Bruce had heard music coming from the studio earlier in the day. They had converted what his mother had always called “The Music Room,” laying down marley flooring, lining the walls with mirrors and barres. All for Cass.
The sun was setting and the house was quiet now: Alfred hadn’t returned from his errands yet and the winter day was quickly coming to a close.
Heading to his study, Bruce passed the studio and was surprised to see Cassandra lying on the floor. The lights weren’t on and the weak remaining sunlight left the room dim. He could hear the white noise of the stereo system, on but not playing anything.
“Cassandra?” he asked, confused, stepping onto the springy floor.
She was lying on her back, her legs stretched out long, with her arms crossed over her eyes and forehead. Her long-sleeved leotard and legwarmers couldn’t be much protection against the chill if she’d been still for very long. Cassandra didn’t move or respond; he saw her throat work as she swallowed.
Bruce crossed the floor in a few strides, only to stop short at the sight of her feet.
He opened his mouth to ask one of many questions, but said instead:
“Cass, you’ve bled through your shoes.”
She went through pointe shoes fairly quickly, they lasted several months depending on how many classes in a week she could attend. But this pairs’ usual wear, grey scuffs on the washed-out peach satin, was eclipsed by the dull brown patches of blood that had appeared in different spots on the toe of each shoe.
Bruce sat by her feet and watched her face for any signs of distress as he gently picked up the leg nearest to him. When she didn’t react, he prodded the ends of the laces out from their bundle on the inside of her ankle and began picking at the knot beneath it. Unwinding the laces revealed deep indentations. She didn’t move or make a sound as he carefully pulled the fitted shoe from her foot and began peeling sticky gel pads, and lambswool, and finally her convertible tights, back from the raw and bloody flesh of her toes.
It made him think of Cinderella’s stepsisters, the old versions, mutilated by their mother in an attempt to fit the slipper and win a throne.
He held her foot in his lap, lightly chafing the angry red marks left on her clammy skin by the laces and elastic band. Not rubbing hard or touching the open wounds. He could feel the barest tremor of her muscles that meant she was exhausted.
“Last night was hard,”
With her arms still crossed over her eyes, she spoke in a whisper.
Bruce hummed an acknowledgement and started on her other foot. Of all his children, Cass was the one he trusted most to patrol alone, though he didn’t like it. It meant he didn’t know when she had to see or do things that he would rather have shielded her from.
Finishing, he piled the bloody detritus of her shoes and padding to one side. As he gathered her up and stood, he felt more than heard a soft “oh!” escape her. He was glad she didn’t protest, even though his back did.
Carrying her to the door, he brushed a knuckle to the switch that cut power to the sound system.
“It helped,” she said from his shoulder.
“Not being a weapon, for a while.”
Also on AO3.