I wrote this way back when. My first completed, 'published' fan fiction. Whoopee! Hey, it was a thrill for me:D It's been on two other sites, one of them long defunct. I'm putting it here now because I tied parts of this into my new one, so if you're reading that one then it wouldn't hurt to read this one too---which you might do since you clicked into it and are reading this right now. Duh. Hope you enjoy it.
Batman dropped in amongst the trio of would-be thieves. They scattered like marbles dropped on a smooth surface at his sudden presence. Two were brought down quickly with bat-bolas. The third was fast, already disappearing around the corner of the distant door. Batman pursued. Within sight of the fleeing criminal he whipped out another bat-bola, watching in satisfaction as it wrapped neatly around his prey's legs. That particular thief was promptly flung face first onto the ground.
Loping forward, Batman intended to drag this one back to the others reclining in the store to make it easier for the police. He gripped the stunned criminal by the arms and roughly hauled him to his feet, catching sight of the worried guilt-ridden face of a young male. Recognition momentarily froze Batman with shock.
"M--" His jaws clicked shut on what he was about to say.
Terry could hardly comprehend that his own brother was standing before him. They stood almost eye to eye in height now, another fact he had not yet come to grips with. What ever happened to his 'little' brother?
His brother, caught in a criminal act by Batman who knew the routine after years of practice on how to handle this type. The procedure was to let the police take over at this point. They would decide the proper punishment. But this would be sixteen-year old Matt McGinnis' third offense and that usually meant incarceration. Not a pleasant experience. Terry remembered his own three months of enforced confinement.
What should he do? Leave Matt to face the consequences of his actions and end up hurting their mother again? The fact that both her sons would then have a prison record did not cast a good reputation on her as a parent or was something she could be remotely proud of. The fact that he had more than made up for his bad actions in the past by becoming Batman was one she could never know about or find comfort in.
Terry knew where his thoughts were leading. He would have to let Matt go- with a warning and a renewed vigilance on his part as the older brother to steer Matt back onto a more proper path. He heard Matt question him in a worried voice.
"What are you going to do to me?" Terry stared hard at him letting his Batman tone of voice come out as ominous as he could make it.
"What do you think I should do?"
"Let me go?"
Terry ground his teeth silently together. Matt was not even willing to accept any responsibility.
"You broke the law. Now you have to pay the price."
"I never did anything like this before." Matt whined disgracefully. "Those guys talked me into it. They said it was just going to be fun."
"Breaking, entering and stealing? That's fun?" Batman's voice grated angrily. "At whose expense!"
Matt had the decency to cringe a little. Terry gave his bound up brother a hard shake for emphasis.
Matt caught his balance at Batman's sudden release. He stood numbly while the cowled crusader removed the rope with a deft flick of his wrist and a baleful warning.
"If I ever catch you doing anything like this again I'm going to strap you to the Gotham Spire and leave you hanging there for a week. Got that!"
"Yes sir." Matt mumbled humbly, picturing himself poised on the point of the tallest structure in Gotham while the sun baked him during the day and night cold made him shiver endlessly.
Hobbling down the last few steps of the cave staircase Bruce noticed the subject matter Terry was gazing at on the huge computer screen. For a moment he thought the displayed photo and side-barred criminal record was Terry's. As distance lessened he realized the photo was of Matt McGinnis.
The brothers maintained some striking resemblances to each other. Hair color, some facial features and general body structure. But at sixteen Matt was already as tall his older brother and had the potential of greater natural physical strength.
Absorbed in his thoughts, Terry was unaware of Bruce's presence and nearly jumped out of the chair when the elder spoke.
"I take it he's in trouble again?"
"Geez Bruce- don't sneak up on me like that." Terry remarked lightly getting up to offer the chair to Bruce who took it with a patient grin replying.
"It's been a long time since I've snuck anywhere."
He looked up to see his young protégé staring distracted at the screen again. "So what has he done now?"
Terry splayed a callused hand through his black hair, sighing heavily. "I caught him, along with two others, robbing Maul's Jewelers last night."
"And you let him go," Bruce finished in his everyday monotone.
"Yep." There was remorse in the soft reply and a hesitant silence before he added. "Did I do the wrong thing?"
"Time will tell." Bruce answered quietly.
A week later on patrol, Terry was pleasantly surprised to hear Bruce's voice instead of Max's come over the Batmobile's link. He replied immediately, "Hey boss. Thought you weren't going to get back for a couple of days yet?"
"The deal went through without a hitch. WayneTech is now the titled owner of Siddon Manufacturing."
"You don't sound too happy about it. Too easy of a challenge that you couldn't get any satisfaction out of it?"
"Too easy period. And since when do I ever sound happy? Also I'd appreciate it if you'd stop psychoanalyzing me. Save it for the classroom."
Ever since Terry began a college psych course he had made sage comments like the latter trying to read things into Bruce's every sentence and nuance of tone and it was beginning to irritate the elderly man. "Better yet why don't you use all that new found knowledge to figure out your brother?"
"I already have. He's spoiled and has way too much time on his hands."
"So what are you going to do about it?"
There was a telltale pause before Terry answered.
"Maybe I should send him to you to get straightened out. You seem to have the knack."
"Spare me please. Having to deal with one McGinnis in a lifetime is more than anyone should have to put up with."
"Very funny." Terry replied to the gibe.
"I don't hear either of us laughing."
"Okay, you made your point. It's just... I don't know what to do with him Bruce. I've given him all the standard fatherly lectures up until he turned fourteen. After that he didn't want to listen to me anymore."
"Have you tried listening to him?"
"I would, but... he's made it clear lately he wouldn't bother giving me the time of day much less talk to me about where he's at. I think he hates me."
"Any ideas why?"
Terry made an exasperated sound before answering, "Look- I don't think now is the time to be talking about this. You must have contacted me for a reason. What is it?"
"Police reports indicate that tenants living near an abandoned building on east Weld Ave. are calling in about trespassers inside of it. You're near that area. I thought you might want to check it out."
"Sure." He replied glumly. "I should be able to manage that." He steered the car in the proper direction.
"There'll come a time when Matt will want to talk. Make sure you're there for him when he does."
"Yeah, I hope when that time comes it won't take place between the barriers of a jail cell."
Weld Avenue was in a high-rise neighborhood that had seen better days. There was a grassroots movement beginning there that hoped to restore the buildings to their former glory. From what Terry could see it had a long way to go. The abandoned twelve-story building, formerly an office /residential complex, that required Batman's scrutiny, had become uninhabitable.
A restricting barrier had been placed around its perimeters to prevent danger to citizens who might want to explore and from any others who might want to use the interior for illegal purposes.
Terry left the Batmobile in an inconspicuous spot and on foot made an unobtrusive approach to the place.
Listening in for any comments from Terry, Bruce heard the dread surprise in his murmured, "Oh no."
"It's Matt." His voice was flat. There was a long silence before Terry said hesitantly. "Maybe the police should handle this Bruce. I don't want to deal with him like this."
"You could use this as an opportunity. Maybe Matt would confide things to Batman that he won't to Terry."
