By Amos Whirly
The heat on the soles of his feet told him that he was overexerting the boosters, but he did not care. Batman soared over the buildings of downtown Gotham like a bullet, blind to any crime that might have been taking place beneath him.
"Wayne? Do you have that information yet?"
"Calm down, Terry."
"I should have stayed with her. I shouldn't have left her."
"McGinnis, you're not going to help her by loosing your cool."
Batman bit his tongue and sailed easily around a building. The suburbs were coming into view.
"Anthony Daniels," Bruce said over the receiver. "Chemistry teacher at Gotham University. Former special op agent."
"Great. Just great."
"Looks like he was involved in some high security dealings with military."
"This is getting better all the time. What kind of credentials does he have?"
"Martial arts, weapon training, assault skills," Bruce seemed to be reading from a list. "Your best be is going to be to knock him down."
"Knocking them down is never the problem. They just never stay down."
When Daniels rammed the door, it broke off its hinges. The impact sent Dana crashing to the floor. She gaped at him as he stormed into her house like a thunderhead, his grizzled face twisted with rage.
"You aren't studying, Miss Tan."
"Oh, gee," she hissed and scrambled to her feet.
She darted toward the kitchen, but he snatched the back of her shirt and flung her brutally into the desk against the far wall. She ducked under his fist but crumpled as his foot slammed into her stomach. His gloved hand grabbed her chin and forced her onto the desktop, bending her back cruelly as he pressed his body against her.
"I can't abide ill-attentive students—"
She groped for the letter opener her father kept in his top drawer.
"No D-students in my class," he hissed against her neck and screamed as she stabbed the letter opener in his arm.
He let go, and she wriggled out of his grasp. As she hit the kitchen door, she heard the unmistakable sound of steel. She turned and saw him coming at her with a knife. She lunged into the kitchen, but he followed. She snatched the cutting board off the counter top and shrieked as he charged at her, the knife slicing cleanly through the board. She lost her balance and fell to the tile floor.
The only other object in view was a broom, which she grabbed. She stood and hit him soundly across the face with it.
Daniels did not budge. His maniacal grin did not falter.
Dana backed against the wall, her fingers desperately searching for anything with which to defend herself.
There was nothing.
She managed to get around the first swipe of the knife, but the second caught her left arm, sending stinging pain surging through her, and the third cut deep into her right leg. She ducked around him and limped for the front door. He lunged at her and knocked her to the floor, holding her face into the carpet. She kicked her good leg and unseated him, struggling to stand, but he grabbed her ankle and dragged her down again. He backhanded her viciously and gripped his knife.
"You failed my course, little girl."
She could not escape his hold.
"That means," his mad eyes narrowed, "you die."
He reared back to strike, and with the sound of flaming boosters and a blur of black, Daniels disappeared. A mighty crash reverberated through the house. With a panicked gasp, she got to her feet and limped to the kitchen door.
Batman and Daniels were struggling in the kitchen. The mad chemistry teacher was kicking, swinging, and punching with grace and elegance, and Batman was taking nearly every hit.
Dana tried not to cry as Batman took a ferocious hit to the back and crashed into the counter.
Daniels found his knife again and lunged.
"Look out!" she shrieked.
Daniels's body gave a sudden jerk as a loud clang echoed through the kitchen. With a gurgling grunt, Daniels fell backward and flopped on the kitchen floor, his nose broken and a few of his teeth falling out.
Batman stood with a cast iron skillet that he had pulled out of the sink.
He cast a gaze at Dana, standing in the doorway, and slowly began to tie Daniels up. Dana watched him and limped to the desk chair, where she sat down and waited, trying to calm herself down.
A quiet footstep alerted her to his presence.
"Are you all right?" his deep voice shook her to her soul.
She could only nod.
Batman knelt down and quickly examined the bloody wound on her shoulder and leg, and he scowled visibly at her bleeding face. He caught her chin in his hand and lifted her face to get a better look.
When she saw his masked face, all her strength crumbled, and she collapsed in his arms. He allowed her to cling to him.
McGinnis, his mind hissed hatefully, how many times are you going to put her through this? How many times are you going to abandon her just to see her nearly die?
Her little fingers clutched his suit as she sobbed against him.
You can't stay here, the other part of his mind kicked in. Get out of the suit and come back. Like you always do.
He stood quietly and tried to sit her in the chair.
"Ma'am," he cleared his throat, "the police are on their way."
"Don't go," she whispered against his chest.
"Daniels won't hurt anyone else."
"Please don't go."
You're being childish, Dana, she said to herself. Let him go. A fresh wave of terror flooded through her at the thought of being without his embrace for even a minute, and she clung even harder to him. Tell him.
Batman patted her back gently, glancing at the clock over the mantelpiece.
"Ma'am," he tried again.
She was helpless. It slipped out before she could stop it.
"Don't leave me, Terry."
She felt the shock rush through him, every muscle in his body tightening, and she held tightly to him.
What did she say? his mind was a whirlwind of thoughts. No, she didn't say that. She couldn't have. How could—She couldn't—Could she?
"The police will be here soon," he managed to say in a futile attempt to ignore her. "They'll take care—"
"Cut the crap, McGinnis. I know it's you."
