Paper Hearts, part 24

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"

Batgirl squinted in concentration, her cowl down her back, carefully inputting the keystrokes that Oracle ordered through the hands-free she'd switched over to. She could hear the strained patience in Barbara's voice - too much going on, no time for error - and Cassandra's still infant literacy making a simple programming task into a chore.

The effort of connecting sound to symbol, the importance of not making a mistake was giving Cassandra a headache. The sewer smell still clinging to her was not helping, but they needed to secure the cave network before anything else

"Done," Batgirl reported, clicking in a final back slash.

"Okay," Barbara replied. "Now hit 'enter' and we should-"

Batgirl tapped the requested key, and a smooth hiss sounded through the tunnel behind her.

"Score one for the girl squad," Barbara cheered, and the screen in front of Batgirl flashed the word. SECURED in comforting red block letters.

"I check," Batgirl decided, flying out of the detested computer chair to inspect the access port.

"My cameras show it closed-" Barbara was objecting, but it was more a sound of relief than a genuine complaint at Batgirl's desire to make certain.

"Visual confirms," Batgirl sent back. "Any word on others?"

"GCPD is tracking down everyone who stopped at Arkham in the past two weeks - Hatter's nanites were in the coffee supply." Barbara snorted. "You'd think after the last time they'd have realized that."

Not mentioning Nightwing, Cassandra noted. Better follow her lead. "Why Bruce Wayne?"

"They're still trying to figure that one out. Hatter's been raving about discontinued circuitry."

Batgirl narrowed her eyes, considering this as she walked back to the Bowery complex. "He with Scarecrow?"

"It's looking less likely. We've got an ID on our electronic whiz - Konstantin du Bois. Pseudonym, since my searches are showing the ID as part of a clever hack four years ago. Still working on his real identity. But he worked janitorial and food service in Arkham."

"Might have seen Hatter set up patch box."

"That's my thought. And as slick as he is, he probably recognized what it did pretty quickly."

Batgirl nodded, stripping off her uniform. "Good. Means Bruce identity not known."

"We hope," Barbara cautioned. "I'll feel better when I piece together everything from tonight."

"Yes." Cassandra tossed her soiled costume into a bin that sealed into the wall. It would be unpleasant for whoever had to open it up again, but it was better than having to keep breathing the odor. She rummaged for another Batgirl suit. "Need me more?" she asked.

"I hope not," Barbara replied. "I've got Canary on tap if anything new comes up."

No costume, Batgirl realized, although there was a good assortment of Robin tights. "What about Bludhaven?" she asked cautiously, trying another storage space.

A brief pause. "J'onn sent a message that they found him, and I track Batman and Robin at the docks."

But they hadn't called again, Cassandra understood, shrugging into a too-large t-shirt. Dick's, from the scent of laundry detergent. And a pair of Tim's jeans, she decided. She'd have to cuff them, but it would be more comfortable than swimming in a pair of Dick's - or worse, Bruce's - sweats. "It will be okay," she said decisively.

"I know." It was more hopeful than confident.

"I need to find clean costume," Cassandra informed her, changing the subject.

That brought a sympathetic chuckle. "Think we should burn the old one?"

"Probably," Cassandra replied dryly, her eyes spying a pair of yellow boots at least two sizes too small for any of the male members of their team. With heels. She picked them up reverently, wondering why they were there and almost regretting that they were the most reasonable footwear she would find.

"You in civvies?"

"Yeah." Cassandra found a pair of short socks to wad into the toe of each boot.

"Why don't you go to Leslie's? Someone should check the cover, and you should warm up."

"Not cold," Cassandra grunted, pulling on one of the boots.

"You will be when you sit down long enough to think about it." A more familiar mothering tone was creeping into Barbara's voice, so much better than the tension that had been flowing over the comlink.

"Okay," Cassandra acquiesced, pulling on the second boot and standing to test her balance. She would have to make sure she stocked the various hidey holes in the City with her own clothes in the future, but this would do for now. She grabbed a worn flannel-lined jacket with the name "Alvin" stitched onto it and headed back down the tunnel to retrieve the bike. "Anything else?"

"Just call me from Leslie's," Barbara directed.

"Got it." Cassandra tucked the sat phone into the chest pocket of the "Alvin" jacket, opting to keep the headset on. Then she rolled her sleeves and righted the bike. It started readily despite her earlier abuse of it, and she was quickly on her way to the clinic.

Leslie was waiting for her.

For a moment, Cassandra's chest tightened, then she realized Leslie was smiling, her body language relaxed. It shouldn't have taken that long to recognize, she chastised herself, realizing the night was getting to her, too.

Cassandra eased the bike the final feet into the underground lair and parked it.

"Alfred would have things to say about that get up," Leslie remarked.

Cassandra shrugged and dismounted. "Needed clothes."

"Better than being naked," Leslie conceded, holding out a bundle in her arms. A Batgirl suit.

Cassandra accepted the costume gratefully, sitting down to change her boots. The rest could wait.

"I've got water started for tea," Leslie continued, her eyes on Cassandra's footwear.

"The cover?" Cassandra asked, returning to her feet and tucking her uniform under her arm.

"Sleeping now - albeit restlessly." Leslie picked up one of the yellow boots. "These were in one of the caves?"

Cassandra nodded, collecting the other boot. "I'll put them back."

Leslie nodded and tucked the boot into the saddle bag of the bike with a sad sort of smile. "I don't know what to do with that boy," she remarked half to herself. Cassandra followed her lead, not needing to ask who she meant.

"Well, let's get you warmed up," Leslie said briskly, leading Cassandra to the elevator.

The clinic was darkened and quiet when they emerged, the low whistle of a tea kettle just below the boiling point serving to counterpoint the distant beeps from other rooms. Leslie hustled ahead of Cassandra to attend the kettle, busying herself with making tea as Cassandra settled into a chair near the tidy office desk.

"The news says you caught Scarecrow and his accomplice," Leslie began conversationally.

Cassandra nodded. "And Hatter."

"Crazy night," Leslie remarked. "Or morning," she amended, gesturing toward the clock radio glowing 4:28 am on a file cabinet. She set a plate of crackers and cheese on the desk beside Cassandra.

Cassandra sandwiched a bit of cheese between two crackers, aware suddenly of being very hungry.

Leslie nodded approvingly. "None of you ever eat enough. Or sleep enough."

"That's what daytime for," Cassandra replied, accepting the mug of tea Leslie offered.

Leslie blinked at her, then began to laugh. "Yes, I suppose it would be. For all of us, tomorrow at least." She settled at her desk with a sigh. "I've never gotten used to the waiting."

Cassandra nodded, understanding. The waiting. The not-knowing if the friends out in the dark night were okay, would return to fight another day. She thought back to the yellow boots in the bike below.

The sudden jarring ring of the phone startled both of them. Leslie sat up swiftly, setting down her tea and lifting the receiver before it could ring again. "This is Dr. Thompkins," she answered professionally.

As she listened to the caller in silence, Cassandra watched tension sing along her body, the slight hastening of her breathing. "I'll be there as quickly as possible," she finally said, hanging up the phone and reaching for her medical bag in almost the same gesture.

"They need me at the Manor," she explained, crossing to grab her coat from the coattree inside her office door.

Cassandra reached out a hand, touching the doctor's sleeve. "Want me to drive?"

For a second, the anxiety on Leslie's face gave way to relief as she wordlessly handed Cassandra her keys.

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