I DON’T LOSE
Cass was not going to fight Damian.
He was 13. He was a kid. She knew he was a hero. He was Robin. But… she didn’t need to fight him. It wouldn’t be fair.
“What’s the matter, Cain?” Damian taunted. “Are you scared I’ll prove I’m the better successor?”
Then again. Maybe Damian needed a lesson.
The other Bats were good, too. But Cass was better.
“Cassandra. We should talk.”
Cass was practicing when Batman came in. She was surprised to hear him. She had seen him after she beat Deathstroke. It had been a hard fight. She had barely won. Deathstroke didn’t fight like anyone else. His body was quiet, and he moved like… many voices. She had seen it before, but he was still hard to read.
But she HAD won. And Batman had been proud. He hadn’t said it, but he didn’t have to. Cass could see it.
So what did he want now? Cass turned to look at him. He was… serious. Was something wrong? She tilted her head at him in question.
“The tournament isn’t over, Cassandra,” Batman told her. “There were three other teams. You’ll be fighting Doctor Fate next.”
Cass nodded as he spoke. She’d known there were more fighters after this. There was, uh…
… Cass wasn’t actually sure about a lot about the tournament. She knew they were fighting, and there was no killing, and the villains were fighting but not fighting like they usually fought. Barbara had tried to explain it to her. Cass had heard ‘cosmic’ and stopped listening. She was here to fight, and she was good at that. The rest didn’t matter.
Batman was looking at her seriously. She could see he was expecting her to say something, but she didn’t know what. So she just nodded.
“You’ve done well within your bracket,” Batman continued, “But your next opponents won’t be like anything you’ve ever faced. This will be your first time dealing with this power level.”
“I’ve fought, uh, metas before,” Cass pointed out.
“Not like this, you haven’t,” Batman replied. “Doctor Fate is one of the most powerful beings in existence. His magical abilities are nearly unlimited, as long as he has a host to channel them through. And if you manage to defeat him, you’ll be facing either Darkseid or the Flash after that. The Flash is the fastest man alive. He can move at speeds faster than anyone without powers can react. You won’t even finish blinking before he can take you down. And as for Darkseid… let’s just say that you should hope the Flash wins.”
Cass was silent, thinking. She had known the next fights would be tough. But Batman made it sound like… she couldn’t win. And that didn’t seem… right. Batman wasn’t here to tell her to give up. So what was he here for?
“Do you understand, Cassandra?”
She shook her head ‘no’. “I know… will be hard,” she said. “But… don’t think… I should quit?”
Batman nodded. “How many times have I fought Superman, Cassandra?” Batman asked.
“A lot,” she answered immediately.
“And how many times have I lost?”
“Uh…” Cass managed, frowning. Batman waved a hand, cutting off her guess.
“Never,” he told her.
Cass scrunched her forehead, confused.
“Superman could crush this entire planet to dust if he wanted to. I don’t have any powers,” Batman continued. “But every time we’ve fought, I’ve held my own. Every single time. It’s not always easy to say which of us won. But as long as I can go toe-to-toe with someone on that level and still walk away, I haven’t lost. And I do it not by being strong, but by being smart.”
Cass frowned even more. Smart. She didn’t always… feel very smart.
Cass was good at fighting. It had been all she’d known as a child. Her father had taught her to fight, to hurt, to kill. And… nothing else. She was supposed to be the perfect weapon. Weapons didn’t need to know how to read. Weapons didn’t need to know how to speak. Weapons didn’t even need to know how to use themselves.
Cass had learned a lot since she had left her father. Reading was still beyond her, but she could talk some now. She was learning dance. She was learning acting. She was learning teams. She was learning to be a person. She was bad at a lot, but it was still good to learn. But it… wasn’t enough. Wouldn’t BE enough for this.
“I can’t… just fight,” Cass said slowly. “I need to be… more.”
“Yes,” Batman said simply.
Cass had been happy when she’d beaten Deathstroke. But now she feels bad. She could beat the others, but… the others were so smart. Would one of them have been better here? Where brains mattered more than fists? Cass looked down. “I don’t… know how… to be,” Cass said quietly.
“I know,” Batman replied. “That’s why I’m here to teach you.” Cass looked back up at him, and saw that he was smiling. Just a little.
“Do you… think I can… win?” Cass asked Batman slowly.
