Usual Disclaimers. This is a follow up to Charlene's "Heart and Home".

The Other Life

**

Jason counted the bills. "Cass, don't try to short me," he called out, not looking up from the lovely, lovely greens. A ten dollar bill appeared in his face. He snatched it from her, and recounted his winnings. A hundred and twenty dollars. He could get into a lot of trouble with a hundred and twenty greenbacks.

Sixty from Tim, Sixty from Cassandra. And all Dick had to do was knock up his girlfriend. He could start a racket.

Especially since dad had cut his allowance down to non-existent in lieu of his last escapade. He needed SOME primary source of income. Imagine that, dad not liking the way the garage only had three walls after Jason had finished. Dads were WAY too picky.

He got up off of Tim's bed. "Well, kids, it's been a pleasure doing business."

From his computer, Tim sighed. "Get outta my room, ok? You've cleaned me out."

Shoving the wad of bills into his back pocket, Jason went to stand behind his brother. The least the little runt could be doing was looking at nudie pictures. But nooo, he was doing HOMEWORK. Next week's homework. "Tim. Tim… TIMMY." He put a hand on the younger brother's shoulder, which the boy instantly shrugged off. "I am the Master. I am king of the universe. I am…"

"Really dumb," Cassandra finished. "A cheat." She was sitting at the head of Tim's bed, cordless phone in hand. Bart had to eat dinner. That meant she had like… five minutes till he'd call back. Five whole minutes…

Adding another set of data points to his graph, Tim nodded.

"Insider information," the girl added. "You can't do that."

Opening the door, Jason grinned back at his siblings. "Can, and DID. Better luck next time. And with Dick's protection methods… or lack there of… there WILL be a next time." He closed the door and vanished.

"Eww," Cass moaned with a shiver. There were some things she didn't need to know about. Or be forced to think about. The world would indeed be a better place if certain visuals weren't placed into her head. She was the good kid. SHE was waiting. That was because Bart was a gentleman, unlike her savage older brother. He probably dragged Barbara back to his cave and had his way with her.

"You do my homework next," Cassandra advised.

"If I do it for you, you wont learn for yourself," Tim whined. It was an argument he had to use over and over with Cass and Jason.

"You do it," Cass said cheerfully, "or I hurt."

Tim's shoulders slumped. "I'll tell mom you beat me up."

"I'll tell dad you made me beat you up."

Seeing an instant message from his girlfriend, Tim sighed. Sometimes, he wished he was an only child. Well, he really didn't wish that. He just wished they'd lock his siblings up in cages and not let them out until they were Dick's age and paying taxes. Then there wouldn't be any 'make Timmy eat grass' games, and other such drap.

The phone rang and Cassandra picked it up and answered before the second tone of the first ring. "Bart!?" she called out excitedly.

Saving all of his spread sheets, Tim exited the program.

"Tim doesn't live here any more." There was the sound of the phone being turned off.

Tim spun around. "Cassandra! Who'd you hang up on?"

His speakers played ascending tones, and a message popped on his screen. 'Tell psycho-sister to give you the phone.'

The young man looked from the screen behind him to his sister in front of him. He scowled, finally having enough. Bart this, Bart that. Bart was his best friend, and she was dating his best friend, and now Bart spent more time with her than with him. And he NEVER got the phone. He couldn't even talk to his own girl friend because dad made them share a line so they'd learn how to share, but Cassandra was always being a hog.

He stalked over to the bed and grabbed the comforter tightly and pulled. Cassandra rolled right off the bed and landed on the hardwood floor with a thud. "Get outta my room!" he hollered. "And leave the phone here!"

Cassandra threw the phone at him, then dashed out the door. "You suck!" she informed him.

He slammed the door behind her, and cradled the phone to him like a baby. He had won. It didn't happen often, and Tim had to get himself worked up, and feeling pretty passionately about stuff, but he could do it. Maybe, while he was still feeling all righteous and stuff, he should beat up Jason and take his money back.

