Author's Note: For the third year in a row, I'm posting a holiday-themed short story about Cassandra Cain as she existed several years ago, early in her Batgirl career, and definitely well before the hatchet job which occurred after "Infinite Crisis."
I feel I should explain about one of the supporting characters right now. After I used Sasha Bordeaux in another Batgirl fanfic two years ago, I later became aware from feedback that at least a couple of my readers were unable to recognize "Sasha" and had no idea why a woman by that name was residing at Wayne Manor at the time when the story was set. I had taken too much background knowledge for granted. I'll try to avoid making the same mistake twice. (If you already know all about Sasha Bordeaux, or feel reasonably certain that you don't even care what she or anyone else was doing in 2001 in the Batman comics, then feel free to skip the rest of this introductory "note" and just proceed straight to the real story!)
In brief: During Greg Rucka's run on "Detective Comics" he introduced a former Secret Service agent named Sasha Bordeaux who was now being hired (at the insistence of the board of directors at Bruce's corporate headquarters) to protect Bruce Wayne from terrorists and so forth. Bruce finally caved in and let her have her own room at the Manor so she'd never be far away—in theory. In practice, of course, he would often disappear from his own bedroom in the middle of the night in order to run down to the Batcave, change into Batman, and go out crimefighting. Sasha quickly realized he sometimes vanished without explanation during the night, and eventually learned the true reason. By late 2001 (in the comic books), she and Batman had already talked things over and he had accepted her promise that she had no intention of ever spilling the beans. This story is set in the comic book continuity, more or less, as it existed around December 2001.
My major "change" is to have Cassandra Cain running around Wayne Manor on a regular basis in 2001, already knowing Batman's secret identity and also being quite friendly with Sasha. In the actual continuity, I don't think Cassandra and Sasha have ever met, and Cassandra only learned Batman's secret identity a bit later on, during the "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" story arc, when she saw him in his "Bruce" identity for the first time and instantly recognized Batman's body language. (In case you didn't already know: She's superb at reading people's signals that way. Which usually gives her a huge advantage in combat.)
Now for the story!
Batgirl: Playing in the Snow
Batgirl: Playing in the Snow
The top hat tumbled in the wind, skimming over the heavy snow, bouncing off a half-hidden stump, twisting past a prickly bush without getting torn, dancing over the crest of a hill and then rolling down the west slope until it finally smacked into the lowermost sphere in the stack of three which a raven-haired teenaged girl, apparently of Far Eastern extraction, had doggedly assembled at the base of the hill. Three long parallel trails on the slope showed where she had used gravity to her advantage by forming snowballs and then rolling them downhill so that they picked up more material with each new revolution.
She had just attached the second "arm"—a thin, leafless branch with twigs resembling spread fingers at one end—when she heard the soft thump of something colliding with a mass of snow, so she moved around to the other side of the snowman to investigate.
She picked up the hat (battered, but still intact) and reflexively shook off some of the snowflakes it had acquired in its peregrination across the grounds of Wayne Manor. Then she conscientiously slogged up the hill, the better to survey the immediate area for any sight or sound of anyone who had recently lost a hat and might want it back. Neither seeing nor hearing any trace of other human activity out here on this nippy afternoon, the girl shrugged, retraced her steps, and planted the hat squarely atop the "head" of her very first attempt at the art of sculpting snow.
As she stepped back to study the effect, the entire snowy figure seemed to quiver—no, it was quivering! A gap formed across the lower portion of the topmost ball, opened wider and wider, and then began flexing like a human mouth as a masculine voice said, "I'm blind! I'm blind!"
The "arms" flexed as if they had suddenly acquired "elbows," and the twiggy "hands" reached up toward the "head" as if to rub at nonexistent eyes. After a moment, the snowman added in a more hopeful tone, "Or is it just very, very dark out tonight? So dark I can't see my hand in front of my face?"
Cassandra had hastily backed up several paces while all this was going on. "Afternoon," she said, correcting the snowman's wistful thinking about the time of day.
"Afternoon? Whoever made me—you're still there? You can hear me now?" The voice was plaintive.
"Yes," she said.
"Please, I need some eyes. Pieces of coal, that always works. They don't need to be big."
"Wait," she said, and sprinted toward the house.
"Sasha," she said without preamble as she entered the spacious kitchen of Wayne Manor, "do we have . . . coal?"
Sasha Bordeaux was taking a cookie sheet out of the oven as she responded, "Coal? You're talking about the black lumpy stuff they mine in West Virginia? Why do you need it?"
"Snowman. Wants eyes."
