Fighting a time traveling villain out to destroy all Batgirls in existence, Stephanie Brown has to team up with Cassandra and Barbara of the past to save the world. On the way, the three of them have to cope with what it REALLY means to be Batgirl…

I dnt own anything.

 

They stood alone as the wind raged around them, colors shifting and earth shaking with every gust. Cassandra, the smallest among them, struggled against being blown off her feet. Only her borderline-unnatural strength and balance were keeping her upright. Stephanie looked sideways at her friend’s face which was so screwed up against the wind that even her mask was contorted. She took her hand.

It seemed to have a steadying effect on both of them. It felt for a second like the earth had stopped screaming to allow them to pass. Stephanie looked over at Babs. She was still unnerved at how clear and unburdened her green eyes were, peaking through the bat cowl. She felt even more unnerved when Babs laughed at the gale tossing her wild red hair. The woman grabbed Cassandra’s other hand firmly and turned her face toward their goal. Stephanie did the same.

Slowly, surely, they were able to move forward now. With every step they took, the boots of canary yellow, sleek black and gauntleted eggplant landed on the pavement together. Three Batgirls, much alike in dignity

Every step was sure, and their hands were tightly linked. It seemed like no time before they were upon him.

“Look at this,” he said lazily.

“You can’t take this away,” Steph choked out, aware of how hokey the pronouncement sounded.

“I don’t have to,” He said, and he sat down in a chair that had not been there before, a look of pleasant anticipation playing across his features. “I’m just going to sit there and watch you do that yourselves.” He leaned forward, and for the first time since Steph had known him, he looked truly menacing, impossible shadows playing across the sharply defined planes of his face.

“You three are going to destroy each other.”

The world collapsed around them.

“You know,” Stephanie said, as she spat out a gob of blood out on the dirty stone floor, “I think this guy may be a bit out of my weight class.” She looked up just in time to see a yellow boot whip out of sight.

“Just keep at it,” Barbara muttered, her eyes still fixed on the computer screen as she thrust out a hand to help her fallen pupil up. “Other heroes are on their way, and I’m figuring out a way to hack into his machine.”

“He disappears the second I punch he knows everything I can do before I react He’ll appear out of nowhere with every kind of weapon and wallop me at any second!” Stephanie squeaked. She was verging on being a bit hysterical. “It’s like trying to fight Cass only with the ability to literally vanish into thin air and a massive arsenal to boot!”

“I’m. Working. On. It,” Barbara said through gritted teeth, her face shiny with sweat as she punched the keyboard keys so fast her fingers blurred.

“Why’s he in here anyway?” Stephanie babbled. “Why did he just appear out of nowhere to fight us in the batcave?”

“Because he knew we’d stop him,” Babs said. “Us or Batman.”

“What?”

“He’s a time traveler, Steph. He must know we’re going to be a threat to him in the future, and he’s trying to prevent it.”

“What but then why how that makes my head hurt,” Steph sputtered.

“Best not to think about it.”

“Why wouldn’t he just kill us in our cribs or something then, if he’s so all knowing?”

“Because that’s incredibly boring,” a silky voice echoed throughout the Batcave. “I used to do it all the time. Squishing little skull after little skull it got soooo monotonous. And sort of distasteful.”

Stephanie spun around, staff in hand, every sense on alert, trying to pinpoint the direction of the voice. Oracle was still typing away furiously. Stephanie did not understand her.

“So I thought why not go at them when they can put up a little bit of a fight? I mean ” And suddenly there was someone whispering in her ear, their breath hot, “it’s not like I can lose.”

Stephanie spun around to smash her staff into that smug face, but her new villain wasn’t there anymore. Instead, there was a laser cannon, pointed right towards her and Barbara.

Steph just barely jumped out of the way, tackling Barbara right out of the wheel chair and sending them both crashing to the ground. She could smell her own singed hair and burnt cape. Time Lapse was gone again.

“This is getting ugly,” Babs said succinctly as Steph helped her back into her chair. “Are you sure you can handle this until help arrives? We can try and evacuate ”

“I said he was out of my weight class. I didn’t say I couldn’t take him,” Stephanie said, trying to sound confident.

She handed Barbara back her laptop so her mentor could resume her harried hacking. “But I thought Rip Hunter or someone was supposed to handle these crazies.”

“Booster Gold,” Babs muttered.

“Wait, what? I thought Booster Gold was a goofball.”

“Nnn, It’s a cover. He thinks I don’t know,” Babs said conversationally.

“Well, why isn’t he here?”

“Must be preoccupied with something else.”

“I am never using his toothpaste again,” Steph said. “Agh!”

The Time Lapse had suddenly swooped down from above, apparently in possession of a Legion Flight Ring now. He grabbed Stephanie and threw her headfirst into a cave wall. Her head cracked against the hard rock and the world went dark for a moment. The light intruded again with annoying intensity a second later, along with the sight of the Time Lapse struggling with Babs, who had somehow managed to get across the cave and was now clinging to the villains back with a taser in hand.

Lapse yelped as she shocked him, but didn’t drop like any normal human would or any normal superhuman, seeing as this was Babs’s special taser. Apparently, the garish yellow suit the thin man wore wasn’t just for violating standards of good taste. The man bucked Babs off his back and turned on her, snarling.

Steph attempted a leap to the rescue, but he spun and kicked her in the face. She felt a tooth dislodge as the world turned upside down again. And then he was gone. Why did he keep doing that?

“You okay?” Babs called to Stephanie. When Steph nodded, Babs grumbled “For the life of me, I don’t know what’s taking Dinah so long.”

Before Stephanie could make a move to help her, she had dragged herself over to her fallen laptop and resumed furious typing. Stephanie walked wearily over and crouched down.

After a minute of silence, Stephanie said “Okay, unless you seriously do think you’re going to hack into a time machine in the next two seconds ”

Got it,” Babs cried triumphantly.

“Wait, what?” Steph sputtered. “How did you just hack into a time machine?”

“It’s connected to a network of computers he keeps stashed in each era  all of them from the twenty fifth century. Very advanced stuff but not enough to stop me,” Babs clucked.

“I’m not sure you’re even human at this point,” Batgirl said, shaking her head. “Why did he let you hack into his stuff though? Wouldn’t he see you were going to do that being an all knowing time-traveller?”

“By attacking us he created a divergent timeline, so no. It’s a complicated science. The point is, when he comes in range, I’m going to be able to mess with his tech a little not much, but it should give you enough time to ”

“Sorry I had to step out, ladies,” The Time Lapse appeared in front of them, smiling smoothly. “I had some untimely business to take care of, and I thought you could use a break anyhow. Shall we pick up where we left off?”

“Let’s go” said Barbara sweetly, and she pressed a key down hard.

The square gray box Time Lapse wore on his shiny belt made an unpleasant grinding sound and crackled with electricity. The villain yelped and stumbled back.

“NOW, Steph!” Babs cried.

“With pleasure,” Steph snarled. She leapt for the man only to smack painfully into solid air. He had thrown up a forcefield.

“You bitch! My machine!” Lapse sputtered.

“You can’t use it for your little trysts now,” Babs said triumphantly. “Hell, I doubt it would last through more than three more uses, and even then you’ll risk breaking down the timestream. You might as well throw down that force field. We’re done here.”

The villain looked like he wanted to stamp his foot and throw a tantrum. With fists balled and eyes bulging, he took a step towards Barbara, but Steph leapt in front of her. Lapse stopped abruptly, and then suddenly, a terrible grin appeared on his face.

“Three more uses, eh? I think I’ll only need one. Killing someone in their crib may be boring, but if I can make sure no Batgirl ever exists? I’ll make an exception,” he nodded at Barbara with mock politeness.

“You idiot, that thing is damaged!” Barbara snapped, wheeling forward. “You try to travel now, you risk time breaking down!”

“It’s a risk I’m willing to take if it means never having to see another bratty batbitch again,” Lapse sneered. He grabbed his time box and began punching keys. “One crib strangling coming up ”

For what felt like the thousandth time that night, Stephanie leaped forward to tackle her nemesis. But unlike the other nine hundred and ninety nine times, this time she actually made contact. Time Lapse had thrown down his force field to concentrate on his time travel, and Steph showed him what a grave error that was by slamming him to the ground.

The air began crackle and buzz around them like it was charged with electricity. It pressed down on them like it was solid, and colors began to shift around them

“Get Off ” Time Lapse spat, but they were both already twisting and bending around themselves, and Stephanie could hear the damaged machine whining as it struggled to complete its task. She could feel pressure on her skull, like something was trying to rip out her brain.

The last thing she heard was Oracle screaming her name.

Stephanie slammed onto the ground face first, getting a nose full of wet grass and hard packed dirt to round out the experience. It took her a few seconds of disorientation for her to realize the impact had smashed her nose.

“Fuh!” she yelped, snapping painfully into a sitting position. She touched her face gingerly. The nose was not broken, just badly bruised and bleeding. She tipped back her head and pinched it carefully, trying to remember how she had gotten here. The Time Lapse had his malfunctioning machine taken her here? But she didn’t see him around here, there was only a flat horizon and acres of dewy field. Did that mean she was stranded in some unknown era?

Please let it be post-corset,” she moaned, looking around desperately for a clue to where she was.

She got one, in the form of a petite woman hurtling directly into her.

Her back hit the ground with a solid thunk as small hands pinned down her shoulders, and she was looking up into nothing but reflective brown eyes.

“You can’t. You can’t be her,” her assailant murmured, hands gently tracing Stephanie’s face like she was reading Braille. “But you are.” Her lips quivered slightly as she said it.

Cassandra?

 

 

 

 

Authors note: References are made here to Cassandra’s last on panel appearance, a one-panel flash back in Batgirl v3 #6 where she told Steph not to follow her for her own good and was apparently about to board “Euro-airlines”. This is what Steph is referring to at , since she assumes Cass is in Europe and wants her out of her hair.

 

“Uh, Cass? I’m glad to see you too, been worried about you and all, but would you mind getting off me?”

Cassandra did not comply, but merely continued to stare at Steph like she was some sort of alien-and not the good kind.

“Cass, you’re hurting me,” Steph said through gritted teeth, trying to jerk her wrists free from where Cass had them pinned. Cass suddenly let go like she had been shocked, scrambling off Steph like a scared monkey.

“How ” she whispered softly as Steph sat up, rubbing her wrists.

“Believe me, I don’t know how I got here either. I thought I was caught in a time warp, but here I got an express ticket to Cassandra’s Abode of European Sulkitude somehow. Now, I’m not supposed to be here for my “own good” or whatever, but I didn’t exactly have a choice in the matt- wait a second…”

Steph squinted at her friend, who was still pale and gaping. She looked different somehow from the last time she’d seen her. Not physically, but there was something old and comforting about her like she was simpler less haunted more herself, if that made sense. The way she held herself, the way she moved, the look in her eyes even in shock, she seemed more confident, less beaten down than the last time they had met. Had she simply changed? But the look was familiar, not something new

“How  are you alive?” Cassandra breathed, apparently having not taken in a word Steph had just said.

And it clicked. Steph had traveled back in time . But not far. She was meeting a Cassandra of the past, a Cassandra who thought she was dead.

“This is just unreal,” Steph moaned.

“I don’t understand,” Cassandra said. She was trembling all over now, her face blank and lost. Steph had never seen her so undone.

Steph rubbed her aching head, thinking hard. The number one rule of time travel she had learned from all those bad sci-fi movies Tim claimed he didn’t like but always ended up convincing her to take him to see anyway was that when you time traveled, you couldn’t reveal anything about the future or it would mess things up.

Of course, Babs had always said the rules of time travel just plain contradicted themselves. It was part of the fun.

Well, she’d apparently already revealed something about the future to Cassandra just by showing up alive. She’d have to provide some answers  but not too many.

“Cass, listen, this is going to sound unbelievable. But, uh, I think I’m from the future. I got mixed up with some time travelling villain and ended up travelling back to well, now, I guess. I don’t know why I ended up with you probably because the villain was targeting Batgirl he just got the wrong one. Yes, I’m alive, but it’s a long story and we shouldn’t get into it or I’ll reveal too much about the future and that’s a rule or something. Believe me, I’m as freaked as you are. Well, maybe a little less freaked ”

She trailed off nervously. Cassandra was still standing there like a particularly put upon statue. Steph waited for her to do something. She was considering possibly waving her hand in front of
Cass’s face to awaken her when she suddenly realized Cass wasn’t in front of her anymore. With this revelation came the sensation on being hit with a tackle from a four hundred pound linebacker, but instead it was a 90 pound woman throwing her arms around her.

Steph wondered if with her childhood, Cassandra had never gotten the hang of the fact that not all touch was meant to cause pain. She certainly hadn’t gotten the hang of hugging. Steph wasn’t entirely sure whether she’d lost consciousness or if Cassandra just released her rather quickly, but either way she was soon facing her sheepish friend with the feeling she had been run over by a bulldozer.

“You’re alive,” Cass said again, this time with a cheerful certainty.

“Despite your best efforts to strangle me, yeah,” Steph replied weakly. “Uh, any of that time travel stuff put you off in the least?”

Cass shrugged. “Got questions.” Her brow suddenly creased in concern and she pointed at Steph’s face. “You’re hurt.”

“Huh? Oh!” Steph’s hand flew up to her bruised nose and bashed up mouth. “S’nothing.”

“We should have tea,” Cass said decisively, and without asking, she grabbed Steph’s arm and began to haul her singlehandedly toward the horizon.

Against her will, Stephanie felt a sort of warmth open up inside her. This was the Cass she remembered. From before. She followed Cass across the vast field into a tiny little cottage just past the horizon.

The inside of the little abode was clean but bare. There was a bedroll on the floor, a small table, a kitchen and not much else. Steph settled herself at the table as Cassandra extracted a lone kettle from the cabinet and began to boil water for the tea. Stephanie had never seen Cassandra do anything as normal as prepare a drink before, and she found herself watching extra carefully to make sure her friend didn’t set anything on fire. When did she even learn how to use a stove?

But it seemed Cass had picked up how to make tea from somewhere, so Steph relaxed and explained her situation with more clarity, still careful not to reveal too much. Cassandra listened intently. When Steph had finished talking, she handed her a hot cup of tea and an ice pack. Steph stared dumbly at the ice for a few seconds before she realized it was for her face. Cass sat down opposite of her. She took a slow sip of her tea, and then she finally asked a question.