He heard Terry's heavy sigh after a pause and reluctant agreement.
"Okay. Wish me luck." He muttered and walked towards his brother who was anxiously glancing around at the buildings entrance and unaware of Batman approaching behind him. Stopping two feet away Terry stated with an ease he did not feel.
Matt ducked and whirled to face Batman, the expression on his face marking him guilty before he was even charged. Terry watched Matt's throat move as he swallowed nervously and stammered.
"You sure get around. What are you doing here?"
"Ah-- checking out the neighborhood?"
"I asked first." Terry waited while Matt shoved his hands into pants pockets and made a furtive glance towards the doorway before replying.
"I'm waiting for someone. He should have been out by now."
"You and your friend are trespassing. Don't either of you know how to read?" Batman gestured to the many signs posted around the barrier.
"He's not my friend." Matt objected strongly.
A dash of movement in the distant street behind Batman caught Matt's eye. "Hey," he exclaimed softly at recognition of the man who was running rapidly away.
Batman pivoted in the direction where Matt was looking catching a glimpse of the figure before it disappeared from view.
"Yeah." Confusion was in Matt's reply.
"Guess you were telling the truth about him not being a friend. So what were you doing with--?"
Batman crouched and tensed reflexively when a loud muffled boom resounded in the air and rocked the ground where they stood. Terry heard Bruce in his ear remarking on the sound and saw Matt's astonished look before his brother took off running toward the street. Two more thundering booms rocked the air and ground, one right after the other. Batman's attention was suddenly riveted upward on the twelve story building he stood near.
In slow motion it appeared to be swaying and writhing. Another series of muffled explosions and the structure began to topple like an unsteady drunk passing out from a standing position.
Batman whirled about searching for Matt. The instant he caught sight of him he realized his kid brother was running in the same direction as the collapsing building and would not escape being crushed. With the thrust from his boot jets Batman hurled himself towards Matt. In seconds he had a firm grip beneath Matt's arms and around his chest and was hurtling them both away.
It was a race with the collapsing building and they were losing. On his own Terry figured he would have won it, but carrying Matt changed everything. The thrusters in his boots were designed to lift and maneuver one man's weight within certain parameters. There was no booster adjustment available to compensate for unforeseen circumstances like this. Maybe he should discuss future suit design change with Bruce the next chance they had.
Terry decided to change tactics. Since escape was not possible a defensive type of maneuver could be the solution to head off their imminent destruction. Innate survival instinct had him changing directions. He angled away from the main fall and upward in hopes that altitude would buy some time. In the chaos of falling materials he glimpsed a large, as yet, intact section of reinforced wall and freed an arm to grab for it and position it as a shield of sorts as they were being pummeled downwards by the gravity propelled debris despite his best efforts to rise above it.
Gradually overwhelmed by the continuous battering Batman felt his strength weakening. He released his hold on their shredded wall shield and hung tight to Matt desperately trying to use his own batsuit shielded body to protect his brother. He felt Matt's tensed body go limp before his own consciousness left him.
Bruce slumped back in his chair after trying unsuccessfully for several minutes to reestablish contact with Terry. He fought the mind numbing turn of events and made himself think. Straightening in the chair he let his hands work the keyboard and felt renewed hope at sight of the information appearing on the giant monitor.
It was a detailed map of that portion of the city with a light blinking in one tiny area that told Bruce the tracer implanted in the batsuit was operational. A sign that indicated Terry might be all right even if they were unable to communicate.
The signal remained in place while Bruce watched and waited. After fifteen minutes he decided it was necessary to do more than sit here. Time to alert Maxine to the situation and travel to the sight and see for himself how bad it might be. A familiar tightening in his chest forced him to relax and fish medication from his pants pocket. As he swallowed the tiny pills Bruce vowed he would deal with the circumstances, as always, logically and unemotionally.
Terry coughed. An unconscious reflex. The first sign telling him he was still alive. Opening his eyes revealed complete darkness. He moved an arm to brush the weight of dirt from his cowled face and began to feel the overall ache of a body finally registering that it had just been abused. Familiar sensation for Batman and one he considered a good sign when weighing the alternative.
Numerous uncomfortable pressure points across his back from where he lay compelled him to sit up. Sudden pain across his ribs made him grunt and lie back again. Not cracked ribs again, he thought irritably, remembering the same happening the time he had to deal with Zander. Maybe he should make improvements, ala the Stalker, and have his ribs reinforced with titanium alloy. One less problem to deal with anyway.
Carefully this time, favoring the injury, he eased himself up. Dirt and rubble slid off. His head touched a surface above. An exploring hand told him it was a thick piece of splintered wood. Must be what was left of the section of wall he had used as a shield for-- Matt! He'd forgotten about Matt. Where was he? Look for him idiot! He should be close by.
He had done his best to protect his brother. Kept him close. Tried to shield him with his own body at the end. The batsuit had protected him, but Matt had no such advantage. He had to be okay. Terry refused to imagine the worse.
He switched on the cowl's night vision. It flickered on and off for a few seconds before stabilizing to the on mode. He began the search and in seconds spotted a human shape a few feet beyond his easy reach, half buried in rubble.
The prone form was lying perfectly still. Infrared vision showed blood oozing from a wound on Matt's temple.
"Matt!" he called out urgent voice muffled in the cave-like setting and half slid, half crawled over the rough surface ignoring pain the movement triggered until he was beside his younger brother.
Repeatedly Terry called out while he quickly pulled and pushed away the debris covering Matt's lower body. None of it was of a magnitude that it could have caused serious injury. Gently he rolled Matt onto his back, keeping head and shoulders cushioned against his own body. "Come on Matt." he cajoled breathless, desperate. Hearing a low moan and seeing his brother's eyes blink slowly open had Terry bowing his head and releasing a relieved sigh.
He tried raising Bruce on the link, but his efforts produced absolutely nothing, not even static. While figuring the circuitry must have been damaged in the fall, Terry was not surprised to note the night vision mode suddenly become inoperative. Tapping the switch again reactivated it, but it continued to flicker unsteadily. Terry's hand went to the utility belt to unclip a small portable lantern and turned it on. The powerful beam lit up the area around them.
"Batman?" Matt murmured in confusion and began to sit up.
"Careful." Terry warned as he helped his brother up. "There's not a lot of head room here. You okay?"
"Yeah, I think so. Where are we?" Matt's wondering voice was groggy as he squinted to see beyond the limits of Batman's handheld light. The darkness seemed complete. Batman's voice was hushed in the stilled air.
"I'm not sure. A basement level maybe from looking at the thickness of the concrete around here"
"But the whole building seemed like it was falling on us. How could we have ended up here?"
"I don't know. Let's figure that one out some other day. Right now we need to find a way out."
Matt noted fatigue in Batman's voice and something else in it he could not quite identify. His fuzzy mind was struggling to comprehend the situation he was in.
"If we're in the basement does that mean there's twelve stories of rubble on top of us?"
"Let's hope not." Batman stated grimly.
