“How are you feeling, Miss Cassandra?” Alfred asks, replacing Cass’ half-drained chocolate malt with a fresh one on the side table.
Cass gives him a thumbs-up, but her frown is too persistent to back up the lie. Not even the bright pink curly straw Alfred added to her malt can lighten her sour mood, confined to the sofa as she is.
“You know,” Alfred says, still chipper, “I keep telling your father that the quickest way to heal an injury is by indulging in self-care. Not that he ever listens to my advice. That is precisely why the fool has more aches and pains than a ninety-year-old war veteran.”
Jason looks at him oddly from where he sits on the ottoman in the center of the room. “Aren’t you a ninety-year-old war veteran?” Jason has been hovering around Cass since she came home from Leslie’s clinic, where her ankle was set and plastered in a thick white cast. He’s been serving as her personal piggyback ride until she gets accustomed to using the crutches Leslie prescribed her.
Alfred winks at Jason. “The difference is that I understand the value of self-care.” He lifts Cass’ injured leg gently, sliding an extra pillow beneath it for maximum elevation. “Do tell me if you need anything, my dear. I am just a ring away.”
When he’s gone, Jason leans over to Cass and stage whispers, “That’s British-speak for ‘call.’”
Cass smacks him with a throw pillow. “I know that.”
Jason rubs his arm. “Yeesh. You’re grouchy when you’re handicapped.”
Cass hates that word. Handicapped is when you have a condition that keeps you from doing something you used to be able to do. It’s when a part of you is taken away, making you incomplete. Cass is still whole. A broken ankle won’t keep her from doing everything that makes her herself.
It’s the same reason she’s never understood the protective instinct that wells in people whenever they see Barbara. Yes, she’s in a wheelchair, but she’s not helpless. She’s never been helpless. And neither is Cass.
Even if she is benched from patrol for the next month.
And can’t get around without crutches.
And her cast itches horribly but she can’t find a way to scratch it.
Footsteps descend the staircase then, out of sight from where she lies, but Cass can tell by ear alone that it’s Dick. He’s lighter than the others, like every footfall is a step on a tightrope. He ducks past Alfred in the kitchen, blocking his illegal contraband—a bag of ketchup-flavored potato chips—from sight until he’s out of range.
“Hey, Cass.” Dick perches on the armrest closest to Cass’ feet, kicking his own feet up on the ottoman Jason is sitting on. “How’s the ankle?” He dodges the elbow Jason jabs at him, placating him with a handful of chips.
“It’s annoying,” Cass says with a frown. “Driving me crazy.”
“You don’t have to tell me. When I fractured my collarbone back in my early Robin days, it was torture sitting around not being able to do anything. Bruce had to put me on a child leash because I wouldn’t stop trying to somersault down the stairs.” He laughs at his own story.
Cass’ frown persists.
“Nothing? You really are grumpy.”
“Good reason to be.”
“How’d you break it, anyway?” Dick leans back, throwing a chip into the air and catching it in his mouth. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you downed by an injury before.”
“Train tracks. Steph and I were...playing tag. I tripped.”
“Ha! I never thought I’d see the day.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Cass levers herself up to take a handful of chips.
“Relax,” Dick says. “I’ve got the perfect cure for a broken leg. Toss me the remote, will you, Jay?” Dick is careful when he lifts Cass’ leg from the pillow, sliding onto the couch and resting her casted ankle on his lap. He catches the remote Jason throws his way and goes straight to their family’s Disney+ account. He pulls up a movie and presses play.
“I’m out,” Jason says, throwing up his hands and standing. “You have no fucking taste in movies.”
“You’re a closeted Elsa fan and you know it.”
“But you never even watch the full thing! You just skip to the fucking song and play it a million times!”
“Because I’m cultured.”
Cass rolls her eyes and lets them bicker, settling in for the movie. Even if she can’t patrol or get up on her own, at least she has entertainment.
Once when Cass was a little girl, no more than three feet tall and innocent-looking enough that it served as one of her most useful attributes, she broke her wrist. The bone didn’t poke through the skin, but it hurt like hell. It was a battle-won wound from a training session with one of her dad’s more burly fighters. Cracked right against his jaw when she hit it at the wrong angle.
She didn’t get a cast for it. Her dad didn’t even bother to examine it or send her off to have it fixed up. Instead, he made her keep fighting. And she did.
She fought until it felt like her entire arm was going to crack apart into little white shards. Her wrist ached, weakening her punches. She lost the fight. Her dad made sure she had plenty of new bruises as a lasting reminder of what happens when you fail.
The wrist healed on its own, eventually. It took three times as long as it should have, but Cass didn’t let it make her weak. She forced it to adapt, to become strong. And the next time she broke a bone, she did the same thing all over again. She punished it for weakening her, pushed herself to overcome the pain without a flinch.
Being in this family now, this big house filled with people who love Cass and would never want to see her hurt...it’s good. She can relax around them.
But it doesn’t tame the sting of hatred directed at her ankle, slowing her down, snapping on her like it had an excuse. Weak links slow you down. They make you less than what you are.
Cass tries to sleep that night, but the bulky cast around her leg might as well be a block of cement. For the first time in her life, she feels weighted. The gravity in her body has been switched back on.
After hours of lying in bed staring at the ceiling, she gives up. She grabs her crutches from where they lean on the nightstand and hobbles her way downstairs, miraculously without breaking her other leg in the process.