“That’s the wrong question,” Batman told her. He turned, beckoning for her to follow. “We’ll begin with Doctor Fate…”
Steph had told her she believed in Cass.
All the Bats had, but Steph had been the best at it. It was who she was. Steph wasn’t very good at fighting, but she always tried. She was smart. Or… not smart. Clever. Cass couldn’t explain the difference, but she knew there was one. Steph was sneaky. She cheated, but in the good way. She was… the Spoiler.
And Cass needed that, if she was going to win this.
Batman had told her what she needed to do to win. It sounded so… easy. But Cass could see by looking at Doctor Fate that it wouldn’t be.
“Your soul is heavy, child,” Doctor Fate told her before they began. Cass winced. She couldn’t stop herself. She realized that Fate could… see her. Read her. Not like how she read people, but… not that different, either.
“I… didn’t…” she trailed off. Words were hard. Always hard, even for easy things. And the blood on her hands was not easy.
“I will make this quick,” Fate said, waving a hand. She didn’t know what he was doing, but she knew she should jump out of the way.
The blast just missed her.
Hrm. So this was magic. This… would not be easy.
It wasn’t. It was harder than Deathstroke, in its own way. Fate didn’t fight like she did. There wasn’t much punching. It was all… light, and sound. A bit of fighting… weird magic robots? That Fate had made appear. And Fate kept, uh, disappearing. Like… invisible. Cass tried the paint Batarang that Steph had given her but it didn’t work very much.
‘Be patient,’ Batman had told her. ‘Fight defensively. Let him come to you. He’ll slip up eventually.’
So Cass was patient.
And finally. She saw it. The pattern. Fate moved… weird. Like a puppet, almost. He wasn’t quite sure how to move his body. It wasn’t his. It made him hard to read at first But once she realized it, she could see it. Where he was going to move.
She waited for him to turn invisible again. And then when he moved, so did she.
“No–!” Fate yelled. But it was too late. She felt the rim of the helmet under her hand, and when she pulled, Fate came away from the man wearing him.
“I win,” Cass said simply.
In her hand, the helmet sparked, sharp with magic like electricity.
Cass set it down quickly.
The others congratulated her, a lot. Everyone was happy for her. Even Damian. He tried to hide it but she could see he was impressed.
“I told you you could do it!” Steph kept saying. She hugged Cass. “Man, I thought that paint thing was gonna work, too, but still, you pulled it off! Literally!”
Cass was proud of herself, too. It had been hard, but she’d done it. She’d won. Just like Batman had said she could.
Wait. Where WAS Batman? Cass looked around, and saw him. In the corner. He usually did that. Batman was… quiet. Cass thought the word was ‘shy’ but everyone told her that was wrong, so she didn’t know the right word. Steph called it ‘not a people person’. (Steph called it a lot of things. But this one was nicest.)
So it was normal for Batman to be in the corner. But when she saw the look he gave her… Cass didn’t feel happy anymore. She just felt cold.
Darkseid beat Flash.
Steph had told her she believed in Cass. Everyone had told Cass that. But they were all lying.
Cass appreciated it. That they were trying to be nice. But this was. Cass was.
Cass didn’t know if she could do this.
Cass couldn’t remember that ever happening before. Not before a fight. There were other times when she’d been worried. Disarming bombs. Finding clues. But not fighting.
But Cass had never fought anyone like this before.
Batman had tried to train her. Teach her what she needed to know. But there wasn’t a lot to teach.
‘No one would blame you if you didn’t go through with this,’ Babs had whispered to her before the match. ‘You’ve come this far already. There’s no shame in bowing out now.’
But Cass didn’t quit. Not even for this.
“Don’t you have some type of gun or something for this?” Jason had offered.
“That’s not how it works,” Batman had told him.
“Good luck,” was all Steph had told her.
It wouldn’t be enough.
One minute until the fight.
Cass tried to stay calm. Breathe, like she had learned. In. Out. In. Out.
She could do this.
Cass almost believed it.
Then she saw him.
Cass stopped breathing.
Cass didn’t have the words. Cass didn’t have any words. They had all fallen away in the sheer horror she felt. She had seen pictures. Video. But this.
Hate. Fear. Power. Control. Evil. She could see them all. He WAS them all. Cass was supposed to fight THAT? She felt small. She felt hopeless.