"You're going to be able to get us out right?" Matt asked with the awareness of being in the presence of a hero. Heroes always came out on top, always got the job done. Somehow Batman's answer lacked the enthusiasm Matt was expecting.
"It's going to take both of us working together, staying calm and using rational thinking."
"That doesn't sound very reassuring."
"I'm not going to lie to you kid. Since I've never made it a habit of climbing out of collapsed buildings I don't know what it'll take."
"You're saying..." Matt swallowed. "...we might never get out?"
The pointy- eared cowled head shook in the negative. "I'm saying since you're probably partly to blame for getting us into this mess that you should be willing to accept your share of the responsibility for getting us out."
There was a hint of impatience in Batman's tone, but Matt could read nothing else from the covered face. The slit red eyes glowed in the darkness.
"Sure." Matt muttered, tentatively touching at the sore spot on his head. "What can I do to help?"
Assessing their surroundings left Terry with a feeling of unmitigated frustration at guessing how serious this situation just might be. He gazed pointedly at his brother.
"Correct me if I'm wrong about this." His vexation came across loud and clear. "Was it more than a coincidence that your non-friend was seen running away just before this building decided to blow itself up?"
He suddenly realized he was not using Batman's voice. Matt did not seem to notice as he hung his head in silence. Subduing his anger at surmising what part Matt might have played in this mess Terry lowered his voice properly before saying.
"You don't have to say anything to me kid, but once we're out of here you'll be doing some major explaining to the police." And at the moment he was angry enough to follow through on that threat if the opportunity would present itself.
"It's Matt." Matt said softly with an uncertain glance at Batman who stared at him for a moment before nodding.
"Okay Matt. Let's get busy."
Matt wanted to cry.
They had spent hours digging, picking and crawling their way through the maze of rubble trying to find an out. Some sign-- any sign besides darkness and jumbled barriers of debris and stale unmoving air that would tell them they were getting somewhere. Elation had filled him only minutes ago when they had stumbled into a hallway relatively untouched by the destruction all around it. The hall led to a stair and the stairs ended abruptly one flight up. A monstrous slab of concrete had settled across the doorway.
Matt slumped down on the steps, closed his eyes tight and rubbed at the dull ache in his temples. When he looked up he saw Batman studying the area, peering and poking around the cracks between door and slab.
"Maybe there's nothing behind it and it'll just tip backwards if we push."
"You're kidding." Matt muttered in tired disbelief. "That thing must weigh tons."
"We won't know unless we try. Come on Matt. Help me here."
Matt studied Batman in the glow of the light. The man had expended enormous amounts of energy to get them this far. Matt could not see his face or hear any noise of discomfort come from him, yet his body language suggested he was dealing with pain. If he was trying to set a good example for Matt he was succeeding. The youth could hardly succumb to hopelessness when the other was trying so hard.
Pushing himself up on leaden legs Matt joined Batman poised by the slab.
"Ready?" the masked man glanced across at him.
Matt nodded and put his shoulder against the cool, rough surface, mentally rising to the challenge and hoping a rush of adrenaline would give him strength. He heard Batman's 'Go' and shoved at the seemingly immovable object with everything he had. Batman's strained, breathless words held excitement.
"It's moving. All the way Matt-- now!"
Matt could feel it shifting. He dug in harder, shoulders and thighs trembling in response.
Matt could feel it. The slab was tipping over center. Just brace and push a little longer, a little bit more...
A sudden sharp groan from Batman and everything was lost. Matt sensed all the effort they had expended being pushed back at him.
"No!" he gasped trying to hold it in place.
They had been so close… so close.
The concrete crunched to a halt in its original position. Matt leaned against the unyielding surface breathing hard, limbs weak with exhaustion. A muffled grunt compelled him to glance down at Batman now slumped against the wall. He slid down to squat beside the hurting hero.
"I'm not sure." Batman straightened carefully, right hand pressed to the left side of his chest. "Felt like I just got stabbed."
He tried to draw in a deep breath stopping abruptly to hunch again with a pained grunt and mumbled in annoyance. "If my ribs were cracked before they must be broke now."
Something else felt wrong inside, but he did not want to speculate on what it might be. Instinct said he had better ease up to keep things from worsening. Terry made a decision. It was not a hard one considering the direness of their situation. Continuing to wear the suit would be a waste of time and effort at this point. His body was not functioning well enough to take full advantage of the thing. Time to take it off. Time for his brother to discover the secret.
Even the simple movement of taking the cowl off was aggravating to the injury. It was becoming impossible to ignore. Sweat-soaked hair fell back to his scalp in a tangled heap after the mask pulled free. His face felt cooler even in the warm, dead air. Laying his head back against the wall Terry eyed Matt who was staring wide-eyed, jaw agape.
He managed a sickly smile for his shocked sibling and murmured softly, "Hey brother."
It was sort of amusing to see the play of emotions crossing the youth's features.
Matt shook his head in disbelief and squinted, peering closer. His mouth moved, but took a moment before he could force the words out.
"I don't believe it."
He did not want to believe it. His brother was Batman! Terry was Batman! All his illusions about what kind of person it took to be a hero were shattered into a million pieces. There was nothing special about his brother. He'd always acted just like a... a brother. All these years and he never had a clue.
Matt's gaze flicked from Terry's face to the red bat emblem on the suit a half dozen times before shaking his head again as if trying to clear the sight from his eyes. Finally he turned away and settled fully to the floor.
"I'm sorry Matt." Terry uttered resignedly. "I was hoping it wouldn't come to this."
Matt was laughing when he faced Terry again. "This is a hallucination right? Caused by the knock on my head. That makes sense. Yeah. Or heck! Maybe it's just a nightmare? Being trapped in this place. My mind is warning me I'd better shape up. Stop getting into trouble or I'll end up in prison- a place where I'll be trapped. And you... you're like some kind of omen or something. Big Brother is watching me and he's disguised as Batman!"
He guffawed as he stretched an arm to slap the Batman emblem on Terry's chest. Terry winced, falling away from the hurting blow.
"Get a grip Matt." he barked sternly. "You're not dreaming. This is all real!"
"No!" Matt objected wide-eyed. "It can't be." He turned away again.
Terry frowned realizing the disappointment he felt at Matt's reaction. He had not known what to expect, but somehow this was not even close to anything he might imagine. Trying to draw a deep breath again proved useless. He stopped the effort before the pain became severe. Shallow, slow breathing felt the best. He studied Matt's back for a few minutes debating when to tell him what he had in mind. It made no sense to wait.
"You're going to have to wear this suit Matt. It's the only chance we have for getting out."
Dirt scratched as Matt spun around. "Why?" Anger and fear were laced together in his tone.
"The suit is designed to enhance the wearer's own strength almost ten times beyond its usual limits. Since I'm not the strongest one here anymore it would be advantageous for both of us if you put it on."
Matt shook his head vehemently, wide eyes focused on the large red emblem across Terry's chest. "No. I don't want to." he stated flatly.
