The mutagen antidote had worked as expected. Beside him, McGinnis lay out, sprawled unconscious on a gurney. His breathing had returned to normal, and at a quick glance so had his features. No sign of vampire bat abnormalities remained.
He was running through a chromosome by chromosome analysis of Terry's DNA, though, just to be safe.
Ace kept vigil over the boy as he monitored the data speeding across the computer's giant screen, a whirlwind of information almost faster than the eye could trace. There was a lot to go through; the information nearly took a whole five minutes for the computer to process.
"Scan complete. No residual traces of desmodus rotundus found in sample DNA."
"Good. Run through the scan again and—"
A line of code caught his eyes, and something entirely unexpected took place. Even though he had never looked in-depth at Terry's genetic makeup, had never had the computer do any sort of medical check on the boy beyond basic blood analysis and x-ray scans, the DNA sequence was jarringly... familiar.
He rose to his feet.
"Computer, display McGinnis' full gonosome sequence on screen."
With a series of quiet beeps the machine complied with his order. He was vaguely aware of how tightly his left hand curled around the handle of his cane as he glared at the information on display. Beside him, Ace gave a whine of confusion, but he paid it no mind.
"Cross index Y chromosome STR markers against every entry in the database."
Blood pounded in his ears. Surely he was just jumping to conclusions, noticing a pattern that didn't actually exist. Surely he had just gotten tired from exerting himself earlier, when he had to fend off the hideously spliced man-bat that McGinnis had become. Surely all of this was just in his head.
The image of another Y chromosome appeared on screen, with key genetic markers highlighted on it and McGinnis' genetic code. An exact match. He didn't even have to glance at the photo and name provided to know whom the matching sequence belonged to.
It was impossible. It didn't make any sense—except that it did. Terry's physique, his appearance. All the other non-physical similarities that he and the boy had noted they shared in common.
Yet he hadn't even slept with anyone in the last two decades, much less Mary McGinnis.
Possibilities whirled around his mind, and he forced a calm upon himself in order to develop a list of hypotheses. One by one he struck out each option until only one possibility remained.
Why? Why did Cadmus ever do anything at all?
Gotham always needed a Batman, they must have reasoned. Disgust welled in him, and a cold rage he had not felt in a very long time. Waller had a lot to answer for.
Even as he burned in anger, his mind, still racing, reached another conclusion. He whirled around to look at the boy laid out on the gurney behind him.
McGinnis was still out for the count. This observation was met with a surge of relief.
He let his options rest then, for a moment's heartbeat. Then a moment longer, as he surveyed the boy's unconscious form. Finally, he turned back to the computer screen.
"Computer. Delete all data from previous cross-reference and scans."
The monitor, no longer in use, went into standby and winked out. He breathed a sigh of relief.
The boy should never view their work as an obligation. He deserved to grow up making his own choices, being his own man. He himself could never claim to be Terry's father, and usurp another man's place. They were merely mentor and student, comrades. Nothing had changed.
Only now... now it was different.
He re-seated himself, allowing himself to pet the dog at his side to regain his composure. After a moment, he closed his eyes and brought his hands together in front of him, touching fingertip to fingertip in meditation.
He had never expected this to come to pass. With only a handful of dalliances and an even smaller number of women he had held close to his heart, he had never thought it would happen.
Somehow he had a son.
He turned his chair to the side, to look at the boy. Studying the youth's face, he felt a surge of confusion. Concern. Protectiveness. Pride. Love. They had all been there before, prior to this realization... hadn't they?
But now it was different.
He had lost track of time, and was still staring openly at McGinnis when the boy groaned out and opened his eyes.
Beside him, Ace growled. He kept his own expression level, impassive.
"Nice to see you too," said McGinnis to the dog, moving to sit upright on the gurney. Judging by his voice, the boy was still groggy but had nearly recuperated from the tolls of the healing process.
"Can't say I blame him," he said, keeping his voice level. "You roughed us up before I could cure you." Decades of experience allowed him to continue on the conversation nonchalantly, and nothing even seemed out of place when he realized he had missed one of the geneticist's broken-off claws on the Batsuit due to being caught up in the results of his genetic scans. He sent McGinnis on his way without the boy suspecting a thing.
And then he was left alone with his thoughts once again.
Somewhere in the cave, a bat let out a skittering of noise. There was the familiar sound of the flittering of leathery wings.
What he was feeling—Hope? Shock? A sense of belonging?—would surely pass. But he had a son. He had a connection. He had family that he hadn't yet pushed away. The boy had already represented all of these things when he had taken on the Mantle of the Bat, but this was somehow more than that.
This was different.
Swinging open the door to his room, Terry tossed his backpack and jacket onto the floor and collapsed onto his bed.
Cuvier had taken a lot out of him that day. He would have lost the fight against the loony splicer if Ace hadn't been there. He wouldn't even have made it that far if Mr. Wayne hadn't been his usual anticipatory self and prepared huge doses of the curative antigen in advance.
Another successful day as the Batman.
He was exhausted, and it didn't take long for him to start drifting off. He was already half-dozing when the loud and unwelcome ringing of his cell startled him back awake. Ignoring it, he let it ring on for a half-dozen clicks, but when it showed no sign of relenting Terry reached for where it lay on the floor with a groan.
"McGinnis." His employer was his usual sunny, polite self.
"Bruce, I just got into bed." He rubbed at his eyes, trying not to sound too pathetic. "If there's a situation I'll get up, but I can't guarantee I won't fall asleep on my feet."
There was a pause on the other end of the line, so much so that Terry nearly drifted off in the interval. Then:
"No, it's nothing. Get some rest."
"'kay," he replied, taking that as permission to fall back on his mattress. But for some reason, the old man did not hang up just yet.
"...Terry." Bruce's voice had an odd sound to it, though he was way too tired to question why.
"Night," he said, and clicked the button to end the call. Tossing the phone back onto the floor, he shut his eyes and thought nothing more of the particular conversation. That night, and Bruce's strange behaviour, would not cross his mind for many years to come.