The room was spinning. His heart pounded wildly against his ribs. It had suddenly become excruciatingly difficult to breathe.
"I don't think—"
She pulled away suddenly and looked up into his masked face. She took a deep breath, set her hand against his cheek, and calmly sat in the desk chair.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner," she closed her eyes.
"How long have you known?" his voice was as rigid as his frame.
"A few months."
A police siren cut through the night air.
She looked up at him. "Go on. I'll be here."
"Go, T—Batman," she blushed. "Go. We'll talk when you get back."
A car door slammed. He cast one last look at her and bolted for the window in the kitchen. Dana drew herself up and forced herself to stand as the police came in.
"Ma'am, are you all right?"
"I'll be fine," she said. "He's tied up in the kitchen."
"Do you need—"
"I need you to get that mad man out of my house," Dana said. "I'll take care of myself, thank you."
His breath came in shallow gasps as he perched on the wall of Dana's house, the stealth mode on his suit engaged so as to hide from the police.
She knows. She knows. How could she know?
He leaned his head against the wall.
Is that—Is that why she's been acting so weird? So – supportive? That's it. It all makes sense. But why? I thought for sure she'd hate me.
"Terry?" Bruce's voice crackled in his ear.
"Did you stop him?"
"What's wrong? Is Dana all right?"
"She's a little beat up, but—but—"
"But what, McGinnis?"
"She knows, Bruce. She knows. I don't know how she knows, but she knows. She figured it out."
"I didn't tell her, Bruce, I swear."
"Come on, Wayne, talk to me."
He heard the old man on the other end of the line sigh exhaustedly. "You didn't tell her?"
"No, Bruce, I would never."
"She figured it out on her own? Like Maxine?"
"Either kids today are smarter than they were in my time, or you're terrible at disguising yourself."
"Don't suppose you'd go for the first one, would you?"
"Will she keep her mouth shut?"
"She's known for months, Bruce. She just told me tonight."
Wayne was quiet for a long time before he spoke again. "Fine."
Batman let out a breath he did not know he had been holding. He slid off the wall and moved to a dark portion of the yard where he quickly changed clothes.
Dana grunted with exertion as she tried to wrap her wounded leg. She was not having much success. She tried not to jump when she felt someone behind her. Hesitantly, she glanced into the bathroom mirror, and she smiled when she saw Terry standing in the doorway, his blue eyes serious.
He did not speak but moved quickly, sweeping her into his arms and setting her on the sink. He worked silently for the next hour, cleaning and bandaging her injuries.
As he was finishing with her leg, she set her hand on top of his.
"Please don't be angry, Terry."
He fastened the bandage in place and stood, folding her into his arms. "I have no right to be angry with you, Dana," he whispered fiercely into her hair, "and you have every right to hate me."
"I don't," she kissed his forehead and hugged him tightly.
He lifted her into his arms and carried her upstairs.
A few hours later, Dana had changed clothes, and Terry had cleaned up the blood in the bathroom and the kitchen. He had managed to rehang the door as best as he could, wincing slightly as he thought how Mr. Tan would react when he returned from his business in Bangkok.
Terry walked upstairs to Dana's room and sat next to her on her bed.
"When did you figure it out?"
She snuggled closer to him. "Remember that dream I was having?"
"It wasn't a dream. It was a memory. From the time you saved me from the sewer."
"The rat boy."
"Right. I just – I just put the pieces together, I guess."
"Is it that obvious?"
"Not really," she smiled. "I'm just intelligent."
Terry laughed in spite of himself and then sobered. "Have you told anyone?"
"No," she shook her head. "And I'm not going to. I wouldn't have said anything tonight, it's just that—"
"Don't," he stopped her. "You were scared. And you shouldn't have had to be."
"Dana, now that you know—you have to realize—Dana, I can't—No matter how much I—"
She sat up and silenced him. "If I had wanted to go, I would have stopped seeing you months ago, Terry. I know what this means. I understand the risks. And I don't care. I told you that I love you, and I mean it. And nothing is going to stop that. Not Bruce Wayne, not Batman, not," she laughed, "a maniacal chemistry teacher – no one."
He regarded her in silence while she spoke, and when she finished he hugged her.
"I just can't believe it. I've wanted to tell you for so long, but I—I couldn't," he leaned back against her headboard. "I almost quit so many times, Dana."
"No, for me," he shook his head. "I wanted to be Batman and Terry at the same time, and that can't be done. I was being selfish. I wanted my time and my friends, and I wasn't thinking about the city. And that's why Batman exists."
She leaned against him.
"So I made a decision," he closed his eyes. "I decided that if I was going to be Batman, I was going to be the best I could be – and that meant putting Terry on hold. No matter how much I wanted to be normal, I knew I couldn't. I couldn't stop. Because if I did," he made an amused noise. "This city has always had Batman. It needs Batman."
"Then, it's a good thing you're here to save the day," she whispered against him.
"I can't always be there for you, Dana."
"But I can always be here for you. And that's enough for me."
She nestled into his arms, and he held her close.
"Your chemistry homework is going to be late," he mumbled with a snort.
"I think I'll drop the class," she giggled into his shirt. "After all, I can get chemistry lessons from Batman – and he's a better teacher than any college professor."