Stumbling Towards Destiny

Part One

Gotham City. It's a... big place. I've been giving myself nightly tours of its vastness and learning some of its intricacies for years now and I realize the more I learn the less I know. Bruce says that kind of realization is a sign I'm maturing. Heck. I'm just trying to stay alive in this crazy career. If I knew in the beginning what I know now.... I'd probably think it through once or thrice before I put the costume on again for the first time. I'm not saying I regret where I am today, but I guess I'm having some major doubts about if I'm really qualified for this position. And I guess too, I'm just getting.... tired. Not the kind of physical tired I used to struggle with in the first year when I was tempted to prop my eyes open with toothpicks to stay awake. I'm talking the kind of tired where you start to do everything by rote and have to remind yourself what you're doing all this for anyway.

My name is Terry McGinnis. Sometimes I forget that too. When I wear the costume and go out into the city to do my 'thing' people call me Batman. That's not who I am of course. Someone else owns that name. Bruce Wayne, THE BATMAN, does. When I first started playing this role I figured some day I'd earn the name from him. You know- be good enough to be worthy of the legendary moniker. Here I am years later, fairly certain that will never happen. I don't possess the qualities that made him so great. Brains, brawn, driving motivation- he had it all.

How would I know what he was like when he was the Batman you might ask? I spent a week with him after his dip in the Lazurus Pit. That hole filled with slimy, green liquid that could reverse the aging process in people after one spends enough time in it. Bruce came out young, but it didn't last because he was supposed to wade in a couple more times to make the rejuvenation stick and decided not to. Before old age started creeping back up on him he, literally, had my jaw dropping in awe of what he was capable of. Unbelievable how much training he tried to cram into me those few days. Got tired just watching and listening to him, much less trying to keep up with him.

Even now in his old, old age he can outdo me on anything he sets his mind to. I don't think he realizes how often he embarrasses me. And I'm not exactly slow or stupid when it comes to getting something done.

So what do I call myself when I forget my real name? Trainee. Apprentice. Student. Protege. Never-be-good-enough-hero. Average costumed crimefighter.

Yeah, I'm making a difference here in Gotham. I've got a reputation. Although I don't strike fear, like he did, into the hearts of the criminal world they have shown a healthy respect for me when I intrude unexpectedly into their business.

I've hinted to Bruce about some of my- doubts. He's not much help. Tells me the choice to continue being Batman is mine and that I have nothing left to prove and the city will get along without Batman just like it did before. I talked to Max about it too. The only other person I can really confide in. Being able to discuss things with her over the years has helped me keep some kind of perspective on my life. She isn't any more helpful than Bruce about this though. I know she's holding back. Not saying what she's really thinking. She just keeps asking questions after I ask her one.

I don't know what kind of advice I'm looking for or even if I really want any. I do know I don't like feeling so.... unsure about who I am. I wish I still felt that sense of wonder and excitement and righteousness that was so strong in the beginning. I ask myself what would I do if I gave up the cowl? All the shallow answers come right away. Live for myself for a change. Finish my schooling. Get a 'real' job.
Get married. Have a family. I can't imagine any of that giving me the same kind of fulfillment as what I'm doing now.

I like being Batman. Though according to Barbara Gordon, former costumed hero herself, it's gone beyond that for me. She says I'm addicted to it. That the longer I stay at it the stronger the hold becomes. She says eventually I'll become as reclusive and jaded as Bruce. When I argue with her that I'm not Bruce and I got into this for totally different reasons than Bruce she just laughs and gives me a consoling pat on the shoulder as she leaves.

Maybe there is some truth to that. Lately I've noticed I feel.... lonely. I have a mother and brother- a family, but I don't seem to have much time to interact with them anymore. Mom still tries to stay in touch with me, but my kid brother Matt gives me the impression he could care less if I dropped out of their lives permanently. I feel bad about that, but not enough to change anything. At least.... not right now.

I don't have a 'regular' girlfriend. After all this time I still miss Dana, but I couldn't stomach lying to her anymore and I figured if I really cared about her I should let her find someone who could really be there for her. Guess she did because Max told me a few days ago that she heard Dana was engaged. Supposed to get married some time this fall.

I date when I have time. For fun. No commitment allowed-- besides being Batman that is. Actually, I haven't made many new friends at all since I became Batman. I've made a lot of enemies though. Goes with the territory.

Max is the only real friend I have and lately she's been considering a job offer in another state. Bruce offered her a position in one of his companies. {The traitor.} I don't want her to go, but I keep my mouth shut about it. She'd think I was pathetic if she knew how much I needed her to stay in Gotham just for me. Maybe she already knows. She's pretty insightful that way. I'd like our relationship to go further than friendship, but she drew the line at the beginning when she joined the team and I haven't been able to get her to budge an inch.