Terry frowned impatiently, Matt's obstinate reply made him sound like a seven-year old refusing to obey a parent. Sighing he began the process of removing his costume. Gloves first, then the utility belt. He set them beside the cowl then reached for the hidden clasp at the suits neckline pulling it downwards to unpeel it from his body. Shrugging out of the sleeves like he usually did proved to be a mistake. Severe pain stabbed across his chest momentarily paralyzing him until he forced himself to relax.
Matt was staring askance in his direction. He remarked tight voiced, reproachful. "Why didn't you say before you were hurt this bad?"
"Cause it wasn't this bad till we tried moving that slab." Terry shot back, his own anger rising inexplicably. "What good would it do to complain anyway? It's not like you could do anything about it."
"Right." Matt clipped. "Doing the impossible is for heroes like you. So- when are you going to get us out of here?"
There was accusation in his question. The deference and respect that Matt had held towards Batman was no longer in evidence. Instead it was the older/ younger brother relationship that was in place now. The one that had become severely strained in the last months dealing with Matt's string of 'troubles'.
Terry grit is teeth, staring intent at his brother who had the patented look on his face that had always irked Terry in the past. That smug, expectant expression just waiting for a fist to be shoved into it. Forcing himself to relax Terry informed his brother with assurance.
"I'm not going to get us out of here. You are."
"Schway." Matt murmured amazement at the feel of the batsuit covering his body.
Terry grinned at hearing the awe in Matt's voice. The suit was a marvelous creation. The memory of his first time in it would never be forgotten. That tingling charged feeling that seemed to stimulate every nerve ending in his body. Giving him a sense that he was so light and energized- that he could accomplish anything. The sensation faded after a few minutes and he had had to remind himself how much stronger he was with it on. He had wrecked a few things before the reminder came without conscious thought.
"Be careful Matt. You don't have any idea how strong you are right now."
"What can I try it out on?" he asked eagerly. "Which way are we going from here?"
"Before you do anything let me explain some of its features so you don't accidentally trigger something that might be dangerous. Especially under these conditions."
It was hours before Matt's elation would be worn away. With his own strength magnified many times he felt superhuman. And he was when he wore the suit. The feeling of invincibility gave him new hope. Momentarily forgotten was the claustrophobic environment, stale air, sweat, dirt, hands bruised from clawing at debris, knees aching from crawling over endless tangled terrain and annoying bouts of coughing.
They worked together without talking- at least Matt did not speak to Terry unless to acknowledge an order or plan of action for their next step. Terry's growing physical discomfort was compounded mentally by his brother's silent anger. When their gazes did meet on occasion Terry saw only resentment and hostility in Matt's eyes. He did not understand it. Not totally. Some shock and some anger maybe, but why the total cold shoulder?
So he was Batman. Big deal. Matt had always seemed to admire the hero. Why the change just because he knew who was beneath the costume now? Did Matt hate him- Terry- that much? As siblings they had not always seen eye to eye on things especially as Matt entered his teen years, but they were brothers. Like it or not there was a bond between them. The kind of bond that should help them both deal more easily with the situation they were in.
He finally questioned Matt when they rested in an area that looked like it once was an office. Settled opposite each other among the rubble, a few minutes passed before Terry's breathing slowed enough for him to speak.
"Talk to me Matt. I--"
The feel of slight vibration stirring the rubble around him interrupted Terry. Reaching out an arm he touched the exposed wall he was leaning against feeling the sensation on his palm. The vibration increased to a low rumble. Dirt and fine pieces of debris began to rain down on them. He heard Matt's alarmed voice.
The rumble became louder. Everything around them began to shift. Chaos stirred their little world. It trembled and shook the already loosened building materials down with renewed vigor on top of them. Terry scrambled towards Matt through the confusion and shouted above the din.
"Put the cowl on!"
It might not be much protection against a whole building falling on top of his head, but it was better than nothing. Looking terrified, Matt was covering his head with his arms. Terry shoved his brother's arms aside and tried pulling the cowl up into place without success. Falling debris and fading light thwarted his efforts. He saw Matt eyeing him in confusion. He yanked on the cowl and shouted again.
"Put it on!"
Lamplight faded in the swirling dust. Terry could not hear anything but the deafening rumble. His hands groped for Matt, found the warm body, forced it downwards and covered it with his own.
Noise and movement subsided.
A fit of coughing had Terry lifting away from Matt's huddled form. He was vaguely aware of his brother's hacking in the murky, dust-filled background while he struggled to lessen the spasms that fired chest pain with every breath. The shine of the lamplight brightened as the dust settled. Terry's coughing eased and he slumped over exhausted onto the blanket of fallen debris trying to catch his breath. He must have passed out for a minute because the next thing he knew Matt was leaning over him. His worried visage was caked with dust as was the suit, bat emblem on his chest looking more pink than red. Terry lifted a leaden arm up to brush the dirt off the emblem. He grinned, his dust-clogged throat made his voice come out a croak.
"Gotta keep this part clean... so everybody knows who you are."
With a final pass of his hand he brought it up to give the chin on Matt's apprehensive face a playful cuff. "Come on twip. Cheer up."
Matt scowled and jerked his head away saying grumpily. "Give me a reason and I will."
"We're still alive."
"For how much longer!" he snapped, fear easy to read in his eyes and expression. With shaking hand he smeared dirt from his forehead onto his hair. "I'm scared Terr. Really... scared."
"It's okay to be scared." Terry murmured grimly. "Just don't let it stop you from doing what's got to be done."
He began to sit up and felt Matt's trembling grip on his shoulders helping him. He bit back a groan not wanting to add to Matt's worries.
Terry grabbed the flashlight and studied their newly arranged surroundings while Matt sat dejectedly staring at nothing. Despite all the negative activity Terry found that it had worked in their favor. A gaping hole had opened in the direction they wanted to go.
"We're good to go here Matt. Come on."
Looking back he saw Matt remain disconsolately unmoved. Crawling over beside him Terry touched his shoulder.
"Matt- let's go."
"Do you believe in God Terr?" he asked dully still staring unfocused into space.
Hanging his head tiredly for a moment Terry forced himself into 'cheerleader' mode. He squeezed Matt's shoulder reassuringly and said with confidence. "We will get out of here Matt. Don't you think any different."
When the words had no effect he tried a different tact. "Hey." he chuckled knowingly and tried not to spoil the effect by a cough that threatened. "You gotta remember who you're with here. I've been in situations as bad as and even worse than this before. I know everything seems hopeless right now, but trust me... when you least expect it things change for the better."
Matt eyed him curiously, the hint of a smile showing. "I bet you got some really good stories to tell."
A sense of relief filling him at his brother's rallying, Terry smiled. "I think there's one or two you might find interesting."
They were resting again after making approximately twenty-five feet of headway in two hours of clearing away and shoring up a path. Feeling weak and drained, Terry managed to dredge up the energy to keep Matt's mind off their situation by asking questions he had been longing to ask anyway.
"What happened Matt? How'd you get involved in this?"
Matt's face took on a bored, grim look. He avoided Terry's gaze as he replied. "I'm paying off a debt I owe."
"What kind of debt?"
"As if there's more than one kind." Matt scoffed in disgust, but he answered anyway. "Gambling of course."