“Your costume…?”

“Oh!” Steph had completely forgotten that the costume she now felt so familiar in would be unfamiliar to Cass. “Oh well, see it’s like ”

Understanding dawned on Cassandra’s face. “You’re Batgirl.”

” Maybe a little?”

To Steph’s complete shock, Cass’s face broke into a wide smile. “Good.”

Good?

“Yeah . I mean…I’m glad it’s  you and not just some ” Cassandra trailed off. “It fits. S’who I’d chose.”

There was an awkward silence, and Stephanie found she was slightly flushed. It was true Cass had left her the costume and implied she’d wanted Stephanie to take it it was just Steph had never understood why. She still didn’t. Yet here was a Cass from the past, a Cass who had thought she was dead until two minutes ago, who had last seen her running away from a gang war she herself had caused, who was flat out saying she’d choose her as a successor. She just didn’t get it.

“So, am I dead?” Cassandra asked casually.

Steph sputtered in her tea, burning her mouth in the process. “What? Of course not! You’re- aw shit, I’m doing that revealing too much about the future thing again.” She took a deep calming breath. “No. You’re not dead.” She looked down at her clasped hands, and she felt like something was blocking her throat when she said the next thing. “You’re just different.”‘

Cass examined her thoughtfully. “You’re sad,” she pointed out bluntly.

“Of course I am, I’m lost in time which is very confusing,” Steph snapped back, desperate to move the subject away from dangerous future-knowing territory. “Would you mind telling me the date so I can figure out when the hell I am?”

Cass shrugged. “Dunno.”

“Offffff course you don’t,” Steph muttered. She thought hard to herself. Cassandra was out all alone somewhere, not operating as Batgirl, but she hadn’t known Steph was alive. That had to mean

“Cass, did you happen to impale Lady Shiva on a hook recently?”

Cassandra’s eyes widened. “I- uh,how did you-?”

“I’m from the future, remember?” Steph responded gently. “How long has it been since that happened?”

“Two .two weeks. Maybe.”

Steph rocked her chair back with a sigh. How much more awkward and painful could this get? The Cassandra across from her had no idea of the mind-torture and heartache that was coming her way. She never thought she’d use the word “innocent” to describe Cass about anything besides sex, but in a way the girl across from her was innocent. She wasn’t yet broken like the girl who had abandoned her costume on a rooftop.

She couldn’t stand this. It was too weird, too wrong.

“Well, okay,” Steph said decisively, letting her chair fall back on its front legs with a too-loud thump. “I need to find Time Lapse. With any luck, he landed in this time period too, just in a different location. It’s been great seeing you, thanks for tea, try to forget this ever happened, you can now return to your daily ninja brooding.”

“Wait!” Cassandra grabbed Stephanie’s arm to stop her from getting up, possibly breaking it in the process “You can’t go out there alone.”

“Cass, you can’t get involved in this. None of this is supposed to even be happening. It’s against the rules for you to even know this much!”

Cass gave a truly impressive snort. “Since when do you  care about rules?”

She had her there.

“Anyway, I’m not getting uh, involved. You’re just  staying here,” Cass said, shoving Steph back in her chair to punctuate the statement.

“Cass, this is a guy who wears bright yellow and makes puns about time. Not to mention Barbara busted his doohickey. I can handle him just fine,” Steph said in her most confident voice.

“Liar,” Cass pointed out automatically.

Dammit, I hate it when she does that. “Fine then, you can come. You can take him down in two seconds flat and I can go home. Do you have your costume around here somewhere?”

Cass turned away “I can’t.”

“What?”

” I’m not ” Cass seemed to be struggling even more than usual with her words. “Batgirl isn’t who I, uh, am. I’m just a runaway girl.” Cass’s shoulders slumped slightly.

Stephanie felt like someone had lit a fire in her gut.

“Bullshit,” she spat. She stood up from her chair, upsetting the table in the process. Cass turned back around, surprised.

“Batgirl is always going to be a part of you. You can’t just say it’s not. Look, I know the thing with impaling your mom was rough and all, but what you’re doing here? It’s wrong. You can’t just you can’t just decide to disappear on everyone. I know sometimes things hurt so bad that you think no one will care that you’re gone, that they’re better off without you but dropping off the face of the earth just leads to trouble. You don’t think there’s people who need you? You need to face who you are. All of it. Or else you’re going to fall hard, Cass. Take it from me.”

The end of her angry outburst was met with a ringing silence. Cass was frozen, her expression blank and unreadable.

“If you want to help on this, I need Batgirl, not Miss Mopey McMoperson. Since Batgirl’s not around, I’ll go by myself,” Steph snapped. She held up a finger as she made for the door “Nerve strike me and I will be so mad.”

Much to her surprise, Cassandra did not knock her out before she stepped into the open field, but just watched her leave in contemplative silence.

Stephanie waited until she was out of view of the small cottage to drop to her knees and sigh.

“Way to project, champ,” she muttered to herself.

It was just painful to see Cassandra this way. Stephanie didn’t think she could stand to be with her very long without wanting to warn her about pain awaiting in her future. Dropping out of everyone’s lives and then returning at the worst time was going to be Cass’s downfall, and maybe a part of her had been trying to convey that to her friend without actually telling her.

And saying she was just a runaway girl or whatever and not Batgirl what shit. I mean, Cassandra was Batgirl even if Batgirl wasn’t Cassandra. Or something like that. Cass had probably been Batgirl from the moment she was born- before Batman had even come into existence. It was something she could outgrow, but it wasn’t something she could ever cast aside, or not be. It was like

She didn’t know why this bothered her so much.

But it was good that Cass wouldn’t be involved in this. She doubted even Cass’s particular brand of kung fu could stand up to time travel.

Steph pulled herself up from the grass with a sigh, and began to walk again. Cass was right. She had no plan to find Time Lapse and she didn’t even know where she was going. But what else could she do?

It took a few minutes more dejected trudging before she grew suspicious that the faint rustling she was hearing was not tall grass moving in the wind.

“Cass?” she asked faintly, but she knew it wasn’t her. Cassandra never made noise when she followed someone.

Steph twisted and blocked the oncoming blow just in time. Her arm felt like it had been split in two as she stumbled back a few steps, but she took comfort in the fact she had prevented her skull from being caved in.

Time Lapse flickered into view, sneering as only a villain could. “Glad to see invisibility doesn’t faze you. I’d rather you see me kill you anyway. Makes this much more interesting.”

“Thanks for saving me the trouble of tracking your time-warped ass down. I love it when my enemies are considerate,” Steph said with a smile.

“Of course I found you. I said I wanted to kill all the Batgirls. That includes you, just barely. No offense, but I think you’re going to be the easiest out of them.”

“You’re right,” Steph admitted. “So just remember- the girl who kicked your ass was the easiest one.”

Figuring she had fulfilled her banter quota for this battle, Steph aimed a kick for his head. He grabbed her ankle before it connected and twisted it around. Only the fact Steph had the presence of mind to twist her body with this motion saved her ankle from breaking. Regardless, she was flung to the ground hard enough to make her head spin.

Okay. High kicks were flashy and fun, which was why she had always been fond of them, but clearly they weren’t going to work here. As a time traveller, this guy had hundreds of years of martial arts training under his belt, and he’d managed to bring along enough weapons to blow her mind. But he hadn’t grown up having to fight for everything. He hadn’t trained under Bruce Wayne, Barbara Gordon and Dinah Lance. And he definitely hadn’t ever been taught by Cassandra Cain. He had never delivered a baby or looked death in the face. He had never been Robin. And he had definitely, definitely never been Batgirl.

She could do this.

She shot forward on the ground and swept his legs out from under him with her own hooked heel. Now they were on the same level, wrestling in the grass. She bought her knee up as he lunged for her, slamming it into his stomach. It had no effect other than making her knee feel like she had skinned it on concrete. It must be that damn suit, she realized. It still protected him from harm!

He grabbed her hair, slamming her head into the ground. It took a minute for her head to clear from the haze of pain, and when it finally did, the first things she saw was him plunging a knife towards her. She rolled out of the way, but she was still dizzy and disoriented.

He grabbed her around the throat and jerked her up, actually jamming the knife into her open mouth when she gagged. Instinctively, she bit down on it to stop him from piercing her throat. Her eyes teared up as the flat of the blade cut into the roof of her mouth. He pinned her arms down in the confusion. She jerked her head to the side with teeth clenched tight, but he kept such a firm hold on the knife handle that all this got her was a cut on the side of her mouth.

“I could go into certain metaphors here, but I don’t want to corrupt your innocence,” he whispered in her ear. She responded by slamming her head back into his, which made him finally let go of the weapon and allow her to spit it out. However, he didn’t let go of her, and just as quickly as he had dropped his first knife, he flipped another one out of his sleeve into his palm, and this time he pressed the blade against the soft flesh under her chin.

“I have to admire the risk you took there,” He hissed, sounding angry now. “You just don’t care whether you get stabbed in the throat or not, do you?”

Panicked thoughts clouded Steph’s mind, Then for no apparent reason, the cool knife blade jerked away, and the pressure lifted from her arms. She spun around to find her captor was now crumpled five feet away and an apparition in stitches and black leather standing in his place.

“I care,” Cass said flatly.

“Batgirl!” Steph squeaked.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine! You put the costume back on!”

Cass shrugged in embarrassment. “You said you wouldn’t take uh, help from Mopey, uh, whatever you said so, uh, had no choice, really.”

“Thanks,” Steph said softly. “I’m sorry I-

Cass gave a start and looked over at Time Lapse, who had managed to stumble up, the box on his belt vibrating and the air crackling around him. “Catch me if you can,” he sneered.

“What’s he-” Cass began to ask, but Steph snarled “You bet I can!” and lunged for the villain. Time Lapse caught her wrist, hard, and pulled her close to him, giving a low contented chuckle as they both began to buzz and bend.

“Stephanie!” Cassandra yelled, leaping forward and grabbing her friend’s other arm.

“Cassandra, don’t-”

It was too late. All three of them popped out of existence, Stephanie’s final cry carried on the wind.

“Gah!”

This time Stephanie landed on her shoulder and not on soft grass, but on a cold, hard sidewalk. She heard a similar thump beside her, but no accompanying cry of pain. She turned her head to see Cassandra lithely springing to her feet, her brown eyes alert and scanning around the area.

“Where’d he-?”

“Time Lapse?” Stephanie groaned, looking around as well. They were in the middle of a sunny city, cars zipping past at the speed of light, towering, faceless buildings hunched together against the skyline. The street smelled of exhaust and fried fish. It took a second for Stephanie to realize this was Gotham’s West End. It looked different somehow. But there was definitely no yellow spandex bandit to be seen. “He probably did a runner again. He only has one trip left on that stupid machine before he unravels time- maybe not even that I wonder why he bought us back to Gotham?”

“Should we get, uh, Oracle?” Cass asked uncertainly as she helped Stephanie up.

“Yeah, let’s go find her now,” Stephanie agreed, heading in the general direction of the Batcave. But she hadn’t gotten two steps before she stopped dead in her tracks. “Uh oh.”

“What?” Cassandra asked.

Steph pointed to the battered newspaper dispenser alongside the gun store just ahead of them.

“What?” Cass asked again impatiently.

“Oh, right, you can’t read. But don’t you recognize the picture?”

A buxom redhead in a bat-cowl grinned up from the newsprint, holding an unconscious crook with her fist cocked just in case he woke up. Stephanie read the headline for her friend. “DOMINOED DAREDOLL DOES IT AGAIN. Cass, it’s dated eight years ago.”

Cass bit her lip. “I guess, uh, we’re not getting Oracle.”

“Nope,” Steph said, determined now. “We’ll have to settle for Batgirl.”

“I would sometimes sneak to this side of Gotham when I was ten. If you think about it, I was developing my superhero skills even then. It was the nice side, y’know? I hardly ever got to hang there,” Steph sighed nostalgically, swinging her legs off the side of the rooftop and letting the hard soles of her boots bump against the window ledge below as she sat. The bright and shiny expanse of the Gotham of years past rolled out below her. “But people could always tell I didn’t belong somehow. It’s weird to think I’m out there somewhere, either at school or stuck at home taking care of Mom. What do you think you’re doing right now?”

Cass crouched down beside Steph, her forehead creased in thought. “Dunno. Eating rats or beating up a, uh, rapp raperis ”

“Rapist,” Steph cut in dejectedly. “Right. Well, enough with the happy memories. What’s important is what Babs is doing right now, which is sleeping in her bedroom, probably because she was up late kicking ass.” She flicked her thumb towards the apartment next to the building they were perched on in. Cass had performed some quick recon and confirmed the sleeping redhead was inside. “We know Time Lapse will come for her. We just have to stick close to her and we’ll find him, and you can beat him up until he begs for sweet release. Then we’ll figure out a way to fix this mess. Maybe our villain will know where Rip Hunter is hangin’. Or Booster Gold. Or some magic-y person who can fix all this.”

Cass slid from a crouch to a seated position, staring curiously at Steph. “You’re confident.”

“I am?” Steph raised her eyebrows.

Cass nodded and she smiled faintly. “In charge. You’re happy.”

“Happy?” Steph snorted. “Cass, we’re stranded in time with the threat of Armageddon looming. I’m not happy.”

“You are,” Cass said with utter certainty. “You’re the way you ” Cass moved her hands in a graceful sort of way. “It’s more you than ever. Comfortable.”

Steph hesitated. “I guess back home I do feel more accepted. A little.”

Cass nodded. “Yeah. That’s, uh I’m glad.”

Steph managed a shaky smile. “Thanks.” She looked at her boots and spoke to them, not wanting Cass to see her eyes. “Cass, don’t you aren’t you worried about what happens to you in the future? At all?”

She glanced up and saw Cass shrug. “I never worry about that. I guess that’s weird?”

“Not so much weird as ” Steph paused for a moment, “sad, Cass. I worry about you, even if you don’t. I mean, even right now. You’re being pretty emotionally expressive. It’s out of the ordinary.”

Cass looked up at Steph, and Steph was taken aback to see deep sadness in eyes that were usually inscrutable. “You were the only person I was ever…the way we’re  talking now, like this  I had some people who started to be friends but now they’re ” She looked down, her eyes shiny and wet. Her next words struggled to come out. “I missed you.”