"Oh!" Sasha said, suddenly radiating warm amusement. "Taking ingredients straight out of the old lyrics, eh? Well, there's a few bags of charcoal out in the garage for barbecues. That should be close enough for government work." She gave a quick description of the color and position of the relevant bags, while keeping most of her attention focused on finding a wide plastic spatula and beginning to transfer steaming cookies from the metal sheet to the waiting paper towels she had previously spread out on a counter to the left of the oven.
Cassandra had learned enough "manners" to not run out of the room if the reason wasn't truly pressing. So she was walking through the doorway, still within easy earshot, when Sasha added as an afterthought, "By the way, you might want to grab a carrot from the fridge. The song mentioned a button, but many people still think carrots make the best noses for proper snowmen."
"Thanks!" Cassandra doubled back long enough to snag the carrot and then darted off toward the garage, while Sasha smiled to herself and reflected that at least the girl was having fun doing something "normal" for a change. (It would be nice to be able to tell that to Bruce whenever he finally got back from the JLA's latest case.)
Cassandra quickly found the "charcoal," exactly where Sasha had described, and extracted two lumps from a half-empty bag. She'd felt surprised at how calmly Sasha had accepted her careful report about the snowman wanting the silly things—but perhaps their starting to talk was a fairly common event which Cassandra, ignorant in the ways of snowmen, had simply never observed before? Since Sasha, older and wiser, didn't seem the least bit concerned that a talking snowman might be dangerous enough to require "adult supervision," Cassandra figured she now had permission to handle the situation any way she saw fit. (She wondered what "song" Sasha had been talking about, though.)
The snowman hadn't gone anywhere—although he probably could have if he cared to try traveling blind, for in her absence he had somehow grown a pair of stubby white legs which now supported the rest of his body. He must have heard her boots stomping through the snow—although Cassandra couldn't even guess what he was using for ears—for he turned his head in her direction and waved frantically to make sure she noticed him.
"Hold still," she said sternly, not wanting to get poked in the face with flailing twigs, and then she stepped up close and poked the dark lumps into the front of the "head" at what she hoped were the right positions.
Good enough, apparently—as soon as she let go, the lumps rolled around and were suddenly surrounded by big circles in the head, until they looked a bit more like the little black things at the centers of people's eyeballs. She stepped back as this happened, not trusting him to hold his "hands" still for very long.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!" the snowman exclaimed, and then seemed to focus his new eyes on her. He secured his hat with one hand as he did a deep bow, saying in a merry tone, "Very happy to meet such a kind-hearted girl! I am Frosty the Snowman, at your service!"
"Cassandra," she said. As Frosty straightened up and adjusted the angle of his hat, she pulled the carrot from a coat pocket and asked, "Want . . . nose?"
"Why, certainly!" he said. This time he put his hands behind his back without being told—she still didn't know how he kept those branches from breaking apart with so much bending—while she stepped forward and planted the wider end of the carrot in the center of his face, just beneath the level of his eyes.
Frosty seemed to take a deep breath, the upper portion of his "torso" swelling out, the tip of the carrot twitching as the entire vegetable seemed to change shape slightly, and then he said, "Ah, yes! That crisp winter air! Gotham smells much the same as I remember!"
"Remember?" she asked skeptically. He had only been "alive" for the last several minutes, hadn't he?
Frosty seemed to understand her point. "I come and I go, year after year, Cassandra! When it's nice and cold, I can return! When it gets too warm, I melt!" He seemed to shiver—presumably not because of wind chill. "But don't feel too sad for me! I never die. I just become . . . inactive. Like one of your electric lights, switched off for a long time. It will still light up again when you really need it!"
That . . . almost . . . made sense. If Batman's friend Superman got his incredible powers from ordinary sunlight, then Cassandra supposed someone else could get all his energy from cold weather. Oracle could probably explain it better; Oracle knew practically everything. Cassandra would make sure to ask during the next visit to her friend's clock tower.
"So," she said finally, after letting Frosty's explanation sink in, "what do you do . . . now you're . . . active?"
"Oh, nothing too fancy," Frosty said pleasantly. "Play games. Tell jokes. Help kids have a good time. I'm a snowman, not a social reformer!"
Cassandra wasn't quite sure what that last bit meant, but she got the gist. If Frosty was telling the truth, he wasn't planning to rob a bank or anything like that. But perhaps she'd better keep an eye on him until she was sure. Reading the body language of a talking snowman was not nearly as easy as it was with humans, so she wasn't ready to trust her own judgment yet regarding his apparently friendly nature.
Therefore: "What games?" she asked.
It turned out that Frosty knew quite a few winter sports. He could, for example, lie down and function as a sled skimming down the side of the hill with Cassandra perched on top. And they found other ways to pass the time. It also turned out that playing with him put a whole new spin on a game Cassandra normally associated with much dryer weather: Hide and Seek. Frosty didn't seem to leave tracks in the snow unless he felt like it, and when he lay down and buried his head in a snowdrift (hiding the hat and the eyes) he could become very, very hard to pick out from all the other whiteness surrounding him.
