Celebration broke out in Gotham City, just as it had all around the world. Champagne and confetti replaced the usual urban decay as shouts of "Happy New Year!" filled the streets. Dancing and kissing continued in the early January morning while a few people tried to pull themselves away from the excitement.
An old man glanced at the grandfather clock against the wall. His large black dog whined slightly, but the man placed a firm, weathered hand on its head. Silently, he took his cane and coat and walked to the door.
"Come on, Ace," he called, and the black dog faithfully followed.
Outside the door was a car, in front of which stood a young woman with dark skin and pink hair. She characteristically smiled calmly at him, despite his reputation of sternness and explained, "Terry should be on his way now. Knowing him, he's trying to escape his mom and brother."
"Thank you, Max," the old man replied, entering the car. She shrugged off the thanks. She had been their cohort in this yearly mission since it had first been rekindled. The old man paid her for filling in for his usual apprentice's work, but she had initially refused the wages. For her, helping those two was all the payment she needed.
On the other side of town, an old woman hung up the phone after a holiday greeting to an old friend, and took her own coat from the closet.
"Kara says hi, Sam," she informed her husband. "And I'll be going now. I'll be back in less than a half hour."
"Making that annual trip again, I see?" he noted.
"It's a tradition between him and my father," she answered. "Now that Dad's gone, I should be the one to carry it on."
"I know," Sam replied, taking her light hands in his dark. They were like yin and yang this way, though he'd always thought that she walked in darkness and he in the light. It wasn't just her job as police commissioner or her friendship with the Dark Knight that made him feel this way; for some reason, he'd always felt that she had walked through the darkness in the years before they'd married. "Send my regards to Batman, and my thanks for keeping you here at my side. I owe a lot to him, saving you all those times." They kissed warmly before she took the keys and left.
A young man grabbed his jacket quickly as he checked the time.
Almost twelve-thirty already, he noticed, groaning. "Wayne's going to kill me."
"Meeting Mr. Wayne and Commissioner Gordon again?" his mother asked.
"Yeah," he answered. "I promised I'd keep up the tradition when I started college."
"Well, I'm glad to see that your friendship with Mr. Wayne has helped you stay on the good side of the police," she commented as he pulled his jacket over his Gotham University Knights sweatshirt. He almost bolted out the door when he realized he'd forgotten something.
"Where's my backpack?" he asked with almost panic.
His younger brother held up the tan bag. The elder brother unzipped it and sighed in relief, all the while keeping its contents out of sight.
"What do you keep in there that's so important?" the ten-year-old asked.
"None of your business, Matt," he answered, slinging the knapsack over his shoulder. "I'll be back!"
"Bye, Terry!" his mother called back. Matt, meanwhile, folded his arms and sulked. "What's wrong?"
"His job at Mr. Wayne's is so important that he doesn't have time for us anymore."
"I thought when you turned ten, you were too 'cool' for your big brother," she pointed out.
"Not too cool to ask him for help with homework and sports," he protested. "But now he's acting just like Dad. Work is more important to him now."
"Matt, you have to remember that Terry doesn't have as many friends as you do," Mrs. McGinnis explained. "When your dad died, Terry was extremely upset—he'd just argued with him earlier. Then his friendships started failing for one reason or another, and if not for Max and Mr. Wayne, he'd be just as friendless as he'd been when he got back from juvi-hall."
"Yeah, I know," Matt answered softly, remembering the harder days.
"Then show a little more support for him," she urged. "And I'll talk to him about spending more time with you." Matt nodded and left for his room.
Commissioner Barbara Gordon parked her car in a place where she knew it wouldn't be stolen or vandalized and walked her way over to a lone table in front of an old abandoned diner. An old friend sat there with his dog while a shivering young woman tried to start a fire in a trash bin.
"I'll take over from here, Max," she offered, taking the matches and lighting one. She then tossed it into the pile of newspaper, taking note of a front-page picture of Superman, Barda, Green Lantern, Warhawk, Micron, Static, and Aquagirl with Batman in the back. "Looks like your protégé is shying away from the press just as much as you did, Bruce."
"I wouldn't say 'just as much,'" Max argued. "I've looked back through archived photos of the old League, and it's practically impossible to find a picture of the original."
Bruce retained his stoic composure while Barbara smiled. It seemed now there were only four—possibly five—people with no real fear of Bruce: Max, Terry, Superman, and herself, with Static to some extent. Max reminded the former Batgirl of herself back in her prime. The only real difference was that she'd managed to avoid giving into the Bat. And Bruce hadn't even tried to recruit her, just like how Terry had stolen the Batsuit and made the decision alone. He had changed after Tim's kidnapping. At least one of these changes was for the better.
"I got a call from Tim today, and Dick," Barbara informed. "Did either of them call you?"
Bruce took a sip of his coffee. "Just Tim."
"Dick's still not talking to you?" she asked.
"It's hard to get over a grudge after forty years," he replied.
