'Do you have something to prove, McGinnis,' Bruce asked him the first time he dislocated his shoulder. Terry hadn't dared to breathe a real word about it when he came into the Cave, hobbled and awkward, except that "it hurt". Two minutes later and Bruce had him screaming.
'Give me a little warning next time, old man?' Terry gasped out when he next managed to breathe. The air tasted so good he felt nauseous, or maybe that was just because the bones in his upper right arm felt like they were trying to grind every slip of tendon between them to mush.
Wayne didn't look particularly interested. 'I'll tell that to the types who gave you that,' he said, nodding at the injury. Terry took the icing and taping and everything else in what he felt was dignified silence, as far as anyone humiliated beyond belief could, anyway.
He flexed the arm when Wayne was done. Looked up into the face of grimness itself. 'You medically qualified to do this, or should I be going to a doctor tomorrow?'
'You can tell them you fell down a flight of stairs,' Bruce replied, turning away and towards the console. His voice was bored. 'And try to keep the stories you'll tell your mother and the girl in order, before you trip up over your lies instead.'
Maybe "disappointment" was a better word. It stung in the right ways, at least.
'So,' Terry started.
'Go home,' Wayne said, typing on the console faster than Terry had ever learnt to touch-type, growing up in a digital world.
'Okay,' Terry said, reaching for his jacket. 'Where's the lecture?'
When he came back -
'Do I want to know?' Terry asked, touching the edge of the tank.
'Probably not,' Bruce replied, a smile in his voice, and then Terry's head was under water, and it was a minute and an agonising forty five seconds before he gave in and stopped struggling. Bruce lifted his hand.
'What the hell are you doing?' Terry managed.
To which Bruce replied, 'I'd save my breath, if I were you,' and dunked him again.
Terry didn't push back, though he could've. Just beat his arms against the tank and stopped swearing underwater because he just lost more oxygen that way. Squeezed his eyes shut and wondered what sort of physical representation this was of any one of Bruce's multiple psychoses.
The second time he was let up, Terry made sure to gulp air before saying, 'Do you ever warn people when you pull these kinds of jokes?'
'Age has taught me humour,' Bruce said. 'Hit two minutes, then we'll talk.'
Terry felt like a drowned rat for the rest of the day. Through the bar routines, and the nine thousand and something or whatever push-ups, and the weird little training machines that he hadn't known Bruce had, and then the ones he hadn't known were even invented, until he thought he'd die if he took another step or did another jump or
'Jesus, Bruce,' Terry panted. 'You've got to ease up on me.'
'You don't get to ease up,' Bruce said.
Terry struggled with the free weights. His hands were slick, too slick. They dropped, and for a moment all the air rushed out of his lungs with fear (about a hundred pounds coming towards his face, his throat, him) before Bruce's training equipment spotted him, pulled the bar back. 'Shit,' he swore, quietly, waiting for his eyesight to stop whiting out.
Bruce didn't say anything. That was hardly unusual.
'Bruce,' Terry tried for reason. 'I've got a history test tomorrow. I haven't been able to do more than collapse into bed every time I hit home, and it's been this way every night for the last two weeks. I haven't talked to Dana in so long that I think I've forgotten how her voice sounds. You're driving me crazy. I've got a life out there. A real life.'
Bruce remained silent.
Terry sat up. His hands were shaking hard enough that it showed when he reached for a towel to wipe himself down.
'You should reduce your repetitions,' the old man said, blinking once. 'And increase the number of sets.'
Terry flung his towel onto the floor, and closed his eyes. Took a few deep breaths.
From the console, he heard Bruce say, 'Move onto the next station,' and when he did (because it wasn't his game, was it, weren't his rules), heard Bruce continue: 'Your test covers early history. Second World War. We'll start with the Pacific theatre,' and Terry wanted to scream, because Bruce thought he could make this all about him, all inside this neat little hole, pushing everything and everyone else out and he was right, he could, but Terry wasn't sure how much more he wanted to play it this way.
He took it. He took it as far as he could take it, and then he took some more. There were lists. He could fucking name them, the things that Bruce made him do while he sat there and watched, like a freak or a monster or a mentor or maybe all three. Inhaling toxins just to see what they'd do to him. Simulating asphyxiation, blood loss, concussions, friction-burns. Learning to pick so many different kinds of locks that he saw mechanics at the back of his eyelids when he went to sleep. Memorising permutations and combinations of so many tactics he heard Bruce's voice in his head when he walked, when he sat in class, when he did the dishes at home at four in the morning, faking a midnight snack but quietly guilty about never being there for his mum, or Matt. Buying into this obsession until he could taste the meaning of the word. He took it, and then when he couldn't take it anymore, he stopped.
Day three of negotiations. No change.
'Old Tricorner,' Bruce said, flatly.
'I'm on it,' Terry replied, and took the car and stayed out as long as he could, and as long as he had to.
Radio silence unless absolutely necessary.
Hubris was turning off the vidlink.
He ended up in a private room in a WaynePowers-subsidary hospital, two hours out of getting his first stitches right across his ribcage and more blood pumped into him that Terry ever wanted to think about.
'You're lucky,' was the first thing Wayne - Bruce - Wayne said to him, when he came. 'It won't scar badly enough to draw attention.'
Terry had about enough of Bruce's effectiveness over effect. Just about enough to say, 'Yeah. Great. Music to my ears.'
The cane crashed down across the tops of the rails on the beside. 'Bruce!'
'You listen to me, McGinnis,' Bruce said, and the cane was on his chest and pushing enough to make Terry want to scream. The pressure vanished just before he thought his stitches were going to rip, relocating to his collarbone, steady and threatening. 'You are lucky. Because the suit is strong enough to save you from ever needing to learn how to sew human skin, but only if you're smart enough to use it. And if you want to, you'll train, and you'll listen to me and obey my rules, because I can't be the one to pull your body out of a morgue. By that point, the only thing I'll know about you is that I made a mistake taking on another kid who thinks he's immortal.'
Terry couldn't look away from Bruce. Couldn't move.
Bruce leaned in. 'You're not, Terry McGinnis. Immortal.'
The cane was back on the floor, and Bruce was moving.
The first words out of Terry's mouth were I'm sorry; even if he didn't know what for, but especially because he could understand why. (Thou shalt not live viscerally.)
He could, if nothing else, read every line of tension and old age in Bruce Wayne's back when Batman (the Batman) limped out of the hospital room; an octogenarian, emancipated from duty but never set free, obliged to an old mission but unable to serve, or even to protect.