Gasp! I live! And I'm writing for a completely different fandom... okay nobody is surprised by that. Anyway, this Summer I started reading through Cassandra Cain's tenure on Batgirl, and it's great stuff. And loving all silly secularized commercialized holidays as I do, this was just sort of inevitable.
Fair warning: this fic contains discriminatory language, and references some racist stereotypes. I do not endorse these things in any way, nor are they portrayed in a remotely positive light, but if you're likely to be offended you may want to steer clear, or at least skip a paragraph or two. It's relatively contained.
Also-this is set approximately "early" in Cass's career as Batgirl. After she gains the ability to talk, but not long after it. I'm also sort of putting my own spin on her relationship to language, because I really felt like the comic proper cheated a bit.
A Quiet Halloween
They say, in Gotham, that criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot. If that's so, then Halloween must be the exception: because in Gotham, Halloween went together with crime like... well, most every day in Gotham went with crime. Crime just didn't really believe in taking holidays, truth be told.
In the Good Olde Days, before Batman, when criminals wore more Italian suits and fewer weaponized ones, the mob used costumes to cover for smugglers, even hit-men. The latter proved a mistake—turned out there were some people who liked the idea of costumed killers a little too much, and most of them had some bone or other to pick with their employers. Suffice it to say, the ordinary mafia didn't last very long after that, and ever since, Gotham tradition held that Halloween was a day for supervillains and nefarious plots. You had to respect your origins, after all.
Some years it would turn out to be relatively harmless—Batman would disarm Poison Ivy's exploding pumpkins only to find the "deadly toxin" inside was colored helium. Or the year the Joker seized the GCPD's haunted house, taunted Commissioner Gordon for half an hour, only for the children to emerge from the other side, never realizing they'd been hostages.
And then some years it was worse—rumors of candy with razor blades or little arsenic capsules embedded in them weren't rumors in Gotham. And any time the Scarecrow got involved...
But people still came out, every year.
At any rate, Cassandra Cain knew nothing about the reasons behind Gotham's rich history of Halloween crime. To her, Halloween meant two things. The first, patrol. And the second, was that the streets would be packed with people, many of whom were under twelve.
And yet, the big players were locked up. No Joker this year—no Scarecrow, Two Face, or Mad Hatter. The Penguin was out but the Penguin was almost legitimate these days, and anyway he had always been a businessman first. Nobody turned a profit from hurting children.
Oracle—Barbara, she wanted to be called—even suggested that Cass take the night off. They'd been in the little kitchen of her apartment, one of their weekly breakfast dates, blinds drawn against the 2pm sun. Members of the Bat-family got used to weird hours. At least, the ones who didn't have 9 o'clock business meetings. Bruce appeared to have decided that he could sleep when he was dead and he could die sometime after the human race stopped producing psychopaths.
Anyway she'd said it like it had just come to her, "Why don't you take Halloween off?" Like she hadn't been thinking of it for weeks and steering the conversation towards Halloween for five minutes. You had to be a pretty good liar to fool Cass. Well, that, and you could only point out the little plastic headstone on the table so many times before it got suspicious.
Her first instinct was to reject the idea out of hand. Take a night off? She'd gone out with no uniform, with broken ribs, even once with the flu, though that had turned out badly, what with there being no holes in her mask.
However, Cass was also beginning to realize that Oracle—Barbara—thought she was spending too much time as Batgirl. Barbara had been Batgirl once, after all, and it had eaten up her "normal" life. But Cass had never even had a normal life to begin with. Barbara seemed to think this was wrong.
So what she said was simply, "Worried."
The woman who could topple corporations and even smallish governments with a few well placed keystrokes gave her a helpless look. Cass hated that look, but she hadn't been able to figure out how to get Oracle to stop. Batman used to look at her like that, but he'd stopped when she took a bullet for a criminal. Oracle had only gotten worse.
And now she sighed. "Look, I understand you're worried, but your arrest rate has been great lately. Most of the villains powerful enough to organize anything bad are locked up, certainly all the ones who normally do it. You and Bruce and Tim have been working your butts off specifically so that Halloween would be a bit safer—have you even seen the sun in the past few weeks?"
Cass squinted at the curtains. They were trying their best, but nobody was perfect.
"My point is, how many chances do you think you'll get? You've done great work but a lot of it is luck, you know? If the Joker had something really big planned for Halloween, he wouldn't be robbing banks on October 10th. You should enjoy yourself while you're still young enough to run around in a silly costume and... throw eggs at houses or whatever kids do these days. You can't do it when you're my age."
Cass did a quick mental calculation. She may not have known all the history of Gotham's Halloween, but she knew the police records, knew how often Halloween was quiet. She gave a quick nod, and smiled reassuringly.
"Twenty years. Plenty of time."
Oracle glared at her.
Worried hadn't been the right word. Cass realized this while waiting for nightfall. It was close but not... worried was how you felt about one person, or thing. "Worried" didn't make your chest get all tight, didn't make you practice drawing batarangs over and over, glancing at the clock every thirty seconds. Worried was... doing that thing with your hands, grasping them, like strangling your fingers. She was past that. This was more like fear.
Fear on Halloween.
Which was, was... it didn't make sense. She'd seen Gotham torn apart by gang violence. She'd seen—thought she'd seen—the man she respected above all others murdered. What was there for her to be afraid of?
She continued sheathing and drawing the batarang, without paying attention—a mistake, but she couldn't focus. "Computer," she said at last.
"Yes, Batgirl?" answered the bank of monitors that ran her personal batcave.
A soft whirring sound from the wall. "Fear. An emotional state brought on by a perceived threat, as that of pain or danger."
She considered this. After a moment, she said, "Computer. Define. Perceived."
Several more words were looked up before Cass felt like she understood properly, enough to realize she didn't understand at all. What did you do when you felt afraid?
In her experience the most common reaction was to try to kill Batgirl, and when that didn't work, to run screaming that you were put up to it and please you had a wife and kids.
That seemed unlikely to work for her. She had her ways of dealing with bad dreams—they involved criminals getting shiny new casts—but that was it. Somehow it didn't seem like she was going to be able to punch this away. The only way to convince herself nothing bad was going to happen was to make sure it didn't.
If only the sun would go down already!
Something Batman said came back to her. It had been months ago, before the psychic had... done whatever he did to her brain. Made it so she could understand words. She only half-remembered what he's said—could barely understand it better now. But it was something like:
"Fear is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. Martial arts—Judo, for instance—teach you how to use your opponent's body against them. Fear lets you use their mind the same way. You turn strengths into weaknesses, but up here." He tapped the side of his head.
She had given him a puzzled look.
So he showed her.
A warehouse full of armed men, machine guns. Even she couldn't dodge those, would have had to wait for when their attention was focused somewhere, come at them from behind.
But that wasn't the point of the exercise, so Batman had cut down the lights with a batarang toss. They crashed to the floor, plunging the room into darkness. Surprised yells as the crooks scrambled to get away from the falling lighting fixtures, calls for night vision goggles.
She would have struck then, while they were confused, struggling with various bits of equipment, but he waited. Watched, until they began to split up, to seek out the intruder. Then, motioning for her to stay where she was, he took off after one of the crooks.
There were dozens of silent take downs in Cass's own arsenal, probably over a hundred in Batman's. He let the man scream.
