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be still and go on to bed, nobody knows what lies ahead

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Cassandra Cain was good at being still.

She could stay perfectly still for a long time, waiting and watching. It was a way to be safe, a way to be a surprise— knowing when to stop moving was the other side of knowing when, and how, to move.

The house was quiet and she was still, her arms hugged around her knees while she was tucked under a hallway table. The table was a heavy, polished piece of wood, with a table runner, two vases, and a lamp. There was a single Snickers wrapper on that table, that Cassandra had left for Alfred as a gift. He liked making things neat, she had found, and he liked making sure people had food. Wrappers could be both of those things.

Sometimes, when he was upset, he would go around looking for tasks. She knew from watching him that his fingers itched for things to do, to fix, and maybe this wrapper would be helpful, if that happened again soon.

It also meant she didn’t have to leave her hiding spot. She was waiting for Him to go to bed. She was growing worried, because downstairs in the cave, he had moved slowly getting out of the car. She had been still, then, too, watching from her perch on the aerial bars.

She had been waiting, her face still stiff with dried salt, to see him. But he moved in a way that said stay away, in a way that wasn’t torn skin and bleeding. It was a different hurt, a tired for something not sleep; it was a thing with jagged edges, like a snow storm when even the pine trees froze and cracked. There were words for it, like despair and frustration. Cassandra knew the feelings better than the words, though— the sunken pit and the bitter cold and the broken rope.

He needed someone, like she needed someone, but not yet.

She had gone upstairs to wait.

It was taking him longer than she’d expected, and she was beginning to think he was maybe being stupid. Sometimes, when he was stupid, he’d never go to bed and he’d stay in the cave-home and shower there with the soap that wasn’t as nice as Tim’s soap, and leave for work without ever being gentle to himself.

Cassandra knew what that was like, too, to be afraid of giving yourself something the bitter snow said you didn’t deserve. It made Cassandra angry to know there were lessons she learned from David that her father now helped her undo, but those same things were lessons her father made himself follow.

He hadn’t learned them from Alfred. Alfred had a different kind of way with his hardness, a balance. Alfred sometimes made himself tea with sugar. She wanted to ask her father, to say, David taught me this. But who taught you?  She didn’t, because she wasn’t sure he’d understand her, even though he always tried. More than that, she was frightened by what the answer might be, frightened in a way she didn’t want to examine.

The best thing to do was to keep reminding him, the way he taught her.

She heard steps on the stairs and inside, the part of her that had gotten worried-hard over the deep wound she’d been sheltering, relaxed and melted. He was going to bed.

Good.

Her wound could wait another day or two. She was good at waiting. He was going to sleep.

Cassandra waited more, her eyes drinking in the sight of him climbing the steps with his shoulders bent. He turned the knob to his own door and when he went in, she slipped in behind him.

There was a second, she saw, that she startled him. He paused, for just that breath, and then said without turning, “Cassandra.”

“Mm,” she said.

Bruce took off his shirt and dropped it on the floor, and climbed into bed. He held the covers up in invitation and a tiny, pleased smile stole across her lips. Cassandra leapt forward and burrowed under the thick blankets, and snuggled against him. She pressed her ear to the scars over his heart and listened, listened to how they didn’t change the thu-thump thu-thump inside. His arm curled around her and held her close.

This is what she had been waiting to find again.

“You were upset,” she said, before he could fall asleep.

“About a case,” he said. “Just a case.”

“It’s part of you,” Cassandra said, frowning. Sometimes, for a father, and a Batman, he could be very dumb.

“No,” he said. “This one isn’t personal. But there are innocent people getting hurt.”

“Baba,” she said, quietly. “All are personal.”

There was a silence to that.

A quiet sigh.

“Yes,” he said. “I guess they are.”

“Doesn’t mean you deserve…” Cassandra lifted a finger and traced a curved scar over his stomach, below where her head rested.

He shivered and hugged her tighter, and she moved her finger away and wrapped her arm around his waist.

“Hn,” he said, sounding grumpy.

“You taught me,” Cassandra said. “You. Babs. Feeling bad doesn’t mean…more hurt fixes you. Be careful.”

