It takes her thirty-four minutes of agonizing terror, but finally, she finds him huddled in an alleyway off of 13th street. Clustered against a dumpster and wheezing, he's cloaked himself in shadows and a growling, fitful voice.
"Max, thank God. Fuck, don't hug me. Ow." Flinching back, he guards his right side from her as she reaches out. She can see the stain of carmine on exposed circuitry and the way his breaths are shallow and uneven. Even if she's always trying to be tough, she can't bother to hide the tears that spring up in her eyes.
"Terry, what happened?" He swallows a few times, then shakes his head.
"Not here. Not out in the open. We have to-" But he breaks off with a cough, turning his head to hack wetly at the side of the building. He tries to cover it up, but she sees the red that drips out of his mouth.
"Terry! We have to get you to a hospital-"
"No!" he barks, in as forceful a voice as he can while gasping for breath. His head lolls back to thump against the dumpster, eyes falling closed. He fights to regain his breathing while her hands flutter anxiously over him, not sure where it's safe to touch.
"Just…take me to the cave. I can fix myself up fine there, or call the Commish. She'll know what to do." Max fights down every urge to tell him that he's being stupid again, that he can't take on the whole damn world by himself and then lay his life down for it, that the mantle isn't worth his life. Instead she carefully worms an arm under his, circling his back before lifting him with painstaking care to his feet. He instantly sways, dead weight on her shoulder. Sweating, she shifts so his weight rests on her hip and gropes for his belt, the little swivel button that will summon the Batmobile. She misses, on the low side. He giggles wearily, then coughs.
"Sorry," she mutters, flipping the dial. After a moment, she hears the quiet hum of the engine and looks up as it swerves into place above them.
"How do you get it to the ground?" He mumbles something, then presses the dial. It sinks to the ground, but now she sees a new set of problems- cockpit for one, four feet off the ground, with nothing but sloping angles and sleek black metal to climb.
"Great," she hisses. Her thighs are already starting to tremble under Terry's weight, but she grits her teeth and drags him over. After a moment, he straightens a little, then pulls away from her entirely and jumps up into the cockpit. She hears him thump against the side once he's in and scrambles up the side.
"Terry! Dammit, why did you do that!" He shakes in what she assumes is laughter as he climbs into the seat with agonized, calculatedly slow movements.
"…couldn't…get up…" Finally he sits back, the whole line of his body exhausted and eyes closed, and reaches out with both hands. The two handles reach out to him like eager puppies, and he wraps his fingers around them. Lines of wires light red under the suit as the glass cockpit slides shut, nearly catching her hair. In any other circumstance, she would've been plaguing him with questions about the programming, but now she has a better look at the gaping hole in his side, and her mind works too fast for her to pick out anything singular. After a moment, Terry growls and swears under his breath.
"I can't… move much. You're going to have to steer." Cautiously, she reaches out. It's an odd fit- she has to curve her body against his back, their arms touching the entire length, and wrap her hands around his. She pushes forward, and the Batmobile slides into action, speeding up to dangerous speeds nearly instantly. It's hard at first- she can't really drive with Terry in the way, and there are a few close calls with buildings, but she doesn't wreck outright and she starts to get the hang of it as Terry directs her to the small opening in the base of the Wayne mansion.
The Batmobile slides to an automatic halt, and the cockpit whooshes open. And they're sort of fucked, because there's no room to maneuver and Terry looks entirely too spent to jump out on his own.
She wriggles out first, catching her footing against one of the angular planes of the side before reaching in and tapping Terry on the shoulder. Panting, he opens an eye to squint at her.
"Ter, I know this sucks, but you have to get out on your own. I can't, I don't have enough-" But he levers himself out of the seat and flings himself over the side in one hard, fast move. She manages to catch most of his limbs, and by the time she lowers them clumsily to the ground, he's unconscious.
"Dammit, dammit, dammit!" She curses desperately. She can see the rough outline of a table in the darkness, and hauls Terry up onto her shoulder. The walk seems to take forever, but step by lumbering step, she manages to drag Terry up onto the tabletop. Sweating and still crying, she fumbles in the darkness until she finds a handy rolling floor lamp, and flicks it on.
"Fuck!" Terry throws his hands up over his face, curling in on his damaged side as the light floods the cave. She can hear real bats, not the cowled kind, up in the darker recesses of the cave. Anxious, Max takes Terry's hands and tries to pull them away.