From her perch on top of a stack of crates, Cass had an excellent view as the band of criminals dissolved into chaos. It began when they halted their search, slowly began retreating towards the center of the room, where there was a table with several briefcases on it. Another of their number went down like that, backing neatly into a sleeper hold. One of his companions nearly tripped over his unconscious body, and then ran screaming for the others.
She watched as Batman darted around the edges of their field of vision, silent except where he wanted to be, giving them tiny, shuffling noises with no obvious source. She watched muscles tense and stay that way, necks twist from side to side, veins twitching faster and faster. And that was when Batman sent a batarang whizzing through the air, nicking one of the crooks on the ear.
The man yelled, twisted, began firing wildly, and then they were all shooting at shadows, at the sparks and echoes of ricochets, at everything that was in the room and everything their minds put there. Cass had to duck behind the crate to ensure she wasn't hit. Five seconds later the gunfire stopped, replaced by a chorus of clicking sounds.
She poked her head back over the crate just in time to watch Batman calmly walk up to the thugs and take their guns from them. They barely lifted a finger to stop him. One tried to run, got five steps and then crashed to the floor, his legs bound together with a bolas. The others surrendered.
After that, she had understood what he meant, understood the reason for the stitching around the mouth of her mask. And then he had told her to never, ever allow a group of criminals to fire blindly in an enclosed space. Especially not with automatic weapons, and certainly not just to make a point.
The one thing she never understood was why people said Batman had no sense of humor.
The impatience Cass and the entire child population of Gotham felt was finally rewarded when the sun sank to the horizon, an old clock tower chiming six over the bustle of traffic. She was perched atop an apartment building, overlooking 32nd street, the October breeze slicing through the reinforced leather of her uniform like it was no thicker than silk. Of course, it was always cold and windy once you got up seven or eight stories. You learned not to think about it, to stretch to keep from getting stiff, and to wear leg warmers.
The distractions were plentiful this evening. Down below was a world of color and activity, children scampering from place to place, accompanied or alone. There were ghosts waving at pirates, robots hand-in-hand with witches, and an almost disappointing number of Supermen, considering. The crowd bustled in all directions, pouring in and out of lobbies, which the occupants of the apartments would stock with candy as they saw fit. The more enthusiastic ones would be downstairs to greet the children, and anyone else... well, it was Gotham. You could block out New Year's in Gotham, provided your walls were thick enough.
As Cass watched the children run to and fro, fueled by sugar, she began to have an odd feeling, in addition to her... anxiety, she'd finally settled on calling it, after some time with the computer's thesaurus. Oracle would say that it was all crass commer... commercia... made up by businesses to sell candy. She was probably right. Cass didn't know Oracle to be wrong about things.
But there was something to it, something in watching thousands of people wearing costumes, like she did every day. Not to fight, not to intimidate, not to kill. Just for the sheer joy of it.
She wished she had a word to put to the feeling. Whatever her other feelings about words (three or more syllables should be discouraged, and French outlawed altogether), they made things smaller, more contained. If an idea—or a feeling—had a name, then you didn't have to think the entire idea, just the name. You could say "Oh, that's just..." and be done with it.
She was so focused on this, and the sights and noises below, that Cass didn't notice the sound of the door to the roof opening behind her.
"So like I said, thought maybe we'd have a nice picnic dinner, watch the festivities from a dista—hey, jeez, what are you doing? Get down from there!"
Cass started, but did not turn right away. That wasn't the voice of a man who was about to turn violent (Lucky, whispered a voice in her head. Stupid, and lucky. Pay attention.). Calmly, she twisted around, thrusting out her chest a little to show the yellow logo there.
"Yeah, yeah, very nice costume, now come on down." The man speaking was somewhat heavyset, in his late thirties. Another man with a scruffy beard and glasses stood in the doorway behind him. "You Denise's girl?"
Cass blinked again. That, she hadn't been expecting. She gave a shrug, and then took a step back off the roof.
She heard a faint gasp, but she had already drawn her grappling hook, and a second later she swung up past the two startled men, on her way to the top of the building next door, several stories higher.
There was a scream. A little girl.
Cass didn't even need to think. She twisted around in mid-flight, flicked the switch that retracted the grappling hook. The brick wall of the building rushed at her; she landed legs first and bounced off, firing the graple in the direction of the sound. One of the nice things about superheroing in Gotham was that you barely had to aim the things.
The cry sounded like it had come from about a block down; she made it in less than twenty seconds, soaring over the heads of the people on the street. Why weren't they running? Couldn't they hear?
The building the scream had come from was a five story brownstone. There was a banner over the entrance, blood red, dripping writing across it, the usual assortment of paper ghosts and plaster tombstones set out along the sidewalk in front. She took this all in at a glance as she swung past overhead, then dropped to the roof. Whatever was happening was probably on the ground floor—she dove over the side of the roof, caught the railing of the fire escape, flipped, landed on the next level down. She jumped again, and seconds later dropped into the alley space between this building and the next.
There was an emergency exit—no handle, just a key slot. Not having a key, Cass gave the door a kick, and it let her in anyway.
A man with a wolf's head loomed out of the shadows. She had already seized him by the muzzle and was about to sweep his feet from under him (standard werewolf combat technique) when she realized his jaw felt suspiciously like it was made of rubber. That didn't mean he wasn't guilty. The black curtain cutting them off from the rest of the room, bowl of fake eyeballs, and bloody, plastic hatchet, on the other hand...
"You're not supposed to be back here!" he said, after she had let go. "Also, did you just break our door?"
She had, more than a little bit. In fact she was standing on it. Emergency exits don't like to open inwards.
There was another scream, which rapidly turned to wild giggles. Someone yelled "YARGH! Me maties, there be delicious children in these waters! Drag them to their doom with your terrible hooks!"
Cass began to back away as someone played a recording of fingernails on a chalkboard.
"Hey, what about our door?" said the reluctant werewolf, running after her into the alley. But by the time he got there she was already gone.
Right. Screams on Halloween. Not always a cry for help. Cass had kick-jumped her way up the building in about a second, and was now lying on the roof, staring up into the darkening sky. She didn't particularly need to catch her breath, but what she did need was a new plan. How was she supposed to tell what was real and fake tonight?
Scaring people for fun. She really didn't get this holiday.
From the alleyway below she could hear the man in the werewolf mask. "Hey, has anyone seen a Batgirl? Anyone?"
He had thought she was just... actually, that made two people...
An idea crossed her mind. After all, it was almost more conspicuous if she was running around on rooftops tonight. Hide in plain sight was a good strategy. People couldn't pick one little girl out of a crowd, even if they'd just seen her ki—
Anyway, it could work. She wasn't tall; you couldn't see her face with the mask. She could pass.
Okay, so if anyone was paying attention, her costume was packed with more gadgets than even the most technophilic parents would be willing to spring for; but people didn't pay attention, that was the point. Although—she took a peak over the ledge for a quick comparison.
Yeah. Probably better bind her chest a bit.
It was strange to be on the street, in uniform, in full view of everyone. She felt... exposed somehow. Naked? She didn't mind walking the streets in civilian clothes; they made her anonymous. But with the uniform on, anybody could see at a glance exactly who she was, what she stood for. That wasn't something you paraded around in front of people.
And tonight no one cared. And that wasn't even the strangest thing.