“Point taken, Goblin,” Bruce said. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

“Glad you came to bed,” Cassandra said, bumping his jaw with her head. He obliged and kissed her again, right where her hair parted, and then curled a hand around her head and brushed through her hair with his fingers.

“Hn,” he said softly. “You were waiting for me. What’s wrong?”

If Cassandra was stupid, it was in this way: she forgot that he could read people, too. Not as well, but better than most.

That was another thing she knew that he also knew: you had to lie with your body first, then your words. If your body gave you away, it was too late to lie.

“Wait,” she said, “I can wait.”

“Cassie,” he said, his tone and fingers the same kind of gentle. “You don’t need to wait, sweetheart.”

There were other fingers in her memory, ones that squeezed her arm and slapped her face and prodded bullet wounds without warning. She had waited every day for those fingers to be gentle, waited for the day she was good enough for him to hug. She had waited every day until the day he made her take a life. That convinced her she was waiting for something that would never happen.

She would never be good enough, and he was making her less good all the time, and he didn’t care that it hurt her.

Cassandra had left and she had survived things she didn’t know how to talk about. They were things she only knew how to feel: gnawing emptiness in her belly, numbing cold in her toes, thick heat muddling her head until it throbbed.

And all the time, there was the waiting.

The waiting for someone who would do what David Cain could not, or would not, do, and help her be good again.

She had nearly given up, because she had found Him and he did something that she could do, that was worth doing, and trying to be good still wasn’t enough.

That was how she knew what despair felt like.

Then, He had been the fingers that fixed the broken rope, He had been the thing she hadn’t known it was still okay to wait for, the thing David Cain should have been and chose not to be: her father.

You are good, he had told her, over and over, when she crept out of the ocean and into his house, his life outside the cape, his arms. She had crawled into his bed in the black of night, in the newborn dawn, and huddled there away from the world that agreed she was a monster, a freak, someone else’s unwanted consequence.

You are good, he said, and because Cassandra knew bodies better than words she saw it written all over him that he believed it.

After all that waiting, Cassandra had decided she’d rather believe a father who helped her than a father who broke her.

When he told her she could be done waiting, done being still and invisible, she could believe that, too.

“We watched a movie tonight,” she said.

She had watched a movie with Damian, who she was watching at home, because Bruce didn’t want him working this case. Damian was a good fighter and sometimes he was a stupid little boy who didn’t understand that it was good that he had people to protect him.

“Oh?” Bruce said. For a man who was tired he was very good at not sounding sleepy. She could feel it, in the muscles underneath her cheek, in the way his arm was looped around her, that he was exhausted.

“Dumbo,” Cassandra said, and then, for the first time since the movie was playing on the screen, she started crying.

This was another thing she didn’t have words to explain. How did she say with words what feelings were, watching colorful pictures of made-up things that felt like her?

“Baby,” Bruce rumbled into her hair, when she curled more tightly against him. She was crying hard enough for her shoulders to shake, to dig into his side, and he didn’t push her away. “Sweetheart. You’re alright.”

That was all he said while she cried.

Cassandra liked that he didn’t try to fix not-word things with words.

When she had met Him— the man who wore the symbol that meant everything to her— he had been afraid of her. There were no words, then, to say to anyone how that had hurt. She was dangerous and he saw it, and he was not wrong.

He wasn’t afraid of her now. Somehow, he knew even better now that she was dangerous, and he was afraid of her less. He held her like she was safe.

It made Cassandra feel safe, even while crying. Hot tears dripped down her cheeks and he thumbed them away, and hummed until she was quiet, until the wound inside her felt like it had been treated and covered to heal. It was a protection-hiding and no longer festering-hiding.

Bruce’s humming turned into singing, a low husk of song that filled the silent room.

“That’s life, that’s what all the people say,
You’re ridin’ high in April, shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June.”

Cassandra felt her eyes get heavy, while he sang, but she stayed awake to listen. She waited for the end of the song to fall asleep, and it didn’t feel like waiting anymore.

She was still, she was good at being still, and she wanted to be still there for as long as she could be, where it felt like she was good.