"Terry, what's wrong?" He moans wordlessly and continues to struggle. Even injured, he's stronger than her, and he manages to pull away from her. She gets the gist of it quickly and shuts off the light, and in the sudden silence, she can hear his teeth chatter.
"No more…too bright," he mutters. Cautiously, Max reaches out. She feels him shudder when she touches his arm.
"Terry, you're in no shape to fix yourself. We need to call someone." Even if she doesn't see it, she knows he nods. In the next second he seems to be speaking to the air.
"Call: Commissioner Gordon." It must be on speakerphone, because she hears the phone ringing, echoing absently into the cave. After a moment, a woman's strong voice comes on.
"This had better be good, McGinnis." He laughs wheezily, but there's panic in there. Max squeezes his arm.
"I've been shot, and unless you're really keen on reading my obit-" She interrupts him with a curse.
"Bruce goes out of town once and you get shot? Where are you?"
"Cave. Hurry up, I'm coughing blood." She curses again, and the phone disconnects.
"Terry, you're not going to die." Max clenches hard, only loosening her hold on him when he flinches.
"Probably not. But there's still a chance." She hears it again, the slight panic in his Batman rasp. She sniffles harshly.
"Why did you call Commissioner Gordon, anyways? How does she know you're Batman?" He shifts grumpily in the dark, clasping her hand. His is wet on hers over the slick fabric, and she tries not to be appalled. It doesn't work so well.
"She was Batgirl, back in the day. She throws a mean Batarang." This startles a laugh from her as she tries to imagine rough and tough old Commissioner Gordon in the tights. Then she quiets herself, because it's morbid and tight with restrained panic in the cave. It's quiet until the door opens, and suddenly all the lights in the cave blare on.
After blinking away the colored blips of retina shock, she sees Commissioner Gordon and a tough, Scottish man bustling down the steps. Terry has curled up again, one arm clenched around his head as he shudders and pants on the table. Instantly the doctor is wrenching his limbs straight with a rough and brisk bedside manner, and Gordon takes her gently but firmly by the arm and pulls her to the side.
As soon as Terry catches sight of the doctor, he growls and punches the man in the jaw. Gordon barks,
"McGinnis, he already knows, and he's trying to help!" Still glaring, Terry falls back onto the table wearily. Cursing up a storm, the doctor picks himself up and slaps Terry lightly against the head.
"Behave, dammit. I'm Doctor Tremain, and if you try to punch me again, I will remove something vital. First things first, though. The mask comes off."
"No!" Terry's eyes go wide behind the white, and he manages to shove himself off the table and get half-upright by the time the doctor catches him. In one fast move, he wrenches the mask off by the ears, and Terry screams a little and goes slack. Max huddles against Gordon, eyes wide as her friend is wrestled back onto the table. The doctor looks around at her as he settles Terry back on the table, a hunk of shivering, limp limbs.
"You hurt?" She shakes her head. He humphs, then turns back to Terry. His examination of his eyes, mouth and ears is smooth and efficient, even as Terry tries to turn weakly away from him.
"He's going into shock. Fucking crusaders, always psychologically attached to their damn masks." Max stares, her eyes burning from not blinking, as the doctor starts to tear away the suit, exposing his chest and the gaping wound in his side. Gordon's arm around her back startles her, and she looks up wildly. Gordon smiles wanly. Somehow she managed to change into regular, if rumpled, clothes before she fetched the doctor and made it down here.
"Come on, kiddo," she says softly, steering her around and towards the stairs. Max is reluctant, watching the doctor pour alcohol over the wound and Terry go stiff with pain, "we should get you upstairs. Home surgeries aren't the prettiest things." It's only as they start up the stairs that Max notices the equipment surrounding the table, and cold sweat begins to bead on her back. She looks away as they disappear around the corner and up through a clock set in the wall. Any other time she would marvel at Wayne's clichéd ingenuity, but right now she's swamped with worry.
"Sit," Gordon commands, brusque but kind. She collapses into the chair and clamps her fingers together. She's shaking. Gordon disappears behind her for a moment, then thrusts a hot teacup near her face. She takes it carefully, ignoring the clattering china.