There was a chaos of sounds and shapes and colors, and pop-culture references such that she felt like a little island in a typhoon. Currents made of parents and children weaved around her like she was standing still. It was all very confusing, and distracting.
What was more, it didn't even feel like her city anymore. She hadn't heard anyone cuss all night. And people were walking in the street. Any other day that was tantamount to suicide. And everyone—everyone—seemed to be having fun. Maybe that was the most foreign thing of all.
So Cass pushed through the crowd as best she could, trying to keep her eyes open for... something. Anything going wrong. Apart from children whining that they didn't get this or that thing or that they were tired, or any of the other things that make up a child's idea of injustice, all was pretty quiet.
All of a sudden a boy (dressed as Superman, of course) charged in front of her, dragging a beleaguered, middle-aged Flash behind him. The crowd shifted; Cass had no choice but to follow or literally elbow her way through. Her elbows had spines on them. She decided against this.
The little detachment burst into a hotel lobby; a big room of yellow and red with suits of armor hanging out somewhat vaguely in the corners, like they weren't quite sure what they were doing there either. Tonight they fit in slightly better than normal by the removal of their heads, but something in their posture still said "So we're standing here because... why?"
Beyond a field of skeletal hands (which clashed something awful with the carpet) a towering Grim Reaper held a bowl of candy, and it was towards him that the children ran. Cass tried to break out the side of the line, but was blocked—accidentally, yet quite expertly—by a miniature undead football player.
There was nothing for it but to wait her turn. The spirit of death grinned his evil grin as she drew near. "Take from this bowl—if you dare!" he said, his scythe poised to sever any hand that overstayed its welcome.
Cass looked up at him, unimpressed. She tried to give up her spot and go around, but the reaper blocked her way with the scythe's shaft.
"Hey—don't be scared. It's just a joke, see? I'm not gonna hurt you. I mean, this thing's made of plastic."
Cass rolled her eyes—a gesture utterly indiscernible through her mask. But now the kids behind her were starting to shove and shout, and the man was holding the bowl right under her face, smiling hopefully at her. So she shrugged, snatched something out the bowl, and walked off to the side.
It felt amazing to have two feet of space to herself again. She could breathe. And it turned out that while leg warmers were great for when you were alone on the 7th story, in a crowd at ground level they were not so good. Maybe she should just go back to the rooftops...
"Hey, what'd you get?" Cass turned around to see a little Steel running up to her, a cardboard-tube hammer slung over his back. As she turned, he started back, then laughed. "Man, that's awesome—what're you, zombie Batgirl?"
Cass glared. Zombie Batgirl? Zombie? Seriously—after all she'd done for this city?
While she was fuming, the little boy had crept closer and was examining the candybar clenched in her hand. "Aw, a Babe Ruth? I love those. I'll trade you, um..." he peeked into the pillowcase trailing from his other hand. "Do you like shock tarts?"
She cocked her head at the little boy—he couldn't have been more than ten—dropped the candy bar into his bag, and turned to go.
"Hey—wait! Hey, I didn't give you anything!" the boy protested.
Cass didn't bother turning around; she strode back out the door and into the street, and in a few seconds was so mixed into the crowd she doubted that she could retrace her own steps even if she wanted to.
Zombie Batgirl indeed!
She tromped through the street—let people get out of her way for a change—then ducked into an alley, desperate to be out of the crowd again.
It really shouldn't have upset her that much. It was just... well...
"Seriously, if you don't like shock tarts I've got more. How do you feel about nerds?"
Cass leapt back and knocked into a trashcan, overturning it. The crash filled up the alley and echoed back, absurdly loud. There in the entrance of the ally was the same Steel she thought she'd lost.
"Go away," she said.
"What? Why? Was it something I said?" asked the boy. "Mom always says I say things I shouldn't, but I don't really get it. I mean, I never mean anything bad, so it's like why can't you just look at what I meant instead of what I said? I always think about what other people mean when they're talking to me. I think people get too hung up on words, you know? Words are weird. They should make a word for how weird words are. Like wordiness. But weirder. Weirdiness?"
He stared off in thought for a second, then shook himself. "Anyway, was I saying something? Oh right. Sorry if I said something to bother you. I don't really know what it would be though. So, do you like nerds?"
She was in no mood to listen to more of this—anyway, there were more important things for her to be doing, somewhere. There had to be. So she pushed past him and walked back out into the street.
She was not particularly surprised when she heard him following her. "Hey wait up! Do you always just walk away from people when they're talking to you?"
Cass stopped, turned. "Why are you following me?" They were next to a street light, a tiny break in the traffic's flow, the noise just barely low enough to be able to understand each other.
The boy shrugged. "Because you gave me a piece of candy. I can't just take it and not give you anything. That'd be like stealing—or taking handouts, and mommy says we never take handouts. Anyway it'd be rude, and I'm already in trouble just by being out here, so I don't want mom to find out I was rude too."
Trouble. Trouble. Cass practiced moving her tongue around the word for a second, before saying, "What do you mean you're in trouble?"
"We-e-ell I'm not supposed to be out here at all—Mom wouldn't let me go trick-or-treating, she thinks I'll get lost or hurt or something—but there's no way I'm missing my first Halloween in Gotham! So I snuck out."
"Where do you live?" The boy gave an address. Cass knew the street, but asked anyway, "Where's that?"
The boy pointed. Cass pointed the other direction.
"Oh," said the boy. "That was my next guess. Mom always said I'd lose my head if it wasn't attached, but I don't know about that. I mean, don't you think if your head wasn't attached to your body you'd be more likely to know where your head is, since it can see?"
"No." Amazingly, he did not follow this with a lengthy explanation of why not, just stood there, unmoving. However, the silence did not last for very long, before he said, "Anyway, are you gonna take my candy or do I have to give you back your Babe Ruth bar?" He glanced down. "Er, actually I already ate it, so. Nerds or Shock Tarts? I might have a Warhead in here somewhere, too."
"Go home," Cass said again, more forcefully.
"No! You can't make me!" shrieked the boy.
Cass threw up her hands, and began to walk away. Of course, he followed.
"Would you stop doing that? It's not very nice you know."
Maybe not. But she wasn't about to let this kid wander around on his own, when he would get lost, or worse. And she couldn't just kidnap him in the middle of the street. Maybe she could find a police officer or something.
"You don't talk much, do you?"
"So you agree with me then? Words are weird!"
Cass stared at him for a moment, bracing herself to make a long speech. "You don't know the half of it."
"Sure I do! Like, take 'drink.' It's a thing, and it's also a verb, 'to drink something,' but if you drink something in the past, you 'drank' it, you didn't 'drinked' it. But in the negative, you can only say 'you didn't drink it' not 'you didn't drank it'. And if you're talking about the liquid, then it was 'drunk,' but you can only say that in the past. If you're doing it now it's 'being drunk.' Doesn't the word 'being' seem like it's kind of pointless?"
Cass felt her arms tense. She had spent. Hours. Trying to make sense of that.
"Anyway, I really do like your costume. How did you come up with the idea of stitching up the mask like that? It's so creepy."
She hadn't, actually. It had been Oracle. But that was a longer explanation. "It's warm," she said.
