Past and Presents

Disclaimer: Batgirl, Robin, Oracle and any other characters portrayed or mentioned in this fic are the property of DC comics, Warner Bros and whoever else. Not me. No profit is being made from this work of fiction, now or ever. As I'm only writing this coz I'm sick and hence miserable, suing me would not only be pointless, it'd be downright unkind.

The object in my hand is, simply put, a hairclip. Well, technically, I suppose it's a hairclip with a few shreds of colourful paper left around it.
Not a cheap, plastic-y thing of indifferent workmanship but rather a beautiful pearl-and-wood confection. Its lines are clean and smooth, an abstract piece reminiscent of both art nouveau and, oddly, Chinese sculpture.
I am sure it is quite unique.
It was thrust into my hand not a minute ago by a blushing Boy Wonder, one who promptly took off after explaining the reasons behind it, but before I'd unwrapped it.
It's not evidence from a crime scene.
It's not stolen property that needs to be returned.
It's not a cleverly disguised weapon.
It is, in fact, a thing called a 'birthday present'.
This is strange to me. I've never gotten a birthday present before. Cain wasn't really into that sort of thing. Come to think of it, I've never had a birthday.
I suppose I must've, since I'm about sixteen or seventeen, but I what I mean is I've never had a day marked out as mine, as special.
I don't know what day, or what month I was born in. I'm not even completely sure of the year.
But Robin said that was okay. "I figured the story would be something like that," he'd said. "That's why Oracle and I decided to pick a date and make that your birthday. Because, well, everyone should have a special day where they're really appreciated, where they're number one. I mean, you're always special and appreciated, but . . . but . . man, I'm not saying this right!" With that he'd thrust the package into my hands, muttered "happy birthday" and fled.
At least, that was what he'd said verbally. Physically, his conversation was a lot less confused. Embarrassment, hope, genuine goodwill, all had been present. As had been one other. Fear. Fear of rejection, fear that I wouldn't understand the friendship - going beyond the simply 'professional' to include social, beyond Batgirl to Cassandra - that he was trying to offer. Frustration at his perceived inadequacy of explanation.
The explanation, the physical explanation, wasn't inadequate at all. I understood exactly what he meant; 'actions speak louder than words', Oracle says, and to no one is that more true than me.
I should go after him. Thank him properly. I should.
Instead I am paralysed, wondering what malicious fate played such a cruel jest upon me, for surely it wasn't Robin. I take it he has not seen the keyhole film, or he never would have been so unsubtle. The Boy Wonder may have been uncomfortable around me, but he is never deliberately vicious.
The last time I wore hairclips there were two of them. They were shiny, cheap, plastic-y things. Their workmanship was substantially poorer than merely 'indifferent'. Children's wear, not the beautiful, elegantly understated adornment in my hand.
They were bright red. As red as the blood I spilled while wearing them.
Gushing, brilliant arterial blood spattering around my fist and onto my dress.
My first, and only, kill.
The first, and only, time I ever wore a dress.
Or hairclips.
Since I fled, fled the murder, fled Cain, I have worn nothing of embellishment. Nothing except the simplest of ties in my hair. Nine years of drifting, nine years without adornment.
To be honest, I never really gave my appearance much of a thought. As if by avoiding taking special note of it, of wearing dresses and pretty things to enhance it like Cain had had me do that time, I could avoid what I'd done.
But I've finished avoiding. I've finished being passive. Now I wear the costume. Now I actively fight. No, that isn't right. I protect.
I protect weaker people from violence, so they have the opportunity to grow stronger through living their lives, and help others in turn.
I stop thefts, not for material reasons but so that people can feel safe.
I prevent murders, in some ways because no one has the right to end the life of another. But mainly because no one should have to be like me. To have to live with the knowledge that they killed a fellow human.
The black gloved hand clutching the hairclip trembles, and I barely recognise it as my own.
Ever so carefully, I tuck the beautiful gift, the offer of friendship on so many levels, into a pouch of my utility belt. Then I take to the skies, with a very special mission in mind for what is left of the wee hours of the morning.
I have very important prey, and birds such as these are notoriously difficult to catch.
*********
It is not until midmorning of the next day that I finally hunt down my quarry. Midmorning means neither of us are in costume, which makes it both harder and easier. The site is Gotham Central Park, a picnic birthday party. In attendance are Oracle - Barbara - a wraparound sunglass-wearing man who cannot be any other than Nightwing 'incognito', the tall butler, Alfred, and the doctor, Leslie, both of whom cared for me when I was shot. And a denim jean-clad, very subdued, Boy Wonder, whose face lifts upon my arrival, but falls despondent when he sees my hair flying free in the slight breeze. Of the hairclip there is no sign.
It is a happy affair, Robin - Tim - does his best to mask his disappointment at what his body language says he sees as his failure to give me a suitable gift. Indeed, all the other presents I receive are extremely practical - A CD-ROM of basic vocabulary and reading skills from Oracle, a specially stocked mini-medical kit from Leslie and Alfred, a Swiss Army pocket knife from Nightwing. I am touched and delighted by the thought that went into the gifts.
Best of all, though, is the temporary lifting of Bab's moratorium on junk food. We eat Alfred's special cookies, and chips and salsa, sandwiches and sausages, and even my very own, very first, birthday cake! (Also courtesy of Alfred.)
But the moment I've been looking for comes only later, in the mid afternoon when we are all pleasantly stuffed, but Babs, Nightwing and Alfred have indulgently given Robin and I leave to go buy ice creams "to fill the special ice cream spot" that both our stomachs possess.
Alone together, we both draw breath.
"I'm sorry." The words are the same, come out in perfect synchrony. The surprised looks are also identical. Better than I with words by far, Robin seizes the initiative to continue.
"I'm sorry the present wasn't really what you wanted. I should have given you your own version of that new tracking system that Babs and I developed. I should have figured you'd want useful stuff, that you don't like hairclips and stuff. I'm sorry. I just thought. . . I'm sorry. I really didn't mean to offend you."
Now it's my turn, though with his shoulders slumped in defeat, it seems as though he doesn't really expect a reply. I'll have to be really good with words here. But words are my weakness. This is too important to stuff up, though.
"No . . . Don't be. I really love your present. It . . . makes past . . . past. New present, new future." I snarl under my breath, frustrated, the words aren't coming like I need them to. But at least I have Robin's full attention. "It. . . Something for me, not Batgirl. Want to have a 'me'. Cassandra. Special, like today."
"Really?" by the shining happiness in his eyes, I can tell I've made him understand, that I'm glad he cares, glad he offers his friendship as well as his partnership. All I need now is to show I want to take him up on the offer. Reaching into my pocket, I gently remove the hairclip, disentangling it from the handkerchief I'd wrapped it up in to avoid scratching the lustrous wooden surface.
"Really. Put it in for me?"
His face splits into a huge grin, and he gently pulls my hair back into a half-tail, the clip sliding into place. Experimentally, I shake my head. The clip is firm, but it doesn't feel tight, unlike the pigtails of that terrible time so many years ago. Instead of a disguise, it feels like a release.
"Thankyou," I tell him, and I mean it on so many levels. He simply smiles and hands me an ice cream.
It really is a birthday. No matter what day I was born from my mother, whoever she was, today is my birthday. The day I decided to start being me.
I am Batgirl.
I am Cassandra.
I am me, and finally a little girl with red hairclips and a bloodstained dress stops crying, and starts living again.
Happy birthday to me.