"Thirty." Matt still would not look at his brother who puzzled over the insubstantial amount.
Matt was looking at him now as if he were an idiot, shaking his head disapprovingly. "Obviously you've never gambled. You couldn't even get into a game with thirty credits."
"So you owe what--- thirty..." Terry thought of the appropriate word to go with it, gaze turning incredulous when it came to him. "Thousand?"
Matt humbled himself enough to look a little guilty. Terry found his voice again.
"Where could you get that kind of money?"
"I won it--" Matt shrugged. "Then lost it even faster."
"You're slam'in me."
"Why would I make something like that up?" the younger McGinnis replied angrily. "You think I'm proud of all the grief I've caused Mom? I tried stealing to get the money--"
Matt frowned suddenly. "But I guess you know all about that. At the time it seemed the best thing to do. Maybe I should have told her the truth right away, but asking her to go in debt to pay off my debt didn't seem right. They said I could pay the debt off in other ways-- so that's what I was doing when..." His voice trailed off to a mumble at the end.
"So..." Terry gazed at his brother, disapproval evident. "...you are responsible for blowing this heap."
"It wasn't just me." Matt protested vehemently. "Someone else was in charge. They told me what to do and I did it. I don't know anything about explosives." He grimaced while Terry continued to stare at him as if he were some kind of monster. "There wasn't anyone in the place. We walked through it. It was empty except for a bunch of bugs and rats."
"And me." Terry added quietly. "It was a trap for Batman and you were the bait Matt."
"How could they know if you'd even come here?"
"Probably didn't know, but decided to get it ready just in case."
"Why would they want to kill Batman?"
"Do you really need me to answer that one Matt?" Terry replied with a rueful quirk of his mouth.
Looking thoughtful, Matt was quiet for awhile before saying. "Must be why they said doing it would pay off the whole debt."
"That makes sense." Terry concurred dryly. "Hard to collect anything from a dead man."
Silence settled between them.
After awhile Terry remarked cautiously. "You could have come to me."
"Oh right." Matt sneered. "Mom and I see you what-- an hour every week or two? She's so grateful you stop by I wouldn't have the heart to take your presence away from the few minutes you allow her in your oh-so-busy schedule." He fingered the cowl hanging at the back of his neck. "I don't know if knowing the reason you're never around makes up for any of it."
"You could have told me when I picked you up at the police station."
It was Matt's turn to look incredulous. "Don't you remember how mad you were at me when Mom admitted to you that that was my second offense?"
He saw Terry's smile come gradually.
"Yeah, you're right. After I got done yelling at you I realized I sounded just like Dad. When he was like that with me I couldn't get a word in edgewise. Not that it mattered even when I did."
Another long silence ensued where Matt could easily hear the faint rasp that marked Terry's every breath. For the first time throughout this whole ordeal he was more scared for Terry than he was for himself.
"I'm sorry Matt." Terry murmured. "For not being there for you-- and Mom. I just get caught up in everything and forget-- my priorities."
"It's okay." Matt muttered looking away. Now was not the time to tell his brother how much he resented him having dropped out of their lives this past year.
The emergency vehicle lights revolved continuously casting huge pulsing shadows on the surroundings. Wind had shifted again and acrid smoke was wafting into Maxine's pensive face. Shivering in the predawn cold she looked down at Bruce sitting beside her.
"When are you going to tell their mother? She must be wondering where Matt is by now. If she can't locate him the first person she'll go to help for is Terry and when she can't reach him the next logical choice--"
"Is me. I'm well aware of that young lady." Bruce replied in irritation. "I'd like to be able to give her some solid hope before having to inform her where her sons are right now."
Max nodded agreement then asked the question that had been on her mind for hours.
"What do you think their chances are?"
Bruce steepled his hands on his lap before clasping them together tightly.
"With the suit on Terry would have better odds than Matt. Mostly it depends on where they ended up after the dust finally settled."
Matt's anguished shout echoed Terry's silent disappointment. Another dead end. He bent over to ease another wave of nausea while Matt ranted about the unfairness of their situation. He understood how close to hysteria his brother was. Being angry was better than babbling helpless in fear. He had to be strong for Matt. To keep his hope alive even though at this point he was not sure he actually felt any himself. He could not recall a time when he ever felt this lousy. Then again--his mind had made a habit of blocking out those unpleasant experiences.
Terry straightened and tried gingerly rubbing the tightness from his chest.
"Take it easy Matt." he murmured wishing he could take a decent breath. "We still have options."
"Like what?" Lamp light showed the sweat shine on Matt's dirt streaked young face.
"Well, we haven't tried up or down yet. And the explosives in the belt could be used to make us a different path."
"Explosives?" Matt looked in surprise at the utility belt fastened snugly around his waist. "In here? Wow. Why didn't you mention them before? We could have blasted our way out by now."
"With a good chance of being buried in the attempt." Terry pointed out calmly, his scratchy voice becoming weaker the more he talked. "The explosives are a last ditch option. We'll try other ways first." He eased himself to the ground. "Let's rest for a minute while we figure out what to do next."
"I don't want to rest." Matt declared irritably. "I want to get out of here."
He looked down at his brother who was stiffly settling himself against a pile of broken concrete, bent steel beams and dirt. Terry's eyes closed immediately and Matt noted worriedly the rapid respirations that moved his chest up and down. "Tell me where I should try next."
"You decide." Terry replied feebly. "I need to rest."
Coughing and breathing hard, Matt carefully shoved the last piece of shattered lumber out of his way. He felt rivulets of sweat running down his back beneath the confines of the suit. The thing did not seem to have any kind of ventilation. Dumb thought Matt. Of course there's nothing left in this hell hole to ventilate it with!
He pointed the light's beam ahead and saw there was room to move forward as far as he could see. Turning away from the opening he went back to alert his dozing brother, who was sitting propped against nearby support. It was getting harder and harder to rouse Terry who drifted off to sleep every time they had to halt for Matt to clear their obstructed path.
He gripped his shoulders and gave him a careful shake.
Matt was developing a deep dread that one of these times his brother might not wake. A second sad notion followed that maybe it would be for the best because they would both die in this mess anyway. The air they were breathing was becoming more stale-- less breathable so that even Matt was beginning to feel the effects. He was lightheaded, his head throbbed constantly and the effort to remain physically active had increased. A part of him still kept wondering when he would wake up from this nightmare. It was becoming monotonous and too tiring for him to be scared anymore.
Terry's head rolled to one side. He coughed, grimaced and pulled in a noisy breath. His eyes slit open.
Matt leaned close and murmured, "Come on Terry. It's time to move again."
"Leave me here." Terry spoke so low that Matt strained to hear. "You can find the way faster..." He paused to draw in another labored breath. "... by not dragging me along."
The suggestion tempted Matt. He would be able to move faster alone, but a big question surfaced if he would be able to locate Terry again when he finally was out. Putting a tracer on him like Terry had suggested earlier was one solution to that, but if the rubble shifted like it did a few times now Terry might get buried.
"If you were in my place right now Terry is that what you would do? Leave me behind?"
