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Ghost

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Cass I            

            Cass watched the CCTV blimp pass overhead, the search lights gliding over the city. People in large groups scattered out of the illuminated pools like startled cats. It was a windy night, enough that all pedestrians would turn up their collars and keep their gazes forward. Not that she worried about being spotted with her floor length cowl and skin covering suit.

            She’d had to break up a brawl several streets down an hour ago but otherwise, the neighborhood around Jason Todd’s apartment was quiet.

            The rooftop door opened and Sasha Nico appeared, saying. “If you’ve finished with the box, you’re welcome to come inside.”

            Cass double checked the surveillance box and nodded. Sasha looked at her warily, maybe. In her years, Cass had rarely came across someone whose face was as altered as this girl’s. Her actions and intentions were all laced with phantom pain, and emotions were nearly impossible to see. She had to pay a lot more attention to Sasha’s words.

            “Ok.” Cass answered and unbent from where she’d been crouched on the corner, trying to emulate the stone gargoyles on this side of the city. Dick was complaining that the building Jason was living in was held together by bad architecture and luck according to him, but Cass found herself remembering those years before she’d come to Gotham. Keeping her distance from her father had been about moving constantly and she’d squatted in plenty of places like this.

            If there were any other tenants in this building, they kept their doors shut or stayed out when the Bats came to visit. Barbara was going through their records to make sure Hush hadn’t rented an apartment under an assumed name.

            They opened the door to a chorus of groans and a rush of kids away from the table. Jason and Steph were staring down into a plastic bag with undisguised glee. Sasha darted forward, asking. “You got some?”

            “More than some!” Stephanie beamed and upended the bag. About a dozen bottles of multivitamins clattered onto the tabletop. “Doc Thompkins let me take as many as we need before handing them out.”

            Jason was already opening a bottle. “Come on, guys, you have to eat one a day.”

            The kids were less than impressed.

            “They taste bad!”

            “Yeah and the taste lingers!”

            With gagging motions and dramatic shuddering, the children endeavored to get to the back of the crowd, resulting in a strange encircling group.

            Stephanie put her hands on her hips. “It will keep you from getting sick.”

            That wasn’t strictly true according to Barbara, but Cass smiled and kept her mouth shut.

            “A drink will help you with the taste.” Sasha promised, pulling out several water bottles from their little fridge. She winked at Cass, another lie.

            With much grumbling, the kids lined up for their vitamins. But there was one child missing by her count.

            Jason turned to Cass, all business when he asked. “All clear outside?”

            “Yes.” Cass felt herself straightening when she spoke.

            “Do you mind helping Stephanie?” Jason followed up.

            Cass nodded. She wasn’t sure how to act around Jason. Damian didn’t seem to be having any trouble adapting and Tim was avoiding this place like the plague. She remembered Bruce bringing her to Jason’s grave and all the things he’d said, but it was hard to put those details to this man. He looked the type to give someone else his neopolitan ice cream rather than eat it himself.

            A hand was waving in front of her face and Cass jerked back to see Stephanie watching her. Sure of Cass’s attention, she explained. “Hiro is sick and I need to bring him down to the clinic.”

            Inside their bedroom, a small boy was curled up under a ratty comforter, his hand over his left ear. He was red with fever and his eyes were glassy. “Stephy.” Hiro rasped.

            Stephanie picked up the boy and settled him on her hip. He was probably six, but extremely scrawny and sagged against her shoulder. Back in the main room, Sasha helped maneuver Hiro into an over-large down coat before they left.

            It was quiet on Park Row and Cass followed Steph and the boy at an inconspicuous distance. Her commlink crackled.

            “Batgirl.” Damian demanded.

            “Robin.” Cass answered, smiling under her cowl.

            “I’ll stay with them for the night.” Damian stated, with no room for argument. How had he gotten Bruce or Dick to go along with that? Damian must have taken her silence for agreement because he disconnected the line. Well, she’d just have to make sure her littlest brother didn’t notice her keeping vigil on the rooftop.

            “I’m amazed none of you have given that brat a good wallop.” Stephanie called over her shoulder. She had stopped to allow Batgirl to catch up, and the pair walked together. Cass remembered the early days of Spoiler, the only days before she had left. The Bats and Birds had not treated her well. Watching Stephanie march forward, unencumbered by the weight of the child, Cass wondered why.

            “He is young.” Cass said, which was true about Damian though he'd argue the fact.

            Stephanie snorted and said sarcastically. “I’m sure he wouldn’t agree with you.”

            “Ten and four months.” Cass pitched her voice into Damian’s range and Stephanie muffled her laughter in Hiro’s shoulder. The boy fidgeted.

            “Wha-” He mumbled.

            “Almost there, kiddo.” Stephanie assured him. She patted his head and brought it back down to her shoulder. Hiro warbled feebly and went slack against her.

            Cass would have twiddled her thumbs if her father hadn’t stamped the habit out long ago. “Lucky clinic is nearby.” She tried again.

            With a rueful grin, Stephanie hitched up the boy. “Yes. Doc T is well acquainted with all the kids. She actually checked out that salve Robin got for Sasha. High priced stuff that. But don’t tell him I’m impressed.”

            “Pyg.” Cass growled with as much menace as she could into the name but Stephanie had her beat.

            The girl nearly snarled. “She still had that goddamn mask on when Jason found her. For a long time, she was convinced it would take her face when it finally came off. If I could get my hands on that rat bastard-”

            Cass grabbed her elbow before she started screaming her fury. Stephanie subsided, her grip tight around Hiro. “None of them are old enough to get a driver’s license. It isn’t right. Red Robin probably isn’t much different. What about you?”

