/R if you like what is the point.
It's cold out tonight. The winter wind bites through my costume and into my skin. This town is old and new at the same time. The wind howls through the streets of Gotham. This city used to be my home. I grew up here in more ways than one. But now this city is alien to me as I swing through the streets. People have forgotten that Robin once prowled these rooftops. That's quite alright if you ask me. The scum of Gotham can fear the Bat. I'll take Bludhaven instead if it's all the same. That was the deal I made with Bruce after . . . after it all went down in flames.
I light on a rooftop that skirts the borders between the main city and the suburbs. My eyes habitually flick to view their surroundings. There's nothing out here though. The suburbs are like that. No matter the city, the state, maybe even the country, the 'burbs are always the same. I stare out at the row of houses that all look alike and the streets that are eerily all the same. People think nothing bad goes on out here, think that it's some sort of neverland that still holds true to the American Dream. Looking at its surface, you'd never really know that this place is still part of Gotham. I shake my head because I know better. Things happen out here too, sometimes things that are worse than what goes on in the city.
A group of kids stand on a street corner with the stereo blaring out the thumping bass of rap music. The kids nod and move with the music, speaking a language that will forever be foreign to me. They look assured and secure but I know the real story. They live large to escape the harsh realities of the world around them and are blissfully unaware of their own struggle to survive on the streets. I envy them for that, for being able to cling to something and order their world around that identity. Everyone in life has an anchor, something that helps them remember who they really are. I don't have that anymore. I envy these kids and their gold chains. I envy their baggy jeans and hooded sweatshirts. I envy their ability to commit to an identity and hold fast to it no matter what. I can't do that anymore. The sound of a grapple gun rises over the bass as I securely hook my line and swing on, leaving the children to their play.
I know the way to this house. I could never forget it. I refuse to because if I lose my memories of . . . her then I lose my anchor completely. I can't let that happen. So I'll cling to the memories of Stephanie Brown and hope that they keep me grounded and secure enough to continue doing this job. It's hard to keep my grip on things though. I need reminders sometimes. That's what brings me back here. Yes, back to the suburbs of Gotham, to a paradise in the pit of Hell. I know better though. I know what goes on behind the picket fences and the whitewashed houses. Nasty things can happen in the 'burbs, very nasty things. We like to pretend differently because it helps us anchor our morality and sense of the world. It's fitting I suppose that my own personal anchor would come from a place like this.
My body moves on its own as it traverses the familiar route. The 'burbs are average and it comforts all of modern society. Our cities may be cesspools but the suburbs still hold that quaint, American charm. There was nothing average inside this house though. It was the home of Arthur Brown who in reality was a second-rate Riddler, who was a second-rate villain in his own right, which made Cluemaster a third-rate or fourth-rate villain. My math's a little off at the moment so forgive me if I'm wrong. This was also the home of Agnes Brown, a nurse who was also a prescription painkiller addict and maybe had hit the bottle a little too hard when the doctors wouldn't give her pills. She had been trying to kick the habits till . . . till this. No, this was not your stereotypical suburban couple. That's not why I come back to this house though. I come back because it was the home of Stephanie Brown, a girl who was equally exceptional as her parents but on the other end of the spectrum.
Stephanie was a lot of things. She was headstrong, stubborn, brave, caring, beautiful, so many things. We had our share of problems but Steph was always one important thing to me above all others. Stephanie Brown was my anchor. My life is not an easy one, my burdens not simple to bear alone. She helped with that, listening to me as I told her what I couldn't tell others such as my parents. She understood it all too because she also lived half her life behind a mask.
The house is dark as I move to an upstairs window and pick the lock with clockwork precision. I sneak inside and cautiously move through the room to hit the light. Nothing has changed. Paradoxically, everything has changed as well. I try to pretend that this room is unimportant. It is a crime scene, the house of some stranger, a vacant place to use for a stakeout, something other than Steph's room. I can't lie to myself anymore though. My anchor's gone and I'm not sure about things.
"This was your life," I whisper, "Why in God's name did you give us the right to help take it away from you?" I'm responsible for Stephanie. She was my girlfriend, my charge. I was supposed to protect her. I was supposed to keep her safe. I failed and it's my fault she died. I never should've quit being Robin in the first place.
Her room is too neat. The bed is made, the furniture dusted, the desk uncluttered with papers and whatnot. It's alien to me because it's not her. Her mom must've cleaned the room up. It was still like normal when I came and collected her stuff, came and stole the rest of her life from her.
