I'd quote the musical Parade and start singing "This is not over yet…", but considering the context of that particular number, I don't think it's a good idea. (The guy who starts the number gets executed by a mob for a murder he didn't commit. Considering how my luck has been running, I really don't want to taunt Murphy like that.)

I'm having to recreate some of my stories from scratch; my old laptop decided to start crapping out on me and crashed multiple times, causing me to lose several files. One story (not from this fandom) had all but one chapter completely vanish along with all the notes, and the backup got eaten as well. I have a new laptop now. Also, there was a recurring medical issue that literally affected my ability to think for over a year; during bouts of it I could barely maintain a coherent conversation, and focusing long enough to write anything just wasn't happening. Think of how you feel when you've just pulled an all-nighter on a project, and imagine feeling like that for up to a week at a time combined with severe dizziness and a bit of nausea. I actually scared my professors enough that they told me not to worry about the attendance requirements, and they were very generous in grading assignments. (Well, except for one, and she was so annoying and pretentious that I dropped the class anyway.) And these were happening at the same time. You can understand why taunting Murphy is not high of my list of things to do now that I've got all that dealt with.

I make no apologies for Mad Stan in this chapter. I have learned to never be surprised by the random stuff people are into that seems completely OOC for them. After all, if a devout Southern Baptist can be into the Ramones and Bill Clinton and Anthony Bourdain can be bronies, well, this ain't nothing.

Wingless Night- "I'll have three Life Sucks, with a chocolate shake and some fries, oh, and can I have a small order of Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies?" You may have come up with my new favorite line. It's right up there with "I'd shake your hand, but there's a venomous cobra in it." Or "Nothing says Mother's Love like a giant robotic platypus butt." Possibly even "Time to de-ass the area with the quickness."

Dalrymple faced the gun-wielding brunette calmly. Someone needed to remain calm; the girl looked as though she was on the verge of a panic attack. Her hands were visibly shaking, there were tears streaming down her face, and her eyes were wide enough to make an anime girl jealous. At the moment, she was more likely to kill him by accident than out of deliberate malice- although her lack of intent wouldn't be of any help to him then.

"Miss Tina Curtis, I believe. Perhaps it would be best if you laid aside the firearm in order to facilitate a reasonable discussion?"

The girl jumped, squeaked, and dropped the gun. Dalrymple quickly moved in the opposite direction, but the gun didn't go off. Upon retrieving it while Miss Curtis began to hyperventilate, he discovered that not only was the safety on, but there was not even a round in the chamber. Either she knew little about guns, or she had not wanted to risk shooting the wrong person; he desperately hoped it was the second.

It took a few minutes to calm Miss Curtis down. This wasn't the first time that Dalrymple had dealt with high-strung individuals, however, and he had a good supply of patience anyway. He sat her down on the bed, then sat beside her, rubbing her back gently. After several minutes, she turned to face him.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome, child. Was the gun really necessary?"

She nodded.

"Some of my brother's friends think they'll get away if I'm dead. I can identify half a dozen Jokerz who were there, and now that I know what really happened that night, I can at least make an educated guess at some others. I tried to stay out of that world, but Joe was my brother; I couldn't help learning stuff I really didn't want to know. I should have just cut him out- I kept telling myself to do it—but he was my brother!"

Dalrymple forced himself not to frown as he thought. It hadn't occurred to him that Miss Curtis might have been an innocent bystander despite her connection to the late unlamented J-Man. Of course, she could be lying, but he didn't think so; he had spent too long on the streets to be easily fooled by tears and a sad story.