Maybe he'd just call Stephanie. Jason was a lot taller than he was, and Tim really didn't want to be in trouble with their father. Jason was the destroyer of all things masonry and wood, and was therefore grounded until the end of the semester. Tim didn't need to get himself grounded too. And then mom would grab his face and hold him by his cheeks and ask where her good little boy had gone. Sometimes it sucked being the youngest.

"Jason Todd Wayne!" Their mother's surprised voice gasped from the hall.

Tim tossed the phone on the bed, his girlfriend forgotten. He cracked the door to his room stealthily.

"You give that money back to your brother and sister!"

Peeking out, he saw mom glaring at Jason with her hands on her hips. That sixty dollars had been new sound card money anyways. It was Dick's fault—what was he doing knocking up Barbara anyways? And if he was going to, why couldn't he wait until after Tim had his sound card?

The youngest of the troupe opened his door the rest of the way and grinned. "Gotcha, you cheat."

"Timothy, don't make bets with your brother," Selena warned. "You're just asking for it." Her icy eyes went back to her middle son. She'd read all the books about middle child syndrome, and Jason had it—bad. "Theft will not be tolerated in this house. Cassandra TOLD me about your conversation with Barbara last week, so that voids the bet." She loved them, but they were a hand full. Well, it made life interesting. What in the world would she do all day, if she weren't breaking up fights? Then she'd have to spend even MORE time at those 'society' things.

And to think—another two and a half years, and their nest would be empty.

"Listen guys, Barbara and Dick are coming for dinner tonight to celebrate their announcement. Lets get your homework done before they get here."

Jason made a face. He was eighteen, he was in college, and his mommy was telling him to do his homework. "I'll do it when I do it," he affirmed.

Tim rolled his eyes. Most likely, he'd try to talk TIM into doing it. 'What do I need Freshman Studies for anyways?' Jason would say. "My homework's almost done, mom," Tim was sure to point out. Dick may be the favorite, and Jason certainly got all the attention, but Tim knew he was the good son.

"Good," Selena told him. "Wear something nice tonight." She put her arm around Jason and lead him away—probably to dad for a good talking to about taking advantage of his sister and brother. "And Tim," she called back behind her, "don't push you sister off of your bed."

There were about three protests in his mouth—she deserved it, she shouldn't have been in his room, she shouldn't have hung up on his girl friend… but they died in his mouth. Instead, he turned back to the blinking message on his computer, and the phone on his bed. He'd won ONE battle for a change.

Tim's goal was to survive until he was an adult. His siblings weren't much help. If anything, they were part of the problem. They all cared about each other. Cass beat the crap out of a football player who'd been trying to muscle Tim's homework off of him. She did love him… but well, once your sister's knocked a football player unconscious on your behalf… well, you were fair game for all the insults and abuse anyone could get in while your big sister wasn't looking.

He didn't know if things would be better or worse once Cass graduated. They'd be able to take free shots at him, but maybe they'd be less inspired to.

It wasn't like he didn't know how to defend himself. It was just… well, he just didn't have it in him. He just wasn't like Jay. Jason could stare a guy down and make him regret living, without lifting a finger. Dick had that charm—he didn't need fists. And Cass pretty much ignored the world—except when someone picked on 'her widdle Timmy'. Tim realized he was destined to continue on a path of being a complete loser.

* * *

Jason sat in front of his father. He hated these talks. Jason on one side of the desk, his father on the other. It looked like a business transaction, but it wasn't. It was very personal.

"I promise not to swindle my brother and sister any more," Jason reiterated. It wasn't the first time he'd made that promise.

"And don't worry your mother any more," Bruce added, his hands folded in front of him. Jason wasn't a bad kid, necessarily. He just liked to do things an 'alternative' way. Often, that 'alternative' way wasn't completely honest.

Jason rolled his eyes. "And I won't worry mom any more." The young man looked both ways before speaking. "You know, I wouldn't have to find alternate sources of income if you'd just reinstate my allowance…"

It was Bruce's turn to roll his eyes. He did that a lot in response to his second son. "You have money on your meal card, I pay your gas, I pay your insurance, and I let you keep ONE of you credit cards. You're not destitute."

"I didn't MEAN to destroy the garage."