Hesitantly, Stephanie reached out to lay her hand gently on Cassandra’s shoulder, then slipped a comforting arm around it. “I missed you too.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the streets, Stephanie feeling like her throat was permanently blocked up. She was finally beginning to regain her composure when Cass suddenly started. Steph almost leapt off the building in panic.

“What is it? Time Lapse?”

“No ” Cass said, squinting down at the street. “It’s Tim.”

“Tim? Here? I don’t see oh my God.”

Stephanie’s eyes fastened on the short and scrawny black haired boy. He was reading a very thick and official-looking book while he walked a. It wasn’t helping his coordination any, as and he weaved randomly on the sidewalk, occasionally tripping up a little. A man a few feet ahead of him who Steph instantly recognized as a younger Jack Drake turned around and yelled at him to hurry up. A woman with soft blonde hair put her hand on her hip and punched hit Jack in the shoulder gently, chiding him for being impatient.

“Oh God, I think that’s his mom. She’s really pretty,” Steph whispered. “I think she has his eyes. He told me she would walk too fast and ”

She fell silent, watching Tim again. He had closed the book now, and was running to catch up with his parents, bounding over sidewalk cracks and laughing at something his mom had said.

“He’s so ” Steph trailed off.

Cass looked at her suspiciously. “You’re not no, you’re not,” the Asian girl said with immediate relief.

Steph flushed. “Of course I’m not! God, I can’t believe you think I would perv on my pre-teen boyfriend It’s just ” she sighed a little wistfully. “It’s  he seems so completely happy and innocent.”

Cass looked down at him and nodded. “He is.”

“To see what he was like before it makes you want to ”

“Change things,” Cass finished for her. Steph glanced at her guiltily.

“You want to, uh, follow him for a little longer.” Cass pointed out as her friend sadly watched the boy below passing under them. “S’okay. I can uh, watch Babs.”

“I shouldn’t it’s weird, right? But it is really interesting to see everyone when they were younger, so maybe just down the street ”

“Go ahead,” Cass urged.

That was all the encouragement Steph needed. She bounded across the rooftops after the Drakes. Little Tim was diligently reading his book again, Steph could see his little head bobbing in time with the words. She wondered what kind of book he was reading. It was probably some sort of gaming manual. Tim was such a geek

Suddenly, a yellow suited man seemed to materialize out of nowhere. He approached the Drakes menacingly. They halted in shock at the sight of him, Tim dropping his book in goggle-eyed amazement. Time Lapse looked up deliberately, locking eyes with Stephanie on her perch at the rooftop. He raised a gun, pointed it at the Drakes, and winked at her.

Stephanie took out her batarang and threw it in one fluid motion. Even she was surprised by how quickly she did this. It was an instinctual reaction, like screaming or running. She threw the weapon so hard that it actually stuck in the villain’s wrist. As always, he didn’t seem hurt at all, but the force of the hit jarred his hand enough that he dropped the gun. He easily dodged the batarang headed for his skull a split second later with a backwards skip. With another roguish wink directed at his nemesis, he vanished into thin air. Somehow, his voice carried on the wind, over to her, only to her, a soft whisper that said “I’m going to kill you all. Then I’m going to kill Batman in his little Bat-crib so no traces of any of you will ever come to be.”

Even in shock, Tim didn’t miss the direction the flying projectile had come from. He whipped his head around, catching sight of Steph as she shrank into the shadows to swing away. “It was Batgirl! Batgirl saved us!” Tim waved spastically in her direction. “Thanks, Batgirl!”

Steph flashed him a thumbs up, though she doubted he could see it from so far away. Hopefully he also couldn’t see that she wasn’t a redhead. She left the Drake family behind, dashing back to Cass.

She met her halfway. The other girl had clearly heard the commotion.

“Time Lapse showed up,” Steph explained breathlessly. “He wants us to know he’s here, he wanted me to see him. It’s no coincidence the Drakes were ” Steph trailed off, trying to get her head together. “He was mocking me. He wants to kill us, and then Bruce when he’s a baby.”

“Should we go after him?”

“I didn’t see where he went. Besides, that’s probably what he wants.”

Cass nodded. “Stay with Babs.”

“Yeah, no way he’s not coming after her,” Steph agreed. “We just need to resume our post.”

Their post-resuming lasted all day. It appeared to be Babs’ day off, and she spent most of it sleeping and playing around on her computer. Steph wondered who she had fought last night that made her so tired. She amused herself by conjecturing everything from a mind-controlled Wonder Woman to Darkseid. Finally, that time of night struck and Babs jumped out her window in all her yellow and black glory.

“We shouldn’t let her know we’re here,” Steph whispered. “It could be, like, a complete paradox if she met us. We just need to watch her back.”

Cass gave a sharp nod, pulling on her mask.

It was very weird to see Babs moving through Gotham like this. She was small and agile, bounding from building to building like she owned the city. There was a skip in her step and a constant, slight smile on her face. Her hair danced like flames around her face, and she occasionally seemed to dance with it, doing a twirl or two for fun as she leapt. But Steph could see definite shades of the Babs she knew as well, in the steely eyes that surveyed the city, the senses that were always on high alert, the teeth gritted in concentration and thought. In fact, Babs was so on the ball, Steph was worried she would spot she was being followed. There was no chance of Cass ever being noticed, but wasn’t quite so confident she could outsneak the original Batgirl. Fortunately, doing what Cassandra did seemed to shield her.

Babs appeared to have a destination, rather than being on just an aimless search for crime. Soon she was surveying a building Steph recognized as the recently abandoned dentist facility that would be torn down and replaced with Tim’s favorite burger joint in a couple of years.

Babs pulled out a small computer-like device it looked ridiculously advanced for the technology of the time, and Steph was willing bet Babs had made it herself. She punched something in and then, with a satisfied smirk, stored the thing back in her utility belt and strolled casually towards the dusty blue door of the empty building.

An army of thugs seemed to appear out of thin air, sliding from every nook and cranny the street had to offer. Babs didn’t seem startled, as she cracked her knuckles like she’d been expecting them and set to work.

It was interesting to watch her fight. She wasn’t as good as Cass, of course, and she wasn’t as good with her upper body as she would be in later years, but she fought creatively and with her brain more than anything. She was fond of doing things like making the thugs run into each other, using their force and weight against them in every way possible, and using her grapple line as a trap, tripwire, garrote and pulley all in one.

But there were so many of them Steph could tell it was more than Babs had expected. The senior Batgirl seemed to be in dire need of a breather as she fought relentlessly, looking around for a break in the action. Beside her, Steph felt Cass move forward slightly, desperate to help.

“We shouldn’t let her see us,” Steph whispered. “You and I know each other, so us meeting is one thing but she doesn’t know us yet. Meeting us could really screw things up for her. We can only help if there’s an emergency.”

Cass nodded reluctantly and turned her attention back to the fight. Amazingly, Babs seemed to have taken her little computer thing out. She pressed a few buttons and set it back in, quick as the Flash, all while still dodging a couple of the few remaining thugs. But the distraction cost Babs a henchman leveled a gun at her from behind as she busied herself with his fellows once more.

But before he could even begin to squeeze the trigger, the gun was knocked out of his hand by a lightning fast batarang from Cass.

“Ca !” Steph began, but before she could even finish her exclamation, the other girl had jumped into the fray below, determined to help Babs.

“Couldn’t expect anything less,” Steph muttered with a smile, and she dove in after her friend.

With the two of them involved, the fight was done in a matter of seconds.

“Who,” Babs panted from the middle of the pile of unconscious bodies, “are you?

“Er ” Steph tried desperately to figure out what to say, dusting her costume off.

Babs put her hands on her hips, scanning over Cass’s unusual ensemble with her eyebrow raised, and then settling on Steph. From the way her lip quirked, Steph could tell her future mentor recognized her own influence in the getup. “Or do I even want to know? Are you more copycats of Batman or something? Geez, we really will need a bigger place ”

“No! I mean we’re really part of YOUR legacy ” Steph struggled.

“My ?” Babs flushed slightly. “You’re copycatting me? Wow I mean, I’m flattered, but ” she said as she ran her hands through her red hair with a grin.

“Not copycatting ” Steph looked desperately at Cass, who shrugged as if to say might as well tell her. That was Cass. She wasn’t taking this time travel thing seriously at all. Hell, she probably thought the Butterfly Effect was one of Gotham’s lamer villains.

Oh well. No choice now. And as Cass herself had said, since when had Steph ever cared about rules?

“Okay, this is going to sound weird. But we’re your we’re the second and third Batgirl, respectively from the future. You, uh, trained us. In the future.”

Babs let out a truly impressive snort. “You expect me to believe I train people in the future? I couldn’t train a rat.”

“Well, I’ve heard that’s pretty difficult,” Steph said sympathetically. Cass shot her a warning look. “But also not the point! The point is, we know it’s weird, but believe us. We are from the future, chasing a dangerous time traveling villain who totally hates all Batgirls, but especially you. We need your know-how.”

Babs looked very unconvinced. “Did Robin put you up to this? Because I swear to God, I told him after that bird incident I’m going to come down on him like ”

“We don’t need to hear about you coming down on Dick I mean Oh God ” Steph stammered as Babs blanched. “I didn’t mean it like that. I know it sounds like I did ”

“You know Robin’s name?” Babs bleated.

“Oh, that. I mean, yes we do!” Steph looked excitedly at Cass, who was in full bored and impatient mode now. “This is it! Yes, we do know everything, because we are from the future. For instance, Batman is Bruce Wayne and you are Barbara Gordon. You are a total geek for computers and you have a crush on Dick Grayson, and possibly a bigger crush on Black Canary And, uh ”

“One of your  first missions as Batgirl,” Cass interrupted steadily. “You stopped a bomb .only no idea what you were doing so you just guessed which wire.” Cass locked eyes with the shocked redhead. “You told me that. Training.”

Babs made a little choking sound. “Uck mind readers?”

“Gotham’s Razor, Babs. The simplest explanation is the most likely, you’re always saying that. And the simplest explanation is that we’re telling the truth,” Steph said impatiently.

Babs stared at her. “Occam’s.”

“What?”

“Occam’s Razor, is what you meant.”

“Oh. I guess you can call it that too.”

“This is just ” Babs stumbled slightly, pale and swaying, Cass instinctively was by her side to catch her. “I I believe you, but time travel I that’s the kind of stuff the JLA deals with, not me.

“You’re JLA material, Babs,” Steph said brightly. “Today and in years to come.”

“Me, leaving a legacy, me training recruits? I mean look at you,” Babs focused on Cass, who was still there ready to hold her steady, a dark shadow with glinting eyes. “You’re scary.”

Cass considered this. “Thanks.”

“No offense, I mean, I just can’t see myself and you ” Babs was looking at Steph now. “You’re ”

“A total ditz compared to you, I know,” Steph mumbled, wilting.

“No! You’re just…bubbly,” Babs said quickly. “I mean, the idea of future Batgirls someone wanting to emulate what I’m doing I mean, this isn’t something I ever planned on doing forever. Just until Dad wised up about the cop thing, or the FBI ”

“Well, you won’t be doing it forever, hence us,” Steph said, casually skipping over bits of unnecessary truth. “But unless you help us catch this time warp villain and get back where we belong, we’ll be around confusing you until you retire.”

“Okay, I’ll help. Always be up for new experiences, my Dad would say, and this is definitely new,” Babs gave an assured nod. She edged away from Cass slightly as she did so. Though only someone close to Cass would be able to spot it, Steph could see from a slight slouch that her friend’s feelings were hurt by the small movement, and she frowned. It was true that Cass took getting used to, but she would have expected a younger Babs to be a little more accepting than your average Tim Drake.

“Well, that’s great,” Steph replied, trying to cut through the awkwardness. “Awesome. Now we’ve got our brains, brawn and, uh, me. Time Lapse won’t know what hit him, assuming he’s not watching us right now. So once we cart these purple fellas off to jail, we’ll get going on getting back.”

“Purp Oh God!” Babs cried, nearly shattering the computer she was holding as her eyes jerked down to the screen once more. “My trap! I only have I need to be in position I’ll be right back if I yell ” she trailed off, dashing into the abandoned dentist building.

“Ohhhkay. Glad to know Young Babs is as much a weirdo as Old Babs,” Steph shrugged.

“I scare her,” Cass stated.

“Babs isn’t scared of anything,” Steph tried to assure her friend. “She just needs to get used to us.”

Cass shrugged disbelievingly and Steph bit her lip. They didn’t have long to be awkward, though, as a massive crash sounded from where Babs had gone, making both girls jump.

“We should ” Steph began to say, but Cass was already running toward the building. Steph pumped her legs into overdrive to follow, but before Cass had even reached the entrance to the building, Babs popped out.

“What the hell were you ?” Steph began to demand, but she stopped dead when she saw who Babs was dragging along behind her.

An unconscious Joker.

“What the hell,” Steph repeated as Babs laid the man down and very cautiously began to truss him up. Cass looked equally flummoxed, keeping an eye on the villain as if to make sure he didn’t suddenly explode or something.

“Brilliant, right? This is the best thing I’ve ever done,” Babs said happily.

How “

Babs waved her tiny computer as Cass leaned down to help her search and restrain him. “That’s what this was for. This was pure luck, I tell you. Last night, I happened to see some of his goons casing out the place as a new hide out. I recognized them from Batman’s files. So I decided to set a trap. This place still has a working security system, and it was child’s play to hack into it. I turned this place against him so I could take him out without a laying a finger on him set up a signal jammer too, so he wouldn’t be able to be contacted. I knew there would be thugs on watch and I planned to take them out at the set time just had no idea there would be this many,” she gestured at the large group they’d dispatched. “I don’t know what’s with that. But it worked out anyway, and the Joker is back in Arkham before he can hurt anybody.”

Steph marveled. This was a pre-Oracle Oracle she hadn’t gotten the idea to expand her scope beyond Gotham yet, beyond one person at a time that was sadly something that wouldn’t occur to her until tragedy forced her to focus but she was still incredibly pragmatic, forward thinking, and able to take out the world’s most dangerous villains with nothing but a her brain and a computer. Babs has always been able to do this.

The Joker was stirring slightly though. Steph felt a little scared, she had only been in the room with the man once before and he’d been almost dead at the time. But Cass was here, and Babs was here, and he was restrained in every way possible. She tried to resist tensing up.

“Don’t worry,” Cass muttered automatically in her direction. Steph flushed. She hated how Cass could read her sometimes.

