{compare and contrast}

He was generally used to the numbing feeling of loneliness. For every conversation he didn't have, he had a book to steal, a scumbag to kill, and a new way to piss off the hero community. He was simply used to the fact that he was perpetually alone. After all, he was just a ghost clinging to the fickle, fleeting feeling that came with one swoop of vengeance. Life was boring, but he had trouble giving it up. After all… he had a second chance, right? Might as well fuck shit up while he can.

The rain was half ice as it bit at his cheeks. Wind was picking up, toying with his jacket, with his hair. He was often left with an empty pit in his chest after taking care of business. Was this all supposed to be fulfilling? Nothing made him happy, and it was strange to accept. He was stumbling on the edge of something, some beautiful lie, and some horrible truth. That perhaps the reason why he felt so empty was because there was nothing left of him at all.

He nabbed a book from a second hand bookstore not far from Crime Alley. No one would miss the worn, half shredded copy of Gulliver's Travels. It was a small book, the size of his right hand, and only about an inch thick. The pages were yellowed, and the cover was green and peeling back. The golden script stamped into the hard cover was blocky and uneven, and raindrops gathered in the muted impressions.

He didn't know what to do now. It was a hollow night, cloudy and dim. Fog was brimming across the deserted streets, and he felt the chill of wind and rain as it flattened is wavy hair to his forehead. He licked his lips, wondering what to do with himself. It was a odd, wanting to treat himself but not knowing how. Life felt like a dreary sort of rush, a blur of gray that was constricting and consuming. He hated it, and he hated himself.

The late night diner was sort of grimy, but nicer than what he was used to. The scum in the grout of the tile wasn't so noticeable, and the windows were only foggy from the petulant weather. Trickles of rain swam jaggedly down the murky glass as he sat down, watching it with gauzy eyes. His dark hair was drying rapidly, turning to damp, fluffy ringlets around his forehead and ears.

Carefully, with the tip of his finger, Jason let the condensation gather, and slide away in a rapid stroke. The glass gave a soft squelch beneath the pad of his index finger, and the fog gathered thickly around his skin. He wrote in a sloppy, blocky script, JASON TODD WAS HERE. He almost laughed at the sight of it. God, I'm such a fucking child, he thought, smirking at his vaporous reflection in the hazy glass.

He sat for a few minutes, merely staring at himself in thought. He looked about as old as he should look. Twenty one. Not that he had the I.D. to prove it, but hey, who got carded in Gotham? The answer was no one. Ever. Jason had been getting beer on the house from various bars throughout town since he was nine. It was easy when you were young and pitiful. Jason was glad that he was at least intimidating now.

When a waitress slid a plate in front of him, he waved her off. "I only ordered a coffee," he hummed, his eyes glued to the sallow pages of his newly stolen book.

"It's already been paid for, hun," the waitress said. She was an elderly woman, stout and sweet looking, with wispy gray hair and glassy blue eyes, and creases around her mouth from smiling and frowning. Jason looked up at her for a short moment, his eyes narrowing. And then he looked down at the plate.

It was a brownie, steam rising from its mushy chocolate innards as the large scoop of Neapolitan ice cream melted atop it, thick rivers of brown and pink and white pooling around the rim of the plate. There was a single green candle stuck into the ice cream, tipping against the steadily melting mound. The flame flickered weakly against the incline, sputtering and nearly guttering out. It stayed burning, for all its struggles.

He couldn't stop the plain shock that consumed his expression. He felt warmth and suspicion hounding inside his chest, bursting and trickling downwards in a horrible, gut-wrenching spiral. He blinked rapidly, his heart thudding in his chest, and he had to wonder. Just… for a moment. Because who else would know? Who else could…?

"Who…?" Jason asked faintly. The waitress gestured to the bar, where a very small girl was sitting. For a beat of a moment, he caught her black eyes on his face, but her back was to him before he could really digest it. She was almost familiar. Almost. But Jason was pretty certain they had never met before. Curious, he blew out the candle, and nodded his gratitude to the waitress, snatching his book and the brownie.

"So…" Jason said, drawing out the word cautiously. He set down his things, and he placed his hand against the back of her spinning chair, leaning his body so it cast a shadow over her. She reacted with indifference, and merely continued to take a spoonful of chocolate ice cream to her mouth. She was a very tiny girl, her face round and warm hued, and her eyes dark and sharp. She wore a long black coat, and a black turtleneck beneath that. Her black hair was damp and inky around her ears, curly and spiking against her chin. "If this ain't a pot brownie, I'll be severely disappointed."

That caused her expression to change minutely. Her tiny nose scrunched a little in confusion, and she sat backwards, staring at her ice cream for a few moments, her mouth parting slightly. She glanced at him, and then the brownie, and she gave a small, almost disappointed frown.

"You didn't wish," she said. Her voice was accusing. Soft, lilting almost, and too quiet for comfort. But accusing, definitely.