"He told me it was a surprise birthday party," she continued. "I was visiting for the weekend, and Joe asked me if I could get this guy to the Alhambra. I kinda remembered the kid, 'because he always seemed like he was too nice when that asshole Charlie Bigelow wasn't messing with his head. Well, a bit of a hothead, but basically a nice kid. I heard he got arrested, but that was about the time I was getting ready to move to Chicago to start at Northwestern, so I don't really know if that happened or if it was somebody else I'm thinking of. But Joe said it was the guy's 18th birthday and he wanted to throw a surprise party, but he needed someone to bring the guy to the ballroom at the Alhambra- you know, that old abandoned hotel, I think the story was it was built just before the Great Depression started? It looks about that age, anyway. I know there's a lot of squatters living there, and the old ballroom is pretty popular for parties that you don't want outsiders to see. I didn't think anything about it, because Joe used to do stuff like that before he got into the Jokerz, and I was hoping it meant he was finally growing up and getting back to the guy he used to be, but I guess I really should have known better." For the first time, she looked angry, and at least half of it was directed inward. "He told me that the guy usually shopped at Kamalic's, so I should wait and try to catch him there, and to text him when he showed up. So I waited, and when the guy showed up, I did exactly what my brother wanted. I told him that I was staying in the Alhambra and had managed to lock myself out of my room, and was he still good with locks? Because that was the other thing I remembered about him—he was supposed to be really good with locks. Even Joe admitted that. The guy wasn't too thrilled, but he said okay. He left his groceries there, which I thought was kinda weird, but then I saw you and figured that you'd keep an eye on them until he got back. I know who you are, pretty much everybody around here does, and I grew up three blocks away. Anyway, I got him to the Alhambra, told him I'd stashed my stuff in the old ballroom for safekeeping, then as soon as I got him in, I gave him a big kiss, wished him a happy birthday, then took off to the library to work on a project for my seismology class. I headed back home early the next morning without seeing Joe again, and jumped back into my classes. We don't hear a lot of Gotham news in Chicago, so I didn't know anything until I got back here on Wednesday and Joe gave me this gun and told me I had to hide because—well, he gave me this ridiculous reason, but it was so obviously a lie that I—I mean, I know the Jokerz and the Ts have been feuding forever, but Alex or whatever he's calling himself these days, the leader of the Ts, his sister and I were lab partners in chemistry and I helped her get an A, so he always said I was off limits. I got mad at Joe and went off at him, then he told me I was an accomplice or an accessory or something and told me what he really did and- what the hell happened to him? He wasn't always like that!"

She burst into tears, and Dalrymple simply sat and held her. He couldn't think how she hadn't been found if she'd been registered as a student in such a well-known university, or why she hadn't just gone to the police once she knew what had happened.

Don't be a fool, Tobias. Her brother is—was- one of the most well-known of the Jokerz, and if she is in fact a student and trying to disassociate from her brother and his nefarious activities, then learning that he had used her for such an atrocious crime would have been that much more of a shock. Add to that her brother's violent death the other day and apparently being threatened by his confederates, and she can hardly be blamed for her precarious emotional state or for making some unwise decisions.

"My dear, you have had a miserable few days, but surely you must see that the best thing to do is go to the police and tell them what you know. I can verify that he went willingly, and that at no time did he act as though you had threatened him. The, er, unfortunate incident with the gun need not be mentioned, since I am sure you did not intend to shoot me."

"What? No!" The idea shocked her out of crying. "I was just worried that maybe it was one of those psychos—I've been dodging them since I left Joe's apartment Wednesday night. I don't want to think he sent them after me, but he was so out of control—he said he'd kill me himself if I even thought about going to the cops. Could—could you maybe call them and ask them to come here? I know I don't have any right to ask any favors, but cops come to the Clarendon all the time, so nobody'll think twice, and maybe I can tell them my story before I get killed too. They wouldn't dare come after you, 'cause there's more homeless people than there are Jokerz and they call you their Patron Saint and everybody remembers what happened that time you were almost killed by that stupid drunk driver. They almost eviscerated the jerk, not that he didn't deserve it. Anyway, I really want to do the right thing, but I can't help anybody if I'm dead, so I'm trying to be careful. I just don't know what to do."

That makes two of us. He didn't let the thought show on his face. Instead, he took his phone out of his pocket and called the Commissioner's number. She answered, but sounded distracted until he identified himself and explained what had just happened. There was silence for a moment, followed by a deep sigh, then she told her own tale in a voice that seemed on the verge of exhaustion. Dalrymple felt himself paling at the list of casualties, and it was Miss Curtis' turn to become concerned. Finally, he ended the call. For a few minutes he sat, head buried in his hands, before turning to Miss Curtis with a face that had aged decades.

