By Constance Eilonwy
Beyond and related characters are the property of DC Comics and Kids' WB. There's a new season running now, and at any moment a new episode will render this piece non-canonical. It stands as a "what-if" scenario, a different angle on one of the show's characters.
This is for Kellie, who knows where it all began, and for Nancy Brown, who taught me how to peer in at the dark, shadowy corners of a character's soul.
He thinks I don't know.
I can pinpoint where it might have all begun, where it started to fall apart. With Him. Bruce Wayne, faded, reclusive billionaire. I guess he was someone once, back in the twentieth century, but now he's only a name, sitting alone in that pseudo-gothic pile on the outskirts of the city. No one lives out there, although my grandmother says it was once the place to live, with beautiful homes all along the cliffs and beaches. Most of those are abandoned now; only Bruce Wayne remains.
Saw an old vid once, from before even gran's time. Citizen Kane. It's a "classic," one of those we have to watch in the required Film Hum class. All right, so it was a good story—just 'cause it's a classic doesn't make it so last Tuesday. There are reasons people still watch vids like that. Mr. Wayne was like the anti-hero of the vid—like Kane. Maybe if Bruce Wayne had found his rosebud he wouldn't have gotten his hooks into Terry.
But I can't blame the old man fully. To be fair, the change started before Terry got his night-job…where it really began was the night Terry's dad was killed. They never really got along; he seemed to like his mom more even though he lived with his dad. His dad was always really nice to me. He actually seemed like an understanding guy despite the way he and Terry fought. He once told me, while Terry was out of the room, that he could tell how I felt about his son, and he was glad Terry had a friend like me. At the time I shrugged and laughed. But I cried for him when he died. Terry changed after that. He seemed angry, hopelessly angry, and sad. He'd always been a little moody, can't figure why. He has a nice family. But after that…he pulled into himself. That's the best way I can describe it—as if the plasti-steel security doors slammed down inside and wouldn't let anyone in. I tried. I thought I could cheer him up.
I wasn't the one who could fix what was wrong.
The job just made things worse between us. Things were worse with us…but after the job started with Mr. Wayne, some of the anger and sadness went away from him. We'd go out—and then a few hours into the evening, he'd get beeped and have to go. With rushed apologies. Saying I'd understand someday, he'd explain later. My girlfriends pitied me. Poor girl, ditched again? A few guys tried to move into the void Terry left conspicuously in his wake. Determined to be no one's fool, I let them dance around the edges—but I had plasti-steel barriers too. Terry was the only one with a passcard. I was angry. How do you revoke someone's passcard when you can't figure out where they keep it, which door they use to gain access?
The why was the only thing I didn't question. There was always something…special about him. No, that's too vague—how else to put it? There are plenty of guys at Hill High School with great faces but rotten souls. Or even with great faces but okay, very nice souls. But it's not the same. Terry is kind of…unique. It's got something to do with the way he helps me out of the hovercar or through a revolving door—hand out for mine, palm face up, then a grasp that's strong but not possessive, a matter-of-fact gesture that went out fifty years ago but from Terry, seems acceptable, ordinary, expected, not archaic.
It's got something to do with how he'll stop everything to slam a bully against the wall in defense of some small freshie. Doesn't matter if he's never met the freshie in his life, or will ever see him again. It's made Terry a little unpopular with our Alpha crowd. Defending the innocent isn't exactly shway. It's too retro, like an old vid. It really is. Not that everyone in the Alpha group picks on people. Some do, some don't. But what's the point of sticking up for people in Gotham? Some big corporation's just going to sweep through and buy up everything, including the boots you're wearing, so what does it matter? The holo-casters tells us everyday about some new mutation, some new conglomeration, some new method of disintegrating an entire building, some new drug, some new gene therapy, some new way of getting a buzz, changing your hair color. Some new way to die. And then there's Terry, who stops everything just because an Alpha is trashing a little freshie. I guess the freshie thinks it's worth it. Maybe I do too—you have to believe in something solid, something real. Or you lose your mind.
Terry was solid and real. Now he's part of something that doesn't seem real. Or it's so real it's terrifying. Too real. It's like rescuing the freshie who's getting beaten up in the hallway. Except with gigawatts pumped into it, darker and more frightening.
I tried breaking up with him, even before I knew. We always ended up back together. Terry McGinnis can be very persuasive when he turns on the charm. Apologies. Promises.
Only once that I know of, there was another girl. But since I had loudly and publicly trashed him at a dance club, I can hardly accuse him of double-timing me, can I? Still, it hurt. I went out with a lot of other guys after that.
When we got back together the next time, I came to him. Which seemed to floor him—he thought he'd really done it this time, he told me. Again, he promised to explain it "someday." When we hugged, he held on a little longer than usual. When we pulled apart, he looked regular—relieved, but not like…he doesn't care that much. We don't ever use the L-word. Hardly anyone does.
He thinks I don't know.
Would you believe it, I'm actually developing a sense of humor about it. When he runs off suddenly on some mysterious errand for Mr. Wayne, I joke about it to myself, after he's gone. He leaves me standing alone at the top of the steps and I say all the nice things we'd say to each other if he'd actually stuck around to say goodbye. Either I'm developing a sense of humor, or I'm going insane.