Babs nodded. “He shouldn’t even be able to move or even think too clearly. I’ve got more drugs ready too.” She patted her utility belt as Cass hoisted him up. “I just need to question him quickly, make sure there’s no master plan in motion we don’t know about and then it’s back to the cardboard prison for him.”

It was very weird to see Babs interacting with and talking about the Joker so casually. He wasn’t personal to her at all. But he felt personal to Steph. She itched to kick him in the teeth for the pain he would cause in the future. She could tell Cass was having difficulty too from the way her hands clenched around the jesters thin shoulders.

The white faced clown opened his shocking green eyes blearily. He didn’t seem surprised about the two other women being there, which automatically put Steph on edge.

“Lapsy was right the future ain’t that impressive,” he mumbled, looking at the tense Steph in mild amusement.

She felt like an ice cold hand had closed around her throat. Even Cass was visibly surprised, loosening her grip on the Clown Prince a little, black eyes wide.

“You’ve met up with Time Lapse?”

The Joker let out a chilling cackle, one a heavily drugged person should not have been able to manage, head thrown back, white teeth flashing.

Steph saw Babs wince suddenly, putting her hand to her stomach, stumbling and unsure on her legs for a split second. Cass’s eyes glazed over briefly, glassy, distant and malevolent, her fingers fluttering up to her neck as if she had received a painful injection there. Steph, for one instant, heard screams and gunshots around her, and in the next felt the hot sun of the African desert. Looking up, she saw bits of future buildings flashing through the ones around her- the bright red Burger Stop sign blaring briefly on top of the crumbly old dentist’s office, the pristine street sprouting a pothole that shouldn’t have arrived yet. It all lasted for only a minute, then everything was back the way it was except for the Joker’s unceasing laughter and the chill Steph now had down her spine.

“Shit,” she said, her mouth dry. “Time’s breaking down.”

After making sure he was properly trussed and sedated, they set the Joker up in the barest room they could find, where he was away from any sharp objects . After some conferring, Babs left to contact the police and Arkham to sort things out with them, trusting Cass to be able to keep an eye on him. Cass might be all insecure about whether Babs liked her or not, Steph thought to herself grouchily, but she would gladly give HER basic social skills to automatically inspire people to have confidence in her abilities like her moody friend did.

They had hopelessly begun to try to interrogate the clown about Time Lapse, with Steph asking the questions and Cass looming threateningly, when they were interrupted by a huge crash and some unfamiliar screaming and yelling outside, as well as much more noise Steph couldn’t readily identify. The two Batgirls exchanged looks.

“You go,” Steph said quickly to Cass. “You’ll more likely be able to handle whatever it is quickly and without help.”

“But-

“Someone needs to watch him and I can handle him while he’s just tied up! Go!”

After a second of reluctance, Cass nodded and sped out the door. Steph turned back to the clown, determined to get something out of him while her friend was gone. Even tied up and at a good distance, he creeped her out. He flashed his slasher smile at her, but she kept her jaw set. “Let’s talk about time travel and you, Joker.”

“So, you’re the third plucky little Batgirl we get in times to come?” the Joker hissed. “Niiiiice. Almost as full of vim and vigor as this year’s model.”

Steph froze. How did he ? No, she wasn’t going to let the Joker play her. She knew all about people like him.

“Let’s not talk about me,” she said, leaning forward a little and looking him squarely in those crazed green eyes. “Let’s talk about beating the crap out of you.”

“I like you. You remind me of my girl Harley,” the Joker said, cheerfully ignoring her once more. “Bouncy as all get out. You don’t let anything get you down.”

Stephanie snorted. “I’ve met Harley Quinn. The only thing we have in common is being blonde and making bad jokes.”

“Nah, you’re like Harley.” Joker said, his eyes sparkling with excitement. “See, my Harley Girl, I smack her down. I smack her down all the time. Sometimes damn near kill her. It’s fun, it helps me relax. And what does she do? She gets right back up again. She keeps coming back for more, shiny bruise still on her face. She always comes back up for more.” His smile was sick and satisfied now. “You’ve been smacked down a lot, haven’t you girl? And you just keep coming back to get it again. You’re like Harley. You LIKE it. I think you’re a little sicker than Harley, actually. You’ve got multiple smackers. I bet you got a man who tells you you’re not good enough  one who tells you to quit, to give up, to go back to the Bat-Kitchen and keep up morale?

She tried to say something back, but all she could come up with was a strangled sort of growl. He grinned wider, if that was even possible.

“See, when I tell Harley that, I don’t really mean it. I know she’s competent. Too competent. I have to keep her in her place, make sure she doesn’t out-princess the Clown Prince of Crime. But your man sorry, men I bet they really mean it. I bet they really think you’re worthless. Second rate. And that gets your goat, don’t it just?”

“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” she managed to say.

“Oh, I always know. That’s what’s so great about being me,” he giggled. “Poor little lost girl. All that cheer hiding something dangerous. Well, I know all about that.”

“Shut up. Seriously, stop talking. We’re supposed to be tracking the Time Lapse. You know him. That’s how you know all this stuff. Yeah. I mean, you haven’t even met Harley yet. Have you?” She felt so disoriented, like he’d punched her in the stomach. How was he doing this to her, just by talking?

“Time doesn’t matter for me,” the Joker said dismissively. “You’d have to be CRAZY to always check the time. I think time’s starting to go a little crazy itself, though. Everything does eventually, after a bad day. But enough about time. You FASCINATE me. You’ve been tortured, haven’t you?”

“Wha ” Her mouth was dry. Her heart was racing. How was he doing this to her? How did he know all this? She refused to show fear. She glared at him, fists clenched to stop her hands from shaking. But the edges of her vision were turning fuzzy and she heard him like he was talking through a tunnel. Notthisagainnotthisagain.

“I can tell. Torture victims they’re all the same.” He was rocking back and forth on his chair now, the ropes holding him were straining and his feet were practically tap-dancing with glee. “There’re people who break. There’s people like you who get a tougher shell and soldier on with a smile on your face, ignoring how broken they are until snap! Hey, don’t worry though, I like your smile. It’s full of pain, my favorite kind.”

“I my smile is not full of pain. It’s a very nice smile! It is not a painful one!” She was hyperventilating, why was she hyperventilating

“That’s called Pee Tee Ess Dee, honey,” he said, stressing each letter until it didn’t sound like one anymore. “It’s a disorder, and I know disorders. But I think you know that. I pulled your trigger and you went off with bang!” He clapped his hands together delightedly. “I saw you flinch when I said that thing about the kitchen and the morale  I’m betting someone said something like that when you were tortured? And I really remind you of that person ooh, ooh, was it me? Did I torture you? Noooo you would be way more broken if I’d done it. Now I’m jealous. A sweet girl like you, not getting the full Joker Torture experience? It’s a crime. You deserve it, baby. You are worth it. If you untie me, I can show you how it’s done.”

His smile was so big all teeth. His eyes were empty and endless. He was like a grinning skull a black grinning skull, laughing at her  She could smell the blood and the metal. She could see the light of his stupid little miner’s helmet blinding her. Her legs were shaking, straining against the chains no, no chains. She was here, she was now . She used to get these things back in Africa. She had to get it together, she couldn’t she couldn’t.

“You talk like a Batgirl, but move like a Robin,” the Joker mused. “A little like the happy one we used to have, but also a little like that new short angry one that just showed up. Or did I already kill him? I forget. My, this time thing! Anyway, I’m guessing you failed as a little Robin and you had to settle for the second rate sidekick?”

“Do you ever stop talking?” Steph gasped. She could hear the drill now she could hear it grinding she could feel it why was this happening?

“I like you as a Batgirl though. You’re spunky and smiley like Red, as I’ve said. That stitchy one is dour, I don’t like her. Batgirls are so fun to break. Almost as fun as Robins. If I break, you, is it a two-in-one? A bat and a bird, killed with one stone! Twice the fun in the sun?”

“Stop it, you filthy pig, it’s not going to work ” She wasn’t sure whom she was talking to anymore. Her body was aching right now like she really was there and she was swaying and it wasn’t just a skull staring at her   it was Batman glaring disapprovingly, it was Tim yelling that she was a screw up, his eyes filled with pain her mother’s “Why did you abandon me” look Cassandra leaving her on a rooftop

“You a screamer or a crier? Wait, let me guess. Crier. And you’re fond of insulting the torturer and making him madder. But that part only put a smile on my face!”

“SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP!” She lunged straight for him, whoever he was, disregarding the fact that her body was broken and bloody, determined not to let him hurt her again. She was pummeling him as hard as she could, her fists a quick succession of hammer strikes on that stupid grin. “This isn’t a game!” she found herself yelling out randomly and she couldn’t even see where she was now or what she was doing she was disconnected from everything.

Cold white fingers closed around her throat. He’d gotten loose somehow. She should fight back, but she was so dizzy and lost

There was the unmistakable sound of small bones breaking and a high pitched keen of pain  and she was back on the ground, lost in time with a bloody Joker and solid, strong Cassandra holding him by his limp white hand that now had several fingers sticking out at the entirely wrong angle.

“Ah, the Leather Lass to the rescue. You’re no fun,” the Joker pouted at Cass through bloody, swollen lips. “Lemme guess, Daddy issues?”

Cassandra ignored him, her black lenses flashing intensely at Steph. “What happened?”

“He I we had a heated argument ” Steph said weakly.

Cassandra helped her up with one hand, still keeping the other firmly gripped on the Joker just as Babs came running in. She screeched to a halt as soon as she saw them. “What the hell is going on?”

“We hit a bump in the interrogation,” Steph sighed, running her shaking hand through her hair.

“Harleygirl here just got done with her counseling, and I’ve started in on Miss Mopey. Bad father figure. Of course, you’ve all got that problem- parentless little things. S’why you can run around unsupervised in those distasteful skintight outfits, heehee.”

“He’s been going on like this?” Babs asked sympathetically. “Hearing his screechy little voice is worse than any torture, I know.”

“Pretty much,” Steph said, wiping her sweat and  tears out of her eyeholes. Babs put her arm around Steph comfortingly. It was very strange, feeling the warm weight of that arm to look into Barbara’s bright green eyes and see a different person someone utterly and completely open and always trusting.

The Joker ignored this moment of affection and continued rambling. “Mopey here found a replacement with Bat ears, but if I know him, he’ll let her down somehow. Red Red, I dunno about you. You’re happy, so I’m guessing you found a real daddy. Probably not a Mommy, but we can’t have everything. Poor girl here though she’s got no one. She’s been her own mother and never had a daddy. Not even Batbrain lets her in she’s truly alone. Ain’t it sad.”

“He won’t help,” Cassandra said shortly, her eyes still firmly fixed on her shaken friend.

Babs jutted her chin out stubbornly. “I’ll make him help.” She turned to Joker with fire in her eyes. “Where’d Time Lapse go?

“I’m starting to get the feeling you shouldn’t be here, Red like you’ve retired or something. Maybe you should obey fate,” the Joker said cheerfully.

“You realize his goal is to kill Batman in his crib so none of us will ever exist?” Barbara said smoothly. She jerked her thumb toward Cass and Steph. “They filled me in.”

The Joker froze, his eyes popping and the grin suddenly forced.

“He didn’t tell you that, did he,” said Babs with satisfaction. “He’s going to make it so you’ll never get to kill Batman. Hell, you’ll never get to meet Batman. In fact, without Batman, could you even exist?”

The Joker had finally stopped smiling.

“A Joker without a Batman…” Barbara said sadly. “Tragedy.”

“No comedy in it ” the Joker mumbled, his smooth brow wrinkled. He looked utterly lost.

Babs leaned toward him, smiling sweetly. “Tick tock, Joker. Time’s running out.”

“I let him use my Komedy Klub base. Cleaned that thing out years ago,” the Clown Prince muttered, slumped and defeated. “Get there quickly, okay?”

Babs’ grin could have matched the Joker’s. “I’ll drag this loser back to Arkham while you two head to the Klub. Wait for me a block from there, we’ll come up with a plan.”

Babs and her hostage were gone in a flash of yellow.

“No denying, she’s the smart one,” Stephanie said. Cassandra grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to the corner. Cass thrust her friend in front of her and examined her critically.

“You okay?” she demanded

“Yeah he just y’know said things,” Steph mumbled awkwardly.

“All he has is words,” Cass pointed out. “Words are stupid.”

“I know I mean well, they should be, at least,” Steph muttered, resolutely refusing to make eye contact.

“Was it about when you died?” Cassandra demanded abruptly.

“I didn’t die. But yes, it was,” Stephanie snapped. “Look, Cass, let’s stop talking about this. We need to do what Barbara said and head out.” She whipped around and marched in the general direction of where she knew the Komedy Klub to be.

“What was up with that noise earlier, anyway?” she called over her shoulder at her following friend.

“Time,” Cass shrugged.”Those things- dinos-  came, then left.”

“Dinosaurs? Are you serious? Oh, this is bad,” Steph heaved a sigh. “This has gotten so out of control so fast. I’m with Babs here. This is JLA stuff. I’m used to dealing with ganglords and now I’m fighting timelords.”

Cass seemed unimpressed. “Both’re dangerous.”

“Yeah, I know, you can take ’em,” Steph shook her head and smiled. “Well, we’ve got Babs now as well, even if it is a young Babs. With your powers combined, we’ll figure a way out of this mess.”

“Yours too,” Cass said sternly.

“Thanks for the confidence boost, Cass, but I couldn’t even handle a tied up guy.”

Cass considered this seriously. “I  had trouble with the Joker first time.”

Steph stopped, genuinely surprised. “Really?”

Cass nodded. “Babs too. He can see your brain. And with the Bat ”

Steph remembered something Babs had once said. “He has a thing for Batgirls. And Robins. And by extension, girlfriends of Robins.”

Cass smiled. “You’ve been all.”

“Special me.”

They had arrived at the Komedy Klub. It had been temporarily vacated after the last bombing by someone who had rightly thought having the place in Gotham was just asking for trouble. The eerie clown sign wobbled in disrepair, grinning blankly over the damaged green building. But inside, a light blinked.

“He’s in there,” Steph breathed, and Cass jerked her to a hiding place behind a crumbled wall.

“Wait for Babs,” she muttered.

“Definitely.”

They waited, Steph trying desperately to work on a plan. However, Cass interrupted her flurried thoughts. “Steph. I’m bad. Aren’t I?”

