Brick Ballads
Epilogue: "And Forever…"

The twelve graduating students of the Gotham City police academy's special program stood perfectly still in their single-file line, looking out at the audience. Today, they'd earned their badges; after six months of rigorous training, they were officers of Gotham City.

Matt watched his mentor, Barbara, as she delivered a speech to the families and friends gathered to watch the graduation. As she mentioned something about some students being "a real pain in the ass sometimes," he hid a grin, knowing she was referring to him. And finally, she presented the graduating class of March 2075 to a roar of applause. Matt spied his mother in the audience, along with Terry, Dana, and Bruce. Behind them were Kai, Akira, Merina, Rex, David, and Alene. David and Alene had been a bit confused when Matt introduced them to his friends from the League because he'd carefully avoided mentioning just who they were. Fortunately, they just assumed Kai was a friend from high school and the other three were friends he'd made through Kai, which was close enough to the truth anyway.

Finally, the ceremony was over, and the rest of the students went off to join their friends and family to celebrate. In the meantime, Matt strayed behind to talk to Barbara. He'd been worried about his assignment to her, afraid that someone would object to her singling out one cadet to train personally.

"Congratulations, Matt," she informed. "You should be proud—you're the second person in the Bat-family to join the force."

"Thanks," he replied. "And about my assignment?"

"Don't worry about it. I'm still going to train you, but I want you to go through the different areas of the job too. You'll start out small—traffic duty, security detail, just the same as any other graduate. Depending on your performance, I'll move you to more difficult jobs. But, yes, you are assigned to me."

"Okay. I was wondering."

"I had this all sorted out from the beginning," she assured. "Bruce isn't the only one who knows how to think ahead. Now, go celebrate. I've got some paperwork to fill out, thanks to you guys."

He laughed and answered, "Thanks, Barbara," before running off to his friends and family.

The first one he saw was Terry. Being sure to keep his voice low enough so that his mother, David, and Alene couldn't hear, Matt warned, "One more word about me being Batgirl Beyond, and you're dead." Terry laughed.

Dana carefully got to her feet, aided by Merina. She was seven months pregnant with a baby boy she and Terry planned to name Bruce Warren, and she was having a hard time getting around, but that didn't stop her from attending the ceremony.

"Congratulations," she said. "You finally made it."

"Yeah," he replied, grinning.

His mother grabbed him in a massive hug, crying and whispering, "I'm so proud of you." It was several minutes before she let go, but he wasn't too embarrassed. He'd just graduated; she could afford to act like this.

"How does it feel to be in the force?" Kai asked.

"Great," he answered. "I finally know where I'm going."

"Hey," Terry interrupted. "You guys head to the Manor for the party. I'll pick up the cake. Rex, you don't mind driving everyone?"

"No problem," he replied before Terry ran off. Matt watched him leave, knowing exactly what would happen. There was a cake, but there inevitably was a crime that Batman needed to stop. Terry would come back late and make up some excuse about traffic, and everything would go on as usual. It was just too usual a routine, sometimes. Looking at the slight worry on Dana's face, Matt realized she'd reached the same conclusion.

"Your brother's a nice guy, but kind of weird," Alene commented. "Is he always like this? Running off at random moments?"

"Always," Matt answered. "Otherwise he wouldn't be Terry." Walking over to Dana, he checked, "Are you okay?"

"I know he's going to be all right," she replied softly. "He always is, but I can't help but worry sometimes that one day he won't be. And someday, it's going to be our son doing the same."

"He'll be fine," Matt promised. "He's going to have two of the best teachers in the world to show him how to stay alive and sane."

"I know. And I'm glad you'll be in the force. Promise me you'll watch out for him when he puts on the mask."

"Of course," he answered. He meant it completely too. There was no way he would ever let his family come to harm.

And seventeen years later, the promise stayed with Commissioner Matt McGinnis as he watched his nephew fight off one of his own rogues. Bruce Warren McGinnis had just had his seventeenth birthday two weeks before, but he had been Batman for the past four months, so he'd had enough time to make some enemies. This particular one was a samurai calling himself Ronin. He'd injured two civilians before Batman arrived, and Bruce was determined to keep him from hurting anyone else. Right now, he was blocking Ronin's sword with his arms, almost falling over with the effort of trying to push him back.

Matt noticed one of his officers, a rookie cop, aiming his gun at Ronin. He put up a hand to warn him and shook his head. "You'll miss."

"But I can hit him," the officer protested.

"You'll miss," Matt insisted. "Batman's too close for you to hit Ronin. Wait."