No guy is worth this!
A few nights ago, right after we got back together the last time, I was walking the last stretch home alone after dark from the school—a late Dance Club meeting. The multi-colored glow of the Gotham skyline cast its usual remote hues. The street was tree-lined, which is nice, and the branches moving back and forth in the wind made the colored lights of the business district flicker in and out for me. The night was hot; despite the wind I didn't need a jacket—typical September weather. But the goose-prickles rose up along my bare arms and the back of my neck when I heard the gunning of the motorcyle engines and heard the whooping and shouting. They came around the corner, howling as if in tribute to the lopsided moon, their painted faces broken by big, gleeful grins. I started walking faster, but all I could think about was that the Jokerz had killed Terry's father. They cut me off, their bikes coming to a halt, the girl of the group laughing her head off like she was high on something. The leader slid neatly from his bike, lopsidedly smiling, his voice sickeningly calm as he told me to just relax and nobody'd get hurt—I could take a little joke, couldn't I? I was so scared I felt like throwing up—started to back away, and they moved closer, like hyenas closing in on a wounded prey, laughing.
And then it dropped out of the sky. It was black, and had wings. It hardly looked human, but as it leapt on the leader and pulled back a black-covered arm for a punch, I saw there was a human shape underneath the covering. It had legs like a human and arms but it moved too quick for human—not with superhuman speed, like Superman. But with a grace and speed as animalistic as the Jokerz' movements had been.
Some of them ran. Some of them piled on him—but the wounded prey was not wounded, it struck like a panther.
The ability to move returned to me and I ran. Something rubbery and hard smacked me in the face and suddenly all I saw was sky and the tossing trees as I lay on the pavement on my back and gasped for breath. Dimly I saw the girl standing over me, cackling, as she wielded a rubber chicken triumphantly above her head. That act cut short, though, when the black creature dove at her from the side.
It was over. The remnants of the gang roared away or limped off in a big hurry. The thing with wings stepped over and looked down at me. Its face…it wasn't human. It was a mask that covered every ounce of flesh, a mockery of both human and mammal. It was sleek. I hadn't noticed it before, but now I saw the symbol on its chest—a large red wing silhouette. Surreal. I began wondering if I was really there, if this had really happened, if this thing really existed. I started pushing myself up on my elbows, desperate to get home, get away.
It gently held out a hand. Palm facing up, matter-of-fact, kind. I hesitated, then took the hand, and let him pull me to my feet. The white, slitted eyes evaluated me for a second as I stood and shivered, hugging my arms. Then there was a small explosion of fire around its feet, and it rose into the air on jet-boots. Shway.
I ran home, but at the door I paused and looked back, and saw the crouched silhoutte on our neighbor's rooftop. He'd watched me the rest of the way home, making sure I reached my door unmolested. A gentleman.
The next day it was all over school, how Dana had nearly been attacked by the Jokerz and rescued by Batman. So that's who it was that had rescued me! Kids argued about it. Some thought he was a savior, a guardian angel. Some thought he was a psycho. Some thought he was just a myth, that I'd made the whole thing up. That's the last time I swear my closest girlfriend to secrecy. It doesn't work. Sooner or later, they talk. Of course, I told Terry, and he'd never tell—he's close-lipped to the point where I want to hang him upside down out a second story classroom window and make him tell me things.
I'd heard gran mention Batman during her stories about Old Gotham, and that evening I asked her to tell me about the city when she was young. She didn't need much prodding—gran loves to tell a good story. After that, it was an easy enough thing to get on the net and look up a few things. Bruce Wayne was all over the place, including how his parents died. Batman was there too, in the old newspaper files.
I never would have made the connection on my own, by chance, by accident, without that encounter with the Jokerz. But it made sense, didn't it?
He thinks I don't know.
After I told him about the Jokerz, and how I was now a little nervous walking alone after dark, Terry insisted on escorting me around. His cell phone went off one night and when he answered it he said, "I'll be there, but I need an extra half-hour." Safe to the front door, "Sorry, I can't come in and watch the vid with you, have to run, Mr. Wayne needs me."
"Damn it, I need you too," I wanted to say, couldn't bring myself to voice it.
I want out. I don't want to have to nearly get myself killed to buy some time with him. Lois Lane was never on my list of role models, but I'm developing a little more sympathy for her at least.
It's hard to accept. It's so easy to tell myself the whole thing is preposterous. But always in the back of my mind I can't deny the rightness of it. There is no other explanation. Believe me, I'd rather it not be true. I lie awake at night pretending it isn't; that in the morning everything will be normal again. But then that night with the Jokerz comes back to me. I see the inhuman, black silhouette—brutal, scary, my savior. It was bizarre and terrifying until that little gesture, the outstretched hand, offered a touch of comfort. Then just as quickly, tipped the world upside down.
He doesn't know that I know.
I want out of this. I don't want to be his girlfriend anymore. I want to go out to clubs, dance, study, live my life. There's just one catch, a reason I can't walk away. I think I'm in love with Terry McGinnis—with one of him, anyway. Which is something else he doesn't know.