The boy cocked his head at her, and grinned. "Hah! That's great. You know, I really like Batman too. He's so cool! But my mom says that I should like Steel, because he has di-ver-si-ty. That sounds like a dumb reason to like someone, though. We used to live in Metropolis, so maybe that's why. But I don't know, even when we lived there I just always thought Batman was really neat. Robin and Batgirl seemed sort of lame, though. But I like your version!"
She had about three seconds to feel good about herself before the boy said, "Oooh, a haunted house!" grabbed her hand, and dragged her towards the door.
Of course it would be simple enough to overpower a seven year old, but she was invested now. Plus, as far as there being something more important for her to do—apparently there wasn't.
Meanwhile, in a darker part of town, dark figures sat in a dark room, around a table that may as well have been painted black at this point. The figures rose as they were joined by another, a woman with a brilliantly white smile, but who was otherwise equally as dark.
"Is tonight the night?" asked one of the figures; one who kept fidgeting around nervously.
"Yes," said the woman, all but caressing the word with her tongue. "As stated previously—tonight the plan goes into action."
"Er, what's the plan again?" asked another of the male figures, scratching his head.
The woman sighed and explained the plan again.
When she had finished, the man who asked the question said, "Oh, right. That," and they all laughed madly, the echoes bouncing off the black-painted walls and the places where most people would have hung some lights, until it seemed the room was full of echolocating demons.
And then the laughter stopped, rather abruptly, like Wile E. Coyote noticing that he's not standing on anything. There was an embarrassed moment of silence, where nobody seemed quite sure what to do with themselves. Feet shuffled. Coughs were coughed. Several times one of the men began to speak, but then stopped. Finally they all looked to the woman, who was furiously thinking that an experienced villain would know just what to do with this sort of moment, and someone should write a manual.
Well, after tonight, maybe she would write it. This was going to get her in all the papers, after all. It was their year—no Joker or Scarecrow to upstage them this time!
But first she had a team of confused shadowy figures to order about. "Right, well... let's go put the plan into action!"
It was Cass's first time in a haunted house—at least, in the part you were supposed to go in—and frankly, she was underwhelmed. Not that she had gone in expecting spine-tingling horrors or anything, but they could at least try. Anyone with a week's worth of combat training could tell you where the monsters were going to jump out from, and it didn't take an expert to know that blood didn't look like that.
The boy seemed amused, however—screaming wildly at every rotting corpse and possessed farmer's wife the house threw at him, and then laughing hysterically as soon as they were away.
"Some fun, huh?" said the kid after a they had "narrowly escaped" a demon-butcher. "I mean, wow, a real Gotham haunted house. I'm a little disappointed that they aren't any supervillains though. I mean, I guess they might be afraid that someone would think they're real. But that's the point isn't it? Well, I guess it wouldn't be good if a supervillain actually showed up then, or if somebody called the cops on them. Still."
Cass, who had been with the boy for almost forty-five minutes now, finally reached a verdict on him. "You're crazy."
"I am not! My mom says I'm just ADD, and it's not fair to try and judge me by other people's standards. Also, are you a psychiatrist?"
Cass blinked. "Um..."
"Exactly, so how would you know?" The boy folded his arms and stomped off ahead.
She stared after him. She hadn't expected him to get so upset. That was the sort of thing people said to each other all the time, wasn't it? One of those things you didn't mean... exactly but sort of kind of meant. And anyway what about all that stuff about not paying attention to words?
Well, not that she cared if the kid was angry at her. He couldn't possibly get lost in a haunted house, and this way she could enjoy the quiet for a few minutes. Well, apart from the scary organ music that kept checking in every ten seconds to make sure she hadn't forgotten to be scared.
Cass shook her head and kept on down the hallway of black curtains, stepping over a few severed limbs as she went. The cloth sides of the tunnel opened up into a small clearing as she ducked under some fake cobwebs. That pushed the left side up against the wall, so...
She turned right, hands on her hips, just in time to see long white fingers poke out of the dark, clutching at the curtains, ready to throw them open. Then, as if they could feel Cass's stare, they retreated.
She shrugged and resumed walking, but had barely taken three steps before the same hand shot back out and grabbed her shoulder. Cass almost snorted. This was their big attempt at surprise? She'd seen it coming as soon as the curtain shifted again.
The hand was tugging at her, insistently—Cass shrugged it off, and it shrank back once again.
In our out. This was starting to get annoying.
As she kept going, something rustled behind the curtain, and Cass rolled her eyes and mentally prepared herself to not hit the spook or whatever it was out of pure frustration. But then, nothing happened for a long time. A whole hallway passed without anything leaping at her, or even any sort of creepy ambiance. Cass wondered if maybe they'd gotten the message, were finally going to leave her alone.
When she rounded the corner, there was a girl in a white and red kimono standing in the center of the room, looking around. Her hair was jet black, almost invisible in the dim light, her skin almost as pale as her dress. She moved with cautious steps, as though the floor were booby trapped, and by stepping carefully she could avoid the house's tricks.
Cass tried to step around her, but the girl suddenly stepped right where she was headed. She tried again, and again the girl timidly, accidentally stepped in front of her.
Cass took a deep breath, resisting the urge to just shove the girl out of the way. Calm down. She doesn't even realize you're there. What was wrong with her tonight anyway?
So, she tapped the girl on the shoulder. "Um, excuse—"
The girl whirled faster than Cass would have thought possible, given the other 'attractions' in the house; her long, bright red nails flashing as they reached for her. Counters ran through Cass's head—time to dodge? No—then grab the wrists, and twist—
Then she saw the girl's face. Her mouth. Bloody stitches held her lips together, the skin fuzed, grown into one except for a few small holes, not between the lips but through them, as though she had tried to claw her face open. The holes strained as the woman's jaw opened as far as it would go—her eyes were desperate, longing, as her fingernails stretched towards Cass's face. She was trying to scream; but all that came out was a faint, whistling gurgle.
So Cass screamed instead.
It wasn't much of one—not a loud scream, but it was enough to leave her vocal chords aching, pounding blood in her ears, cutting off all other sound.
Then it was over. The girl ran her blood-crusted nails along Cass' chin, but she could see now it was just red corn syrup, just a battered up set of prosthetic lips over the girl's own, just... just...
Cass knocked the girl's arm away and shoved past her. A second later she was running. She wanted out. Now.
The little Steel flashed past, being menaced by a not-so convincing Joker. Cass ignored the look of shock on his face and kept going, pushing through the curtain to surprise several teens in t-shirts, running sound effects. She was gone before they even had time to tell her she wasn't allowed back there.
The exit presented itself—she was out in an instant, without bothering to let Dracula wish her a good evening. The house was on the first floor of a brownstone; she jumped over the edge of the stoop to where the steps provided a little break in traffic.
She was not scared. She didn't get scared. Not of criminals, not of danger, certainly not of some girl in a stupid haunted house.
Her fist moved almost without her being aware of it—like a spring she'd forgotten to hold back—she punched the wall as hard as she could. The brick made a crunching sound.
"Are you okay?" It was the kid. Great. Perfect.
Cass seriously thought about punching he wall again—wondered if her knuckles could take it. Her gloves were reinforced, so in theory...
When she didn't answer, the boy hopped down next to her. "Hey, what's the matter?"
Cass glared at him. Yeah, this was what she needed now. "Nothing."
