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The Wait for Midnight

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The breakout from Blackgate had been brutal. As much as Dick liked to recall stories of his handling of Blackgate prison during the No Man's Land crisis, circumstances had changed. His partner had changed.

Cassandra does her best to make sure she listens to the radios while on duty, to keep track of everyone. She doesn't use the communicator the way Tim or Stephanie might -- keying in on phrases and codewords and counting breaths between correspondence. She listens to things that, she thinks, are more human.

The tone, he muttering, the drawl of vowels as her brothers and friends search for the next turn of phrase.

Dick had said, "Robin is down. Coming home."

What Cassandra had heard was the clench of his jaw, the shake of his voice as he held to his consonants. The shortness in his breath as he resisted shock. The hum of the Batmobile in autopilot.

On her bike, without word to the others, Cassandra tore her way home.

*

"Alfred, he's lost a lot of blood," Cassandra hears over the hum of her engine powering down.

Without a thought, she is leaping over the bannisters to get to the infirmary. Alfred is looking overly conflicted at Dick -- still half in the Batsuit, shaking, more than a little pale, and that new dressing on his leg is already saturated with blood. The butler's tenseness drops, though, as Cassandra approaches -- he's relieved to have another.

Cass looks to the second table. Damian does need assistance -- out cold, tremoring, still fully dressed -- but he's breathing strongly. Dick is not.

"Miss Cassandra," Alfred says, rushing to the youngest vigilante on the table, "please deal with our more unruly patient as Master Tim goes for Leslie."

Cassandra nods, going over to Dick's gurney. Leslie Thompkins -- a good friend, family -- is in the East End free clinic. Tim was nowhere near the East End on his patrol route. This may take longer than they're explicitly prepared for.

"Hey, Li'l Sister," Dick says, flat smile forced.

Looking over him only once more, Cass pushes on his chest, easily knocking the Batman himself back to a prone position. "Too much pressure," she tells him, more gently lifting his injured legs up to be elevated on a pillow.

Barbara has gotten onto Cassandra before about her bedside manner, as well as her medical skills.

At the end of the day, Cass can't deny that she knows far more about having injuries than treating them. When she looks into Dick's glazed eyes, Cass can't help but wonder if he knows this truth, too.

"Got any stories for me?" Dick croaks out as Cassandra reaches for the gauze and begins to carefully prepare Dick for removing Alfred's quick bandaging. "You know how much I like stories."

Cassandra hesitates, fingers a little more nervous than she likes. She's not so sure her permanent bandaging skills will compare to Alfred's quickest, sloppiest work. She's not sure if anyone's can. She looks painfully over to the other gurney where he is working silently and efficiently on their youngest brother.

"I'm not so good at… telling them," she admits before making the first tear into the bandages.

"You're delightful," Dick muses, only flinching as the blood soaked bandages pull on the injury. A hiss escapes his lips but he's trying, for Cass, to be calm and confident.

She sometimes wishes he wasn't so easy to read.

"Just tell me my favorite story then," he presses.

Going for tight and clean over finesse and pretty, Cassandra tries very quickly to wrap Dick's leg back up. She looks at him, exasperated. "You're being… silly, you know?"

When he only smiles prettily in return, Cass knows she doesn't have an option.

Reaching over she gently sweeps his stray bangs out of his eyes and eases herself up onto his gurney.

"This… is a story… of Cinderella," she recites, eyes darting cautiously toward the large screen of the Batcomputer. Tim's tracker is on the move. Good. "And how she stayed good… even though everyone around her was not."

"Hmm," Dick responds, eyes focused on Cass but his mouth is tightly shut.

She knows that she's not wording it right -- not exact -- but if Dick is determined (which he always is), then she's going to give him his story, regardless.

"She. Let's see. She lived with her mother and sisters. But… they weren't family. They didn't love each other. When Cinderella did her chores, when she worked very hard, they always went away. They weren't there for each other. Like a real family. I guess that's why she called them 'step' family. The only time they talked to Cinderella was to give new things to do. I don't think she minded at first… but then that's all they wanted from her. And that gets old."

When Cassandra looks to him, Dick's eyes are completely focused, his mouth in a tight frown. He takes her hand at first, but then Cassandra notices his leg.

"Still?" she asks, a little horrified at the blood beginning to soak through.

"It's fine," he mutters. "Tell me more."

Cass takes her hand back and begins to make a new compress. Her eyes dart to the screen. Could Tim be further away?

"Cassie," Dick stresses. She looks to him. "Tell me more."

"Okay," she says, continuing the bandaging. "Cinderella gets older. And she knows what they're doing is wrong, but she loves them. I think that's why she stays so long. Maybe she was scared, didn't know where to go. They weren't family, but they're all she knows. But she loves them. And that's why she is happy when she hears about this ball. At… I guess it's the Manor. Or Castle. Where princes live."

"Whichever you want."

Cass gives him a look and ties off the new set of bandages. She wants to tell him it has to be one or the other, but she decides with as pale as Dick is she'll just let it pass. He's not going to be listening for much longer she suspects.

"The prince is there. More than one? The king? Um," she looks to him apologetically, then continues. "Cinderella wants to go but her mother and sisters would never let her. That's. That's why her fairy-mother comes. I think this is Cinderella's real mother. Because she seems to like Cinderella more and be nice. She gives Cinderella magic shoes. And a dress. But the shoes are the important part. It makes sense." Walking without shoes, Cass knows, is not all that fun. "So she can join everyone at the ball."

Dick nods.

Tim's pulling into Bristol.

"Does she like it at the ball?" he asks.

Cass shrugs. "It's okay. I think she spends most of it…eating the food. That's what I'd do."

"Only way to spend a party," Dick agrees with a chuckle.

"She dances with the prince, too," she reminds him. "And I guess he knew she was lonely. Or maybe he really liked her shoes. I think he took one? And at midnight -- oh I forgot. Midnight? Everything she wanted goes away." Cass stops, thinks about this. "I… don't know why. But. I guess happiness does that sometimes. It leaves right after it's found. Doesn't last forever."

"No."

Surprised a little by the strength behind his voice, Cass looks at Dick curiously. He's sweaty and shaky, but his eyes are dark, filled with intent. He reaches for her hand and squeezes.

"Don't forget about the end," he reminds her seriously.

Cass opens her mouth to respond when the cave reverberates with the sound of Red Robin's cycle entering. She looks and sees that Doctor Thompkins is fortunately in tow and breathes a sigh of relief.

"Wait, Cassie," Dick mutters as Cass gets up to get out of the way.

"We'll get to the end… later," she says. "Maybe."