Steph knew it was the flash of the future Cass had felt before that was bothering her now, and she replied firmly. “Cass, one hundred percent no bullshit? You and Babs are the best people I know. You are the anti bad. Bad can never touch you.”

“But I k-”

Steph put up her hand, not meeting Cass’s eye. “You killed a guy after being brainwashed by your Dad, and not knowing what you were doing, you killed your Mom knowing she’d be resurrected almost immediately and with a renewed sense of peace thanks to your actions. Blah blah blah. People make mistakes. I don’t care if you strangled a puppy, Cass, you’re good. Never forget that. It’s other people not being there for you that messes it all up, and that includes me.”

Cass didn’t seem to know what to say, even moreso than usual. She bit her lip and looked off into the distance. Now it was Steph’s turn to ask. “Cass? How can you just forgive me? You know I faked my death, caused you grief, and wasn’t there for you. But the instant I show up, you’re not  mad or anything. Why?”

Cass looked bemused at the question. “Because you’re here now.” Then another rare smile. “And you’re good.”

Steph felt her eyes burn. She was so stupid and emotional. “Really?”

Cass nodded. “Know better than anyone  people need to run away .sometimes.”

Steph was overcome, for more reasons than Cass knew. She grabbed her friend’s hand, which caused Cass to jerk a little in surprise. “If I die, I’m glad it’s as Batgirl. And I’m glad it’s with you and Babs.”

Cass nodded. She seemed a little overcome herself. “Same.”

“Hey, hate to interrupt,” Babs’ voice sounded. Steph jumped, Cass didn’t, and they both looked up to see a redhead grinning down. “But no one’s dying. Now, what’s this guy’s weakness?”

“Well,” said Steph, flushing a little and dusting herself off. “He doesn’t really have one. He’s got loads of tech-”

“Fighting’s my level,” Cass noted.

“Yeah, that too. The main thing is that his time box is in disrepair. That’s why all this weird stuff is happening. He could only use it once more anyway, and then he’d risk destroying time for good. We need to get that thing away from him, if we can. Then you can fix it and undo all this.”

Babs looked alarmed. “Me? Fix that?”

“You’re the one that broke it in the past I mean, the future. You don’t have those skills yet, I know, but we could get some help. Booster Gold has to come eventually.”

“Who’s Booster Gold?”

“Scratch that, maybe he’ll come. But that’s all I know that we can do.”

“Okay, we’ll make it work,” Babs squared her chin, eyes glinting. “Cassandra, you’re the one who can keep him occupied. Stephanie, distract him. I’ll go for the box.”

“Sounds good,” Steph said, impressed by the Oracle she heard in Babs’s voice. “But, um, before we go, since its heartfelt confession time over here ” Steph got up from her sitting position and faced Babs directly. “I know Cass takes getting used to, but if you have a problem with her, you need to spit it out.” She looked over to her friend. Cass reflexively looked down at her boots.

Babs bit her lip, looking both embarrassed and pensive. “I don’t have a problem with you, really,” she addressed Cass. “It’s more of a question. Stephanie said you two were my legacy, but it seems to me like you’re mostly imitating Bruce. I suppose that makes me a bit uncomfortable, so much of him and the, you know, darkness in there.”

As much as she wanted to jump in and protest, Steph opted to let her usually silent friend speak for herself. Cass looked up and tilted her head.

“Both.”

“What?”

“Learned  from both of you. After all you learned  some from him,” Cass struggled. “You were there some when he wasn’t. Helped with feelings  reading and stuff. But not you or him in me. Just me. The darkness is ”

“There is no darkness,” Steph interrupted firmly. Looking at Cass, she realized for once she could read what Cass was thinking, what she was desperately trying to say and couldn’t put into words. “Babs, look at my girl here. She has the worst past you could dream of. But you know what’s written all over her, even though she can’t admit it? Something you once said being Batgirl was all about, and something you believe in now. Cass and me and you were the same. It’s not about revenge for any of us. For me and Cass? It’s about moving on from our past, not holding onto it. It’s about becoming a better person and making a better world.”

She slung her arm around Cass, and she could practically feel the girl’s face heat up beneath her mask. “Cass, tell her what you’re- what we’re- about. It’s in the way you and I move, so you can’t lie about it.”

“Hope,” Cass whispered, making it sound like more a breath than a word.

“Damn straight.”

Babs stared at them both for a minute, her expression unreadable. Steph wondered if she’d laid it on a little too thick. Cass was certainly burning up under there. But then, her future mentor smiled.

“Well, that’s good, because we’re going to need all the hope we can get,” she put out her gloved hand. “And for the record, if I’ve got to have a legacy, I’m glad it’s you two. But try not to overdose on that good cheer, Steph. You could always transfer the extra to Cass.”

Steph laughed. “You have no idea how many times you’re going to say that in the future.” She thrust out her hand on top of Babs’s, and Cass followed suit a little more gracefully.

“Go Team Batgirl!” Steph yelled exuberantly. “Let’s trap us a Time Tool!”

“She always like this?” Babs asked Cass, who nodded. She shushed Steph so they could begin sneaking in.

The place should have been easy enough to infiltrate, since it was unguarded and they were aided by Cassandra’s stealth and Babs’s technical know-how. But despite all the creeping and computing both women did, alarms went off as soon as they set silent foot in the empty stage hall, where all the chairs had been flung against the wall and the wide stage had been turned into a lab full of crackling equipment. Time Lapse was curled against a table working at his time box with a wiggling silver instrument. He jumped up as soon as the alarms sounded.

Babs cursed. “Invisible undetectable alarms from the future!”

“I can’t believe you managed to say that and not make it sound silly,” Steph said.

“Let’s get going!”

Cass was already cleaving towards Time Lapse like a black arrow. She met him head on, but when she tried to hit him, her fists slammed into solid air. This didn’t perturb her, though, and she continued to dance around him, beating on the bubble that protected him with all her might. Sweat glistened on the villain’s forehead. Some part of him was afraid she might break through. He clasped his time box with one hand, the other groping for a weapon.

Steph jumped on the lab tables, stomping and crushing everything she saw with wild abandon. She threw every object she could get her hands on at the villain, knowing Cass would be able to dodge any projectiles. Not that she needed to, Steph had been ace pitcher on her softball team. Moving targets weren’t too difficult.

Lapse had to wind his force field down so it only conformed to his body in order to hit Cass back. He grabbed a gun from nowhere and shot some sort of ray, but Cass dodged it. He tried to target Stephanie, but every time he turned, Cass was in his face. Now that the force field only just covered his body, she was able to pick him up and throw him into the wall. It didn’t hurt, but no doubt it annoyed him and caused him to drop his gun. The villain was at a disadvantage fighting one handed. If he truly wanted to take Cass on, he would have to let go of the Time Box.

Instead, he chose to hit Cass WITH his hand holding the box. Cass ducked easily, causing the man to stumble with the force of the missed blow. A lurking Babs popped up behind and swept his legs out from under him. As he fell, Steph saw his hand fumble to hold on to the mechanism. Seizing the opportunity, Steph threw the wrench she was holding and knocked the thing out of his grip and into the air. Babs caught it before he could, and Cass jumped on the villain knees-first, pinning him to the ground.

Babs held the device in the air triumphantly.

“We did it!” Steph squealed.

Then around them, the world began to shake.

Time Lapse let out a horrible, strangled laugh.

“What what’s happening?” Steph stammered.

“Stupid, stupid girls. You got it wrong,” Time Lapse said softly. “The box wasn’t the source of my power. It was what was keeping my power in check. And now that you’ve taken it away ” His smile was almost blissful. ” you three are going to destroy each other.”

I don’t know my real name. I don’t know who my parents were. I missed my entire childhood, but I’ve seen my own funeral. And do you want to know why? Because I’ve been like this since I was born.

I time travel and I can’t control it. I would jump from era to era every year, then it became every month every day, every hour I never had a home, I never had a life, tossed from place to place, uprooted violently each time, surrounded by strangers and strange things, every minute a struggle. I never even knew why I was like this. I’ve seen empires crumble and people die and I know the future is no better than the past. I know secrets you couldn’t dream of, and truths you can’t accept.

Why was it like this? A mutation? An experiment? A curse? I don’t know, I can’t remember.

Eventually in a farflung era, I found someone who could build something to let me contain and control the power within me. Now that I was stable, now that I could choose my path at last, I knew what I had to do prevent my early death.

I had seen it in one of my trips.

I knew who caused it.

They called her Batgirl.

“So you went purposefully got yourself in a fight with the people fated to get you killed?” Babs called out suddenly. Steph was startled by the interruption. Time Lapse’s voice, echoing from the swirl of color around them, had a hypnotizing quality. She had nearly forgotten her companions, who were pinned down to the bucking floor by the same weird force as her. She didn’t even know where they were any more, the air was a swirling mass of chaos, images flashing too quickly to be understood. She couldn’t see her opponent anywhere, but his voice had enveloped them all and subdued them. Except for Barbara, it seemed.

“How dumb are you? I mean, haven’t you ever heard of a self fulfilling prophecy?” Babs snorted, struggling to get up, but she remained flat on the floor like Cass and Steph.

There was a laugh, and it could have matched the Joker’s.

It wasn’t any of YOU. But it was. You taught them all, had influenced them. They had the best qualities of all of you the brains, the unnatural skill, the heart

Steph figured she was the heart. Why did she always get to be lame one?

And the worst the self righteousness, and that TEMPER that ridiculous iron will I had to unmake all of you made THEM cut your legacy off at the source.

I suppose it was stupid to face you head on, instead of killing you when you were younger and then killing Batman of course, as a bonus but I wanted to meet the women who really unmade me.

I’m pretty disappointed.

“We’re not really enthused either!” Babs yelled. “Now that we’ve gotten your life’s story out of the way, what is going on?”

What’s going on is I can control it now. I didn’t know it, but the box has helped me realize how to do it all on my own and now that I am without it, my power is infinite.

So thank you for freeing me.

Now I’m going to watch you die.

“It doesn’t look like you’re controlling it to me!” Babs screamed, actually managing to lift her head to look at the spinning mass of images around her squarely. “It looks like time is breaking down and that you’d better slow down before we all die!”

You first.

Babs let her head fall to the ground and looked over at Steph, then Cass. “He’s nuts.”

“G guess it c-can’t be helped considering h-his origin ” Steph managed to speak, despite her tongue being pressed to the back of her skull. “Wh-whadda-wwwee Cass!”

Cassandra Cain, with the herculean effort that only comes from being one of the best trained fighters in the world, had managed to sit up. Then she stood up. And with a great grunt of exertion, she pulled Babs up. Then they both held their hands out to Steph.

Steph didn’t hesitate. Time Lapse’s little gravity trick hadn’t been able to stop Barbara’s brain. It hadn’t been able to stop Cass’s body. And if she was stuck with the lame power of heart he wouldn’t stop that either.

She took the hands, and they all pulled together.

They could see Time Lapse now, and he was sitting so far ahead of them in his colorful existence that he was like a speck. He waited smugly, perched on the nothing like it was a throne. They would have to walk a long road to him, struggling every step of the way.

So they did.

Look at this,” he said lazily.

You can’t take this away,” Steph choked out, aware of how hokey the pronouncement sounded.

I don’t have to,” He said, and he sat down in a chair that had not been there before, a look of pleasant anticipation playing across his features. “I’m just going to sit there and watch you do that yourselves.” He leaned forward, and for the first time since Steph had known him, he looked truly menacing, impossible shadows playing across the sharply defined planes of his face.

You three are going to destroy each other.”

The world collapsed around them.

“Ohgaaa ” Steph muttered as she opened her eyes. It was difficult getting things into focus. “I ask where I am in hopes there’s someone to answer.”

“I’m here,” Cass’s quiet voice came.

“Me as well,” Babs answered, much louder.

Me too.

Steph let the objects take form around her, finally able to discern that they were in an office. A fancy office, too. Mahogany desk, lots of pretty little lamps, important men in suits standing around seated at the desk was a bald man with a hairy chest and open collar. Baaad combination. None of them seemed to notice the three young women squashed in the corner.

Then there was the eight year old Asian girl in the pink dress.

Steph felt Cass go cold beside her. Almost without thought, she grabbed her friend’s hand a squeezed it.

They can’t see you now. You are phantoms in this timeline. But the minute you make the decision, you will become solid and able to interfere with history. And you will be able to save that man from yourself, Cassandra Cain. Time Lapse’s voice echoed eerily, his presence looming without physical form.

Cass’s hand suddenly clenched so hard that Steph yelped, and shallow breathing could be heard underneath her mask.

“Cass ” Steph muttered. “You can’t change this. It’s what he wants. You change this, you mess things up so you don’t run away and become Batgirl. Everything falls apart- and so many people aren’t saved.”

“Can’t just watch those eyes again,” Cass whispered, her voice shakier than Steph had ever heard it. “Can’t watch  the terror, then nothing ”

“Then I’ll cover yours,” Steph said firmly. “You stop her now, she’ll just have to go through it even later, with another. And maybe then it will be too late. It’s what he wants, Cass. Never give the bad guy what he wants.” She cupped her hands over her friend’s eyes.

Oh no, we’re not having that.

At Lapses echoing words, Steph was flung back from Cass with a bang, and Cass was writhing and screaming. She appeared to shrink before Steph, resembling the pigtailed waif a few feet away, her hands stained with blood. It was like she was a child again, and her eyes had gone blank.

See your terrible past, see your terrible future. What does it say about you?

Steph’s heart caught in her throat. In addition to making her watch this moment, he was making her relive all her worst memories in her head too- shifting her body in time, not just her surroundings! Was his power so infinite he could control anything?

WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT YOU? His voice was a terrible scream that hurt Steph’s ears. Cass went still before her.

Bab lurched forward, but she was unsure what to do with this girl she barely knew, kneeling beside her helplessly.

“Bad heart ” Cass’s whisper was barely audible, a child’s murmur. Steph could imagine what Cassandra was seeing, the blood on her hands, the face of her bleak future where she was a shell of her former self. “From bad blood. Bad family. Bad friend. Bad .bad ”

“Cass, shut up! Shut up!” Steph was practically squealing, her voice taking on a frantic edge. She grabbed Cass’s hands, ignoring the blood. “Cass, if you were bad, I wouldn’t look up to you! I wouldn’t adore you! And no one would have made you Batgirl! Look at me! Forget his stupid words! Look at me and see that I’m not lying when I say you’re the best, see what I feel that’s true!”