Batman twisted out of the way as Ronin brought his sword down. With Ronin temporarily thrown off-balance, he fired two batarangs—one hitting Ronin's face, and the other striking his hand, forcing him to drop the sword. Realizing he was out of his element, Ronin didn't continue the fight. He bowed and ran off. Batman took off after him; all the while, Matt was thinking, Damn, he's got to be pissed.

Matt had been appointed Commissioner ten months earlier, which saved Terry the trouble of having to explain to his predecessor that a new Batman would be taking over. Matt had enjoyed working with his brother, but his nephew was harder at times. Bruce had a good heart and always wanted to do the right thing, but he didn't take his failures very well. Each time he failed at something, he worked twice as hard to improve himself. At first, the habit had been a good thing—he was doing better in school with his extra studying, and he was learning how to take care of various types of threats as Batman. But now, he was pushing himself to the brink of exhaustion—Matt could see it in the way he'd fought that night. He was going to have to say something to him soon.

Having finished cleaning up the scene, Matt returned to his office. He smiled briefly as he walked in to see his desk. Barbara would have had plenty to say to him about worrying about his nephew, and she'd have even more to say to the boy about his bad habits. But she was gone now, dead for two years. She'd never gotten to see his appointment to her old position, but he knew she would have been proud.

The first generation was gone. As far as Matt knew, Grayson had been first, because his grandson, Carter, had shown up in his place at Bruce's funeral with instructions from his late grandfather not to accept any of the money he'd left them. Instead, he offered it to Matt and Terry, who had each inherited several million dollars. Barbara and Drake did the same, and the shocked brothers decided that the best thing to do was to donate the other shares to charity. Neither of them lived too lavishly, even though Terry lived in the Manor with Dana and their kids, Bruce, Rena, and Vincent. Matt, meanwhile, had a comfortable life with his wife, Alene, and daughter, Lynn. Both families knew the Batman secret, if not certain parts of the Batman Beyond secret—Matt, for one, still refused to tell Terry about the clones—so there were hardly ever odd questions about disappearances during holidays and birthdays. In fact, when Bruce spent most of his recent birthday fighting criminals, the rest of the family brought him his cake and presents when he got back.

A knock at the window brought Matt back to the present. He opened it to let in his nephew, who promptly removed his mask to reveal a cut on his temple.

"Thanks, Uncle Matt," he said. "Do you have any bandages?"

Matt pulled the first aid kit out from under his desk. "Right here."

"Thanks." Sitting in the chair in front of the desk, he opened up the kit and took out a roll of bandages. A small adhesive bandage went over the cut on his head while the roll went around one of his now ungloved wrists. "He got away," he reported somberly as he wrapped up his wrist.

"It's all right," Matt assured.

"No, it's not," he insisted. "I'm Batman. I should be able to do more."

"I thought your dad got you over that hero worship thing," Matt commented. When Bruce was thirteen, he'd tried stealing the suit to get back at the abusive parents of one of his friends. Terry had stopped him before he got the mask on, explaining that even though he wanted to make them pay, he had to leave it to the police. Whatever he had said apparently made his son realize Batman's limits and showed him the human side behind the mask. Unfortunately, Matt didn't think that Bruce managed to accept his own limits.

"I'm the fourth in a line of heroes. I've got a lot to live up to." He tied his bandage tightly—perhaps more tightly than he'd intended, by his wince.

"You'll find your own way."

"I know."

"Your mom and dad are worried. They think you're pushing yourself too hard. Even I've noticed it."

"I know. I try not to worry them, but…"

"But you feel like you're in your dad's shadow, just like you said. It's okay; I felt it too when I first put on the suit."

Bruce looked at his uncle with surprise. "You did?" Matt nodded. "How did you deal with it?"

"Well, Kai will give you the whole story if you ask him, but to spare you the details, I made the decisions I thought were right, even if I thought Terry would be against them. It wasn't the smartest thing in the world, but it was my choice."

"So what you're saying is that I need to step out of Dad's shadow?"

"I'm not saying anything," Matt replied. "You've got to figure that out for yourself. I promised your mom before you were born that I'd watch out for you. But I can't do anything if you don't take care of yourself, understand?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Uncle Matt." He put his glove and mask back on and walked toward the window. "I'm going home—going to try and fix things so I don't hurt anyone, or myself for that matter."

"I'm here if you want to talk."

"Thanks," he replied before flying out the window.

Matt closed the window after him, looking out at Gotham's skyline. Three heroes had found their destinies as they fought to protect that city, and now, he couldn't help but feel that a fourth had found his too.