"And yet, you did," Bruce said with a little humor in his voice. Jason was his problem child, for certain. If he didn't take it all in stride, the boy would drive him insane. "Responsibility, Jason. Showing up for class on time—showing up for class at ALL. Homework…budgeting your allowance… NOT putting holes in masonry…"

Slowly, Jason rose. "I'll do better, I swear."

"Alright," Bruce said. He tried to instill some values in them—and for the most part he couldn't complain. There were just some times… when they acted like complete animals. Like last September—Cassandra might have MEANT well, but did she have to knock the varsity football player unconscious to help her brother? "Go tell your mother you're sorry, and we'll talk about your allowance."

Grinning, the young man took off. He had a few ideas about how to give Jason some focus, but he'd talk it over with Selena before he said anything. An internship at Wayne Corp might help. And the boy seriously needed to choose a major. He'd be a sophomore next semester, and he was still 'Liberal Arts, Undecided.'

Dick hadn't given a hard time. Political science, then law school. It did help that he had a red-headed reason to stay in both programs. Tim had two undergraduate programs he was interested in, and he wasn't even a junior in high school yet. Cassandra—he loved the girl dearly—had just as little direction as Jason. She thought that graduating high school and marrying Bart Allen would be the furthest she had to plan for her future. Perhaps Jason and Cassandra both needed to work in his office for a little bit. Give them something to think about, besides the opposite sex.

All of his babies were growing up, and there wasn't a darn thing he could do about it. The only consolation he had was that he'd have a new child to inflict his love upon shortly.

* * *

Cassandra went to Tim's door and heard him talking to Stephanie. Why did it have to be Stephanie Brown? The girl was blond haired, blue-eyed, a perfect size two, and therefore was no good. If she didn't fear the wrath of mom, she'd just push Stephanie in the dumpster behind the cafeteria and be done with it. The girl wasn't good enough for her only baby brother. NO girl was good enough for her baby brother.

Plotting, she slunk down the hall, where the base of the phone sat on a table. Crouching beside the antique oak, she tugged on the phone cord, pressing on the tab in the jack and removing it from the wall.

"CASSANDRA!" a loud cry came up from Tim's bedroom.

Quickly, she shoved the cord back into the wall and innocently walked to Tim's door. The boy flung the door opened, breath drawn to yell at her. Before he could say anything, however, she grabbed the phone out of his hands. Grinning, she ruffled his hair and walked away.

Locking herself in her room long enough for Tim to recite his little tyrade on how dead she was, she dialed Bart's number. If HE was on the line with his stupid girl friend, Bart couldn't call after he was done eating. Tim was so dumb.

"Helllllooo" she crooned as the other side picked up.

Max didn't even say hello. He just covered the receiver and yelled for Bart. Cassandra grinned to herself. Bart was coming, and Tim was giving up on his hopes of getting the phone back. Hearing the boy close his bedroom door, she opened hers and began wandering around the house.

* * *



Jason stood outside his parents' bedroom door and listened to his mother's movements for a moment. She was so quiet—like a cat. A grin came across his face. She was digging through her closet now. He could hear the faint din of hangers on the rack. She wanted to make tonight special for Dick and Barbara. Mom was so great.

Well, she wasn't his real mother, and Bruce wasn't his real dad—but they were. The guy who'd raised him for the first few years of his life couldn't be termed a father. Jason thought of him as 'that evil bastard' when the man crossed his mind. Nope. He liked his new family a lot better. Dick had lost his parents in a really horrible way. Cass's male parental figure (who hadn't even been her father at all) had screwed her up so badly that she hadn't talked at ALL for a very long time, and even now the girl was a better listener than a talker. And Timmy—don't even get Jason started on Timmy's former 'parenting arrangements'. All it did was get him worked up and want to find the guy who'd neglected Tim and beat the crap out of him. Nope. The three of them were better off with their new family—their REAL family, as Jason called them.

His dad had 'talks' with him every time he screwed up, and took away his allowance when he got destructive. He loved Bruce for that. And mom was always upset with him. He loved his life.

The young man knocked, then let himself in.