I know it sounds like I'm complaining, but I'm not. I'm stating the facts the way I see them. No one is making me do this. My choice. Always has been. From the day I stole the costume from the batcave. After all these years I still don't know why Bruce offered me this chance. What is it he saw in me and what is it that keeps him working with me when he knows I'll never even get close to the Batman he was?


Maxine yawned and rubbed at her crusty eyelids, the unchanging darkness of the batcave blurring for a moment. Time in a corner of the giant computer screen indicated four twenty-three a.m. Batman should be home in another minute or so. After monitoring his movements nightly for so long she had developed a sixth sense of where he should be and when. In fact, the fine-tuned teamwork that had grown between the three of them over the years amazed even the very demanding Bruce Wayne.

As if on cue the powerful whine of the Batmobile entering the cave resounded. Maxine felt herself tense in anticipation and tried to ease it by reminding herself that Batman had had a fairly routine night. That should make it easier for Terry to deal with what she had been putting off telling him for the last two weeks.
The timing had never been right to tell him before now. And just because now happened to be the last chance she had other than not telling him at all did not mean she was a coward. Nor was it knowing it was something she knew he did not want to hear.

Maxine took a deep breath, let it out slowly and muttered the truth outloud. "Coward."

Too antsy to wait for Terry to come to her she sauntered towards the area where the Batmobile would come to a halt. She stopped in a shadow that hid her from view. The thrumming whine came louder. A flock of bats returning from a night's feeding winged their way frantically ahead of the fast moving machine. With an expertise that Maxine always likened to the grace of a dancer Batman slowed the sleek vechicle and settled it gently to the cave floor. A wave of heat and dust wafted over to where she watched and waited, stirring her hair and clothing.

The canopy slid open. She saw Terry remove the cowl and gloves then lay his head back against the headrest and soaked in the sight of his unguarded person. The years as Batman had hardened him- physically, mentally and spiritually. It was more difficult now to read his expression or body language to know what he was thinking or feeling. He had developed a sort of-- mask over his demeanor that he would lower only occasionally. It worried her that she could not remember the last time she heard him laugh in pure amusement or pleasure.

Maxine used to envy the excitement and adventure of the role he played. Over time she began to see the toll such a responsibility wrought on the man and had lost the desire to be in on the action and learned to empathize with him instead. Even though her own role as backup, friend and confidante did not put her at great risk, she found it harder and harder to endure. She did not want to endure watching him put his life in jeopardy on a regular basis anymore. Exposing himself to risks no one in their right mind would consider. Seeing him return to the cave so bruised and battered sometimes he could barely move, then just smile and wish him luck as he went off the next night to do the same. She dreaded the times when they lost contact with him or he did not make it back and she and Bruce would have to find out where he was and whether he required their assistance.

She had always thought she could have this night job and pursue college and a career of her own as well. Early on she realized those were not easily fulfilled options. An enormous amount of time and energy was required on her part to maintain her duties as backup. It was on-the-job training and it was intense. And it had not gotten any easier. The struggle Terry had maintained to finish high school during the day while being Batman at night was quite understandable to her now that she was going through the same thing with nightly duties as Batman's backup and the daylight requirement of attending college courses.

It had been nearly a year now that Batman had gone out every consecutive night (and part of the day that was not taken up by his internship at WayneTech) without fail. Nor did he sign up for his usual college course or two per semester after finishing the last one. He had developed an almost manic dedication to reducing crime in Gotham City. Terry had never discussed an intent beforehand about this plan of action to either Bruce or her. He just started doing it and they went along with it assuming he would take a break in the routine when he needed it. Three hundred three days later and he was still going strong while both Bruce and herself were feeling the strain.

It did not really matter what the specific reasons were. Instinctively she knew she was heading for burnout and was desperate to head it off because if she ever got to that point she was afraid she would not
be able to feel for him anymore. So instead of waiting for that moment of indifference to come she opted to hurt him by dropping out of his life. He would probably consider the choices equal, but she knew better.

Terry levered himself out of the cockpit. As he dropped to the ground his right leg buckled. Maxine felt the familiar prick of concern while he caught at the car to steady himself. She emerged from the shadows to walk towards him, falling into her usual role of supportive, caring friend. Her unmistakable deep, throaty voice echoed softly in the cavernous area. "Is that leg still bothering you?"

Terry glanced up sharply. She saw the momentary tenseness in his stance fade. "Max." A wisp of a smile greeted her. "I thought you'd be long gone by now."