Darkseid looked down at her, unimpressed. He didn’t speak. His eyes started to glow, like Batman had warned her. But Cass couldn’t move. She was frozen in place, staring.
She needed to be more. But she wasn’t more. Right now, she wasn’t even this.
The beam started to come for her. Cass forced herself to blink. She tried to remember what the others had told her.
‘I believe in you,’ Steph had said.
Cass forced herself to move.
And then again, and again, and again. The beam followed her. Twisting and turning in strange, unpredictable ways. Several times, it almost got her. But she remembered what Batman had told her, how he dodged them.
‘Don’t watch the beams. Watch his eyes.’
She did. And finally, when Cass dodged, the beam hit the wall, and stopped.
“Interesting,” Darkseid said. He stood there, watching her. Cass thought he was letting her move, but didn’t know why.
Cass threw a Batarang at him.
It bounced off his forehead.
Darkseid moved towards her. Cass thought he might run, but he didn’t. That was weird. She knew he was strong. Was he… not fast? And if he was, why?
Cass stepped back away from him. She kept her distance, watching him. She tried to think. She could dodge his beams. She could dodge him. But… then what? She could change him. But could she hurt him? Batman had told her that he was hard to hurt like Superman, but there was no kryptonite. How could she win?
Maybe… his beams? Maybe only Darkseid could hurt Darkseid. She could dodge the right way. Trick him into hitting himself.
It was all she had.
Cass kept her distance and threw more things at him. The regular batarangs bounced off. He destroyed the others with his beams. But he still didn’t fire them at her.
“Is that all you have?” he asked, bored.
“Try me,” Cass told him. She tried to sound braver than she felt.
Darkseid narrowed his eyes, and they began to glow.
It was even harder this time. She could barely dodge them before. Now she had to dodge AND lead. And leading meant getting closer to Darkseid.
But she thought… maybe it was working. Maybe. It was hard to tell. Cass couldn’t just run at Darkseid, or he would know. And Cass couldn’t get hit, or let the beams hit the wall, or make Darkseid stop the attack.
So she moved. Ducked and weaved around the arena. Forward. Backward. Left. Right. Closer and farther, then closer again.
Until finally. She was there. Darkseid grabbed for her as she got closer, and Cass had to dodge him AND the beams, but she was there. And when she dodged, the beams continued towards Darkseid.
She was going to do it. She was going to do it –
The beams stopped. Just an inch from Darkseid.
For a moment, she looked up. For a moment, Darkseid… smiled.
It was… not a nice smile.
“My omega beams obey me alone, whelp,” he told her. And then before Cass could move, his hand was around her throat.
He was strong. Batman had told her he was strong, but he was STRONG. Cass felt like her neck would break. She couldn’t breathe. Lights danced in front of her eyes.
And suddenly, she understood. Why Darkseid didn’t attack before. Why he had let her try and fail.
He didn’t just want to win. He wanted to break her. Make her feel hopeless. Make HIM feel powerful.
It was… funny. He was strong. Stronger than maybe anyone. But he still had to prove it.
Cass did the only thing she could think of. She spat in his face.
The ground hit her like a fist when Darkseid threw her into it. Every part of her body hurt. She tried to push herself up, and failed.
“You’ve lost,” Darkseid told her flatly. “Your pathetic attempts have availed you nothing.”
Darkseid stepped closer to her. Cass tried to push herself up again, managed a wobbly step, and fell back over. Still laughing.
“Pathetic,” Darkseid told her. “Yield now, or yield when I crush you. It makes no difference to me.”
Cass kept laughing.
“Are you deaf, child? This is over. You cannot win.”
Cass shook her head. One last time, she pushed herself to her feet. It hurt. A lot. Everything was broken, and all she wanted to do was fall. But she stayed standing.
“I know,” she said. “I can’t win. But… I don’t lose,” Cass told him. “And you… you win. But you don’t… win,” she continued.
“What nonsense is this?” Darkseid asked, unimpressed.
Cass frowned. “You win. But… wasn’t enough. You’re not… happy with it. And… won’t ever be.” Cass shook her head. “So much power. And… you can never… win.”
Darkseid’s eyes started to glow.
Cass walked away. Step by painful step. Until her foot crossed the boundary, and took her out of the ring.
Victory, Darkseid, by reason of technical disqualification.