"You know, mom says it's bad to keep things bottled up. She says it leads to big explosions and everyone would be a lot happier if they learned to just let things out in little—"
"I hate this stupid holiday!" She hadn't quite known what she was going to say; just that she had to stop the kid from talking for a minute. But now that it was out there. "Why? What's the point?" Her fists were clenched so tightly she could feel her nails through the gloves. She was shaking. Her eyes stung with shame. Failure.
The kid reached up and put a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, you just got scared. Don't take it so hard."
Hah. Easy for him to say. That was fine for a kid. Well, she'd had enough. No more messing around. This had been a dumb idea from the start.
"I'm taking you home." She grabbed his hand and began to walk.
The kid dug in his feet. "What? No! It's not even eight yet! Look, we don't have to go to any more haunted houses if you don't want to."
Cass whirled. "You look. I'm not your friend. I don't want you getting lost. That's all."
She had expected him to be hurt. To cry. Instead, he just nodded, and said, "Why are you so upset?"
Don't answer. "I don't get scared."
"Okay. But you did this time. Why? And what's wrong with that?"
Why? No reason. She just hadn't been expecting... she'd thought the girl was just someone else in the house. And her face. The look in her eyes, desperate to be heard, screaming as hard as she could just to be understood. Unable. Alone. Forever.
She'd lived like that. The thought of it again...
Cass had honestly never understood feeling like you needed to lie down before that moment. Feeling—not tired—but like you didn't have the strength to stand. She let go of the kid's hand, slumped against the side of the building, sank. Her balance was gone, like the world had turned sideways. It wasn't anything wrong with the world, though. It was her.
"I want to... I want..." she didn't have a word for it. Didn't know if there was one; she wanted things as they were, she wanted nothing bad to ever happen again, never to lose anything, never to be beaten, never to know she was all by herself.
"It's okay." The boy hugged her. She didn't hug him back—she had that much dignity still—but she put her head on his shoulder while she made herself choke back tears.
"Feel better?" he asked after a moment.
Actually, she did. Better than she had all night. Less angry, less anxious. Like a weight had lifted, if only a little. She nodded, pulling away from him.
"Good. Because you know, I'd be fine even if I wason my own. I know how to get a taxi. And don't forget, I'm the one following you. You still haven't let me trade you something."
Cass felt a smile play at her lips. She extended her hand.
The boy grinned widely. "Okay then—Nerds or Shock Tarts?"
Cass had no idea what he difference was. "Surprise me?"
There didn't seem to be much choice tonight anyway.
Cass did find out the difference; and why those two (and anything else sour) were the only kinds of candy the kid didn't eat the second he got them. They visited several more houses and she let him swap for whatever he wanted—apparently his mother watched his sugar intake pretty carefully the rest of the year. Cass soon had a pouch full of sour candies on her belt, the one kept empty for anything she might come across during a mission. Well, technically it was for shark repellent, but they all knew that stuff didn't really work. Supposedly it'd been Dick's idea, back in the day, and nobody had had the heart to tell him.
At any rate, the Halloween stuff wasn't so bad once you got your head around it. It was still stupid, mostly, but... kinda fun, at the same time. Maybe it was the sugar talking.
"So if you don't like Steel, why are you dressed up as him?" she asked the boy, after a particularly successful raid on a candy store.
"I think that's the longest sentence you've said all night."
Cass nodded. She'd been counting; and was actually rather proud of it. It had a... conditional? If-then thing.
"Anyway it's my costume from last year. Still fits, mostly. Mom wasn't going to get me one this year since she wasn't letting me come out, which I said was even more unfair but moms you know?"
"But why dress up at all?" She couldn't see his eyebrows, but had the distinct impression that the boy was cocking one of them at her. "If you don't want to be like him, why dress as him? Why not... just be yourself."
"Well yeah," said the kid, "but you can't be yourself all the time."
"Like during the day," Cass muttered.
Cass blinked. Had she just said that out loud? "Your mother's right," said quickly. "Steel is cool." She'd met him once, in passing, on a mission to recover some smugglers from metropolis. He'd clotheslined one of them with a hammer, and smiled at her before rushing off across town to put out a fire.
"You think so? I guess..."
"He's brave. He doesn't have powers, but he took over for Superman."
"Yeah, but he wears power-armor," said the little boy. "Batman is just really strong and smart."
"Batman wears armor."
"No way!" said the boy. "Batman doesn't need armor."
Cass almost laughed. 'You do not go out without kevlar' was one of the rules that'd been drilled into her until she understood, even before she could talk. Batman liked to make the point using a jar of "Bullets that would have killed me" (which, had, of course, only confused the issue before she could talk). He was on his third.
"Maybe you're right," she said.
"Of course I'm right! You don't see Batman coming until he wants you to."
Cass shrugged. She had often felt that way.
"You're Batgirl anyway, so why are you so..." the boy trailed off into a huge yawn. It was getting late.
"Time to go home?"
The boy shook his head, and yawned again. Cass put her hands on her hips.
"A couple more houses?" he asked.
"Hey! Hey you guys!" Cass didn't realize the voice was directed at them until a little kid in a dwarf costume came running up to them. She shot a questioning look at her companion.
He shrugged. "Who are you?"
The dwarf looked taken aback. "I'm Sam—I mean, Happy," he smiled, pointing to his floppy hat. "But anyway; there's this huge warehouse like a block down the street and they've got all these people lined up giving away candy—but nobody knows to come. So they asked me to go tell people about it. Pass it on!"
Cass watched him run off, shouting for anyone who would pay attention.
"Is that normal?" she asked the boy.
"Not really, no. Can we go?" his eyes were huge, pleading.
"Can you walk another block?"
"I'm fine!" he said, puffing out his chest. "I'm as strong as Batman!"
Cass laughed, and they began to walk down the street.
The dwarf had done his job very well; though the crowds on the streets had thinned out, parents taking their children home, the older ones and a few of the more independent under-tens were still out in force, and it seemed all of them were marching down the street. It wasn't long before they were practically locked in, stuck in the midst of a wall of children.
"Aw, man!" said the boy. "All the good stuff is gonna be gone!" He tried to push forwards, only to be rebuffed by an extremely sturdy-looking Green Lantern.
Cass smiled faintly. "It'll be fine."
The boy snorted.
If the warehouse had been decorated for the holiday, it was by someone even lazier than Barbara. There was a banner on top—for all Cass knew it said "Happy Halloween" but that was it.
The gate to the warehouse gaped, its interior hidden in darkness. The boy next to her was practically trembling with excitement. "Man, this is creepy isn't it? It's very minima... whatever!"
Cass shrugged. She was surprised to find herself just a little bit sad—as annoying as the boy was, the thought that this was about the end of their time together...
The room opened up, dark on all sides. Cass almost switched on her night vision lenses, but it seemed sort of like cheating. Spooky music played, echoing above the sounds of little footsteps on concrete. The children in front pulled up short, at the edge of the light from outside, unsure where to go next.
There came a great, metallic crash from behind them, and everything was plunged into darkness. Cass had night vision on in a split-second, fast enough to watch the huge set of metal bars spring from the ground in front of them.
Screams, and a general confused murmur ran through the crowd.
"Wh-what's going on?" asked the boy next to her.
Cass didn't know whether to say anything—this screamed trap, but... was there any chance it was just more Halloween scare tactics?
A spotlight clicked on, revealing a woman in pure white, surrounded by seven tiny men in floppy hats and shoes. They could have been children, except for the grins on their faces. Children didn't smile like that.