On one occasion, Cassandra actually stepped on him before she realized he was there. He said "Ouch!" in an aggrieved tone and she frantically leaped away, afraid she might have damaged something in him by accident. When he started chuckling, she realized he'd been faking distress just as a joke.
Somewhere along the line, during an hour or so of constant observation and analysis of Frosty's words and deeds, the sizeable portion of her brain which automatically studied and "translated" other people's body language became much more confident of its ability to cope with Frosty's unusual style of signals, and thus Cassandra found herself increasingly certain of his honesty and other virtues. Eventually they sat down for awhile to chat—him in the snow and her on a boulder—and he told her some stories of things he remembered from previous "active" periods, and she told him a few things about herself.
Naturally she wasn't going to talk about any of the secret "costumed stuff" to a snowman she had only met today, but she did talk about some of the things that made her different; things that weren't secret because they must be pretty obvious to any humans who met her "socially" when she was dressed as a civilian. She managed to get across the idea that she'd only recently been learning to speak English (and no other verbal language before that), and was constantly aware of lagging way behind other kids her age in knowing all sorts of complicated things which most took for granted after years of schooling.
Frosty asked if she had ever tried ice skating.
She admitted she hadn't.
Frosty advised her to give it a chance. "Balance is the important thing," he said firmly, "and you seem a lot better than most humans at keeping yours, even on rough slopes and icy patches. You might be a natural. I don't suppose skating would solve all your problems, but if you learned the moves as quickly as I bet you would, it could become a way to show other human kids that there was something you could do really well. Might . . . break the ice, to coin a phrase." He chuckled at his own joke.
Then he added: "You need something 'social' that plays to your strengths, but isn't the least bit scary to watch—not like all that nasty violent stuff Mister Cain taught you."
Cassandra suddenly rose and moved away from him, further uphill. She didn't know where Frosty's nerve centers were (if talking snowmen even had any?), but he hadn't moved or spoken until just after the hat touched his head, so her best bet might be to start by removing the hat with a flying kick if need be. Her heavy coat and other thick clothes would hamper her fighting moves a little, but leaping from higher ground would improve the odds of a successful first strike. She said carefully, "I never . . . mentioned him . . . to you."
A squeaky voice, very different from Frosty's, suddenly spoke from the air between Cassandra and the snowman. "Oh, all right. I suppose it was bound to come out sooner or later."
A peculiar little figure was suddenly hovering in mid-air just in front of Cassandra's head so their eyes were level. He wore a near-copy of Batman's traditional outfit, but he was a fat little thing and didn't wear it nearly so well. The gray shirt was baggy on him, for instance, and the blue boots had turned-up pointy toes and looked a few sizes too large for his feet. (Assuming his feet were in proportion to the rest of him?)
"Sheesh!" he said in the same squeaky voice. "All I wanted was to help, but I guess you really are gonna be a detective when you grow up! One little slip, and you're on the scent like a bloodhound!"
Behind him, Frosty was quite motionless, his "body language" no longer registering anything at all. Cassandra wasn't sure what to make of that. She focused on the little figure, who was grinning widely now, as if proud of himself for whatever he'd been doing.
"You were . . . Frosty? Or inside Frosty?" she guessed, trying to make sense of it.
"Not exactly!" he chirped. "I gave that top hat a quick upgrade to get Frosty going for you, then I let him speak for himself after he woke up!"
"I'm Bat-Mite!" He puffed out his chest. "Batman's biggest fan! I used to give him a helping hand sometimes!"
Cassandra tried to be tactful. "Sorry . . . don't know name."
Bat-Mite looked a bit discouraged, but not really surprised. "Yeah, well, some of us Bat-people formerly in good standing kinda got swept under the cosmic rug after this big bad Crisis thingie, years back. You prob'ly don't remember much more than the skies all over the world turning red for a bit? It's taken me a while to start feeling myself! Finally figured out how to use this newfangled Hypertime stuff to help pull myself together again . . . mostly!"
Beyond vaguely remembering a few days of weird red sky, Cassandra had no idea what the little fellow was babbling about, and perhaps that showed. He waved wildly with both hands, as if pushing away what he had just said, and said, his voice speeding up as he went along: "Anyway, I knew it was time to check in on my old friends Batman and Robin again, even if they might not remember much about me, so I came to Gotham and started looking. But Batman isn't here! Away with the Justice League in some other dimension, I think—I decided to just wait for him to come back. And the first Robin isn't even Robin any more, and he's not in Gotham either! I came around to the Manor—staying invisible, y'know—to see what was what, and maybe hand out a few Christmas presents, and after I got here I figured out you were the new Batgirl! By the way, where's Alfred? Is that blond lady in the kitchen his new long-lost daughter or something? His old long-lost daughter was a French brunette! I swear, you fall out of touch for a few years, and the cosmos hiccups a few times, and they rearrange everything behind your back!"