"Polite people wait until they're given permission to enter a bedroom," Selena said wryly.

He stared down at the carpet in repentance. His eyes then moved to the bed, and the pile of clothes there. Talk about disparaging differences—every black dress his mother owned was strewn upon the bedclothes in addition to her more casual white dresses.

"I was told to be all repentant and stuff and say I was sorry for making you mad, and for being a shyster." He started rummaging through her clothes, trying to help her find something to wear. Girls were so hopeless with clothes.

"Thank you, Jason. You know Cassandra has NO concept of money, so you really shouldn't be trying to wrangle cash out of her." Jason begged to differ. The girl was stingy, and a cheat. "And your brother was holding on to that money for computer parts. It really wasn't nice to take that off of them."

Jason pulled a blue dress off of her rack. He'd never even SEEN her in it. He wondered if this was like the dozen unopened lipsticks in the bottom of her purse. "Tim's always buying computer parts—he's probably taking over the world as we speak." Or building himself a new cyborg body. He admitted it, he feared geeks. And there was nothing WRONG with some good, healthy fear and distrust, Jason reasoned.

Selena slapped his shoulder gently. "You be nice to your little brother. I believe my children are capable of anything they can put their minds to. If that's Timmy's dream…" she trailed off with a broad smile spread across her face.

"Well, my dream was to make it a three walled garage. Look where it got me." Mom was NOT taking the blue dress off of him. He reached in for a red one. He liked the red one. "This one looks good on you." He kind of liked it when guys stared at his mom and he had to scowl at them in discouragement and disgust.

"I was thinking…" She looked back at the pile on the bed. "I don't know what I was thinking. And why am I taking fashion advice from my eighteen year old son?"

"Cause I am an expert in what chicks look hot in?" That earned him another slap from his mother. "Hey!" he replied, rubbing his shoulder. That one had almost hurt. "It aint my fault for having a good-looking mom." He kissed her cheek. Yup, he was playing it up.

Outside, the sounds of a giggling teenager passed the door. Cassandra liked to wander around the house with the phone as she talked. "See if you can pry the phone out of your sister's hands. Tell her to finish her homework, then to get dressed." Selena couldn't wait until Cassandra was old enough to marry Bart—it would mean she'd get that particular phone line back. Or at least she'd only have to wrestle it off of Tim.

She watched her adult son exit the room, then began rummaging through the clothes on her bed. What said 'welcome to the family' without saying 'abandon hope, all ye who enter'?

Were they old enough to get married and have babies of their own already? It seemed like yesterday that she and Bruce were holding Dick in their arms as he sobbed his eight year old tears over the deaths of his biological parents. It wasn't even that long ago that Cassandra had started talking, or that Tim had come out of his shell enough to fight back with his sister and brothers. Fortunately, nature had provided a great remedy for the empty nest syndrome—grandchildren. She easily gave into the consession of being old at the thought of having some other child to love—and without late- night feedings. Being a grandparent was life's reward for parenting, she decided.

She reexamined the clothes on her bed. Maybe she wasn't trying to say 'we try not to suck your soul'. Maybe she was trying to say that they were thrilled, excited and ecstatic…and they promised not to COMPLETELY abduct the child, or spoil it beyond recognition.

There was a cry of protest from the hall. "Hey!" Cassandra called out.

"Bart, Cass'll call you back. She's got a butt-load of geometry to finish." There was a beep as the phone clicked off. She'd say something to Jason about his language—but he'd gotten the job done.

"Give it back!" the girl cried out. There was the beginnings of a struggle beyond the door. "Was talking to Bart!"

"Uh uh. Homework first, then phone." Jason ALMOST sounded like his father—except he was enjoying being all parental because it meant he got to be mean to his sister.

Sighing, Selena took the blue dress off the hanger, then began looking for scissors to remove the tag.

* * *

"Stop it."

"Shh."

"Stop it."

"Shhhh."

"MOOOOM!"

Selena turned from the mirror in the parlor, where she was adjusting her hair and scowled at Dick. He had Tim in a headlock, and he was grinding his knuckles into the boy's hair. "Richard, I don't think I need to explain to you how it's inappropriate for a man who's about to be a father to be terrorizing his younger brother."