She goes to the kitchen and discovers a fellow sleepless teenager sitting at the table. A cup of tea steams in front of him, right next to a half-eaten carton of blackberry sorbet. His head is bent over a game board with red and black squares on it.
Tim’s head jerks up, tired eyes landing on Cass in the doorway. “Oh, hey. Can’t sleep?”
Cass lifts her foot. “Too stiff.”
“Must be hell for you, then.”
Tim kicks out the chair across from him. “Want some sorbet?”
Cass takes the seat, leaving her crutches standing against the table. “Worst flavor.” Still, she slides the carton closer to herself and takes a spoonful. Tim has awful taste in junk food. She nods to the game board. “What are you doing?”
Tim shrugs. “There’s no greater opponent than one’s own mind.” He taps his temple.
“Want to play?”
She looks over the game, at all of the red and black pieces. “I don’t know how.”
“I can teach you; it’s not that hard. All you have to do is jump one of my pieces diagonally to capture it”—he jumps a red piece with a black one to demonstrate—"and try to make it to the far end of the board. Whenever a piece reaches the end, it gets kinged and you can take back one of your captured pieces. Get it?”
Cass’ eyebrows crease. “I...think so?” Tim has always talked too fast to be properly understood half the time, but she’s pretty sure she got the gist.
“You’ll get the hang of it.” Tim arranges all of the pieces into two armies on opposite sides of the board. The black ones are on Cass’ side while the red ones are on Tim’s. A bit on the nose, there. “You can go first.”
He was right about the rules being easy to pick up. After the first few moves, Cass finds herself in the thick of it. She manages to king four of her pieces before Tim captures them all, but she suspects he was holding back. She didn’t expect to win, anyway. The sorbet carton is empty now.
“Good game,” Tim says at the end, and she can tell he means it. “Go again?”
“This isn’t fair.” Cass is spinning around in Bruce’s chair in the Batcave, watching as Steph pulls her blonde hair through the Batgirl cowl.
“Me going on patrol with Bruce, or you being stuck here?”
Steph snickers when she catches a look at Cass’ face. “Has anyone ever told you that you look like a cat when you’re angry?” She mimics Cass’ pout, breaking into an eye-crinkly laugh after just a few seconds. “Come on, Cassie, cheer up. It could be worse. You could have broken both of your legs. That would suck.”
Cass does another complete turn in the chair, letting her injured leg swing out in an arc. “I’ll be bored.”
“You live in a giant house with a million people living in it. There’s more to life than fighting crime, you know.”
“No, there isn’t.”
Steph adjusts her utility belt. “Look on the bright side: you’ve got a whole month of lying around and being useless like a normal person. It’s basically a vacation.”
“Still don’t...see the bright side.”
Steph rolls her eyes. “You’re killing me here, Cass.” Luckily, Duke chooses that moment to come downstairs from the manor. Being Gotham’s daylight hero, he’s always around during night patrols. “Duke, will you please tell her that this broken ankle thing is actually a blessing in disguise?”
Duke raises an eyebrow. “How? She can’t patrol.”
Cass smiles, gesturing to Duke. “See?”
Steph smacks herself in the forehead. “You’re both hopeless.”
“What’s a seven-letter word for varnish?”
“I said seven.”
“Oh, okay. Glaze.”
“You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you.”
“Lacquer,” Damian calls out, rolling his eyes at Steph’s antics.
Bruce narrows his eyes at the crossword puzzle before they light up in victory. He pencils in the letters. “Thank you, Damian.”
“Are you seeing this blatant disrespect, Cass?” Steph asks. “When I make wonderful suggestions he tunes me out, but the ‘blood son’ does it and suddenly he’s revered as the backbone of the household. It’s nepotism, I tell you.”
Cass hums. “So disrespectful.”
Steph prods Damian with her foot. “Hey, pipsqueak, are you almost done down there?”
Damian has spent the past half hour on the floor with his pallet and brushes, painting Cass’ cast into a vibrant display of color. She never even had to ask him to do it. He claimed that her plain white plaster was too bland and insisted on correcting that himself. Cass’ only condition was that he didn’t paint over any of the signatures from her friends and family.
lmao your bones went snap crackle & pop like rice krispies — harper
If you can read this, you’re too close — J.T.
Sorry I tripped you on the train tracks and made you break your leg!!! Love, Steph <3
Dick Grayson was here :)
Duke just drew her a picture of a cat. It’s her favorite by far.
“You can’t rush perfection,” Damian tells Steph, ignoring the pipsqueak jab entirely. “And it’s not like you have anything better to do.”
“Rude,” Steph says, even though he’s completely right. She has been serving as Cass’ personal pillow all afternoon, letting Cass lean into her side as they lounge together on the sofa. She smells like berry shampoo and bubblegum. “I will never understand what you see in this show,” Steph says after a minute, pointing at the TV.
Cass doesn’t take her eyes off the screen. How It’s Made has been her favorite program since she discovered it during a late night at Barbara’s apartment. “You don’t like it?”
“It’s boring. It’s just shots of factory machines and some old guy narrating.”
Cass shrugs. “It’s educational.”
“I had no idea you were so fascinated by how plastic spoons are made.”
Cass just smiles.
Steph snorts softly. “You’re lucky you're injured, y’know that?”
“Yep.” Cass burrows her head into the space between Stephanie’s neck and shoulder.