Disclaimer: Batman belongs to DC Comics.
A/N: Written for the "Killer or Hero" theme at batfic-contest(dot)livejournal(dot)com. This oneshot takes place sometime near the beginning of Cassandra's series.
"You don't have to wear this, you know," Barbara said.
She had picked up the mask that Cassandra had left by the computer console. Cassandra was otherwise in full Batgirl uniform, training at the punching bag with a complex series of punches and kicks. She wore a serious expression as she beat the punching bag into what Barbara could only consider a bloody pulp had it been alive. There was no indication that Cassandra had even heard her at all.
Barbara rolled her wheelchair closer, holding Cassandra's mask in her lap, the mask that was so different from the one she had once worn… so different from the ones any of them wore.
"When I say you don't have to wear this, I mean I could make you a new one, of course. Or even," she said, tracing her fingers along the black stitches that concealed the lower half of the face, "I could take this part out for you."
Cassandra thrust a powerful side kick into the punching bag's torso. "No," she said simply. She wasn't much for conversation, Barbara knew. It could be irksome how much she reminded her of him at times like this.
"I just meant, I thought maybe you would prefer it. When the No Man's Land was going on, we didn't exactly have time to make you a costume of your own. There were more important matters going on. I know what you're thinking, what could be more important to a girl than her clothes?" Barbara quipped, trying to lighten the conversation. Cassandra didn't laugh, or even smile. Damn it was annoying how much she could be like him. Bruce was never one for jokes. "What I'm trying to say is, this was the only Batgirl mask we had lying around at the time. The one Bruce confiscated from Helena. But that doesn't mean you have to be the Batgirl she was."
"I can't be… the Batgirl… you were," Cassandra stated in between blows.
"I'm not asking you to be. I just mean, this," Barbara said, holding up the mask, the one that covered everything, even the eyes, in total blackness, "Huntress wore this because she had something to hide. From Bruce. That's why you can't see her face. But you, Cassandra, you have nothing to hide. Bruce trusts you. I trust you. This mask… it can't be the most comfortable thing. Not that I've tried it on, or anything," Barbara was quick to add.
Cassandra didn't speak or pause in her training. Barbara knew the conversation, one-sided as it had been, was over. "Okay," she sighed. "It's your choice."
As she rolled over to the computer console, the screen lit up and a small buzzer sounded. Barbara shut off the alarm and read what was on the screen. Even Cassandra ceased her punching. It wasn't the big alarm that sounded when something catastrophic happened, like a mass breakout at Arkham, for instance, but it still meant that somewhere there was trouble going down. The computer was set up to monitor police reports and 911 calls covertly. As soon as the police knew something, Barbara knew it, too. Sometimes sooner.
"There's a robbery in progress at the Gotham City Bank on the corner of 17th and Main. You can cut them off before they get away. Go."
Cassandra moved in a flash. At first Barbara was confused why she was headed in the wrong direction, and then realized as the mask was snatched out of her lap. Cassandra tugged it on, completing the illusion. She was nothing more than a black shadow, a wraith, a bat, something other than human as she set out to enact justice.
The image might have made Barbara shudder if she hadn't seen him cut such an otherworldly figure as well, everyday.
Cassandra was silent as she rushed to the city's rescue, as she always was, every night. The mask fit tight around her face, pressing against her throat, almost choking her in darkness. She never felt more at ease. She wasn't Cassandra anymore. She was Batgirl. She didn't have to hide her shame right now; it was covered for her.
Because Barbara didn't know everything about her. Neither did he. They wouldn't understand. She did have something to hide from Bruce, from everyone. From herself.
She had killed, once before. When she was a little girl. When she was too young to even realize what she was doing. It's what she had been trained to do. What she had been raised to do. Perhaps it was the reason she was born.
She was just a killer. And she could spend the rest of her life trying to atone for her sin, but she could no more make up for it than she could cut out her own heart.
But when she put on the costume, when she donned the mask, when that yellow symbol shone across her chest, she wasn't a killer anymore. She was a hero.
She was him.
And that made things easier for her. The mask was the only friend she could trust to keep her secret. It belonged to her more than it ever had to the Huntress. So she held onto it like a precious thing, something that she could never allow to be changed or mutilated. Because if they ever found out the truth about her, she knew…
They would never let her wear a mask again.