"My dear girl," he said hoarsely, "I am so very glad you arrived here safely. At least one thing has gone as it should on this terrible night"

Agent Bennet, against all expectations, waited until the paramedics brought one girl to the emergency room and the other to the morgue. Despite their best efforts, they had not been able to save one of the girls and the other was still in danger. Bennet's expression was even more grim than usual, and Zeta felt as though his programmers must have forgotten something, that there must have been more that he could have done if he had just known what it was…

"Don't second-guess yourself," Bennet said. "She was almost gone when you got to her. Unless you'd been there immediately, I don't think you could have saved her. And while you have many skills, neither clairvoyance nor omnipresence are among them. You did what you could. We both did."

"Maybe. Could we talk somewhere else? I'd rather not-"

"Of course. Is there somewhere we could meet?"

Zeta hesitated. Bennet was acting very strangely, and it could not all be attributed to the girl's death. He'd been acting strangely for quite some time. It was time that Zeta learned why.

"There is an abandoned factory on the waterfront, just west of Dini Wharf. I will be there as soon as I can. We need to talk. We have for a while."

"I know. I'll be there."

Less than half an hour later, Zeta faced his long-time pursuer and dropped his hologram.

"How did you know that I was not the real Batman?"

"Because I was briefed on him the first time I went to Gotham. My clearance is high enough that I was given, not full access, but quite a bit. I know who he is, and why he's not available at the moment. I also guessed that between wanting to pay him back for the help he's given you in the past and the robotics conference, I'd be finding you here doing exactly what you're doing. Zeta, I've recommended to my superiors that we discontinue hunting you."

The non-sequitur took Zeta a few moments to process.

"That seems out of character for you," he said. "In the past you have been almost obsessive in your belief that I was a threat not just to national security, but to public safety. Why should you suddenly change your mind now?"

"Because I overheard your conversation with Doctor Zelig."

Zeta didn't have emotions as such, but if he had, he would have been gobsmacked.

"You what?"

"I followed you. I heard almost everything. Including about the morality chip. I know that's not what he called it," Bennet said hastily, "but that's not the point. The point is, you had programming by one of our own people that caused your actions, and that programming directly precludes causing harm to people unless it is necessary to protect others, and even then, you are programmed to use minimal force. That is what I have reported to my superiors."

"What did they say?"

"They're skeptical. They want to have concrete evidence of this programming, especially since Dr. Zelig was compromised, but they know that you wouldn't be willing to trust them to have your best interests in mind. My bosses aren't complete idiots, even if certain agents they assign me are," Bennet said, smirking.

"How is Agent West?"

Bennet laughed.

"Phone surveillance. On a Quaker meetinghouse. Trust me, you don't want to know."

"Do they have any suggestions?"

Bennet took a second to connect Zeta's question to the original topic, then shook his head.

"No. Well, Agent Lee suggested finding a trustworthy third party to verify the information, but the problem with that is finding somebody we could all agree on. In the meantime, I'd like to suggest that we create a line of communication, so that if we need to contact each other for any reason, we can. In the meantime, we would still need to keep you under surveillance, but your threat level would be downgraded to potential but not definite, pending results of investigations. It's not ideal, but you wouldn't need to keep running and hiding. I think we're both getting tired of this chase, and I really don't see myself as the Inspector Javert type."

Zeta thought. There were good and bad points to Bennet's suggestion, but he was not the only person involved in this. Also, there could be aspects that he just didn't have the programming to consider. He would have to discuss this with Ro, and getting Max's input might help as well.

"Thank you, Agent Bennet, but I can't give you an answer yet. However, if you will stay in contact with Commissioner Gordon, I can get a message to her easily enough."

"All right. And tell Miss Rowan that we're willing to overlook her less than legal actions during this, since most of them were a direct result of our pursuit."

"I will."

Then Agent Bennet took another unexpected action: he extended his hand to the synthoid he'd hunted. Zeta, after a moment's hesitation, shook it. There was no trap involved; it really was just a handshake. It felt almost anti-climactic after over a year of pursuit. Zeta turned to leave, then froze in place as familiar names popped up on the 911 frequency.

possible heart attack brought on by witnessing attempted murder… suspect apprehended in victim's room… victim's status currently unknown, was not breathing, had no pulse… large group of Jokerz spotted in vicinity of Mad Stan and unidentified female—Very Dangerous Situation in progress…

"Zeta? What's happening?"