Cass’s eye locked with Steph’s. Steph searched the brown orbs for a long moment, desperate to see something there besides raw pain. Then, very suddenly, Cass gave a shuddering gasp.

Slowly but surely, she turned into an adult again, her pink dress slowly turned back into a tight black suit suit, her mask hanging in tatters and the symbol appearing little by little.

She shook badly in Steph’s arms.

Pity. Guess we’ll be moving forward with our blast to the past then. Lapse tried and failed to cover the annoyance he felt. Don’t cover her eyes again. Give her a choice to stop it.

“I can’t shield you, Cass,” Steph muttered as their surroundings began to move again. The eight year old Cass took a step forward. “You have to watch it and not interfere.”

The present Cass nodded, watching her past self with terrified eyes.

“What’s-?” Babs asked, her eyes confused, but then she let out a short breath as the tiny frilly girl in front of them jumped into the air and then moved like a bullet shot with deadly precision, ripping the bald man’s throat out with one simple motion of her tiny hand. The man didn’t have time to cry out, but the older Cass cried out for him, her hands clenched tight with the effort of not shielding herself from the terrible truth of what had happened.

And then there the girl stood, the blood on her hands dripping down onto her dress, staring blankly at what she had done. Unconsciously, the older Cass bought her hands up to, but Steph forced them back down, still keeping her friend’s eyes firmly covered. “They’re clean,” she insisted

Now we both know that’s a lie. Time Lapse’s voice boomed. What do you think of your successor now, Barbara Gordon? Knowing that she killed this man? And stood by and watched herself do it again?

Babs looked at the young Cass still staring at her bloody hands in horror, to the older Cass, shaking and near tears with her hands held down by Stephanie.

“I think that little girl looks like she had no idea what she was doing. And I think the girl with me now regrets it more than anything and is making up for it by saving people and if the Babs in the future can accept that, then so can I,” Babs said, jutting out her chin defiantly. “And she didn’t watch it happen again. She just refused to live in the past.”

Time Lapse laughed pleasurably. Originally one Batgirl killed this man. And now all three have. Classic. Well, if you’re tired of the past, Barbara Gordon, how about we visit your future?

“No-” Steph shouted, but it was too late. They were in a cozy living room with Barbara and James Gordon, and Babs was serving tea.

Cass moved herself in front of Babs automatically, and Steph moved closer to her side. Babs peered at her older self, looking fascinated. “That is a really bad skirt. Must be laundry day.”

“Oracle,” Cass urged Steph. “We have to tell her.”

“Babs, okay, listen. Something really bad is going to happen to you right now. You’re going to be shot,” Steph hissed, talking as fast as possible as Barbara Gordon of the future chatted idly with her father. The Babs of now started, her hand moving unconsciously to the base of her spine.

“Yes, right there. You felt it earlier. But, listen. It’s what happens to you after that’s the thing. You become Oracle, and Oracle is insanely important. If this hadn’t happened, I don’t think it would have ever occurred to you- you were just too happy running around Gotham- but you take that knowledge you have of computers, and use it not to just help Gotham, but the world. You go from caging masked lunatics to stopping corrupt governments. You go global, run the JLA for a while- but the most important thing is the effect you have on certain people.

“You save me,” Cass interjected quietly, still remaining firmly in front of Babs, who was now quaking and confused. “On the streets. You ..find me. Give me, uh, work. You’re  the only one who even .even sees me.” Much to everyone’s surprise, Cass grabbed the redhead’s hand, in the same way Steph had grabbed her own earlier. “You make me Batgirl. Oracle. You save me.”

“Oracle saves me too,” Steph said softly. “I don’t know what would have happened to me just a few months ago if you hadn’t-

Don’t listen to them Barbara, they’re just softening the truth. After all, why wouldn’t they have told you this before? You become a paraplegic, miserable mess, and all they want to do is keep you that way so they can have the glory-

“”That’s not true!” Steph screamed at the echoing voice.

Experience it, Barbara. Go ahead.

Babs screamed suddenly, her legs giving out, and Steph knew he was doing the same thing he had done to Cass, making her live the worst bits of her past and future in her head. She shook Babs, desperately trying to snap her out of it, but Babs was curled up in pain, her eyes flat green glass, aging years in a minute.

Tell me what you see, Barbara.

“I will become so cold and  miss everything shut myself off ” Babs moaned, jerking and twitching. “I feel it I don’t deserve them a legacy .it’s all Bruce I’m just his pale shadow ”

Yes! Yes, you are!. You’re all worthless knockoffs, slavering after a man. You deserve all that’s happened to you, you’re all under him!

“Shut the hell up!” Steph screamed, shaking Babs hard. “That doesn’t make any sense at all! didn’t become Batgirl for Bruce! I d-did it because of Cass because she gave me the costume! Because I look up to her and you! You’re my mentors. You’re the ones I worry about failing. Not him!”

Cass nodded, touching the symbol on her chest. “Not him. This.” She hit Steph on the arm to stop her from shaking Babs turned and turned Babs’ face to look her in the eyes. “If you were cold why would we care so much?”

There was a second of silence, then the age lines around Babs’ eyes smoothed out and the clouded lenses cleared. Her legs kicked out rigidly, hitting Steph painfully in the knee. Pulling away from Cass, she was panted and trembled. Steph was about to do the “how many fingers am I holding up” thing, when there was a knock on the door behind them, like cannon fire. Steph spun around to see Barbara Gordon of the was it future or past go towards the door, still chatting with her father and momentarily distracted, just for a moment letting that Gotham paranoia drop a moment that would cost her

And she knew that despite her earlier words, she couldn’t let this happen, she couldn’t let a bullet fly and hit somebody she cared about, that it would be selfish just to think about how much Oracle would help the world and her personally. At this moment, the world wasn’t worth watching Barbara Gordon used and spat on by scum. She couldn’t cover her own eyes like she had tried to cover Cass’s.

It was too late to stop Barbara from opening the door, the best she could do was jump in front of her. Steph catapulted forward as Barbara pulled the door wide…she could take that damn bullet, let it tear into her flesh, the body armor would probably stop it from doing any permanent damage then the first Batgirl could disable the Joker as easily as a two bit thug, because that’s all he was in his stupid shirt

A hand clamped around her arm, hard, and jerked her back. Disoriented, Steph at first thought it must have been Cass who had stopped her, but when she looked to the side she saw Cass was several feet ahead of her, almost between the Joker and Babs, but a yellow gloved hand had managed to just grab the end of her overlong cape. Cass was yanked back hard enough to make the unnaturally graceful wraith of the night stumble like your average idiot. And it was another canary yellow hand that had a death grip on Steph’s forearm. The eldest Batgirl restrained her two protégés just barely, her jaw set and her eyes hard with pain.

“Babs-

“You said it yourself, Steph. Never give the bad guy what he wants. And from what he told me, he’s showing us this because he doesn’t want the two of you to be here. But I do.”

“But you won’t move free ” Cass said weakly, and Steph knew it was the most horrifying thing she could imagine.

“Me? I don’t even know this lady,” Babs said as the gunshot fired. She watched herself fall, her face frozen in a sort of blank sadness. Unlike Steph or Cass, who turned and couldn’t watch at all, her eyes didn’t avoid looking at the Joker or herself bleeding out, she seemed mostly to be trying to avoid looking at her father, who was screaming now. “I haven’t met her yet. But sounds like she’ll move just fine in her mind.”

You’re all no fun, you know that? I was so sure one of you would do the right thing and save that poor girl, that father some pain. Some heroes. But let’s see how you handle tragedy entirely of your OWN making. Miss Brown, you’re up

“No-” Steph choked out, her mind freezing for a second. “Not again today-”

But it wasn’t the dingy hideout of Black Mask they were transported too, but on a lonely street where a younger, less scarred Stephanie Brown was trudging her way home, blonde hair plastered to her head as rain beat down. Her eyes were fogged with hurt and anger as she focused on the papers in her hand, ignoring the boiling hot tears that fell with the rain.

“This-” Steph breathed, and she took a step forward, but Cass grabbed and restrained her.

“This is just before I put that stupid plan into action, Cass!” Steph babbled hysterically, struggling fruitlessly against Cass “This isn’t about me, this is about stopping that gang war, think about how many people we could save, people are going to die because of me-” She felt tears leak out of her eyes, and couldn’t fight the shame.

“My target  died because of me,” Cass said firmly. “You still stopped me.”

“Yes, because it was important and that wasn’t your fault-”

“More than the gang war was yours.”

“You can’t change this. It’s what he wants. You change this, you mess things up,” Barbara walked up to Steph, placing a hand on her shoulder as she parroted her perfectly.
“You stop her now, she’ll just have to go through it even later, with another. And maybe then it will be too late. It’s what he wants.. Never give the bad guy what he wants.” She even had the inflection of the words down.

“I fucking hate your photographic memory, Barbara, have I told you that?” Steph choked out.

Babs smiled. “No, but I’m sure you’ll mention it in the future.”

Steph stared at the sopping wet girl in front of her, so angry and directionless and abandoned

Unaware that she holds the power to tear a city apart through sheer stupidity .a tragedy you can stop  Time Lapse chimed in. Tell me, what does it all say about you?

Suddenly, Steph doubled over in pain as phantom cold metal invaded her flesh to tear it into bits of blood and bone. Her ribbed Batgirl uniform turned to simple purple cloth, with red evenly spreading across it as chest and stomach wounds gushed. She collapsed on the floor as Spoiler, broken and bloodied, writhing and crying, cold and alone.

Batman’s face, stern and implacable as if carved from stone, boring into her-

You’re fired. I gave you a fair shot. You didn’t measure up. There’s no shame in that.”

Making her

Cassandra, coming hazily into view, her own anger and sense of betrayal making the features sharper every second.

You think HE’S right, don’t you?”

Yes.

And there was that guilt, that ever present guilt in the wrinkle of her brow, but also a hard edge, a stern edge as she stated her opinion bluntly as always.

Oh GOD

Barbara, grabbing her around the collar, yanking her head down to face green eyes sharp with rage.

This gang’s getting a little tired of funerals. And that’s what you’ll be, Steph. Just a bunch of dead flowers and a costume in a display case”

She will

Tim, accusing and looming like he thought he was some sort of Bruce, but his face was not stone, there was raw pain there and confusion.

Don’t let me catch you wearing that costume ever again.”

But didn’t

Cassandra, slumped and tired against the rainsoaked Gotham night, stripping off her costume like she was tearing off her skin, and Steph just had to look away, but she couldn’t block out that voice, exhausted and sad.

Now the fight is yours.”

Didn’t

Barbara, angry again, furious, snarling, finger wagging .

TELL ME WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT YOU!” Time Lapse screamed again, and Stephanie felt like her mouth was moving without her permission as she spat out the truth admist all the pain and blood. “I’ll n-never be a-able to to live up to Babs and Cass! I d-don’t deserve to be B-Batgirl. And th-they’ll realize th-this and fire m-me. L-leave me like always.”

YES! YES! Tell me it says you’re self righteous, cringing victims! Why would I be afraid of you? Why would I be afraid of these little girls so easily led astray?”

Time Lapse’s voice was filling her, eating her alive. She was ready to tell him, she was ready to tell him just that. But Cass’s voice broke through, and Steph could feel her warm hands through the cold metal and sticky blood.

“Don’t be a hyp hypo ” the girl struggled, her voice familiar, deep and warm.

“Hypocrite?” Babs supplied helpfully.

“Hypocrite, Steph. If if it was…like that I wouldn’t worry about not, uh, being good enough for you.”

“And I wouldn’t worry about not deserving you as a legacy,” Babs broke in confidently. “Clearly, you must be amazing.”

Steph shook her head, ignoring them. They were just saying that. She had to stay here, stay in the pain forever

Snap out of it!” Babs demanded harshly, and Steph felt Cass shake her, additional pain to pile on

“No, stop trying to I deserve this ”

NO ONE DESERVES THAT!” Cass’s voice was loud and furious, and the unusualness of that was enough to allow Steph to let her friend’s face come into sem-focus. It was unnaturally close and twisted in rage, and maybe it was because everything was blurry that her eyes looked wet. She could feel the hands like a vice on her shoulders. But a second later, Cass’s face was slack and sad again, and her grip had loosened. “The gang war it was just everyone’s fault okay? Not just yours. It was  a whole lot of stupid. I know that now.”

Steph couldn’t quite believe her, but she was touched by this rare display of wordiness on her behalf. Cass’s face was slowly coming more and more into focus as she continued to talk.

“You saved me once when I was drowning. After this. Said that deserved it then too. But you didn’t. You saved me. Just  thanks.”

Steph was so nonplussed at this, she forgot the pain and misery she was supposed to be deservedly experiencing. It was true she had a dream of Cass drowning while she’d been stuck in that coma, that filmy area between life and death. But could she have really ?

Cass was smiling now, and Babs looked relieved, and it took Steph a second to realize why. She was no longer dressed in bloodstained eggplant, instead back in the old cape and cowl. She was sprawled on the rainy street with Cass and Babs holding her, watching herself from two years past storm angrily.

“You took longer than either of us to pull yourself together. Drama queen,” Babs said fondly.

Steph took a deep breath, and looked away from the mess of a girl in front of her. “Okay. You can let me go now. I’m fine. I won’t stop her.”

Reluctantly, Cass let her friend go. And together, they all watched Stephanie Brown walk away.

Cassandra Cain  Time stood still around them as their antagonist’s voice took center stage once more. Would you think so highly of your friend if you knew she’d been keeping from you the fact that you will be drugged into perfoming evil?.

Cass snorted. “Guessed that earlier.”

And that you are made to kill, again, under this?

They were on the Gotham rooftops now, watching the Cass from the other time perch there like she owned it, unaware she was in the sights of Slade’s sniper rifle.

Cass looked at Steph, a question in her eyes.

“Most everyone gets better,” Steph said hastily, still sprawled on the ground. “And you too. ”

She’s lying.

“She’s not,” Cass responded automatically, still staring hard at Steph.

“But you you change .” Steph sighed and stumbled into standing position. Cass stood up with her.