"Welcome, children!" said the woman. "You may call me Snow White. These are my... associates. And you are here to become the righteous soldiers of God's—"
A huge, collective "Booo!" rocked the crowd, accompanied by chants of "Candy!"
The woman's expression broke into a frustrated grimace. She shouted into the microphone in her hand, so that feedback rang across the warehouse, "There may also be candy for anyone who is a good little soldier of God's righteous white flame!"
The room fell silent.
"Thank you," said Snow White, once more composed. "Now, as I'm sure you're all aware, Gotham is filthy with inferior, lesser peoples. They work in our gas stations and taxis and fast food restaurants; some have even climbed the ladder into respectable society, poisoning our well with their impure blood! This is unacceptable. It is the burden of all white men to root these disgusting Others from our midst! To eradicate them like the vermin they are!"
Cass was only just barely following what the woman was saying—more importantly, that wasn't the way people talked when nobody was going to get hurt. This was definitely bad.
"And you," continued Snow White, "as the soldier's of God's Divine Righteousness and—"
"Shut up and give us the candy already!" shouted someone in the crowd.
Snow White turned to one of the dwarfs, gestured.
A high pitched screech blared over the speakers. It drilled into Cass' head for a split second, then dropped to a faint buzz as the suit's noise cancelers kicked in. The boy beside her clutched at his head and joined the chorus of pained cries that were filling the room.
After several seconds the sound cut out. All fell quiet, except for a few sobs.
"Now," said Snow White, "unless you little brats want that to happen again, you'll shut up and pay attention. We're going to show you a little movie. Lights."
The spotlight turned off, dropping the room back into darkness. Cass watched through green-filtered lenses as several of the dwarfs ran off to the side.
Something grabbed her waist. She looked down to see the little boy practically wrapped around her, trembling fiercely. "W-what is this? I'm scared..."
Cass bent down and put a hand on his shoulder. "What's your name?"
"Wha? Oh... it's Russel. I didn't tell you?"
"Okay. I'm Cass. I'm going to get us out of here. Do you trust me?"
Russel nodded, faintly. Cass reached up and hit a switch on the side of her head. There was a click as the noise cancelers detached from the ears of the cowl. "Here," she handed them to Russel. "Put these over your ears, in the mask. Don't look at anything they show you. Don't listen to anything they say. Try not to stand out."
A projector whirred to life overhead, throwing light onto a white sheet some way beyond the bars. What played was not a movie so much as a chaotic whirl of images; men with dark skin in business suits; cut to men in loincloths with spears, screaming at the camera; cut to gorillas running down a fleeing group of tourists. A small, Asian man in a labcoat cut with a man with an extremely thin beard and long fingernails, disemboweling a child with his teeth. Then, coming even faster, famous individuals: Yo-Yo-Ma and Atilla the Hun and Chariman Mao; Alex Rodriguez and Fidel Castro; Michael Jordan playing basketball and Michael Jordan playing baseball.
Cass was not familiar with the concept of racism; but she knew brainwashing when she saw it. She took a quick glance upwards—the bars keeping the children in place didn't run all the way to the ceiling. She pulled a batarang from her belt with one hand, her grappling hook in the other.
"Russel, I'm going to go now," she said. "Don't worry."
The little boy gaped at the gadgets she was holding. "Wait—wait you mean you're—?"
Cass hurled the batarang and launched the grappling hook at once; a second later there was a faint thunk and the flood of images stopped, plunging the room back into the dark. Then the grappling hook tugged at her arm, and she was shooting towards the ceiling.
Cass flipped around in midair and landed upside down, feet braced against the triangular support beams, just before the spotlight turned back on.
"What's going on?" said Snow White.
"Don't know boss," said one dwarf, who kept fidgeting uncomfortably. He let loose a huge sneeze, and wiped his nose. "Projector just stopped."
"Get someone up there to look at it!"
"Right away!" answered Sneezey. He pointed at one of the others—the "kid" who had told them to come here in the first place—and repeated the order.
Cass followed Happy as he bolted up a flight of stairs and started out across a walkway running across the ceiling. Sending him alone—they weren't experienced then. One good scare should take care of things. She grappled onto the walkway, swung up and around, landing silently with one foot on each railing.
There was a ladder in the center of the walkway. Happy was on the top rung, peering at the projector. Cass walked a few steps closer, and dropped to the walkway.
The noise of her landing turned his head. Cass raised one hand. "Hi," she said, before kicking the ladder over.
Happy's face lit up with shock as he began to go over sideways, his mouth opened wide. Cass caught him by the throat, squeezed, a scream dying on his lips. "Not yet," she whispered. She wrapped a line carefully around the railing, made sure it was tightly secured, clipped it to his belt.
"Okay. Go ahead." She threw him over the edge. Happy screamed, a high-pitched wail that suddenly choked as the line she'd snapped taught, bounced him back up into the air. He finally came to rest about ten feet in the air, looking very much like he was about to vomit.
"What the hell did you do?" said one of the dwarfs, who was wearing glasses.
"B-b-bat!" shrieked Happy.
That should do it. Cass swung back over the cage, turned to admire her handywork.
The dwarfs glanced around like they were suddenly afraid their shadows might come alive and attack them. But not Snow White. She turned her eyes on the catwalk, shielding them from the spotlight with a hand.
"Guns. Now!" said Snow, pulling a massive handgun from the folds of her skirt.
Dopey gave a sloppy salute and ran to a crate next to the little circle cast by the spotlight. Cass grappled across the room, swinging wide of the spotlight to get a better look—the guns inside were definitely automatics.
Cass threw a batarang at the spotlight; it shattered with a crash, and everything went black again; then lit up green as night vision took back over.
She dropped on top of Dopey feet-first; her whole weight crashing down on his shoulders. He slammed face-first into the crate of weapons, head plowing through packing peanuts to the wooden bottom of the crate. There was a hook on the side of the crate—Cass hitched the grapple to it, hit the button to retract and leaped clear. A faint whine as the crate shot towards the ceiling, carrying the guns and the unconscious dwarf. It wasn't perfectly balanced—tilted badly to one side, spilling several of the guns which rained back down, clacking as they hit the concrete floor.
"There!" shouted Snow. There were flashes of light in the darkness, cracks of gunfire. Pain stabbed through Cass's right arm; she bit her lip and sprinted across the open room as more shots rang out, blasting the spot where she'd just been. There was no cover to run towards, everything was cleared out of the center of the room. It didn't matter. Snow couldn't track her from the brief flashes, was always shooting a few steps behind.
After a second, the shots turned into faint clicks; then a louder one, an ammo clip hitting the ground. "Dammit, the lights! Get the lights!" shouted Snow.
They had more lights? Cass grimaced. No choice then. She bolted for the cage; leapt and grabbed the bars, ignoring the pain that shot down her right arm. The bars were only about ten feet high; she cleared them and was down on the other side, shoving her way through several startled children well before the room began to brighten.
The children. They were terrified, practically in a panic—people were shooting. The younger ones were crying; incomprehensible sobs of terror.
Stupid—should have opened the door first. If she did it now? What if someone got trampled in the rush? Could she even blow the door? She should have checked.
And now they had guns. If the kids started running—were they crazy enough to fire on them out of spite?