Zeta turned to him, knowing that for this, at least, he could trust the agent implicitly.

"There's been an attack on Terry McGinnis in the hospital and both he and Bruce Wayne are in critical condition. The Jokerz are currently attacking Mad Stan and a woman who I suspect is probably Mary McGinnis."

"I'll go to the hospital; you deal with the Jokerz." Agent Bennet was all business now.

"Thank you."

Zeta resumed his Batman hologram, sped to the Batmobile, and left at a velocity no human could have withstood. Bennet was slower by necessity, but still moved quickly. Both knew that the night could end in disaster and were determined to prevent what they could.

"Don't you people have lives?"

Stan grinned; his Mary was really something else. Smart, brave, and hot—how did he ever get so lucky?

"Obviously, yes, or we wouldn't be here," a tall, surprisingly well-dressed young man said. "Although I suspect you mean that in the metaphorical sense, in which case, well, it depends on the individual. Personally, I'm only out here to protect those of us who weren't actually involved in the McGinnis debacle or any of the stupidity that J-man and his minions and cronies got up to. Strictly speaking, a lot of us aren't really Jokerz at all, but our outfits get us lumped in with those halfwits. And for the record, we aren't here to take anybody down, despite what Zootie claims. You'll have to forgive him; he's an idiot."


"Zootie, what's the capital of Gotham?"

"Oh, shut up."

A red-haired girl in a goth version of a commedia del arte costume glared at the arguing men.

"Here's the TLDR version," she said. "Zootie wants to fight you 'cause you broke his brother's nose yesterday; he is one of them and he just tagged along. The rest of us want to see if we can sort things out so that we can all get on with our lives. Like Pierrot said, we're not Jokerz. We're I Donato. We're performance artists. Post-modern commedia. You'd think a town famous for its theater scene would be able to tell the difference between zoot-suited crackheads and—"

"Hold it," Mary interrupted, before the conversation could go even further down the rabbit hole. "Two words: Harley. Quinn."

"Yes, but that's a gender-flipped version of the playing-card version of the Harlequin, also known as the Joker, so you see it's obviously a completely different milieu. The socio-"

"Oh, my God, my life has officially gotten too strange even for Gotham," Mary groaned. Stan was speechless. He'd been ready for a good brawl with a bunch of violent idiots, and instead he got an over-educated flashmob that needed some experience in the real world before they got themselves killed trying to live their fantasies. He pinched the bridge of his nose, wondering just how his life had gotten so complicated.

"Well," the redhead grinned, "you'd better get used to that if you're gonna date Mad Stan."




Stan froze as Mary's flat tone registered, and the group of whatever-they-were stared in shock.

"You didn't know?" Half a dozen voices blurted the shocked question. Mary turned to face Stan, a dangerous light in her eyes.

"Stanley Aloysius Lebowski. Is there something you would like to tell me?"

No. Mad Stan, not Stupid Stan. Shit, shit, SHIT!

"Honey, I—" he broke off, not sure what to say, then his head snapped around as she landed a solid right cross to his jaw. His heart sunk as he realized that Mary was Not Happy.

"Stay away from me, and stay away from my family. I've nearly lost him to you before, and I am NOT letting you hurt him again."


Mary blazed off, nearly running over Batman. She just glared at him as well, and Stan wasn't surprised when his favorite opponent took a step back.

"They're all yours, Batman, I'm going to my son," Mary snarled as she turned the corner.

"But—" Batman looked at the sky. "Just once could I get an easy one? And I thought there were Jokerz here. You're I Donato. I thought there was a Very Dangerous Situation in progress."

The redhead snorted.

"Oh, there was a Very Dangerous Situation, all right. Seems Mad Stan's girlfriend didn't know whom she was dating. Not even asking how she managed that. She was pretty pissed when she found out, though."

"That is unfortunate. However, if this is under control—"

"Yeah, we're good," she assured him. "Well, except I think we may have broken Mad Stan. I think I know how to fix that, though, so you deal with the people in mortal danger and we'll deal with the broken hearts."

"If you're sure."

