It was different now and Cassandra should have been accustomed to change. After all, ever since escaping the dark shadow of her father and of Mother, she'd been in a strange world. A world where people talk, where people are kind, where people try to do good. Cass was still not sure where she fit in it. She thought she had known, but now she was not sure.
"Hey, dinner's ready." She looked down to Duke Thomas who poked his head out of the window, angling to see where her where she sat on the roof. He was not very involved with the original group, but he was still familiar. And familiar was good in this upheaval so she managed a smile. She stood up, looking over the grounds in the gathering gloaming a final time.
"Okay." She slipped in the room after Duke retreated. She wore her workout clothes (abused yoga pants and a tank top that she and Stephanie picked out on a shopping trip) and no shoes so even though Duke knew she was right behind him, he couldn't hear her. He gave her a weak smile, "How do you walk so soft?"
She shrugged. He had a nice, even tread. A little heavy, but not thunderous. He was the loudest of those Batman has trained, but telling him such would hurt his feelings. The need for acceptance was evident in how quickly he straightened whenever Batman is in the room, how he threw himself into training, and how he read and reviewed so many old case files. He wasn't a Robin, but he was still aware there is a legacy. Just as she is part of the legacy while carrying her own name. He will learn to walk quiet like the others have. She knew the others must have tromped in the beginning. Maybe not Dick with his acrobatic background and lighter build or Damian with his League of Shadows training, but certainly muscular Jason, and even Tim and Stephanie who were average kids before this. This all passed through Cassandra's mind, but she followed him quietly downstairs and into the cavernous dining hall. They've been staying at Wayne Manor on occasion. It was not the Belfry, but it was still familiar. Alfred already set the table and when they walked in, was setting the last plate already filled with Chicken Marsala, green beans (cooked in some way only Alfred knows), a small salad, and a delicious smelling piece of bread. All set on fine dinnerware rather than paper plates. Cassandra had gotten used to paper plates, fast food wrappers, and other less than nice things, but her first meals in this new chapter of life were here at this ornate table with the beautiful dishes. She and Duke took their seats in the places that are becoming theirs for their visits.
"Is Bruce coming?" Duke asked, noting there were only two plates.
"Unfortunately, Master Wayne has been delayed at Wayne Enterprises. He will be home later this evening."
"Alright. Thanks, Alfred."
"Of course, Mister Thomas." With that he left them. He never ate with them which Cassandra didn't understand. The efforts to explain it to her had not been elucidating either. Tim had explained it was because Alfred was a butler and supposed to serve the family. Which made no sense as Alfred was family. Tim had agreed it was silly because Alfred was family, but the man insisted on certain formalities. In the end, Cassandra accepted it was how Alfred wanted things to be, but it didn't lessen his love for them. Cassandra ate with vigor. So much that Duke laughed. She looked up at him, "What? This is not fancy dinner even with pretty plate. Even with the pretty plates." Cassandra corrected her grammar quickly. She was still learning how to make sentences. She could parrot things back, but actually creating her own was still new.
"I know. Sorry, Cass. That's kind of why it's funny. Everything's so nice and formal like we should be at a fancy dinner, but it's just Tuesday night. And I put my napkin in my lap and started sitting straight while you just eat."
Cassandra cocked her head, "It's funny because you think it's a fancy dinner and it's not?"
"Right. You're right at home and I'm laughing because I'm not. Even now."
"I did put my napkin in my lap." Cassandra said. Alfred had told her that piece of etiquette was important at all times.
Duke laughed again, "Yeah." He agreed.
After dinner was over, Cassandra went to her room and picked up the book she was reading. It was for children, she knew, but she had to start somewhere in learning to read. Barbara Gordon had started working with her, but she was busy with some other projects now so daily lessons hadn't been possible. She'd learned the alphabet, but when she read, she had to sound everything out so typically, she'd stay in her room for this. The story was about a dog finding his way home after being lost. She crept through the book, sounding everything out and having to pause when she didn't know what a word meant. For years, she had dismissed the words people spoke as a string of sound and only picked up on things in the tenor and volume of the voice. Things more like the language of their body. She'd heard so many people talk before, but never tried to isolate the sounds and their respective meanings. It was incredibly difficult and it only took a page and a half for her to get frustrated and head for the cave. She went through a warm-up routine while Duke read over some files. As soon as she shifted from the warm-up into actively preparing for the night's patrol, Duke joined her without a word. They restocked their belts with necessary supplies, assured the Batmobile was outfitted and ready for duty, then inspected their uniforms. Bruce descended the stairs as they had finished changing.
"Seems I'm late." Bruce said. Duke laughed, "For a change."
"Have you already checked in with Black Lightning?"
Duke sighed and Cassandra cocked her head.
"We worked with him last night and this weekend. We got nothing done." Duke said, "Let us have a night with you! Even just a patrol."
"Black Lightning is the leader of your team. You get your assignments from him."
"Bruce, that's bull!" Duke protested. Cassandra sighed and said, "We are here. Not there. It's faster." She met his eyes. Bruce was easier to convince that Batman was. Even if they were the same person, Bruce had marginally less tension in his shoulders than Batman did. And there was something a little softer without the cowl.
"Radio him. And you have to go to Gotham anyway to patrol so you could stop by. Besides I have my own plans for tonight." Bruce walked past them and Duke was visibly defeated. He was not good enough for Batman. Cassandra could see it in his shoulders. But the problem was that Batman didn't think he was good enough for them. He had trained Robins and lost Robins. Obviously, he couldn't teach what was needed. Batwoman had been his first attempt at finding a better teacher and now there was Black Lightning. Somehow he would fix the remnants of the team.
"To Black Lightning." Cassandra said, turning away. Duke sighed again, "Fine. As they walked away, Cassandra touched Duke's shoulder. It was a gesture of comfort that Dick always did, that Bruce sometimes did, but Duke did not seem reassured by it. Perhaps it was because it was her.
"Maybe tonight good." She offered. Maybe was an interesting word to her. Not always always sad. Just . . . something unsure. Like hesitating before a step.
"Doubt it, Cass. I really doubt it."
Cassandra joined Duke on his motorcycle. She had learned to drive, but preferred to catch rides or go on her own two feet. Duke didn't question it, but revved the bike. They left the cave and Cassandra knew they were going to waste another night.