Steph looked across the rooftop, fighting every impulse to shield her unsuspecting friend, so she could keep the Cassandra she was looking at close to her before she became so wrong. “More stuff happens it’s just too much for you and you leave me .to be Batgirl. Because  you’re beyond that now, I guess. And I miss you I try not to talk about you much but it’s because I miss you. And that’s the truth. I won’t blame you for wanting to change it. I can’t believe it would have any bad effect- ”

“But it helps you find a place my leaving,” Cass stated. “Helps you be here.”

“Well, I guess-

Cass ignored her wishy-washy friend, and looked up at the sky to the looming figure of Time Lapse that was now evident, not even blinking when her other self collapsed on the rooftop, the drugs having hit her like a bullet. “Nice try. Done?”

Oh, but there’s so many more things we could see! What about Barbara’s mother’s death? Steph felt Babs flinch beside her, and grabbed her hand. What about the terrible things that await dear Stephanie in her future, precarious as it is right now? All the things your fault now that you won’t stop them! How about the death of-

“You talk too much,” Cass cut him off bluntly. “Afraid?”

“Yeah!” Steph croaked. “You’re just doing this crap because you’re afraid to face us head on!”

Babs let out a cold little laugh, her eyes closed. “Henh. You know, I bet the future Batgirl didn’t really kill you or anything. Why would she go that far for someone as pathetic as you? I bet you just couldn’t take it when she kicked your ass.”

She opened her eyes suddenly and they were blazing in anger. She jerked free of Steph and stepped forward, screaming at the sky. “You’re trying to get us to destroy each other by stopping this?” She pinwheeled her arm at the images of pain and death that flashed through the sky. “This isn’t who we are! It’s just life! It’s just ”

“Stupid,” Cass supplied.

“Right!” Steph chimed in. She strode out with the others, pointing and accusatory finger. “Mistakes, accidents, whatever, we’re about moving forward! It’s my motto and everything! So fuck your victim blaming shit!”

Babs laughed again, though this one was less chilling and more one of amusement at Steph’s cursing and finger wagging. She crossed her arms smugly. “If anyone’s the victim here, it’s him. He can travel through time, but he’s still stuck in the past.

The image of Time Lapse in the sky showed no sign of rage, but the space around them was crumbling and shaking so much he might as well have been bellowing. Steph watched chunks of frozen scenery disintegrate into blackness in fascination and fear.

Cass ignored it and took another step forward. “Face us,” she challenged the villain, the sky, the crumbling world around them.

For a second, Steph experienced utter silence. The only sound was the breathing of her two seniors, which echoed weirdly. The gray world of Gotham was a frozen painting around them, inanimate and deadly quiet

Very well. I think a part of me knew this wouldn’t work. But it has been a delightful opportunity to watch you suffer while I gathered my power. Now it’s almost infinite. Your deaths will be so much more complete this way. Now let’s go.

And then it was time.

They were in the place of shifting time and color again, and Time Lapse had ascended even higher on the throne of his own creation, leering down at them from the column of swirling brightness. Though Steph had taken little notice of it before- likely because she was distracted by his yellow spandex and attempts to kill her- he’d been a very normal looking young man, conventionally attractive even, with the brown moptop and the straight nose. Now he seemed inhuman, bursting at the seams with power than stretched his skin taut, his eyes pools of black and every inch of him boiling. When he looked down at them, it was like being sneered at not by a supervillian, but by a capricious god.

“You’re right,” he boomed in a voice that reached out to them even before there was time to for words to be uttered. “It’s much more satisfying this way.”

“We are dead,” Steph moaned in a whisper. “What can we do to stop someone who controls time?”

“Knock him out,” Cass suggested.

“Great plan, Cass, except for the part where it will never work.

“No, she’s right in a way,” Babs whispered. “Look, he’s clearly unstable and not all there. He’s having trouble controlling that limitless amount of power, as well. We just need to keep him distracted from killing us long enough for someone to KO him, and then hopefully we’ll be able to fix things.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” the echoing voice came from behind them.

Steph had been watching Time Lapse on his throne right as she heard the voice, but the second she turned her head to see him standing behind them, he was no longer there.

“I hate it when people talk behind my back,” the man declared, pointing at each of them in turn. “And I will not be distracted from killing you.”

“I have a plan,” Babs muttered in her fellows ears as she took the time box from where it was stocked in her utility belt, along with her computer. “Both of you, do your thing.”

“Um, what thing?” Steph said, bamboozled, but Cass immediately began to dance around Time Lapse, coming at him with every move she had.

Time Lapse growled inhumanly as Cassandra’s blows phased right through him. His eyes resembled burning red coals as he switched his focus to her, and his bubbling skin was pale and waxy now, his body rank with sweat as he struggled to master himself. Steph glanced nervously at Babs behind her. She was tapping furiously at her computer with the steely determined look Steph had come to know so well, the time box balanced on her knees. Whatever her plan was, she was counting on her fellow Batgirls to shield her from the villain while she worked.

“You need to stop this!” Steph yelled at the man to draw his attention. “Look at you! You’re barely containing your power! You keep this up and you’re going to kill yourself!”

Then I’ll take you with me!” Lapse frothed, trying to direct his power towards Steph, but once again he was diverted by Cass’s foot flying through his face.

“I thought the whole point of you coming after us was avoiding dying!” Steph yelled. Lapse’s reply was an inarticulate scream of rage.

This suddenly turned to a laugh of victory when he finally managed to get a clawlike hand around Cassandra’s ankle, interrupting her mid kick. Instantly, the youth drained out of Cass, muscle sagging and skin turning wrinkled and leathery. But that didn’t stop the trained marital artist’s knobbly knee from shooting up and connecting with her cackling foe’s face. Lapse fell backwards directly into Steph’s roundhouse right punch, and he was forced to let go of his rapidly aging victim. As soon as she was out of his grip, Cass regained her youthful glow.

“You make a kickass old lady, Cass,” Steph complimented as her friend hit their foe again.

However, Lapse seemed to insist on staying conscious, and what was more, he seemed to have regained enough control that he was prepared to finish them off at last. He turned his power on them with murderous eyes, and Steph felt time stand still around them, her body freezing with it.

“Stop it!” She screamed, desperate to delay him a few more seconds. “Why can’t you see you have all this power and all you can think to do is kill us! You said before that you missed your childhood- but the way you are now, you could use your power to find out who you are! Relive what you lost! Why aren’t you doing that?”

For the first time in a long time, Time Lapse stopped using his power. Steph was unfrozen, her knees gave out and she dropped to the floor. Lapse did something similar. He stared at her, oddly distorted and broken looking, his expression wondering.

“I think think I will do that ” he murmured.

“Yes! You should!” Steph insisted, her heart beating fast. Could it really be this easy?

“I will do it after I finally finally kill you ” he said, his voice turning raspy. He raised his hands once more, his eyes black tunnels, lips stretched so wide they threatened to split and Steph saw he wasn’t going to hesitate or play games anymore. She braced for the end.

Babs hurled forward suddenly, almost faster than the eye could follow. Time Lapse didn’t have time to even cry out before she thrust a familiar device into his stomach.

“I think it’s time for you to go back in the box, mister,” the redhead said triumphantly. Lapse looked down at his old time box, now fully repaired and ready to contain his power, resting on his belt where it belonged. What was more, it was beeping, seemingly emitting a steady signal. Sneering, the villain reached down to bat it away.

But something was wrong. The silver machinery spread, fusing into him, burning and melding with his flesh. Even Babs looked shocked with this turn of events.

“What did you do?”Steph screamed at Babs.

“Nothing!” Babs panicked. “When he had me looking into my future, he inadvertently ended up giving me some of the knowledge I’ll have as Oracle, so I remembered stuff like how the hack into that little box! I just wanted to fix it so it would cut off his power!”

Time Lapse began to scream, writhing and flailing where he stood as the box sank into him. His eyes were still fastened on the three of them, and he slammed his hands mightily into the ground, which was now solid Gotham concrete instead of swirling color.

Steph felt herself being pulled back, away, the universe bucking and swirling around her in a way that was sure to make her throw up. She clung desperately to the strong arms of Babs and Cass, but they were being thrown back too. The ground was no longer under them, and gravity- no, something more terrible than gravity- it was pressing against them, trying to tear them apart. Time Lapse laughed, not caring that he was stuck with them, that this was happening to him too. He hung on to all three of them somehow, his arms spread wide to grip their legs. He was beyond anything and he couldn’t be moved.

Steph looked into Babs’s eyes, but all she saw was sheer terror. Cass’s usually steady hands were shaking in hers. Every one of them felt that they were rushing towards death, and not the kind that you got over like an illness. They were hurtling beyond the end of time, beyond the universe or anything physical. Their surroundings shifted so much that they were an incomprehensible blur. She could feel Cass and Babs pulling away from her, but she redoubled her grip. They would not be separated, she would not lose them again. She began to recognize the images around them as connected and familiar- as people- as women- as

Batgirls?

For an instant, they were in a secret basement with a short haired brunette in a purple suit. She fixed a red wig while perched atop an honest-to-God lacy motorcycle. She hummed a broken tune to herself, utterly confident in her ridiculousness.

Babs tried to reach out and touch her, desperate to find an anchor, but it was too late. Now they were in a place utterly deserted and dark, and with a shock Steph recognized the dark hair and surly scowl of Helena Bertinelli as she stood in a sleek black outfit, stitching up the mask that would someday be Cassandra’s.

“Hel-” Steph choked out, and the woman whipped around like she had heard, but before anyone could react, she was gone and more unrecognizable batsuited women in various cities were flashing past.

“They can hear!” Babs gasped. “Just- have to get someone to catch us- Charlie!” She screamed as a redhead in torn jeans and a makeshift cowl catapulted past them in midair, but the wind was too strong and the girl’s victory yell had barely left their ears before they were flashing past successive versions of Babs at the speed of sound- gray suited, black suited, old lady, impractical belly shirt-

“They won’t ever hear!” Lapse gave cackle that was half a yowl of pain. He was delirious as the box continued to fuse. “They can’t ever-

Cass kicked the clinging man to get him to hush, her hand extended too. Steph could only keep a grip on both of them.

Steph saw another one in a purple suit, small and young with tousled red hair, and she managed to choke out “EGGPLANT GIRL!”

The girl turned around huffily on her rooftop edge, crying “I’m not a vegtab-”

But before she could finish they were gone again.

“G-good G-going,” Babs managed to grunt sarcastically against the head pounding forces of the time stream.

“Always s-so crit-critical,” Steph spat back, but she was interrupted by an unnaturally loud cry from Cass “STOP!”

Their surroundings had changed again during the argument, they were now in a Gotham of bright colors and sunsets, a bustling city instead of a corpselike smoke factory. But most importantly, someone had responded to Cass’s cry. From the top of the fattest, friendliest building, a small hand whipped out and grasped Babs’s ankle, jerking them all to a halt.

Steph goggled down at their savior. She was a tiny thing, she couldn’t be more than ten. She was nearly falling off the roof holding onto them, her foot hooked onto a crevice to anchor her. Nevertheless, she wore a wide smile. She was blonde, her hair was in a fussy bob, and there was a pointy red mask that did nothing to hide her cherubic face. She wore a bright red schoolgirl dress with a green sailor collar.

A little blonde girl Robin? Steph couldn’t help but think wildly. Were they being saved by her cutesy alternate self?

But no, there was a Robin behind her, scaly underpants and all. He looked kind of like the younger Dick had, only different, blockier and more childish. He was goggling at his girlish companion as she bravely ballasted the three women and stunned man from being torn away by the winds of time.

“Betty, don’t, that’s too dangerous for a girl!” the Boy Wonder said huffily, reminding Steph irresistibly of someone else.

Betty cheerfully ignored him. “Are you from the fifth dimension like Bat-Mite?” she asked them politely as she fumbled her yellow belt with her elbow. Steph had no idea what the hell she was talking about.

The three of them and Time Lapse were floating oddly in midair several feet above the rooftop that held the girl and boy. The atmosphere was threatening to suck them away to yet another dimension and their only tether to this city was the rope held by the small girl. So Steph could only croak, “Please help ”

A net finally popped out of Betty’s belt, which Steph now noticed had a chunky Bat Symbol attached on it. The net slung easily around Steph’s wrists. She stared at the contraption in mingled hilarity and horror. Was that an oversized hairnet? Oh dear God. How unbelievably stereotypical. She shook her head. She was being rescued; she couldn’t afford to make fun of the methods!

“Bettyyyy!” Robin squawked, flapping his arms. Steph wondered why he didn’t help, if he was so concerned.

“Don’t worry about me!” Betty said, her smile unflappable as she tried to reel them in. “I wanna be strong, like my aunt Kathy!”

The girl clearly had no concept of secret identity. Then again, neither did Robin. But no matter how strong her ten year old arms were, they couldn’t quite hold up to the weight of three women and one villain being sucked away by time. Betty gritted her teeth and dug her pixie-booted heels in, but she was about to fall off the roof.

“Let go!” Babs cried out. “You have to!”

“Aren’t you going to ask your big strong man to save you?” Lapse giggle feebly at Betty’s struggles, apparently conscious again. “I thought that was your sole purpose here, lusting after him .tryyyying to prove he’s heterosexual?” Time Lapse was getting almost Joker-ish at this point. Knowledge of multiple timelines must do that to a person.

For the first time, Betty’s smile dropped. She looked desperately back at Robin, who seemed unable to get closer, a mysterious bucking wind keeping him at bay.

“Betty!” Steph burst out. “Even if that’s true , you’re strong, I can tell you are! Show ’em what you’ve got!”

Betty’s smile was back again. She looked away from Robin, her eyes shining and determined. “Never fear, Bat-Girl is here! I’ll get you down lickety split! It’ll be nice to have some other girls to talk to, anyway!” Betty dug her heels in deeper.

Steph smiled back at her, but inside she was a knot of panic. Strong or not, one little girl wasn’t going to hold them for long.

The world around them was shaking again. Colors were changing on either side of them, buildings crashing in. Dimensions were bleeding together, and out of the wounds poured all the women they had seen. Helena, looking grim and harassed, Charlie, bounding out of nowhere- The purple suited brunette fell in, looking utterly unsurprised by her change in scenery. And there were more- Batgirls in silver, in gold, in futuristic armor, in bad fashions and good, wave upon wave crowding onto the rooftops. Some women were falling off the roofs or dropping straight down out of the sky, sure to splatter on the pavement below.

Steph closed her eyes, unable to stomach any more death . Cass gripped her hand hard. It had finally happened. The world was completely collapsing and they were going to be crushed by this mass of people, suffocated when all the walls came crashing down.