"Hey, I'm fourth-gen theater geek and a smokin' hot ginger. I know from broken hearts. Go save people."

"Yes, ma'am." And Batman was gone too.

"Mary…" Stan whispered.

"Man, forget her, let's fight!"

"Zootie, go away or I will step-dance on your spleen," the redhead stated calmly. Zootie gulped and vanished down a convenient alley. The redhead gave Stan a sympathetic look. "Sorry, man. Look, it was my big mouth that caused this, so it's my responsibility to do something about it."

"Like what?"

"Only appropriate thing to do in this situation—we're going to get you good and drunk."

Bruce woke slowly, feeling almost more like he had the flu than another heart attack. His head throbbed, his lungs ached, and he suddenly suspected that he may have just made a colossal fool of himself. He forced his eyes open to find Barbara pacing the floor.

"Terry," he croaked. Anything else could wait. He had to know. Barbara whirled with a gasp followed quickly by a glare. She hit a button next to his bed.

"The kid'll be okay. More or less. I'll explain later, either before or after I kill you, you blithering idiot."

And before he could demand any clarification, he was surrounded by medical personnel. He spent a frustrating half-hour answering inane questions and having his own pertinent ones ignored. His doctors were nowhere near as helpful as Terry's, and they were all so busy proving how worthy they were to treat the Great Bruce Wayne that not a single one could be bothered to tell him exactly what the hell had happened. Finally, they left in a cloud of self-importance and Barbara re-entered, looking as impressed as he felt.

"Explain," Bruce demanded.

"Do you know what happens when a man over eighty years old whose health is shaky to begin with starts skimping on food and sleep while physically over-taxing himself? You collapsed from exhaustion. No heart attack; that issue seems to have been cleared up by the Lazarus Pit and wasn't it fun trying to come up with an explanation for that, at least one that the doctors would believe. But don't even think about trying to leave that bed for a few days, or I'll call Jason Blood and get him to come up with a spell that'll do the trick."

Bruce glared.

"Don't give me that. And it's your own fault for having learned how to pick every lock in the galaxy, otherwise I'd just borrow something from Clark. Now, having settled that, I'll tell you what you've missed over the past day. Terry's recovery has been set back by the attack. He's got two third-degree burns from the taser, although those are thankfully very small, and they are a bit worried that there might be some permanent nerve damage as well. Plus there's the cracked ribs from the CPR. I won't lie, Bruce; it's still pretty dicey. He'll definitely survive, but I don't know if he'll ever be able to return to the job. And there's more."

Barbara was looking far more tired than she should; Bruce knew that something else had gone terribly wrong.

"Barbara, what happened?"

"Chelsea Cunningham and Dana Tan were shot by a mugger at about the same time Brenda was attacking Terry. Chelsea didn't make it. Dana—she's in surgery right now to remove the bullet. They had to wait until she was stabilized because it was so close to her heart. Terry hasn't been told yet."

"No. Of course not." Bruce closed his eyes and let his head fall back on the pillow. He felt old, tired, and useless; even knowing that it was just another random act of Gotham violence that nobody could have prevented unless they had just happened to be at the right place at the right time didn't help. Knowing that that never been enough when it was strangers he hadn't been able to help. Now that it was someone he knew, someone Terry had been close to, it was close to unbearable. "What else."

"That's the worst of it. Brenda's in a psych ward, undergoing a full evaluation. They're already muttering about paranoid delusions and complete psychotic breaks, and I think they aren't wrong, not at this point. Stephen is facing multiple charges, including conspiracy to commit fraud, blackmail, and endangerment of a minor. Bail hearing is set for Friday; this is Tuesday afternoon. Yes, you have been out since Sunday evening, don't interrupt. J-Man's sister is back in town, and Dalrymple helped her come to us. You're not going to believe this, but it really looks like she didn't know what was going on until it was too late. We're checking her story, of course, but so far it's all panned out. Dr. Dorian is fine; he's back to work already and even Dr. Cox gave him something close to a compliment for taking on an armed psycho to protect a patient. I don't want to know what's going on between Zeta and Bennet, as long as they continue to behave. By the way, Zeta showed up on Max's doorstep Friday and asked her to let his sidekick stay with her, which is why Max suddenly dropped out of sight."