            “I am twenty, but small.” Cass said but frowned, fingering her cape.

            “With your moves, no one doubts you, trust me.” Steph said with a grin, “But I remember, Robin, Red Robin now, was tiny.”

            “Babybird.” Cass giggled.

            “No! Really?” Stephanie cackled. “And why does his uniform look like Doctor Mid-Nite?”

            They smiled at one another and though Cass had a full face cowl, Stephanie seemed able to see her delight.

            They reached the clinic where Doctor Thompkins was sitting at the front desk’s computer, fingers flying over the keyboard. “No quips, Stephanie?” Then she looked up and frowned. They were instantly pulled into one of the rooms and Stephanie was rattling off symptoms as the doctor checked the boy’s nose, eyes, ears and mouth, then swabbed his mouth, then stuck a thermometer in said mouth. The boy fussed slightly, but Stephanie kept a tight grip on his shoulders. “It sounds like an ear infection. Not dire, but you’ll want to keep him away from the other kids and definitely out of St. Aden’s until he’s better. A warm compress and ibuprofen should work for now. I should have the results in a few days. Let me know if it gets worse.”

            Stephanie nodded and passed the boy, who had fallen asleep, to Cass. She had a form clutched in her hand and was filling it out. Leslie returned to the computer and entered the boy’s visit before barking. “And get Al down here! I know he hasn’t been going to any other doctors.”

            “You know how he is, Doc.” Stephanie laughed when Leslie looked up with a frown.

            The doctor sighed. “I hope he doesn’t think he can fight off disease through will power.”

            “Actually,” Stephanie pondered, “He never gets sick. Even when Sasha and I were laid up with the flu with half the kids, he didn’t even sniffle once.  It’s practically supernatural.”

            She beamed with second hand pride. Stephanie had an infectious smile. Cass felt herself grin, until the sound of pounding feet turned their attention to the door. A pair of children rushed into the front lobby, a boy younger than Damian and a girl the same age in a red cardigan.

            Panting, the girl put her hands on her knees and turned to the boy, her dark hair swinging into her face, and said. “Steve, I don’t think-”

            “No!” The boy interrupted. “Doctor Leslie will protect you. We can stay here until your dad leaves and then we can go to my place.” Steve was half yelling and his eyes were wild. He looked up and shouted. “Steph!”

            Steve grabbed the girl’s arm and dragged her up to the reception desk. When his eyes finally landed on Cass he gaped. “Batgirl!”

            He glared but looked conflicted. “Did you find the guy following Helena?”

            Cass shook her head and Steph jumped to her defense. “It’s been a busy day, Steve.” She put her hands on her hips and looked pointedly at where Steve was still holding the girl’s hand.

            “Who is this?” Stephanie asked with edged sarcasm.

            The girl dropped her eyes and tried to pull her hand away, but Steve had a tight grip. He scowled up at Stephanie, his voice indignant. “This is Annie. Her Dad hit her!”

            “Where?” Cass demanded and realized Steph had said the same thing. They glanced at each other before turning to the girl, Annie.

            She shrank behind Steve, her hands gripping his arm. Luckily, Steve seemed to have her trust and he guided Annie to Doctor Thompkins, who was waiting patiently. She observed Annie’s face without touching. “You certainly have bruising.” Leslie said slowly, “But, it’s already healing. When did he hit you?”

            Annie looked up and down and all around before Steve took her hand in his again. She glanced at him and took a deep breath. “Tonight.”

            Leslie didn’t argue though even Cass could see the faded bruising on her cheek must have been a few days old. “And has he hurt you before tonight?” She asked.

            The girl looked hunted, her face scrunching as though in pain. “I… I don’t remember.” She took a strangled breath and nearly buried herself against Steve’s side. He wrapped his arms around her.

            “She doesn’t even remember her name, Doc. I decided to call her Annie.” He said.

            “So is that man actually her father?” Steph asked.

            Steve chewed his lip. “He didn’t actually say so. He just was angry that she hadn’t come home? Maybe? He said…” He screwed his eyes tight shut and hummed.

            “‘Where have you been?’” He said slowly. “‘I’ve been looking everywhere for you.’ And then I got in the way and then he threw me into a wall.”

            Steph gasped but Cass threw an arm in front of her. It was better for Steve to say everything now before his memory was less clear of the event.

            “And then Annie got in the way and told him not to hurt me.” Steve continued. “And then he backhanded Annie across the face.” He opened his eyes. “And he was really strong. I flew all the way down the alley before I hit that wall.”

            Cass lowered her arm and Steph rushed forward. “Are you alright? Did you get hurt? Doc!” She spun to Leslie who came over to check the boy.

            Batgirl was out of the clinic and surveying the area. No one was in the open and when she climbed to the rooftop, the surrounding streets were equally empty. Whomever the man was, he hadn’t stuck around after chasing the children here.

            Turning on her comm, she pinged Barbara and reported. “Another girl has been added to Jason’s group, and this has what might be a metahuman after her.”

            “Description?” Barbara asked, the unmistakable sound of typing filtering through the connection.

            “The man was described as strong enough to lift a seven year old and throw him the length of an alley. The girl is six or seven with straight dark hair and tanned skin. I wasn’t able to identify an ethnicity, but she might have some memory loss.”

            Barbara sighed. Amnesia cases were rare but kids running from parents was nearly a dime a dozen in this part of Gotham. “Are you at the house?” She asked.

            “No. We’re at the Free Clinic and I’ll escort them back to the house.” Cass answered. “I’ll update Robin when we get there.”

            Damian might just decide to live with Jason and his brood after this latest event.