"Thank you, but what's going to happen? Is Terry…Is he going to be okay?" A dog, fierce and block-headed, is suddenly snuffling at her shoes. He whimpers and pushes his head into her lap, whip-thin tail thumping the floor. She strokes his head and takes a sip of her tea. It's bitter and spicy, and manages to shock her into a straighter frame of mind. When she looks up, Gordon is watching her from behind a desk, her silhouette highlighted from behind by moonlight. It's an intimidation tactic, even if it's not purposeful.
"To be honest? There's no telling. It's up to Doctor Tremain at this time." After a moment, Gordon takes a seat.
"Why did McGinnis call you first? Why not me? I was the one watching out for him, and he called you. What could you do for him that I couldn't?" Max frowns, scratching under the dog's chin. He whines happily and tilts his head for a better angle.
"Well, I wasn't going to judge him for screwing up. And I'm the first one on his speed dial. Maybe he just hit the wrong button and decided to go with it." She thrusts her chin up as she says this, meeting the shadowed eyes of the figure in front of her without fear. Gordon tilts her head slightly, thoughtful.
"Hm. He could die because of that decision." Max masters her flinch. She gets the vague sense that this is a test, though for what she isn't sure. After a moment of ambient silence, they hear a strangled, muffled animalistic noise that drifts up from the clock. Max stiffens as the dog wanders over to the clock and sniffs it, only to come back with his ears and tail tucked. Max pats him sympathetically.
The next few hours pass in silence. Max drinks her tea, even after it turns cold, fields a phone call from her sister, and pets the dog until her hand goes numb. Gordon sits, unmoving, still as stone, watching her. She ignores the itch in her skin from being watched and comforts herself with the animal by her side.
Finally, Tremain comes up the stairs, exhausted.
"Well, he's alive. I closed up, and he'll need rest for four days minimum. You hear me, Gordon? I better not see Batman on the news for a week, or I will be unhappy." Gordon waves him off, and he disappears down the hall. Max gets to her feet.
"Maybe McGinnis is right. Maybe you could handle it." She pauses, just barely.
"Handle what?" Gordon gets to her feet.
"Batgirl. But…I don't think you have the fire." She raises an eyebrow. Gordon smiles.
"All of us get into this game because we're pissed at something. You're not angry enough yet. But maybe, after this, you'll do it because you want to watch out for him." Max has nothing to say to this, so she just nods and jogs down the steps.
Terry lays on the table, a blanket covering him. The bat suit lays in shreds on the floor, and equipment has been moved subtly. After a moment, she moves forward to examine the angry stitching holding his side together. There's a blood smear on the table, crusted dry. Terry is asleep, his face pale and sweaty.
After a moment of anxious back-and-forthing, Max peeks under the blanket. She swears in relief that he's not naked, then bundles the blanket around him and looks around. A wheelchair is folded up against a wall, and she settles Terry into it carefully.
It takes her a while to get him home and into bed without his mom noticing. She pins an impressive copy of Terry's handwriting to his bedroom door.
Sorry I was out so late, studying with Max 'til 3. Sleeping it off.
Then she sneaks home and collapses into bed.
Around noon the next day, she takes a notebook over to Terry's and claims she needs to drop it off. Terry is still in bed, though his covers are tangled with his feet sticking out and his nose the only thing visible above them. She sits on the edge of the bed and shifts his hair out of his eyes.
His eyes open slowly, an intense and tired gaze. She yanks her hand back and smiles.
"Hey. Nice to see you're alive." He coughs a little and smiles back.
"Hi," he whispers, voice hoarse. After a moment, he kicks his blankets down and scratches his side. If it's painful, he doesn't show it.
"So…I assume you brought me home?" The pent up, exhausted anxiety that has been dredging her down for the past twelve hours bursts, and she's crying into her hands and Terry has his arms wrapped tenderly around her, if not a little stiffly.
"Hey, Max, it's fine. I'm fine, okay? Look, breathing and everything." She hiccups on a laugh and wipes her eyes. After blinking at each other for a moment, Terry mutters,
"You look exhausted." She nods, and smothers a squeak when he pushes her down on the bed. He gives her one of his blankets and takes the other, and she kicks off her shoes before wrapping up in her blanket and shoving herself up against him.
He's warm, and smells like clean skin. She lays back and breathes it in.
AN: So this is another random character blurb thing. I keep coming back to this "Max could be Batgirl" thing. And does anyone know the dog's name? I keep wanting to call him Ace. Doctor Tremain was orginally Doctor McCoy, but I don't want to do any kind of crossover. Also, why is there so much cursing? Fuck.