Terry's eyes widened for a moment to focus on Matt before closing them and giving his head a slow shake. The younger McGinnis let out a wheezing chuckle remarking knowingly.
"I didn't think so. Hey..."
He grimaced in distress when he realized tears were squeezing out between Terry's closed eyelids. "Hey, don't do that Terr." he admonished gently, uncomfortably.
He was at a loss as to how to comfort his brother. Terry was the elder by a number of years. He had always had the answers. Always seemed to know what to do. Always had the right words to say when Matt was troubled, especially when he was younger. To be honest, Matt admitted to himself, Terry had always been there for him when he needed help. In truth that was why his brother was sitting here helpless right now. He had been trying to save Matt from his own stupidity. God! How could everything have come to this?
Matt's stomach clenched in empathy when he heard Terry struggling to draw in another rasping breath and glimpsed the pain twisting his pale features from the effort.
"Matt." Terry whispered, glistening eyes opening and searching to lock gazes with his brother and succeeding. "I'm not gonna make it."
A fierce denial fired inside Matt. He bent over Terry, cupped a gloved hand firmly on each side of his brother's head and stared hard into his eyes. "You listen to me brother." his voice low and demanding. "We've come too far for you to give up now. You're gonna make it and I'm the reason you are going to make it. You understand? I get to be the hero this time!"
Tears trickled down Terry's dust covered cheeks, a half grin quivered on his dried lips. Matt suddenly realized hot wetness around his own eyes. Emotion flowed and he found himself roughly giving his brother a hug. Too soon he felt the form going limp in his embrace. Sitting back on his haunches Matt observed Terry drift into unconsciousness again, head lolling onto a shoulder, the rhythm of his breaths erratic and their sound abnormal.
Angrily Matt scrubbed the wet from his eyes and stood in the cramped space. He decided to see how far he could go before trying to bring Terry any further along. He got about ten feet into the tunnel-like path before a non-penetrating barrier brought him to a halt. Even if he could move the stuff there was no where to put it. He would have to find a different way.
Matt flopped wearily down beside his insensate brother, his legs having the strength of jelly. He buried his dirty face in even dirtier hands and tried scrubbing away fatigue that weighted his eyelids and made it difficult to think. Distant thought told him it was probably the lack of air that was affecting his concentration and that if he did not find a way out very soon he would be slipping into unconsciousness like Terry and they would both die here and their mother would be devastated.
He chuckled at the odd thought that demolition crews would find their bodies and think he was actually Batman because he would be the one wearing the suit. The thought continued to strike him as so silly that Matt continued to chuckle softly, inanely. He heard himself laughing in the muffled, dead air and that made him do it even more. Tears ran, cleansing grit from his eyes, muddying the dirt on his cheeks.
After awhile the laughter dissolved to helpless frustration mixed with a rage fueled by this unimaginable situation. A surge of wild emotion had him lunging to his feet with a howl and pummeling the nearest wall with all the strength he and the suit could muster. Matt pounded with his fists and feet until he could barely move and his breaths came in ragged gasps. He sagged against the wall. Useless-- all so useless!
The faint sound of his name being called distracted him from his despair. Lifting his head he saw Terry's eyes open and --- squinting in the shaft of bright sunlight that centered on his face!
Stumbling towards his brother Matt fell to his knees, gaze mesmerized by the light. Reaching out a tentative hand he blocked the shaft from Terry's face and saw its dime sized brightness on his palm. His eyes were wide and incredulous on Terry.
"I'm not hallucinating am I? Are we both seeing the same thing?"
Unable to speak Terry nodded and reached out weakly to touch the dusty white belt around Matt's waist. His chest moved up and down in exaggerated rhythm as he tried to find the breath to speak.
It was now or never.
Everything was as ready as it would ever be. His entire body was covered by the batsuit. The cowl had taken a few minutes to adjust to. The directional explosive charges were set and counting down beside the thick wall. Matt's mental clock was counting down as well. He gathered his unconscious brother in his arms and waited.
The plan was to follow on the heels of the explosive reaction as it ripped out the outer wall and get clear of this portion of the building before it fell down on top of them. He would use the 'foot-jets' in the suit that Terry had instructed him on to propel them both along. If everything went as planned they'd be breathing fresh air again in a matter of minutes.
He gazed down at Terry cradled limp and pale in his arms. Strange how light the heavier man seemed to be because of the suit's design. He hoped fervently this act would work, instinctively realizing if Terry did not get help soon he would die. A strong protective feeling had Matt cradling him tighter. Was this the way Terry had always felt about him growing up?
Matt acted the steps out in his mind a half dozen times. The mental instruction paid off. The actual happening went so fast he barely had time to think about it.
The cool fresh air and sunlight stunned his senses for a moment until he realized the jets were still carrying them upwards. Clumsily he disengaged the jets and triggered the recessed wings. The wind caught the furled material jerking them to one side. He mentally said quick thanks for the brief experience he had at hang-gliding last year as he adjusted to stay balanced with the air currents.
Matt hovered unsteadily as he looked around to get his bearings. The destruction below astounded him. Black smoke was billowing out of a few places in the crumpled heap of the buildings. It appeared that the structure they had been in had fallen onto nearby buildings, partially collapsing them as well. Emergency vehicle lights were flashing off to one side of the mountain of rubble. Sunlight glistened off wide streams of water coming from hand held hoses of firemen scattered in different areas.
That's where he needed to go. Where there were emergencies there was medical help available. Matt flew to the nearest easiest place to land awkwardly, maneuvering desperately to keep the burden in his arms from coming to harm. He straightened finally and began to walk as fast as his leaden legs would carry him down the empty cordoned-off city street towards those flashing lights.
Maxine could not say what made her turn to look behind. Peripheral awareness. The intangible sense of a prayer being answered. Sight of the black-clad form walking towards them down the empty street filled Max with a rush of relief. Her hand strayed absently to Bruce's shoulder to alert him while another part of her mind began to realize the form within the Batman suit was not Terry's. Subtle differences- slightly taller, not so broad through the chest and shoulders, different kind of walk. Her gaze centered on the limp figure in Batman's arms. Her hand on Bruce's shoulder squeezed convulsively when recognition hit home. A husky, gut-wrenching 'No' came from somewhere deep inside her before she started forward.
A tight grip on her arm halted her numb progress at the first step. She stared wide-eyed into Bruce's stern face. His commanding tone brooked no refusal.
"Get the medics over here. Hurry."
Maxine scrambled to alert the medics who were lounging near their vehicle a half-city block away.
Bruce levered himself from the seat and began to walk an intercept course towards Batman. He noted that the man's stride was almost mechanical in its measured steps as if incapable of going any faster. The suit's appearance, covered with dirt, tore and hanging open in myriad places gave witness to the ordeal it had endured. Bruce's heart lurched painfully at sight of Terry's limp, dirt-covered form cradled securely in Batman's arms and looking so -- lifeless.
The medics arrived just as he reached talking distance of the approaching Batman. They maneuvered the stretcher in front of Batman who awkwardly settled Terry atop it while informing them in a worried, shaky voice.
"I don't think he's breathing."