She shook her head. "He's even worse off than you. All of his friends have given up on him. Even his old flame Kory doesn't talk to him anymore. I think if not for my occasional calls, he wouldn't have contact with anyone."
"Kind of ironic that way," commented a new voice from the alley. They didn't bother to turn as Terry McGinnis, otherwise known as Batman, walked up to them and sat in a chair. "From what the both of you told me, Dick Grayson didn't want to become anything like you, Wayne. In the end, you're just the same."
"Only Dick hasn't got an errand boy to be Nightwing," Barbara half-joked.
"You're late, McGinnis," Bruce noted.
"Sorry," Batman answered. "Family issues."
"How'd you manage to get the night off?" Max asked in interest.
"I asked Superman to keep an eye on things for me," he replied.
Max laughed. "Something tells me the Jokerz won't want to mess with the Man of Steel. They get enough trouble from you."
Terry drank his coffee in almost the same way Bruce had, with much the same calmness and seeming lack of emotion. "I try to stay away from the Watchtower as much as I can. Too much time there, fighting all over the world can make you forget who you're supposed to be fighting for."
"That's a nice way of putting it," Barbara commented, "though I think it's because of that loner trait you share with Bruce."
"He's not as solitary as I was," Bruce informed. "It was impossible to get him to give up his social life."
"And I still haven't," Terry replied.
"Thank God for that," Max teased in between sipping her coffee. She then shivered. "It's freezing!"
"I know," Barbara answered. "I wish we could have this chat in a café, but…"
"Tradition," Bruce finished. "Jim and I used to share our coffee here every New Year's Eve. And every year he failed to beat me to the check."
"Except that last year," Barbara informed. "The year he knew he was dying. You let him take the bill that time. That meant a lot to him, Bruce. You were his hero, always saving his life. He always wanted to find a way to make it up to you, even if it meant paying your bill."
"And he was mine," Bruce replied. "Jim once said that he would have liked to have been like me, fighting crime on a more personal level. But he was the real hero. I've never found a man quite as dedicated to protecting the innocent as he was."
"Sounds like he meant a lot to you," Terry commented.
"He was the Commissioner's father and a lot like one to Mr. Wayne," Max explained.
"I know," he answered. "Which is why I wish I had a better relationship with my own father before he died."
"Your father was killed by Derek Powers, am I right?" Barbara answered. The young Batman nodded. "Is that why you took up the mask?"
"Yeah. And partly because I wanted to make up for the stuff I did when I was younger. I was a stupid kid back then."
"You're getting smarter now," Bruce told his heir. Barbara looked at him in surprise. If she recalled correctly, this was the first time he'd made such a compliment in front of the young man.
"Thanks," Terry answered. "That means a lot."
"Don't be too flattered," Bruce warned. "You still have a long way to go."
"Well, at least we've survived this much," Barbara commented. "Especially after the Joker incident earlier in the year."
"After that, Superman practically made me join the League," Terry commented. "He couldn't believe that someone as dangerous as the Joker had been around and the Watchtower's computers didn't pick him up."
"Sounds like your technology's faulty," Max commented to Bruce. "The Watchtower was made by your company, wasn't it?"
"With some upgrades from the old Wayne-Powers deal," he corrected.
"When in doubt, blame Powers," Terry observed. Bruce ignored him.
"You've also had some interesting team-ups this year," Max pointed out.
"Don't remind me," Terry replied. "I don't want to think about it."
"What do you mean?" Barbara asked.
"Two cases of time travel," Max explained. "First one with a teenage Static being nearly traumatized at Batman and Gear, and then the old Justice League meeting the new."
Barbara just barely suppressed a laugh. "The second must have been very interesting."
"I don't want to talk about it," Terry insisted. "The next time the League has to deal with time travelers, they're doing it alone." Barbara laughed this time.
"Well, this year, I'll do it," he decided, standing and holding up his coffee cup. "I'd like to propose a toast. To survival… May we survive to do this again next year."
Bruce raised his cup as well, followed by Barbara and Max. Their voices chorused in a cheer of "To survival!" before they lowered their cups and drank the toast. But there was no doubt in any of their minds that despite all of the danger they would face in the new year, they would survive to carry on the tradition.
I do not own Batman Beyond or Justice League Unlimited or any other D.C. series in connection to this. I wrote this under two assumptions: One, that Terry and Matt were around seventeen and nine, respectively, when we last saw them in the series; and two, that "Future Shock," Return of the Joker, and "The Once and Future Thing" all occurred in the same year—which isn't too implausible in the D.C. universe. And the idea of the Watchtower not picking up Joker's presence was my way of trying to explain the minor discrepancy created by the movie—after all, the Justice League used to fight the Joker, so wouldn't Superman have gotten involved if another enemy came back from the dead like Solomon Grundy had? And while I don't have much of a knowledge of the Teen Titans comic (that would be more of my friend Raven Nightstrider's territory), I had to make a mention of Starfire/Koriand'r as an old flame of Dick Grayson's.
Happy New Year!