"Huh?" Jason cocked a brow, and he glanced at the candle.

"You're supposed to wish," the girl said, as if it was concrete law she was speaking. "It's your birthday. Birthday wish. Yes?"

Jason studied her face warily. He was getting a bad feeling about this. "Okay, amuse me," Jason said, his voice going low enough that only she could hear him. He sat down beside her, leaning closer. "How'd you know it was my birthday?"

The girl looked down at her ice cream, and prodded at it absently with her spoon. She pursed her lips, and tapped the side of the glass for a moment, before dropping the spoon and twisting her seat to face him. Her eyes were hard, determined, and Jason leaned back a little. He didn't want to hurt the girl, but if it came down to it, he would.

"Don't run," the girl said, begged. Jason watched her, and his eyes narrowed. She stared at him, searching his face, and she shook her head. "Sorry. You misunderstand. I know your birthday, because…" She squinted at his face, and she was being cautious and careful with every word she said, as if she knew any little thing could set him off. "Bruce told me."

"Fuck." Jason jumped from his seat, and he winced as the girl grabbed his wrist. Batgirl. No— no, Stephanie was Batgirl. This was the other one, the one he'd never met. God, he didn't even know her fucking name.

"Don't go," the girl said urgently. "Bruce doesn't know. That I'm here, I mean. Don't go. Please. Sit."

"Let go," Jason snapped. She didn't. She merely grasped his wrist tighter, and he was surprised at her strength. "If you're one of Bruce's brats, then you should know. I'm a dangerous motherfucking criminal. And I hate all of you. Let me go."

"Liar," the girl said softly. He stared at her, and he clenched his fists to keep himself from punching her. "I want to talk. Please. No fighting. No Bruce. Just me and you. Talk." She gave him a weak smile, and waved to the brownie. "It's not… pot brownie?" She gave a him a strange, confused sort of stare. "But Neapolitan. Your favorite, um… yes?"

"Bruce told you that too?" Jason asked, scowling down at her. She nodded. "What else did he tell you about me?"

She looked a little dampened by that question. "Not… too much," she said slowly. "I… was hoping that you would tell me. More about you? If that's okay?"

"Bruce might get pissed at you if he finds out," Jason said, cocking his head. "You trying to piss him off, or what? Because there are lots of other ways you can do it that don't involve me."

"No," the girl said. "I don't want to make anyone angry. I just… it's only fair." She tugged on his arm, and he found himself sitting down reluctantly. He really wanted to punch, but he resisted the urge. "Your ice cream is melting."

"So is yours," Jason retorted, glancing at the browning. He didn't trust it.

"Chocolate," she said, poking at it pensively. "My favorite."

"What's your name, kid?" Jason asked, frowning at her.

"Cassandra." She cocked her head. "But people call me Cassie. Or Cass."

"You're Shiva's kid, right?" He watched the girl's shoulders go rigid, and he winced. "Shit, that's common knowledge, right?"

"Oh," she said quietly. "Yes. It's just…" She bounced her head from side to side as if weighing the word in her head. "Unpleasant topic."

"Gotcha," Jason said, glancing down at his browning. It was more like a block swimming in swirling Neapolitan syrup. Jason sighed, and he caved, grabbing the fork he'd been given and digging in. "Fuck."

Cassandra stared at him. "What?" she asked, watching with a searching gaze.

"This is good," he grunted, shoveling a few more pieces into his mouth at once, chewing fast. He swallowed, and shot her a glare, resting his elbow against the bar and waving his fork. "Go ahead. Judge me for my awful table manners."

Cassandra kept staring. Her eyebrows knitted together for a short moment before she smiled, and held up her index finger. She grabbed her spoon, and in an impressive flourish she was consuming the contents of the glass like a vacuum. Jason stopped eating to stare, and he bit back a disbelieving laugh as she dropped her spoon back into the empty glass. She wiped a bit of chocolate from the corner of her mouth and smiled up at him.

"Well," Jason said. "Shit."

"I used to eat like that," Cassandra said, tapping her chest for a moment. Jason half-expected her to belch. "I noticed it was… weird. So I stopped."

"That was like," Jason said, "the most impressive thing I've seen all week. Damn, you downed that in a good, what? Twenty seconds? Thirty?"

Cassandra gave a meager shrug, looking a bit sheepish. "We eat alike," Cassandra said. "We… aren't alike, though."

"No?" Jason shrugged. "What a shame."

Cassandra looked down, and she pushed the spoon around her empty glass. "You hurt people," Cassandra said quietly. "Not because you have to, because you want to. You shouldn't do that."

Jason gave a short groan. "Okay, sweetheart," Jason said. "You keep assessing just how horrible I am. Go on. It ain't gonna change a thing."

"I know."

That startled him. He glanced at her, and watched as she sat, looking almost… dejected. She tucked her hair behind her ear, and she looked up at him with a dim smile. He had to hand it to her. She was full of surprises, and he wasn't sure what to make of her. She was small, and quiet, and one of the stranger acquaintances he's had in a while.