"I was just doing some research." She answered coming around the vehicle to stand beside him. "Thought I'd wait around for you. Besides, there's something I wanted to talk to you about."

Maxine met his searching gaze without flinching. There was a flicker of understanding and momentary regret in his eyes before he turned his attention to massaging the ache from his leg. Maxine sidled closer.

"Can I help?"

Terry shook his head while working muscles of the leg with both hands. "It just stiffens up once in awhile. Nothing I can't handle." He lifted his head, the slight smile on his mouth softening the underlying tone of disapproval Maxine heard.

"It'd heal a lot faster if you'd give it a rest for a night or two."

"It's not a problem."

"If you say so." She frowned and stepped aside as he straightened and began to walk away from the car. Again the weakened leg hesitated to take his weight and he stumbled. Max was there for support and he accepted it, an exasperated oath mumbled under his breath. With his arm across her shoulders and her arm around his waist she listened to him grumble all the way to the computer annex and onto the chair. Against his weak protests she began to massage the not quite healed leg using massage therapy technique learned from experts the first year she had joined the team. With the constant abuse Terry exposed himself to there was always some part of his physique that could benefit from it. He never asked for it. Usually she coerced him into it, like now, after observing the way he moved and knowing the easier he gave in to her demands the more he was hurting.

Terry finally relaxed under her ministrations marveling quietly at the strength of her hands that he could feel them working through the stiff barrier of the suit's material. He sighed, pushing back the usual thoughts that there were other places on his body that he would prefer having her touch and murmured. "Who's going to baby me like this after you're gone Max?" He eyed her through lowered lids, but she ignored him. Momentary silence came before he asked softly. "When are you leaving?"

"This morning." She answered evenly, glancing up at him. The leg muscle beneath her fingers tensed, but his expression remained bland. Maxine concentrated on the soothing motion of her hands feeling the tightness lessen in the hard, muscled limb. She was caught by surprise when his hands reached down to grip hers, halting their movement. Terry leaned towards her kneeling form and captured her gaze even though she did her best to avoid it. He was hard to resist when he was determined. Damn! Maxine tried to strengthen her faltering willpower. He was using his heaviest ammo to weaken her. That look he had. That damn puppy-dog expression he used on women to get his way. She had lost track of all the times she had seen him use it on Dana. But she was well aware of it and was not about to fall in the trap.

Maxine took a deep, steadying breath and showed him her sternest look, eyes narrowing, her full lips pressed into a rigid line. Watching Bruce over the years had given her a good example of sternness to emulate. Unfortunately it only made Terry soften the look on his handsome face even more. She knew if she let him say anything she would be lost.

Yanking a hand from his grip, Maxine placed fingertips against his mouth. "Don't say it, " she half commanded, half pleaded. "I have to do this Terry. For my own sanity."

Confusion furrowed his brow and Max pulled her hand away as he began to speak. "What... I never heard you say anything like that before. What do you mean about your sanity?"

Maxine shook her head and stood, turning away. Terry was right behind her. "You're the most sane person I know Max. How could you be worried about something like that?"

She forced a short laugh. "Compared to the kind of people you deal with every day I guess you could say that."

"What are you getting at?"

"I'm saying that no sane person can stay that way for long when they witness someone they care about, deliberately and consistently putting his life at risk to follow an ideal that no one else gives a hang about."

Terry stared wondering at her for a long moment. "I thought you shared that ideal with us. I thought doing this was what you always wanted."

"It was... " she mumured uncomfortably. "... until I realized what price I have to pay for it." Her head shook in misery. "I can't handle this anymore Terry. I can't handle sitting here night after night watching what you have to go through and wishing you didn't. I can't handle the worry I feel whenever we lose contact with you, not knowing what is happening to you."

"You don't have to worry about me." Terry insisted with passion. "If that's the reason you're leaving then just let it go. Forget about that part. Max-- " She turned away. He gripped her shoulders and made her face him. "Max, I don't want you to go. You've become an integral part of this team. I can't even imagine what it would be like to go out there without knowing you were behind me, backing me every step of the way. And not just for my sake. For Bruce too. You've taken a big chunk of responsibility off his shoulders now that you're experienced at the job. If you leave now can he manage the heavier work load without it stressing him?"

"I've already talked to him. He said he wouldn't have a problem with it."

"Of course that's what he'd say! He wouldn't make you stay out of guilt like I would!"

She tried to pull away from him, but he held tight, his flair of anger subsiding to be replaced by lecturing.

"I don't need you to worry about me Max. I've got the training. I've got the experience. I've got the suit. I've got the best backup imaginable. You talk about risk. That's just a part of life. I could be coming down the cave steps over there, trip, fall and break my neck. It could happen to anyone."