Then her eyes flew open as she felt strong hands grip her ankles and a rope swing around her waist. All the women below them were no longer a confused mass and threatening mass, instead they were joined together. Instinctively they had gathered around the small girl, holding her steady, linking hands, flinging out additional lifelines to for the three of them to grab onto, adding their own strength to the table. Those who couldn’t get near were rescuing the falling women who hadn’t already rescued themselves, lassoing them before they met death below.

Steph’s eyes widened in disbelief at the sight, and she cried out when she began to feel the three of them actually move downward. Slowly but surely, like fish being reeled in from a sucking, wrathful ocean, they were pulled to the ground.

Betty’s smile was bigger than ever as she finally let go. Completely exhausted, her knees gave out. Robin barreled his way through the crowd to help her up.

“Wow,” Babs breathed, looking at the vast crowd (a “what the hell is going on?” could be heard from Helena, as well as a cry of “DARK VENGEANCE!” from Charlie). “Go Team Batgirl.”

Steph smiled out all of them, and she took Betty’s hand. Robin was supporting her, his stream of dialogue split between admiring her, scolding her for being so reckless when she was so feminine, and complaining about a force that had kept him back. Cass shushed him.

“Thank you-” Steph began.

“N-no ” Time Lapse interrupted, his eyes popping, He fell to the ground, jerking spastically. “N-no, that wasn’t supposed to be what happens ” He was still clinging to his three opponents desperately, but whatever powerful force bound them was weakening.

The rooftop around them began to shake, threatening to split apart as he took it back through time with him, but Cass leaped forward faster than any of them, jabbing writhing madman in the throat with a short and quick motion. Time Lapse’s muscles went slack, and the newly visible city settled. Options gone, the man began to fruitlessly tear at the machinery that was infecting him so violently he threatened to rip himself open.

“Don’t do it!” Steph cried. She let go of Betty’s hand and ran forward, trying not to fall off the edge of the roof at the same time.

“I can fix you, don’t hurt yourself!” Babs yelled, also leaping to the rescue instinctively.

Stop it,” Cass growled, still looming over him, and out of sheer pants wetting terror of the small girl in front of him, the disgraced rogue complied, his body again going slack.

The technology inside Time Lapse sparked, pulsing and pounding along with the blood that spread slowly from his wounds.

Cold sweat broke out on his forehead and as he shuddered. Suddenly, the rooftop vanished and they were standing in the streets of Gotham again. The crowd of women slowly faded away as well, all except for the three little street urchins Time Lapse had been so afraid of all along. He realized that standing there, blurred together in his vision, they looked like one person.

With a faint smile at this revelation, he closed his eyes at last, and vanished.

The three girls- or rather, women- stood there in silence for a moment, staring at the spot.

Finally, Cass spoke in a hoarse voice. “Where’d he go?”

“Maybe he went back, like Steph told him to, and found peace,” Babs suggested.

“Or maybe his little self fulfilling prophecy came true and a Batgirl with the strengths of the three of us ended up killing him,” Steph suggested bluntly.

Barbara frowned as Cass bit her lip. “Now that’s an awfully pessimistic way to look at it.”

“Depends on your point of view,” Steph shrugged. “Though I like your explanation better. What did you do with that time box, Babs?”

“Well,” Babs sighed. “Like I said, I remembered being Oracle thanks to his little mind tricks, so I hacked into the box, which was meant to contain his abilities and all. I mean, it was also future technology based off old computer schematics, which was why I’d been able to hack into it in the first place. Knowing that, I was able to use my mojo to finish his patch job and I also tried to get it to where it would nullify his power. As you can see, that didn’t work out too well. In my defense, I had no idea what I was doing.”

“Well, I’d say it worked out pretty well,” Steph said, gesturing at the city around them. The sky was blue and the smoggy streets were completely intact. It was clear the time stream was back to normal.

“But he might come back,” Cass frowned.

“If he was going to, he would have already,” Steph assured her. “He is a time traveler after all and we’re vulnerable right now.”

“So we won?” Babs asked, as if she hardly dared believe it herself.

“Yeah we won ” said Steph, and her knees promptly gave out. She fell to the ground, her body shaking with suppressed sobs.

Cass was instantly by her side. “Are you hurt?”

“No,” Steph choked, squeezing her eyes shut, her face flushed as she tried very hard not to cry. “No i-it’s just all that we saw happen to us”

“Oh,” Cass said, her voice tinged with melancholy. “Yeah.”

“It it just makes me wonder  is that really what being Batgirl is about?” Steph took a deep, shaky breath and opened her eyes. “Getting knocked down again and again?”

Cass seemed to consider this for a moment. Then her eyes went hard and sharp.

“No,” she said, getting to her feet. “Getting back up again.” She stuck out her hand for Steph. Babs walked up and offered hers as well. Stephanie allowed herself a smile, and grabbed on to both hands, letting them pull her to her feet.

“Of course, there is still the problem of me and Cass still stuck in the wrong time period,” She couldn’t help pointing out, once the moment had passed.

Babs ran her hand exhaustedly through her hair, wrinkling her nose when her fingers came out covered in blood and grime. “We’ll figure that out later. Right now, we need some rest and medical attention.” She pulled down her glove to check her watch. “And I’m late for work Perfect.”

“Oooh! I’ve got it!” Steph said waving her arms as Babs shed her cape and then deftly reversed it so only the yellow side showed. “You can tell them time just wasn’t on your side.

“You didn’t just say that,” Babs groaned as she rolled down her boots.

“I’ve got a million of ’em,” Steph said cheerfully. “How about you say you were wasting ti- okay, Babs, can I ask just what the hell you’re doing?”

For Barbara has now tied her cape around her waist like a skirt and was folding her utility belt into a purse?

“Quick change,” Babs said shortly, detaching her symbol from her shirt with one hand while she fixed on her glasses with the other. Steph gaped at the yellow skirt over black shirt and leggings ensemble Babs was suddenly sporting. Heels even popped into place for the rolled down yellow boots with the click of a button. “Now I’m free to get you two a change of clothes.

“You have got to teach me how to do that! Why can’t Cass and I do that?” Steph demanded huffily.

“It’s just something I built into the costume ” Babs said, as she led them down the street.

“Well, why didn’t you build it into MY costume?” Steph asked, gesturing at herself.

Babs stopped short. “I designed that?” She examined Steph disbelievingly. “What’s with all the purple?”

“She likes purple,” Cass stated.

“Damn right I do!” Steph said proudly, planting her hands on her hips. “I am the Eggplant Avenger, after all! The Aubergine Queen!”

“You don’t seriously call yourself that in public, do you?” Babs giggled. “We have a reputation to uphold.”

“Like Dominoed Daredoll is so much better!”

I didn’t come up with that name ”

“Hey, Cass should have a name too!” Steph interrupted excitedly. “I was thinking Duchess of Darkness!

“Don’t need a name,” Cass interjected hastily.

“Well, I’m glad to see you’re all intact and in good spirits,” a cheerful voice sounded behind them. The three girls spun around to find a man with a shiny gold costume and even shinier smile grinning down at them.

“Who are ” Babs sputtered.

“You?” Cass finished, her hands automatically springing up into fists.

“I’m-

Booster friggin’ Gold!” Steph shouted before he could finish. “Where the hell were you when we needed your time-travelling ass!”

Booster looked taken aback. “You know about me?”

Babs knows about you,” Steph snapped. “She knows everything.”

“I do?”

“Future you, I mean,” Steph assured the bamboozled Babs.

“Look, ladies, aside from me being phenomenally busy, Time Lapse was causing way too much disturbance for even my best Pope-mobile to get through,” Booster said, putting his hands up defensively. “Fortunately, it looks like the three of you handled it perfectly, and without any fancy superpowers to aid you. Congrats!”

Steph couldn’t help but smile. They had done well, hadn’t they?

“Anyway, I can take the two of you back home, so maybe you should be a little more grateful about my arrival,” Booster huffed, gesturing at Steph and Cass.

“You can?” Steph exclaimed, her voice catching in her throat. Part of her had wondered if she was going to be lost in time forever.

“Yeah. But we’re going to have to erase Barbara and Cassandra’s memories, or else Rip will bust a nut about the space time continuum,” Booster admitted.

Babs tugged on Steph’s arm. “Can we trust this guy?” she hissed suspiciously.

“Yeah,” Steph whispered, turning away from Gold so the three of them could converse. “I mean, at least you seem to trust him in the future. And it’s true, you two shouldn’t go back to your lives knowing what you know about what’s coming. It’ll mess things up and it’s not fair to either of you.”

“But I ” Cass struggled, her eyes those plaintive pools of misery that always made Steph’s heart break in two. “I don’t want to forget.”

“When both of you catch up to the moment after Stephanie comes bac k from here, your memories should come back as well,” Booster interjected helpfully over their shoulder.

“Excuse me, eavesdropping is rude,” Steph growled.

Sorry.”

“Anyway, you hear that? Youll remember. And until then, I’ll remember for all of us,” Steph assured her friend.

“Well, okay,” Barbara said hesitantly. “So I guess this is goodbye for now?”

“I guess,” Steph said, and she felt a lump in her throat. True, she would see Barbara again, but not the same Barbara that stood before her now. And who knew when she’d see Cass again?

Cass seemed to read what Steph was thinking, and she grabbed her arm. “I’ll come back. Always will.”

Steph smiled shakily. “I know. And I’ll be there to welcome you.”

“Listen ” Barbara said awkwardly. “I just I don’t know how to say this  I mean when I wore this costume for the first time it was just a gag at a party and it just sort of blew up from there it wasn’t about emulating Batman or anybody ”

“And then people end up emulating you,” Steph smiled.

“Right. That’s what blew my mind when I saw you, and I know I didn’t exactly handle that well,” she nodded at Cass. “For me, I never had much connection to Bruce and his reasons. It wasn’t about holding onto tragedy in the past, it was about doing it, well, doing it because I can. For this city’s future. And when I look at you two as that well, I’m glad.” She smiled. “Because you get that. And the future looks bright.”

“Thanks.” Steph absolutely refused to get choked up. She’d done that too much already.

“Yeah,” Cass looked over at Steph and put her hand on her shoulder. “Think I know why I handed it over to you.”

“Really? Because I sure as hell don’t,” Steph said curiously.

“I bet I was holding on to the past,” Cass told Steph, tracing the symbol on her chest. “Fighting for him not this and I realized you needed this.”

When Cass smiled, her whole body seemed to smile with her, and she reached over to touch Steph’s symbol as well. “Cuz you are this. This is all of us,” she gestured expansively at the circle they made. “I can’t do the words.”

“No, no, I get it,” Steph said, and she could barely get the words out for fear of embarrassing tears. “When I started out as Spoiler it was about being independent, a rebel and that was fine, I’m glad I started out on my own two feet but I ended up being a black sheep. And when I was Robin ” Babs raised her eyebrows at this, but let Steph continue. ” it was because I so desperately wanted Batman’s approval. But being Batgirl it’s actually about being a part of something. It’s about being part of the only two people who ever accepted me and taught me and took me in. So thanks for that.”

What happened after that was a rather awkward three way hug in which Cass nearly broke Steph’s ribs again, Steph especially didn’t like realizing that Booster Gold had been hovering over them for that whole sappy moment, but she wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Even though it did involve her crying again.

Thanks to the ministrations of Skeets and Rip Hunter, Babs and Cass had their memories suppressed. Steph couldn’t stand to be in the room during the procedure; instead she went to the far end of the time sphere.

Barbara Gordon was dropped off back at her house, injuries healed, not quite sure why she was late for work. But she felt a weird sureness in what she was doing at night, and a sudden desire to buy even more computer hardware.

Cassandra Cain was similarly dropped off at her cottage in the middle of nowhere, unchanged except for weird nostalgia for the suit she had sworn to give up forever- and a desire to return to Gotham that would manifest in force after the Crisis hit.

And Stephanie Brown was taken directly to the Batcave. Oracle looked more harried that surprised when a time sphere popped into the Batcave and discharged her slightly mussed pupil. From the way she addressed Booster, Steph guessed she was the one who had called him after her.

“Where were you? What happened? Are you all right? Did he find you in time or did you have to take care of Time Lapse yourself?” Barbara demanded in rapid fire. “I was getting ready to call the JLA, you had me worr-” Babs suddenly stopped midsentence as her green eyes glazed over briefly. “Never mind. I just remembered.”

“Thank God, I wasn’t sure how much more of that I could take,” Steph quipped.

“Shut up, you,” Barabara said, pulling her into a one armed hug. “You did well.”

She nodded at Booster. “Thank you for bringing her back.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Steph agreed. “Sorry I yelled at you and stuff.”

“No problem,” Booster said, flashing them a thumbs up. “Try not to drown in the timestream again, and we’ll call it even.” He shuffled back to his time sphere.

“By the way, Michael,” Babs trilled after him. “Next time you take another little adventure in my tragic past, have the decency to talk to me about it afterwards, won’t you?

“Aheheheh. I sure will,” Booster said with a nervous laugh. Then he whispered to the floating yellow robot next to him. “Damn, she’s good.

I could have told you that, sir. Now let’s skedaddle before she tries to hack into me.”

And so, at long last, the Batcave was time traveler free.

Somewhere in Hong Kong, Cassandra Cain had a sudden flash of memories restored to her. After standing a few seconds in shock, she allowed herself as small smile and she continued to move forward.

She’d see Steph again soon. Until then, it was good to know she’d made the right choice.

Stephanie Brown stood on the rooftops of Gotham as sky opened up to let loose waves of rain and jagged lightening. This was an edge Barbara had bounced across in heels. Cassandra had glided across it effortlessly. Steph, meanwhile, could barely keep herself from sliding off in rain soaked boots.

But that was okay.

She stood looking down at Gotham with her feet planted firmly, Oracle in her ear and Cass in her muscles as she prepared to spring off the ledge just like she’d been taught a long time ago. She heard a high pitched scream down below. Someone was trying to make some poor woman their victim. They were about to find out that she wasn’t going to the victim much longer.

Steph sprang to the sky, allowing her cape to flip out so she was silhouetted in a super cool way against the lightening. There was no going back just moving forward.

Criminals of the world beware because Batgirl will never die!

 

2635722-12_little_batgirls____by_falterdan_d3kqscb.jpg
From the left: Barbara Gordon, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown.

 

THE END……………

 

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