"You just gonna accept that, kiddo?"

"I'm your age, Jason," Cassandra said quietly. "Or… close to it, anyway. I'm no child."

That startled him. He sat back, and he stared at her. She looked way, way younger than him. His mouth opened, and he struggled with what to say. "Oh shit," he blurted. "Whoops. Sorry, you're… really tiny. I guess I just assumed—"

"It's fine." She cocked her head, and stared at the countertop for a few moments. He watched her, and blinked as he watched her lips move slowly, soundlessly.

"Uh…" Jason snapped his fingers in front of her face. "Hello? You in there?"

"What does that say?" Cassandra asked, pointing to the stolen book beside Jason's plate. He glanced at it, and then at her, his brow furrowing. "Gully— Gull—" Her face screwed up in concentration. "I've never seen that word before."

"It's a name," Jason said. "Gulliver. Gulliver's Travels. There was a shitty movie about it with Jack Black. No?" He watched her blank expression, and he gave a shrug. "Well, I only just started it."

"You…" Cassandra bit her lip. "You like to read?"

Jason couldn't even hide his grin. "Bruce didn't tell you that one, did he?" Jason rolled his eyes, and snorted. "Yeah, he wouldn't. I was a little shit when it came to books. God, my room was like, half a library. A really messy library full of stolen books." Jason winked. "Bet they're still there. You're welcome to help yourself. Hell knows I ain't going back to get 'em, so, yeah. My room is free game."

"I don't… read much," Cassandra said, picking up the book carefully. "I didn't know you did."

"I could read circles around Dickie," Jason said, smirking into his palm. "Of course, no one wanted to admit that. English was always my best subject, though."

Cassandra gave a strange, sad smile. "Worst," she said, gesturing to herself. "Bad at reading and writing."

"Oh." Jason's eyes widened. "Well. That's shitty. Do you read at all, or…?"

"I try," Cassandra sighed, wrinkling her nose, flipping idly through the busted book. "Bad at it, though. It's hard." She shrugged. "Never taught when younger, so… I'm bad at it. Babs taught me lots, though."

"Babs, huh?" Figured. Barbara had tutored Jason a lot when he'd been younger too. "Ever try audio books?"

"Huh?" Cassandra blinked up at him. "Audio?"

"Yeah," he said, waving his hand. "Like, listen to a book on your ipod, or somethin'. Don't stress over not being able to read huge novels if it's really hard for you. I mean, you can read basics, right?"


"Then don't worry about it." Jason shrugged. "I've known plenty people who were illiterate, dyslexic— hell, when I was a kid I could barely spell my name right. But still, there's some good books out there you shouldn't miss out on just because you're shit at reading."

"Like… what?" Cassandra looked up at him, almost eagerly, and he was hopelessly confused.

"I could give you a huge fucking list," Jason joked, chuckling a little. Cassandra blinked, and spun her chair to face the waitress. Jason nearly choked on his own laughter as she asked for a pad and pen, and handed it to him. "Shit, I was joking."

Cassandra smiled and folded her hands, offering them up. "Please?" she asked.

"God," Jason muttered, scratching his forehead with the cap of the pen. "You must have them all wrapped around your finger, huh?"

"No," she said. She paused, and she gave a short laugh. "Um, little? Maybe. Not all, not really. Only sometimes it works?"

"Okay, well," Jason said. He began scrawling down his favorite books off the top of his head. "I'm only doing this because you're not a total asshole. And these are some damn good books."

"I can listen to them?" Cassandra asked, leaning over to peer at the list.

"You can probably read them too, if you want to try." Jason ripped the piece of paper out of the pad, and continued the list on the back. "If they're still in my room, you should be fine. Otherwise there's the library. Or Barbara, I think I borrowed some of these from her." Jason couldn't remember. It was very strange. He couldn't recall having such a normal conversation with someone in a while. It was just… odd.

"Thank you," Cassandra said, taking the piece of paper, and staring at it in awe. She handed him back his book, and for a few moments they sat in silence. The faint sound of rain pattering against glass shuddered in the distance. "Should go..."

"Go." Jason shrugged. "Thanks for the brownie."

"You're welcome." She smiled up at him, and scratched her head. "You… aren't bad, Jason. You just… do bad things. Doesn't make you a bad person." She stared at him for a few moments, and she nodded, slipping off her chair in silence. As she turned away from him, she said softly, "Happy birthday."

He watched her go, pocketing the list of books he had given her, and he looked down at his half-eaten brownie. Dumb fucking Bats, Jason thought, stabbing his fork into the melted dessert.

He he, I got a really cute prompt for Jason and Cass to meet and bond? So I remembered that ONE TIME on Jason's eighteenth birthday Bruce took Cass to Jason's grave and told her about the shit he liked. Also Cass made the connection between Jason and Stephanie, and how alike they are. It was overall just really touching?

Why the fuck did these two never meet again?