Maxine snorted. "Yeah. You could trip and fall down those steps, but only if you were battling ten of your worst enemies at the time!" She finally shrugged off his hands on her shoulders. "An unfortunate accident is no comparison to what you put yourself through Terry. Look-- " She held up a hand to forestall the rebuttal poised on his lips. "I don't want to debate this with you. I'm just telling you I've had enough of this and am moving my life in a new direction. I'm sorry if it hurts you or Bruce, but I have to do what's best for me."

Terry stared at the irregular cave floor for a few seconds before casting a soulful gaze her way. "Why didn't you ever talk about this before?"

"Because it's my problem and this is how I've decided I'm going to solve it. Besides, you've known for weeks that I was considering this. Why didn't you tell me before now how strongly you felt?"

"I didn't think you'd really go through with it."

"I thought you knew better than to underestimate people by now."

"There's got to be another solution."

Maxine looked sympathetic at him. "You'll get along fine without me."

"Why does this job have to be a thousand miles away from Gotham?" He pouted like a little boy.

She grinned, glad he was still capable of dropping the macho mask for a moment. "It's only seven hundred sixty-three actually."

Terry pulled his eyes away from her and began to pace the length of the annex.

Max's gaze followed his movement as she continued to speak. "I entered my new address into the computer. You know my cell number. That won't change. Any time you want to talk, just call." Back and forth in silence he went until she became impatient and gathered her things which laid beneath the computer console. "I have to go. I've still got some packing to do and my sister wants to leave for the airport by nine." Purse, laptop and miscellaneous case positioned within her grasp, Maxine gave Terry's pacing form one last glance before heading to the cave steps. She hated goodbyes too.

At the top of the stairs she turned to get a final view of the cave and Terry. A gasp of surprise escaped when she realized he was standing behind her and she had pivoted unknowingly into his embrace. The expression on his face, in his eyes, stifled the protest she was about to make, made her forget what it was for. His rough, callused hands were gentle as he feathered them across the sides of her face, thumbs caressing the outline of her full lower lip. Her mouth parted in response and his own moved closer. So close she felt his soft breaths and the vibrations in his chest when he spoke hushed words.

"After everything we've been through together, I can't let you leave without a proper goodbye."

"I hate goodbyes."

"Then don't go."

"I have to."

"Then you'll have to endure this goodbye." He murmured with stubborn good humor, moving his face closer to hers.

"No." She offered weak objection while making a feeble attempt to pull away.

"We may never see each other again Max. All those crazy risks I take every night you know." He grinned, fingers gently stroking hair away from her face. "Can you deny a doomed man one simple kiss?"

"Yes." She whispered, unable to pull her mesmerized gaze from his. Her handheld possessions slid unnoticed from her numbed grasp unto the step floor. Another barrier gone and Terry took the opportunity to move closer. Max felt the suit's unique material with the flattened palms she held braced against his chest. She saw his mouth move. Heard and felt the rumbling undertone of his softly cajoled words.

"Just one kiss Max. For everything that could have been."

"I don't think..." She suddenly found it difficult to catch her breath as their bodies touched.

"No thinking required here." Came his distracted murmur, lips a hair's width away from touching hers. "Just doing."

The moment seemed suspended in time as their heightened awareness took in every detail....

A loud throat-clearing startled them both. Bruce's slightly irritated voice spoke out. "Would you two mind doing that somewhere else? You're blocking the stairway."

Maxine pulled away from Terry's now relaxed hold and quickly gathered up her fallen gear. She hurried to where Bruce stood in the cave entrance doorway, surprising him with a quick kiss on his cheek and a breathless, heartfelt 'thank you' before fleeing from the scene.

Terry started to follow her, but Bruce caught at his upper arm to halt him. The young man turned a frustrated face to his old mentor. "How can you just let her go like that?"

"Do you care about her?"

"Isn't that obvious?"

"Then don't try to stop her. She needs the space and time away to figure out what she wants."

Terry shrugged off Bruce's lax grip and stared fixedly in the direction Max had gone. Fists finally unclenching he sighed heavily and said angrily. "Why'd you have to get her a job a thousand miles from here? You could have gotten her one in Gotham."

"Because you're in Gotham. And you are what she wants to get away from. And just for the record, Amurst is only seven hundred sixty-three miles from here."

"It might as well be a million." Terry's disgruntled reply was accompanied by an outflung arm. "When will I ever have enough time to visit her that far away?"

"Take the time." Bruce answered simply. Terry looked at him as if he had said something totally absurd, shook his head and stalked away.