He finally paused for breath.
Cassandra refused to be distracted by Bat-Mite's questions before he had explained himself better. She was still trying to guess his age. Children babbled that way sometimes when they were excited, but adults did it less often. She did her best to guide him back to the main point.
"Why . . . Frosty?"
"Oh. That. Well, it seemed like a good fit. There you were building a snowman, and every little girl should have loads of fun with a snowman in the holiday season at least once, and I found out enough about your childhood, when I started looking, to realize you're long overdue for some special treatment . . . such as a special snowman!"
She frowned. "Not so little." This shrimp was only a fraction of her size, after all.
Bat-Mite gave her a long-suffering look. "You're not exactly all grown up yet, are ya? I'm not talking 'bout whether you'll get any taller, understand? You said it yourself to Frosty—you've still got to make up for lost time before you can catch up with other teenagers and someday have all the polish to be a regular Batwoman! The 'perfect female equivalent of Batman' is what I'm talking about!"
That wasn't exactly the way she had said it—she hadn't mentioned bats or costumes at all—but that didn't mean the chattering little guy didn't have a point about her ambitions. She was painfully aware that just because she could give Batman a very tough fight—and then mop the floor with Spoiler or Robin or Nightwing or Sasha in friendly practice, if need be—didn't mean she could do everything Batman needed to do when he was cracking a tough case.
"You can . . . help me? Be better?"
Bat-Mite paused before responding. "Not the easy way you're prob'ly hoping. One thing I learned, way back when, was that it's usually a bad idea to try to give people fancy powers and stuff like that with a snap of my fingers. Batman made himself what he is by years of training before I ever met the guy, and that's why he's the Bestest Detective Ever! Focused, you know?"
Cassandra found she couldn't argue with that.
"But I can offer advice. You need to practice talking. Make more friends. Ice skating might be a way—Frosty had a point. Unless he's changed a lot since the last time I saw him, Batman knows how to handle other people when he puts his mind to it; not just scare them. I'll check in on you from time to time, unless there's another cosmic hiccup to scramble my memories all over again. I think you've got the right stuff, Batgirl. You admire the big guy as much as I do, and if anything happens to him, somebody's got to keep the tradition alive!"
Cassandra made up her mind about the little guy's sincere hero-worship of Batman and gave him a fast hug. His cheeks flamed red for a moment; then Bat-Mite said hastily: "Now-if-you'll-excuse-me-I've-got-to-go-introduce-myself-to-the-latest-Robin-goodbye!"
Pop! He was gone.
"Cassandra! You okay?" Sasha was standing on the back patio, one hand raised to shield her eyes against the setting sun.
Cassandra waved and started back in that direction. When she was close, Sasha asked: "What was that little thing you were hugging when I spotted you?"
"Who? And where did he go?"
Cassandra shrugged. "Magic? Never met him before. Should ask Oracle or Batman."
"And wasn't the snowman you were building earlier over thataway, at the bottom of the hill?" Sasha gestured toward a spot about fifty yards away from where an inert Frosty now stood, no longer wearing the hat—Bat-Mite must have taken it away for future use.
"Yes," Cassandra said agreeably. Sasha looked less than satisfied by that response, so Cassandra amplified. "He moved."
"Uh . . . right." Sasha shook her head as if to clear it, and then said, "Well, if he isn't moving around now, I guess we don't need to invite him in for a snack. He probably wouldn't enjoy our use of central heating, anyway."
As they went back into the house together, Sasha was grumbling good-naturedly, "I swear, this sort of thing never happened at the White House. Oh sure, once or twice a year Superman would drop in to fight off an alien invader or something, but that was different!"
Author's Note: If you don't know much more than Cassandra did about the meaning of Bat-Mite's vague references to "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and "Hypertime" and so forth, then my advice is simple: Don't even worry about it right now! Just enjoy the holiday season while it lasts! As I suggested in the text: Cassandra didn't know or care what he was babbling about, and she didn't really need to know!
DC's unhealthy tendency to keep retconning the retcons of the previous retcons—which were originally meant to "streamline" the continuity so that theoretically there wouldn't be a crying need for more and more retcons in the future—is not easily explained. (Although I was willing to make fun of it, a little, by putting words in Bat-Mite's mouth to suggest that he remembers at least bits and pieces of how the history "used to be"—but again, knowing about Bat-Mite and the other stuff he alludes to isn't really important to appreciating this story, or at least I hope it isn't!)