The male medic sidled between Batman and the stretcher. He set down the handled cases he carried in each hand. On the stretchers other side the female medic was hovering over Terry using a variety of handheld instruments to register his vital body signs.
"How long has he been like this?"
"Um... a couple of minutes maybe. He... he was talking to me just before we blasted our way out, but it was really getting hard for him to breathe."
The medic nodded. "Yeah. It looks like one of his lungs is collapsed. What's his name?"
"He's my br--"
"His name is Terry McGinnis." Bruce interrupted Matt. "My associate. We were considering investing in this property so I sent him to look it over. Unfortunately the timing was very wrong. Thank God Batman was able to find him and bring him out of that chaos."
He clapped Matt soundly on the back. "I am deeply indebted to you sir."
Maxine's concern had her inching closer to the busy medics. "He's going to be all right isn't he?"
The medics did not answer as they worked with trained intensity on Terry's motionless form. Bruce almost groaned out loud when the media crew that had been seen hovering around the devastation looking for a story suddenly showed up. They hurried from their vehicle with cameras recording. A young reporter rushed ahead and shoved a microphone in front of Batman's face.
"Batman! Could you tell us what happened?"
The cowled figure stood mute for a moment then glanced at Bruce who immediately took over, proclaiming effusively.
"Why he saved my young associate's life is what he did!"
The ploy effectively drew attention to him as Bruce knew it would. The reporter belatedly realized he was in the presence of the billionaire Bruce Wayne, someone just as famous as Batman. The microphone now took up space in front of the elderly man's face. A wordy concoction of a story was building in Bruce's mind ready to be told when a triumphant sound from Maxine drew everyone's attention to the medics and their now visibly breathing patient.
The oxygen mask on Terry's face was fogging and his head moved feebly from side to side.
Bruce did not try to hide his relief like he would under normal circumstances. He played to his audience by showing visible relief, a real tear sliding from one eye while he murmured softly, "Thank God. Thank God."
The reporter motioned for the camera to focus in on the medical team and their victim.
Bruce caught at Batman's arm when he realized with subdued horror that he was about to remove his cowl. The masked face turned to him and Bruce murmured, "Not here."
Batman swayed unsteadily while Bruce hung on tight and made a mental plea for the youngster not to faint just yet. The media were focused totally on the medics as they began to hurry to the waiting ambulance. With no witness to observe Bruce turned the stealth switch on the batsuit and Batman disappeared. Bruce continued physical contact with the invisible form while calling out to Maxine who had begun to follow the medics.
"Maxine. Could I have a word with you please?"
Reluctantly she turned back as the media hurried onward to catch the entire rescue on tape. Her gaze searched the surroundings as she approached Bruce.
"Where did he go?"
"He's still here." Bruce replied in a strained voice and seemed to be leaning awkwardly to one side, arm crooked in midair. "Help me with him before those reporters get back. He's ready to pass out."
"Oh-- he's invisible." Max deduced finally and rushed over to help. Her hands reached blindly until they contacted with the feel of a body and groped for an arm to hang onto. She heard a soft groan. Suddenly the invisible body was falling and threatening to drag her and Bruce down with it.
With a violent jerk of his body, Matt snapped out of the dream into total wakefulness.
Eyes open, he stared at the white, yellow-flecked ceiling above him, striving to relax and realign his mind with present reality. It was just a dream. A nightmare like he figured. Crazy! Terry as Batman? No way! Just a dream...
"Matt? Are you all right?"
A soft, sweet voice sounded to his right. Pretty and reed thin with golden eyes and thick, dark brown hair that just covered her ears, Abrieanas Mael leaned over him, concern evident. They had met during their freshman year of high school and been friends ever since. Never a girlfriend. They were content to be just- friends.
"Bree... what are you doing here?"
She showed him a reassuring smile, reaching out to stroke once through his tousled hair.
"You're in the hospital. You've-"
"What?" The panic he felt in the dream began to fill him again. He gazed wide-eyed at his surroundings.
"You've been asleep for over fifteen hours. The doctor says you're all right, just exhausted."
"I don't --" His dream suddenly came to mind and the realization that it was based on fact. "No!" He surged up to a sitting position as a sense of dread flooded him. He gripped Bree's wrist hard enough to make her wince.
She tried pulling her arm free, "Take it easy Matt."
"Where is Terry?" he whispered urgently into her face.
Bree relaxed and was quick to explain, "He's going to be all right."
"Where is he?" Matt growled impatient this time, pulling on her wrist.
"Here. On another floor." His behavior was beginning to frighten her. She had never seen him like this. Normally he acted so nonchalant about things it made her angry sometimes. With a suddenness that made Bree blink he released her and swung bare legs from the bed.
"Matt- what are you doing?"
"I have to see him."
"He's asleep. It is three o'clock in the morning you know. I just talked to your mother less than an hour ago and--"
"I don't need to talk to him. I just want to see him. Where are my clothes?"
Bree led Matt through a labyrinth of hospital corridors informing him of what she knew of Terry's condition. That he had a couple of broken ribs and a tube inserted in his chest to drain out blood and fluid so his lung could re-inflate. Ten minutes later they strode around a corner and Matt saw his mother outside a room door standing in Bruce Wayne's embrace. From the distance he could hear Wayne's deep voice making comforting murmurs, one large gnarled hand gently patting her back.
That uncomfortable feeling of dread gushed anew inside Matt. Why would his mother need comforting unless...
Long, hurried strides had him passing Bree in seconds. Wayne glimpsed his approach, a surprised expression transforming his face.
Mary McGinnis turned and Matt saw her red-rimmed eyes in a face etched with sadness and fatigue. Her surprise changed to delight and she rushed forward to meet him throwing arms around him. A head taller than his mother, Matt held her tight. She pulled away after a few moments and held him at arm's length, peering upwards to give him thorough going over.
"You look all right. How do you feel?"
"I'm fine Mom." he nodded solemnly. "More important- how is Terry?"
He held his breath in anticipation when his mother turned aside to share a glance with Wayne who quirked an eyebrow and displayed a half-grin for her. She was smiling when she looked up at her son again.
"Except for being what the nurse's label kindly as a 'difficult patient' your brother is recovering nicely. He keeps asking for you and thinks we're hiding some bad news from him when we keep telling him you're just sleeping."
Matt glanced up at Wayne who was nodding in agreement and saying.
"The doctor agreed to let the nurses slip him a sedative when he kept trying to get out of bed to find you."
Letting out a relieved sigh, Matt relaxed tensed muscles. "Thank God. When I saw you two together just now I thought... the worst." he admitted.
"Your mother is exhausted Matt. I was trying to get her to go home and get some rest. Now that you're here perhaps she'll agree to it."
"Sure." Matt urged eagerly. "I'm all rested up now Mom. I'll stay with Terry while you get some sleep."
"Oh, I don't know." Mary McGinnis frowned clearly unsure if she wanted to abandon her sons at this point.