She thought of the video. Yes. Yes they were.
Cass pulled a bandage from her belt, began tying it around her arm; the pain was searing now, nothing she couldn't handle, but the fingers were starting to go numb. Might not be able to use it reliably.
It was a big hole, too. A magnum? Kevlar wouldn't stop that. Barely slow it down.
The lights began to warm up. There were set back, built into the walls—why she hadn't seen them—too many to have much chance of sabotaging them again. So much for night vision.
So. No grappling hook, no armor, no element of surprise, two machine guns and a magnum, and a room full of children to protect.
"Where is he?" Snow was shouting, on the other side of the bars. "Oh Batman! Come out, come out wherever you are!"
Well. That was something.
"Look boss," said one of the dwarfs—Grumpy maybe? He certainly wasn't pleased, from his expression. Nor was he one of the ones to be given a rifle. "This wasn't what we signed on for. You said as long as the kids came of their own free will there'd be no Bats. You said if all the villains were locked up there'd be no Bats. You—"
Snow put a bullet in the man's head without even looking at him. Children shrieked; the other dwarfs jumped back from—not fast enough to avoid the splatter.
"I'm sorry, Batman, that was very rude of my associate. He has been dealt with. So why don't we sit down and have a nice chat?"
A long pause. "Well, that's how it is," said Snow. "Okay. Well, given your reaction to our little film, I think I can provide some more appropriate entertainment." She snapped and pointed, and a bloody Bashful produced a small remote-looking device.
"I wonder, Batman, are you familiar with the concept of a sonic drill?" said Snow. "This is something like one. Except it works on your head. For instance, if I were to say," she lifted the device, "Kill the non-whites. Kill everyone different."
The speakers screeched and wailed. Cass clamped her hands to her head, but the noise barely seemed quieter even through her palms. It was too loud—she couldn't think—the siren cut through her head, disrupting, breaking, an awful, blazing pulse.
And suddenly she understood it. Kill. Kill. Killkillkillkillkill—
Someone shoved her aside—the Green Lantern from before, lunging for a little girl in a Jasmine costume. Cass kicked his legs from beneath him, twisted and shoulder-checked another teenager dressed in something involving leather. The girl behind her gave a yelp. Cass was separated from her now, there was a ring of children in the way, coming in from all sides, kicking at her, some reaching out with strangling hands—
"Stop it!" Cass yelled, as loudly as she could. Hurt her throat, she had to catch her breath, compose herself. "Snow!" she shouted again; more anger this time, less desperation. "It's me. Batgirl. Not Batman. Let the kids go and I'll come out."
Snow shook her head, then giggled, then laughed, then shook her head again, as though not quite sure how derisive she should be. "But dear—I want the children. They're going to carry our holy mission into the streets, rise up when we tell them, and—oh it will be such fun. But thank you for clearing some things up."
She raised the device again. "Children—kill Batgirl."
A tiny fist caught her on the side of the head. Hard. The world spun; she let go of her head and tried to steady herself, and then the sound was pouring into her, unstoppable, like a waterfall.
The little boy in the Green Lantern costume lunged for her again. Cass punched him in the face with her left hand—and sent him flying into the two children behind him. She stared at the hand. She hadn't hit him—hadn't meant to hit him that hard. There was blood on her knuckles. It was getting to her too. But... late?
For a distracted second, she thought she heard someone yell "No! Don't hurt her!"
A kid latched onto her back, teeth clamped on her shoulder. She could feel it through the costume—how was that possible? Little fingers like claws were grabbing at her face. She spun, flinging out her hurt arm—a dull ache shot through under everything else—and the kid slid off and fell against the crowd that was now pushing in on her.
Jump! Where? There was nothing to stand on; she was too far from the bars.
The little girl in the Jasmine costume kicked her in the shin—the point of her shoe like a dagger. A wave of fists beat on her from all angles, too many even for her to dodge or block. She was crumpling under it, sinking. She had to fight back—even if she hurt someone, if she died now more people would...
But why bother? What did Batgirl ever do for anyone anyway? What had she ever done? Nobody even realized who she was. She could just die and nobody would care.
The pulse was still going under everything, now so familiar that she barely noticed it, a constant little pain in the back of her head.
She noticed when it was suddenly drowned out by a tiny voice—tiny but hugely magnified so that the whole warehouse rang: "HAVE YOU SEEN THE GHOST OF JOHN? LONG WHITE BONES WITH THE SKIN ALL GO-O-O-ONE!"
The beating stopped. The kids were staring, baffled around themselves, as though not quite sure what had just happened.
Cass sprang up instantly, plowed through the disoriented crowd, the thought of death suddenly as far from her mind as it had been all-consuming the second before. It didn't take long to find the source of the song—children were backing away, hands over their ears again more, greater noise.
Of course, at the center was a little boy in a Steel costume. He was singing into the noise cancelers she'd given him, pressed together so one fed into the other.
"You found the switch," Cass said, running up to him.
She doubted Russel could hear her over the sound of his own voice, but he smiled at her, and kept right on going, "OOOO—OOOO—OOOO—WOULDN'T IT BE CHILLY WITH NO SKIN ON?"
"No!" shrieked Snow White, her voice a tiny echo under Russel's. "Stop it! Stop it!"
There were other voices too, humming along, even some singing now.
"Find him! Find whoever's singing!" screamed Snow. The gate clanged open. Children gave yelps of surprise as they were thrust out of the way by oncoming dwarfs.
Behind her, Russel tugged at her cape, and pointed towards the crowd. His voice was cracking—he'd tried shifting to Thriller, was having trouble with the lyrics.
Cass shook her head, motioned for him to wait. A second later one of the dwarfs forced his way into the little clearing, rifle butt first. Cass shot forward and snatched the gun barrel, ripping it from his hands, then cracking it across his head. There was another of the dwarfs behind him. He raised his gun to shoot. Cass threw the rifle she was holding as hard as she could. The gun arced through the air, spinning as if it had always secretly dreamed of being a throwing weapon, and slammed into the dwarf's face. A burst of three gunshots went high, bounced off the ceiling.
Cass went to dust off her hands—decided it wasn't worth it with her right arm hurt.
Then Russel's voice cut out. Cass whirled, saw Bashful grabbing him, hand over his mouth, dragging him into the crowd. She ran after them but was blocked by Doc, a giant syringe in each of his hands. Cass snap-kicked him in the chin before he had a chance to use them.
But Bashful was gone. And now that the singing was stopped, that awful whine was coming back, the crowd closing in around her, eyes murderous.
Cass vaulted over the heads of the children, landed next to the gate in the bars, just as it clanged shut behind the retreating Bashful.
She jumped for the top of the bars, hit wrong, got stuck on her stomach halfway over, had to slide down. Slow. She was getting worn out.
The mind-drill again? She needed something to block it... she began to hum, as loudly as she could, whatever came into her head. Nursery rhymes. Children's songs. This is Halloween.
It wasn't doing her any good. No matter what tune, within a few seconds the lyrics turned to killkillkillkill. Kill yourself.
And why not?
Because she's seen what it was like to die. Cass hated that memory—the man's throat in her neck, the feel of it, the look in his eyes—but now it sliced through the fog in her head. Kill? What was that? A word, not a thing. She'd seen the thing.