End.

Notes:
1.The dress and hairclips referred to are from "Batgirl: Silent Running" which contains issues 1-6. I am aware that in the pictures her pigtails are held by elastics, but converting them to clips made story-telling sense.
2. The reference to Batgirl being shot occurs at the end of Batgirl #6. She is taken to the caver and Leslie is in attendance. I assume that Alfred also is, as this occurs before the big fall-out between Alfred and Batman.
3. I assume that Batgirl already knows that Robin is Tim Drake (or vice versa) given that she was crucial in getting him out of Gotham at the end of No Man's Land, thus resulting in the re-opening of the city.
4. The germ of the idea of this story come from the fact that I've never seen Batgirl wearing anything ornamental, with the exception of the bracelet that the ambulance people accidentally put on her wrist after her fight with Shiva ("Batgirl: A Knight Alone")
5. Bruce Wayne wasn't at the picnic because (a) I don't know if Batgirl knows Batman's secret identity yet, (b) if she doesn't, and he tried to go incognito, with his luck he'd have been recognised by the press as Bruce Wayne and that would have threatened "the secret", and most tellingly (c) I was out of nifty ideas for practical gifts that could be given in the middle of a public park that wouldn't raise suspicion/incite problems if the people around the picnic saw them. Sorry. I'm sick. Hence, I have an excuse.