"That makes sense. She wouldn't want to betray their trust, but wouldn't dare try to lie to us directly. Pity I missed the confrontation."

Barbara smiled for the first time.

"It was fun. I think the whole thing has made her realize how much of a mess this life can create, even if she's still oblivious about the danger. Although, to be fair, just growing up in Gotham will give you a skewed sense of acceptable risk."

Bruce nodded, conceding the point.

"How sure are you about the Curtis girl," he asked. "Have you talked to her yourself?"

"Yes, I have. If she is lying, she's a better actress than I've seen in a long time. She's a college student living in Chicago, and she was estranged from her brother. All of this has been verified. If we can verify the rest, she won't face any charges—Bruce, don't say it. IF she's telling the truth about what happened, then she has to live with the knowledge that her brother used her and that her gullibility nearly got a good kid killed and indirectly led to her brother's death. And while we could charge her as an accessory to kidnapping, I'm not sure we could get a conviction. She's not the villain in this, Bruce, just another poor kid who hoped she was doing the right thing while trusting the wrong person. Mary wants to talk to her, but for a number of reasons that can't happen for a while. Which reminds me- Mary found out about Stan."

Bruce winced.

"How bad was it?"

"She decked him, told him to stay away from her and her family, and walked off. In front of a crowd of performance artists. Who then proceeded to take him under their wing and get him drunk."

"Oh. Dear. God."

"VERY drunk."

"Do I want to know?"

"Drunk enough that he let them dress him in Tudor-era costume and help him stand outside the McGinnis house to serenade her with period instruments. Started with 'Greensleeves', which I would not have expected him to know, and from there it got strange."

"I do not want to know."

"No. No, you don't. Although the video—"

"Of course there's a video."

"And the GCPD has officially decided that we are not going to ask how they got hold of the proper paperwork to have a camel on the streets of Gotham."

Bruce gave that announcement the double facepalm it deserved, along with a groan. Gotham had decided to outdo itself lately, taking its usual mix of tragedy, farce, and surrealism and boosting it to levels he had not seen in decades. He deeply wished he could believe that this was a hallucination, but he was far too aware of himself for that to be the case.

"Oh, and Stan's in the hospital, too," Barbara said.


"Fell off the camel, broke a rib, and punctured his lung. Started spouting Shakespeare as they carted him off. One of the multitudes of death speeches from Hamlet, I'm told. MAD STAN QUOTING HAMLET. This is not an image I ever wanted in my mind, so I'm giving it to you."

"Remind me to thank you properly once I'm out of here." Bruce was quiet for a few minutes, then dropped his own bombshell: "I'm thinking of letting Terry go once he's back on his feet, as it were. I'll set up a fund so that he won't have to worry about college or any possible medical needs, but—"

Barbara held up a hand, cutting him off mid-sentence. She looked a bit shaken by his abrupt change of subject, and seemed surprisingly displeased with the idea.

"Last year at this time, I'd have been the first to congratulate you for coming to your senses. Now… Bruce, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think Terry should be the one who makes that decision. If he does pull through, make a full recovery, he may be more determined than ever to go on. You were, when Bane nearly killed you. And remember what happened the last time you fired him for his own good."

"I know. But do I really have the right to ask him to continue my fight?"

Barbara shook her head angrily.

"It has never been just your fight, Bruce. All those brains and you've never managed to get that into your thick skull. None of us got into this for the thrills, not even me. We all got into this because you were right, even if your methods sometimes weren't. Maybe in some of the alternate dimensions the whole cape-and-cowl thing causes more problems than it solves, but we don't live there. We live here, in a world where putting on a costume to either commit or prevent crimes is pretty damn close to normal. And as much as I hate to admit it, Gotham needs a hero. I'd love it if we could get along without one, but we can't. And more importantly, unless that head injury has changed Terry's personality more than it seems to have, he needs to be that hero, at least until he feels he's atoned for being young and stupid. Maybe you don't have the right to ask him to take up your cause—but you also don't have the right to ask him to abandon his."