Cass raced after the dwarf and the boy, desperate to make up the ground she'd lost as the siren zapped her strength. Russel seemed to have gotten his mouth free at some point, but lost the speakers, because she heard him shout "Let go of me you stupid dwarf!"
"Hey, the correct term is 'little person' you goddamn n—!" snapped Bashful.
Up ahead, Snow White was waiting for them. She had the gun trained on Cass the entire time, but was shaking badly, didn't seem to trust herself to shoot. Cass was dimly aware of it; didn't care. Had to get Russel.
Bashful stopped as soon as he reached his leader, throwing Russel to the ground, and practically diving under Snow's skirt in his rush to get behind her.
Cass pulled up short.
Snow smiled, her face twitching in odd directions. "Well. Isn't this nice. I have to say I'm impressed. Most people when told to kill themselves are a little more prompt."
"Did you think words could stop me?" said Cass. She was too close now—even Snow could probably hit her.
She didn't look so sure.
"H-how about 'move and he dies?'" Snow lowered the gun to Russel, keeping her eyes locked on Cass.
That turned out to be the last in a string of mistakes that Snow would later identify when outlining her memoirs to largely-disinterested cellmates. As soon as her eyes were off him, Russel scrambled across the floor and launched himself at Snow's feet. He wasn't quite big enough to knock her down, but it was enough of a distraction for Cass to cross the distance, grab the mangum out of the woman's hand, and give her one of the more satisfying elbows to the face she'd ever delivered.
Snow tripped back over the dwarf cowering behind her, and the both of them landed in a tangle. The remote she was holding clattered to the floor, and Russel quickly stepped on it; the sirens ceased.
Snow glared madly up at them, blood flowing freely from her broken nose. "You. Little. FUCKS! I'll kill all of you! I'll—"
Cass put a boot on Snow's chest, and pressed down. Hard.
"Shut. Up," she said. "You're going to jail. In the morning. When the police show up. You're going to confess to everything."
She leaned in close, until there was barely an inch separating their faces. "If you don't," she whispered, "I'll. Come. Back." With her left hand, Cass tore off a length of bandage from her belt, wadded it up, and then crammed it into Snow's nose, hard. The woman winced, bit her lip until it too began to bleed.
"Gee, I sure do hope you do all right in prison," said Russel. "You know, mommy says that blacks and Hispanics have dis-pro-por-tion-ate rep-re-sen-ta-tion in prison. Somehow I don't think they're gonna like you very much. And you know, a lot of guards aren't white either. Wow, I guess that's kind of terrible for you, huh?"
Snow looked like she was going to yell something—Cass stepped on her again.
Russel was practically falling asleep for the last block of the walk home. He'd insisted that he didn't need a taxi, because the credit card was only for emergencies, and walking home when he was tired didn't count anymore.
They'd set the kids free—Cass having Russel tell them everything was fine, that they should group together and go home to their parents. And then Cass had reclaimed her grappling hook (with some difficulty) and left the crooks strung up by their feet. If they got out of that—especially Snow, with her dress hanging down into her face—Cass was willing to chase them down again. It wasn't going to be hard with the tracking devices she force fed them (along with all the shock tarts—Russel's idea).
Despite his exhaustion, Russel was able to keep up a pretty steady stream of conversation. Mostly endless questions about what Batman was like. Cass wished she had more... better answers for him, but, well. Being Batman seemed to involve being mysterious pretty much of the time.
Finally, there was enough of a pause for her to ask her question. "Why did you dive for her like that? She could have shot you."
"Huh?" Russel blinked. "Because she could have shot you. You're Batgirl. You can't die!"
Cass grabbed his shoulder, made him look at her. "You can't either. Understand? Don't do it again."
Russel shook his head. "'m fine. Steel's bulletproof."
Russel lived in a little brownstone apartment next to the block's lone tree—how he had escaped, judging from the open second-floor window. A black woman in her thirties was standing in the door way as they approached, and as soon as she saw Russel she gave a shout and ran towards them, falling onto him with a hug and a stream of yelling and tears and thank-Gods.
"Mom—mom it's okay," Russel kept trying to say.
"It is most certainly not okay!" said his mother, the reassurance snapping her into angry-mode. "How dare you disobey me?"
"But mom, I haven't even gotten to the part about the supervillain—and I met Batgirl!"
"Don't you try to change the subject, young man!"
"But mom I—she's right—" He turned but there was no one there. "But—but I... Cass? Batgirl?" he shouted. "That's no fair! You can't! You can't just disappear! Mom, you saw right? I was with someone coming up—that was Batgirl!"
"Russel S. Eavies don't you start lying to me," snapped his mother. "You're already lucky I don't believe in violence towards children or you would be in for such a spanking."
"Yes mommy..." said Russel. There were tears stinging at his eyes, not from the scolding.
Cass watched from a rooftop nearby, smiling faintly at how ordinary it was. Despite everything, nobody had died, and she'd even gotten the little lost boy home. Things were good. Perfect, even.
Except, the way he'd shouted a moment before...
The woman pointed into the house—a finger not to be argued with, and Russel began to trudge up the stairs.
Russel's glanced around, puzzled, looking for the source of the voice. Russel himself had, of course, sprang all the way back down the stairs while she was distracted. "Cass? Mom, look!" He pointed her out.
Russel's mother's gaze traveled slowly up the building, eyes widening with every floor so they were practically bugging out by the time they reached the rooftop. Cass waved.
"Your son isn't a liar. He saved my life. He was brave, and smart, and you should probably punish him for going out without permission."
"Wha—hey!" Russel yelled. "Cass! I mean, Batgirl!"
Cass laughed, and jumped off the building, swinging up into the Gotham night. She was going to call it quits soon, she thought. Her arm needed attention, and honestly, if villains themed after Disney movies were cropping up, there couldn't be anything else going on.
She felt a lot better than she had when she'd started, despite the aches and pains all over, and the slight lingering sense of fear. There was a chance, however slim, that Snow White could escape, after all. But... she didn't want the police there questioning the kids. She didn't want another Gotham Halloween marred by supervillains. Maybe she couldn't stop it, but she could move the arrest and media blitz a day forward. And she could try again next year.
And—yeah. Maybe next year as Mulan.
Dave McAdams, 19, Sophomore at Gotham U, and currently in one half of a wolfman costume, tore down yet another set of fake cobwebs from yet another doorway. He sighed, and wiped his brow. Nobody had told them they had to be cleanup crew too.
He rounded the corner, and a girl all in white lunged at him. Her mouth was bloody—stitched shut; her fingernails dark where she had clawed through her lips; she screamed at him with all her might, but without sound, and reached longingly for his throat.
Dave gave a yelp, leapt back, knocked his head against the doorway, and swore. Loudly.
The girl stared at him for a second, and continued on her nervous, shuffling way.
"God dammit Alice!" he yelled after her. "It's three extra credit points, not your fucking tenure on Broadway!"
The girl in white raised a timid hand, and on it, a timid middle finger, before walking out of sight.
 Actually I'm just flat-out lying there. Bat-Shark Repellent is 100% successful at keeping away Bat-Sharks.
You know, it's probably stupid to have just one footnote. Ah well. (Incidentally, we have developed some functional shark-repellants, apparently)
Anyway, thanks for reading, any feedback you care to leave would be welcome, and Happy Halloween! (Dammit, so close-12:30am November 1st is still Halloween, isn't it?)