She walked back into the room occupied by her eldest. Seventeen hours ago, upon learning of the danger her children had been exposed to had numbed her with shock. It was beginning to fade now leaving its inevitable after affects- exhaustion. Seeing Matt on his feet again, whole and healthy, and knowing instinctively that Terry's injuries were on the mend left her giddy with fatigue.
The room was darker than the hallway. A solitary intermittent beep from the only machine still monitoring Terry's condition interrupted the hushed quiet. His long, lean blanketed form stretched the length of the bed, upper body slightly elevated to aid his breathing which was not completely back to normal. There had been tubing placed beneath his nose to administer additional oxygen to help him breathe easier, but he had pulled the thing from around his head declaring he did not need it. That was shortly before he attempted to leave the bed to search for Matt.
Mary had been two floors below checking in on her youngest when it happened. The nurses told her, a mixture of anger and amazement in their words, about the incident. Bruce had been involved in attempting to keep Terry abed also, but he only chuckled with a certain pride evident as the story was told. The man had remained steadfast with her throughout the ordeal. There was no doubt in her mind that his relationship with her son went deeper than a business arrangement. Perhaps a surrogate father/son relationship. Whatever it was she would be forever grateful to the man for steering her son in the right direction and helping him make good life choices. The kind of choices she wished Matt would begin to see. What did it mean that he was tending to the same path that Terry had taken when he was that age?
Matt had followed her into the room. He stood beside her, a hand resting on her shoulder looking down at his sleeping brother. In a low murmur he spoke.
"He looks a lot better than the last time I saw him."
"That must have been a horrible experience being trapped in there. Thank heavens Batman was there to get you both out."
"Who told you that?" he glanced sharply at his mother.
"Bruce and Maxine. They were there. Don't you remember? They said Batman brought Terry out first then went back for you."
"Yeah." Matt rubbed an eyebrow. "Yeah that's right." So that's how it was going to be. It was as good a story as any. Batman saved them both. Even a certain amount of truth to it.
A faint voice sounded from the bed.
"Matt?" Terry's bleary eyed gaze was focused up at him.
Matt grinned and moved closer to grip his brother's hand relieved at the feel of strength in the returned clasp. "Right the first time Terr. How you do'in?"
Terry gingerly levered himself into a straighter position and grinned up at Matt saying.
"You must be looking real pretty after all the beauty sleep they told me you were getting."
"That's right." Matt flashed him a bright smile. "I thought about waking up sooner, but I kept thinking about how disappointed Ma would be if she had two sons as ugly as you."
"Matthew!" Their mother exclaimed.
"That's okay Mom." Terry reassured. "He needs those good looks to make up for his lack of brains."
"Terrence!" Mary McGinnis admonished again.
Matt chuckled and gave Terry a smug look. "You're pretty cocky for someone who would have a hard time defending himself at the moment."
Terry managed a return chuckle. "You couldn't get the best of me brother even if I was comatose with one hand tied behind my back."
"Only one hand?" Matt raised his eyebrows, mouth quirked trying to contain his mirth.
Looking sheepish Terry admitted. "You're a lot bigger than you used to be."
Mary clicked her tongue in exasperation. "For heaven's sake. You two sound like ten year olds. Since you are both feeling well enough to tease each other I guess it would be okay for me to go home for awhile."
"Who's teasing? This is serious stuff Mom." Matt deadpanned. "My self-esteem has been seriously impaired from years of his picking on me."
"Hey." Terry drawled softly, a twist of amusement on his lips. "I was jealous okay. Mom always liked you best."
Mary cast them both an indulgent expression while shaking her head. She felt her eyes tearing as her heart swelled with overwhelming gratefulness at the positive end to this experience. She gave each of her boys a hug and kiss and firmly spoken I love you before leaving the room. Matt ushered her out with the intention of talking to Bree.
Terry was coughing when Matt reentered the room and waited tensely until the spasm had passed.
"You all right?" He watched as Terry nodded, but continued to take deep exaggerated breaths. "Maybe I should get a nurse."
He was about to go for one when Terry grabbed for his arm.
"I'm okay Matt. I gotta do this. Supposed to help inflate the lung back to its normal size."
"If you say so." He eyed Terry skeptically until his older sibling relaxed.
"So..." Terry grinned gently at his brother. "How does it feel to be a hero?" Matt frowned and shook his head.
"I'm no hero." he muttered looking away.
"I suppose you're right." Terry drawled. "After all-- it was only me you saved."
A pained expression was on Matt's face when he faced Terry.
"I'm the reason you almost died! None of this would have happened if it weren't for me."
He was surprised to see Terry smile. "You know I used to say something just like that after Dad was killed. I had a lot of 'if onlys' going through my head for a long time."
Matt cocked his head questioning. Terry obliged.
"Stuff like-- if only I had been there he'd still be alive-- if only I hadn't left home and had accepted the punishment I had coming-- if only I would have come home a little sooner that night-- if only I'd been a better son- "
"Mom always figured you'd have been killed too if you'd been there."
Terry frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe. Maybe not. Guess it doesn't really matter."
"It wasn't your fault Terr."
"After all these years I almost believe that. I'm beginning to see that things happen for a reason. And that we don't have as much control over our lives as we think we do."
Matt smiled. "You sound just like Fr. Pete. He's always talking about how God has a plan for each of us."
"So Mom's still able to drag you to church eh?" Terry grinned.
"Once in awhile." Matt admitted reluctantly, bowing his head and shifting from one foot to another. He felt awkward talking to Terry this way. It had been a long time since they had had any kind of normal conversation together. He realized suddenly how much he missed those times. Looking up he saw Terry studying him thoughtfully.
"You saved us both Matt. You'll always be a hero to me."
Face reddening from the sincere praise, Matt tried shrugging it off. "If that's the kind of stuff you have to go through to be one then leave me out of it. You go ahead and keep being the hero. I'll take care of Mom and keep the home fires burning for whenever you do decide to visit."
Matt noted the reflective mood descend over Terry.
"Hey." Matt interrupted, softly scolding. This talk was starting to bother him. "Aren't you supposed to be sleeping? Hard to do when you keep flapping your jaw all the time." He put a hand on his brother's shoulder carefully urging him back against the pillow.
Terry offered no resistance. A huge yawn opened his mouth as his head sank onto the softness. Matt gracelessly pulled the covers up around him then watched while Terry struggled against the lethargy creeping over him. "Let go Terr." he encouraged gently. "It's okay to sleep now. I'll be here if you need anything."
A drowsy nod and measured sigh and Terry was sleeping. Matt continued to observe his brother experiencing again that strange, protective feeling towards him. So much had changed in the last day and a half. Seemed like he had lived years in that short amount of time. Nothing like a brush with death to help a person mature, Matt thought wryly. He had a lot to think about. He understood so much more now about Terry and learned things about himself he was both ashamed and amazed at.
Matt dropped into the bedside chair and began to relax for the first time since he had awakened. A contented joy filled him as his thoughts collated into a few miraculous conclusions. One- he was alive. Two- he was debt free (and going to remain that way) and three... A broad grin etched itself across his face as he stared at his sleeping brother. Nodding approval he murmured to himself in delighted wonder.
"My own brother is Batman. That is sooo schway!"