Dick let Tim out of the headlock, then pushed him away. Reaching out a hand, he ruffled the boy's hair. Instantly, Tim's hands were on his hair, trying to smooth it out again.

"We were just playing, mom. Timmy likes it. Don't you, Timmy."

The youngest of the clan joined his mother at the mirror. "You wrecked it," the boy moaned.

"Poor Timmy's widdle hair, we hurted it…" Dick mocked.

Readjusting the pin in her hair, Selena stared at her son in the mirror. "We're going to get a restraining order. You're to keep a hundred feet from Tim's hair at all times." The boys were more particular about their hair than Cassandra was.

"Yeah!" Tim reaffirmed, approvingly, then scowled up at his mom. "Heeey! I just mean—you don't mess with a guy's hair." So Tim was a little obsessed with it. His girl friend liked it. IF she liked it, it was good enough for him.

Selena put an arm around her both of her boys. "My youngest, and my oldest…" she crooned sentimentally.

There was a giggle from behind the sofa. "Cassandra! Hang up the phone!" All three of them called simultaneously.

The girl's head popped up from the opposite end of the parlor. Her dark hair and skin matched the aged wood of the frame of the sofa. She blended in with the background too easily, when she wanted to. "Bart's talking about school," she said. "Important."

"Cassandra," Selena warned. "You can talk to him after dinner. Barbara's going to be here any minute. Hang up that phone and let it recharge for a few minutes." Looking around, she noticed a missing child. Briefly, she wondered what trouble that boy was up to now. "Go find Jason, and tell your father to get down here. And if we catch you on the phone again…" Selena smiled devilishly. "Well, lets just say—you won't like it."

Innocently, Cassandra batted her eyelashes, then left.

"Dick, follow her," Selena ordered. "Make sure she hangs up the phone and doesn't get distracted by anything."

Grinning, Dick obliged. Stealthily, he pursued, making a big show of being quiet. He lifted his knees high in the air and tip-toed, holding a finger to his lips.

"Man," Tim muttered when Dick had left the room. "And Barbara's going to marry THAT?"

Selena couldn't help it. She threw her head back and laughed.

* * *

With the sensation of falling, Catwoman opened her eyes with a start--her knees clutched to her chest. It was cold and raining. The gargoyle she'd fallen asleep under only barely kept out the precipitation. Her hips, shoulders and feet shined with rain upon her leather outfit. Slowly, she raked her gloves across her eyes, careful of the claws attached to each finger tip.

She despised that dream—because she liked it so much. It reminded her of what she didn't have, and with who she'd never have it.

In the past, she could entertain hope that life would work itself out in a fashion that she would no longer have to be disappointed every evening when she woke.

Tonight—tonight had changed everything. Tonight all secret hopes for such a life had been destroyed when she'd followed from the manor to one of his 'other' caves. She hadn't gone in the manor. As much as she furtively wished things were different, Catwoman did not belong belong with those children of his, which is why she'd waited for him to leave.

Half a block off of Addison, he'd landed on the roof they often met upon, and spun. His cape twisted around his body, and he'd glared in the darkness at her. Without cover, Catwoman had stepped forward.

"What are you doing here?" he had asked. Her head still stung with hollow tone in his voice.

"I came to see you."

"I can't give you what you want," he informed her, then prepared to leave again.

"Batman!" she called out, coming closer. "I didn't come for anything. I came… to see if you needed anything."

"Not any more," he informed her without turning.

Something caught in her throat as she approached, placing a hand on his shoulder. Lightening flashed in the sky, and his hand had grabbed hers as fast as that. She gasped, drawing in the humid air.

"I need nothing that you can give me," Batman told her, then pushed her away. She stumbled back two steps, but caught herself with the grace of a feline. In the time it took her to do so, however, he was gone.

He was gone.

Looking out from under their gargoyle, she saw the sky flashed once again with lightening. Remember the rough feel of his hand on her arm as he thrust her away, her chest quaked with a sob.

She'd lost him, he was gone.

All of it was gone.

THE END