The urn with her ashes sits on the dresser but this is not her room. I tell myself that over and over again and fail each and every time. This was her room. I move to the bed and pull back the sheets, letting part of them spill onto the floor. This was her bed. I open up the desk drawer and begin putting random papers haphazardly on her desk. This was her desk. I take all the makeup junk out from the drawer in her dresser and put it on top. This was her dresser. She wasn't like me. She wasn't methodical or organized or meticulous. Even now, I want to scream because everything is so messy and not the way I like it. But this was her room and this is the way she would like it.
"Sorry I nagged you about stupid stuff like this," I tell the urn, "Thanks for putting up with me. Really, Steph, I mean it." Nasty things can happen out here in the 'burbs. Just behind the polished exterior lie some very dirty secrets. But good things come from here too. She came from here. She came from what most would consider a dead-end life but she wanted something more. She wanted to be a hero. No matter who else may care, she will always be a hero to me.
"You can come out now," I whisper as I turn to the open window. A shadow flits into the room and the wraith-like form of Batgirl stands before me, eyes downcast and strangely timid.
"Sorry," apologizes Cass simply, "I shouldn't have." No, she shouldn't have but it doesn't matter now because she did.
"It's alright," I tell her, "You followed me all the way from Bludhaven and I let you. I'm not mad at you."
"Oh," replies Cass as she peels back her mask and looks around, "Still nice room. Still good room for Stephanie." I sigh deeply as if I'm expelling some part of myself along with the air I exhale.
"Why're you here?" I ask. Cass doesn't look at me right away. She takes a few seconds to really think about it. Nobody knows the value of words more than Cassandra Cain. I've never seen her speak before thinking. It's a nice trait to have. I like it.
"Stephanie was my friend," explains Cass, "I still . . . I see her sometimes. It's hard to explain. I wanted . . . I wanted to come with you to do this." It's all she says and no more really needs to be said. She has a right to remember Steph in this way, same as I do. There's no shame in that.
"All the houses out here . . . they're all the same," muses Cass as she gazes out of the window, "Everything's . . . identical?" I nod to indicate she's used the correct word.
"Not this house," I tell her as I come over to her and stare out the window at the stars above, "This house is something different."
"So was she," says Cass. She pulls her mask back on and perches on the windowsill, "I'll be outside. Find me . . . come find me when you're ready." When I'm ready? Can I ever be ready again? I don't know. When a man loses one of his parents, there is cause for sadness. When a man loses the other one, it's a very rough time in his life. But when a man loses the one stable force in his life along with losing said parents? Well, that's enough to drive him insane with grief. I'm not there yet but I feel myself creeping closer and closer to it all the time.
"I'll be out in a minute," I tell Cass, "I wanna check something first." Cass nods and fades back into the night. I slowly open the door and creep down the hall. Steph's mom is asleep, sprawled out in her bed with an empty beer bottle still lazily clutched in her hand. It shames me. She's a good woman and she was really trying to break all the old habits. Then this mess that's my fault had to go and screw everything up for her.
"I know you probably hate us," I tell her as I manage to pry the bottle out of her hand without waking her up, "I don't blame you for that if you do. I just hope you know how sorry I am." She doesn't respond and I don't expect her to. I quietly go back into Steph's room after softly dropping the bottle into a trashcan in the bathroom. I climb back into the night and lock the window behind me.
"You did everything," says Cass, "There was nothing more." It's no consolation even though it's meant to be. There had to have been more. I've replayed numerous events over and over again in my mind to try and figure out what I could've done differently. Yet always, I'm faced with the fact that I was powerless to stop it.
"Believe," assures Cass as she touches my shoulder.
"I'm trying," I tell her honestly as tears threaten to spill from my eyes. I came here tonight to remember a girl, a girl I loved very much. She was my anchor, my strength when I needed it most. Without her, I feel lost in a fog and every direction I choose seems to be the wrong one.
"Home?" asks Cass. I stare at her for a few moments. Cass and I are alike and different at the same time. It's a nice contradiction. I'm glad she's my friend. Doing this, getting through this, would've been harder alone and I don't think I could've managed it.
"Yeah," I tell her simply as we begin swinging through the Gotham suburbs together. I always pictured settling down in a neighborhood like this. It probably has something to do with it being so average. Security is a luxury in this life that people like Cass and I lead. I look over to Cass again and feel strangely happy to know she's with me now. When Steph died, I thought my whole world would fall apart. It's nice to know that Cass will never let that happen to me.