Tale as Old as Time

Dana awoke to the wind against her face and the constant, thudding pain in the back of her head. It was dark in the hospital room—probably some time around midnight, she figured. She wouldn't be able to fall asleep, though, with the aching in her head and the window open. She pulled herself to a sitting position so she could reach the nurse call on her nightstand, when she suddenly heard a soft voice warn, "Hey, be careful. You might get hurt."

"Terry?" she recognized, startled. He sat at the window, his arms folded as he watched her. She couldn't quite make out what he was wearing—only that it covered all of his body, except for his face. "How did you get in? I thought visiting hours were over."

"I just wanted to be sure you'd be okay," he answered, carefully evading the question.

"I'm fine," she assured. "Just a bad headache and soreness all over. But nothing's broken, so that's good."

"I'm sorry," he said quietly, almost in a whisper.

"It's not your fault," she insisted. "Those Jokerz just randomly attacked us. It could have happened to anyone." Although, they had been somewhat fixated on getting Terry. But he had bad luck with that gang anyway.

"It is my fault," he argued. "They went right after you because you were with me. They could have hurt you a lot worse than they did."

"But they didn't, and that's what matters," she replied. "They would have attacked anyone."

"No, they wouldn't," he sighed. "They came after me and only me. And if they're going to hurt you because of it, I want you to know why."

He lowered his arms and walked over to sit in a chair next to her bed. Thanks to the moonlight outside, Dana could see a red bat on his chest. Everything slowly started to piece itself together inside her throbbing skull: his sudden disappearances for "work," his exhaustion during school, and the unshakable feeling that she had been left out of something.

"You're Batman," she murmured.

"This is why those Jokerz attacked us. They targeted you because they knew you were important to me," he explained. "They were working for the real Joker, and he knew my identity. If you've been watching the news today, you know about those laser strikes all over the city. The Joker hijacked the frequency to a military satellite to kill everyone close to me: you, Mr. Wayne, Mom and Matt… I came this close to losing everyone I love." He held up his forefinger and thumb, separated by a very short distance.

"When did this start?" she asked.

He closed his eyes for a minute before answering. "Right after my dad's death. I found the suit somewhere and decided to use it to get revenge."

"That's why Mr. Wayne's always calling you for things," she realized. "He's helping you with this."

"Yeah. And Commissioner Gordon knows too. They tell me when they think something's going to happen, and try and keep me from getting killed. But they can't always protect everyone around me."

"So that's what you try to do," she deduced. "You try and make sure the city doesn't eat us." After all, Gotham was just a physical representation of the class struggle: poorer people close to the streets, the rich in their sky-rises. Terry was in the lower middle, with Dana just higher than him. This left them prey to the street gangs, common criminals, and occasional madmen that Batman had to defeat. It only made sense that he would find a way to fight it. "You're one of the only people who doesn't think it should be that way."

"I know," he replied. "And I can protect you from the city, but I don't know if I can protect you from my enemies."

And suddenly, Dana had a feeling she knew where this conversation was headed. When she was younger, her mother used to read fantasies to her before bed. For a minute, she felt as though she was again a young child curled up next to her mother, looking at the computer screen without understanding the words on it and listening. It was a song as old as rhyme: the rescued princess had to watch as her knight rode off to save the kingdom. The girl always had to wait patiently for the hero to save the world before they could be together. The words were always the same: "My enemies might try to hurt you to hurt me."

"Batman was never meant to be close to anyone," Terry continued in the age-old tradition. "He's supposed to be only the mask and darkness. I thought I might be able to try having both lives, but if this is what's going to happen…" He didn't seem to want to say what Dana knew he was about to. "Please understand it's for your safety."

"You think this is going to solve all your problems?" she asked. "Isn't a hero supposed to have people to protect? Or has the definition changed since the beginning of time?"

Terry looked a little surprised at her reaction, but he replied, "I can't risk you getting hurt. Look what happened to you already. If anyone else found out who I am, you'd be in even worse danger."

"Then glue your mask on," Dana argued. "Give me one of those boomerang things you throw around, or put a tracer on me!"

"Dana, you don't get it," he groaned.

"You're the one who doesn't get it," she answered, keeping her voice soft, yet refusing to let go of the firmness. There was no reason to turn this into a full-fledged argument, but she needed him to listen. "We've gone through so much in this past year. Our relationship's been rocky, but this is no reason to throw away everything we've managed to do."

"The reason why our relationship is rocky is because of me being Batman," he protested. "I've broken our dates, ignored you… You deserve better."

"What better can I get than Batman?" she asked. "Unless you're trying to push me onto other members of the League. Sorry, but Warhawk and Micron aren't exactly my type, and Green Lantern's too young. Terry, I'm not some helpless princess in a fairytale. You don't have to go to such extremes to protect me."

"Dana…"

"Terry, I'm willing to try. Why aren't you?"

He sighed and lowered his head, apparently considering her words. She watched him, ready to argue if need be. She was not going to play the role so many girlfriends in literature had. She wasn't going to wait for him, and she wasn't going to let him break up with her either. She would stand by him to help in any way she could.

"I guess I could teach you to fight," he yielded. "If not, the old man knows a lot of people who can. And the tracer thing is a good idea, and maybe you should keep some batarangs handy just in case…"

"Just teach me how to throw them, and I can keep them in my purse," she insisted. "And I'll cut my hair so no one can grab me the way that guy did."

"All right," he agreed reluctantly. "I just don't want you getting hurt."

"I can't promise anything," she confessed. "We live in a dangerous city. Just walking down the street is a risk, whether or not I'm Batman's girlfriend. Just promise me something."

"What?"

"Don't leave me out of it. I don't care if you want to complain about another member of the League—I just don't want to be kept in the dark."

"Okay," he agreed.

They leaned in to kiss when something started beeping. Terry pulled out a handheld message-recorder and looked at it briefly.

"It looks like Commissioner Gordon needs my help," he said. "I have to go."

She kissed him on the cheek. "Tell me about it in the morning."

He nodded and pulled on his mask before running back to the window and leaping out of it. Seconds later, she could see his winged form fly past after checking, one last time, to be sure she was all right.

She would be now.

As always, I do not own the characters or story of Batman Beyond. Title taken from a line in "Beauty and the Beast," from the Disney movie by the same name. Another line in the fic is also taken from that song. A lot of the conversation in this was either inspired by the pseudo-flashback in "Epilogue" or from the last chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The depiction of the "levels" of Gotham representing class is taken from Bruce Timm's audio commentary on the Batman Beyond season one set.