Bruce looked at her. She had a point, but he wasn't entirely convinced. And there was one aspect to his dilemma that he would not admit to her; namely, that he had nearly lost Terry twice in the space of about a month and that he wasn't sure he could handle deliberately sending the boy into danger every night. He didn't know exactly when or how he'd gotten soft, but he suspected that it had something to do with the uncharacteristic child-like trust he saw in Terry's eyes since the boy awakened. The angry, cynical, but still instinctively heroic young man he had first met was gone. That was someone he'd felt safe to send out night after night, knowing that Terry knew the city and its dangers as well and sometimes better than Bruce did. Or the more mature and experienced Terry who had walked out of the Batcave that night, the one he'd watched grow and liked to think he'd helped to create—that Terry not only knew what was out there, but that he was only one person and not indestructible, and chose his actions accordingly. This new Terry was an innocent in multiple senses of the word; this was the kind of person he protected, not put at risk.

"Well," he said after a few minutes, "it won't matter if he doesn't make enough of a recovery. And if he never recovers those memories, it's out of the question."

"I won't argue that. Just hold off making that decision until you absolutely have to." Barbara smiled faintly. "Actually, you should probably put off making any decisions more involved than chicken or fish for dinner for a day or two. You did just wake up from a medical crisis, after all. Even your brain will be a bit fuzzy for a while."

"My brain is fine." Bruce growled a bit more vehemently than usual because she was right.

"Probably. But this is one of the few times I have a legitimate excuse for giving you good advice, and there is no way I'm passing this up." Barbara's phone chose that moment to ring, and she growled a little herself. "Gordon. –Right. Okay, I'll be there as soon as I can. Bruce, there's more to tell you, but I've covered the most important stuff. Mary will be in to visit both you and Terry later this evening; for that matter, she might be with him now. I probably won't be back tonight, because Gotham has not finished being weird at me. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with you, Terry, or anybody we've been dealing with over the last few days. Except perhaps for the camel. So we can argue more later."

She left without another word. Bruce lay in bed, brooding even more than usual. He hated this. Terry was in worse shape than ever, Dana was fighting for her life, Chelsea had lost hers, and even if Bruce's own body hadn't failed him, there was nothing he could do about any of it. Stan being in the hospital as well was almost a relief; the thought of a broken-hearted and hung-over Mad Stan was enough to make even Bruce nervous. The nature of Stan's injuries would keep him out of commission long enough that he might find something new on which to get fixated. The news about the Curtis girl gave him no joy; he had wanted her to be another villain, someone he could safely despise, not just another young woman with a tragically dysfunctional family. Zeta and Bennet—as long as they weren't causing trouble in his city, their game of hide-and-seek could continue as long as they liked. The plan to shake up Big Time was ruined now, but that wasn't very important in the grand scheme of things. Big Time never had lived up to his nickname, in Bruce's opinion. The only reason he wasted any thought on the man was because every so often he decided to kill Terry; other than that, he was just another gangleader, albeit on a somewhat larger scale than usual, as it were.

He should have realized that events had progressed too smoothly to last. Every problem that had arisen had a solution not too far out of reach, even if it hadn't been immediately obvious. Finding Terry had only been a matter of time and patience. Dealing with the Jokerz had only ever been a challenge because of their numbers, and now that the people of Gotham had finally decided to fight back that was no longer an issue. Big Time's latest contract on Terry had been settled by Mad Stan, and Mad Stan himself hadn't been a problem, only surreal. The fake Batman had barely taken a day to resolve, and had worked in everyone's favor. But Brenda McGinnis—well, he hadn't taken her seriously enough. He had taken her for just another upper-class harpy, although one who went a bit further than most. He hadn't expected her to snap so completely, or so violently, even though he'd recognized her mental instability from the start. Dalrymple had tried to warn him, and he hadn't listened. He had screwed up, plain and simple.

"Maybe I really am too old for this," he said quietly.

"That may be the only truly stupid thing I've ever heard you say," a woman said softly. Bruce looked toward the door to see a tall, elegant woman dressed in a silk dress the same green as her eyes. It had been forty years since he had seen her, but it never occurred to him that he shouldn't have recognized her immediately.


"Hello, Bruce," she smiled.

You have no idea how hard it was not to type "Hello, Sweetie" there. And this WILL be finished. I hope. And at some point I may write up Stan's brief foray in unintentional musical comedy as a side story.