The King is Dead... Long Live the King

A Batman Beyond Fanfic
by Mike Yamiolkoski

Notes: I have not seen all the Batman Beyond episodes, and therefore there may be some elements in this story that run contradictory to events on the show itself. I have tried to remain faithful to the show as it is without changing the characters or the tone, with the exception of portraying a situation that has never and likely never will occur on the actual show.

I have also read very little in the way of other fanfic - at least, that was the case before I wrote this. After completing the first draft, I took a brief glance at some other Batman Beyond fic, and found that my chosen theme has been done a few times (as I assumed it had) but it does seem that I have a different take on it than has been done before. The reason I stayed away from other fic before I wrote this is because I wanted my story to be based solely on the show, and not be colored by what I had read by other fans.

+++++++++

G-forces pushed Terry McGinnis into his seat as the Batmobile smoothly took a turn around the Wayne-Powers building. It was an unusually quiet night in Gotham. So far, Batman's heroic escapades had consisted of foiling a purse snatcher who gave up without a fight, and reporting a small fire in a back alley to the authorities.

"Pretty dull out here tonight," Terry said aloud. "And I suppose you're going to say something like, 'that's when you have to be extra careful.'"

"You've been doing this long enough to have some instincts of your own by now," Bruce Wayne replied over the radio. "Perhaps it genuinely is a quiet night. They do happen every couple of years."

Terry was momentarily stunned - Mr. Wayne didn't usually show such blind confidence in him. "So, maybe I could come back early?"

"So much for your instincts."

Terry grinned - that was more like it. "Okay, once more around the town."

"I'm going to go off-radio for a bit. If anything does happen, you know how to reach me."

"Roger." Terry brought the Batmobile up and around for another convoluted flight around the city, glad that for once that he might have an evening that didn't involve risking life and limb.

+++++++++

Two hours later, Terry left the city as quiet as he'd found it and directed the Batmobile back toward home. He wondered when he had started thinking of the Batcave as home. Truth be told, he was far more comfortable there than he was at his actual home - perhaps because he didn't have the burden of keeping his secret when in the company of Mr. Wayne. For a moment, Terry's hand hovered over the call switch, but then he let it drop. Mr. Wayne surely realized he'd be coming back by now, no point in hitting the panic button just to say that much. The old geezer's heart could only take so much.

The Batmobile whipped around the cliff's edge, out over the sea, and plunged back into the mountainside, where it seemed to disappear into solid rock. Merely a sophisticated hologram, naturally, one of many hidden entrances to the lair of the Bat.

The car's automatic pilot took over in the tunnel, giving Terry a chance to stretch muscles that were, for once, stiff from sitting for so long rather than sore from a recent beating. The particular entrance he'd chosen tonight happened to have a long tunnel approach, as it was located nearly twenty miles from the main cave. Terry wondered how much of the tunnel was natural and how much Mr. Wayne had needed to hollow out. If only the public could have seen the Batcave system, it would be hailed as one of the greatest engineering marvels of the world - particularly since it had been done almost entirely by one man.

The trip through the twenty-mile tunnel took barely four minutes for the swift Batmobile. Soon the craft emerged from the tunnel into the main cave, and settled on the platform which had once supported a very different Batmobile, the car that had long since taken its place among Mr. Wayne's extraordinary trophy collection.

Terry bounced out of the sleek hovercraft and pulled off the mask, running his fingers through his matted hair. He glanced over at the massive computer station - Mr. Wayne wasn't there. That was unusual.

"Mr. Wayne?" he called. Some real bats stirred from their roost on the ceiling and fluttered about, screeching their almost inaudible squeaks.

"Mr. Wayne? I'm here!"

Silence.

Terry felt suddenly very cold.

He ran to the computer terminal and spun the chair around to make absolutely sure Mr. Wayne wasn't there. The chair was empty.

"BRUCE!!" he shouted, as loud as he could.

This time, he got an answer - but it wasn't the one he wanted. A high, soft whimpering. It was Ace.

Terry followed the sound, which grew from a whimper to a long and mournful howl. He ran past the trophy cases that held the paraphernalia of such memorable adversaries as the Riddler, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Scarface, the Joker. Beyond them were the Batsuits, the Robin suits, and continuing into the large chamber behind them where the larger memorabilia were kept: the Batmobile, the half-destroyed BatWing, the Batsignal.

The Batsignal was on.

Terry hadn't even known it still worked, but it apparently did. The light was far dimmer than it must have been in its day, but it still threw its proud image on the high ceiling. For the first time, Terry noticed the section of the ceiling where the signal was pointed had been designed to open - to place the signal in the clouds? What else could it be for?

All these details he took in in half a second. Then his attention was caught by the form just below the light.

Mr. Wayne. And Ace, standing guard over him.

Terry ran forward, his cry of alarm unable to squeeze past the lump in his throat. Ace backed away slightly as Terry reached the side of his fallen mentor, turned him over, felt the neck for a pulse.

There was none. The body was cold and still.

Terry's anguished cries echoed through the cave.

+++++++++

"I knew this day would come soon. I thought I was ready for it." Barbara Gordon allowed a tear to slip down her cheek.

The body of Bruce Wayne lay on his bed, eyes closed, hands across his chest, peaceful. Ace stood guard at his side, his body alert, his eyes betraying his pain. Terry sat in the large chair by the window, still dressed in the Batsuit from the neck down.

"I'm glad you called," Barbara added.

"I didn't know what else to do," Terry replied. "I still don't know what to do - or what I could have done."

"There was nothing," Barbara assured him. "It was simply his time. Believe me, it was better this way than it might have been. It was peaceful. There were a lot of times, more than I could count, that it might have ended a lot worse."

"He tried to signal me," Terry said hollowly. "He had activated the old Batsignal, and he was going to open the doors so I would see it. I might have been able to get back in time to save him."

"You never would have seen it, even if he had gotten the door open," Barbara assured him. "The light only had a thousand-watt bulb in it. Far too dim for you to have seen from the city."

"I still should have been here."

Barbara put a hand of Terry's shoulder. "He would have wanted you out there protecting Gotham, not in here being his nurse. Bruce was an old man, Terry. You can stop Mad Stan from blowing up City Hall, but you can't stop a massive heart attack." Barbara sighed. "Look, we need to take care of some unpleasant necessities. You need to get out of that suit, and seal up the Batcave. I need to get the coroner down here. We'll have to tell him that you found Bruce on the floor in his study, and carried him in here because you felt it was undignified for him to be on the floor."

Terry didn't move.

"Terry," Barbara said. "If we don't take care of this now, and properly, there might be a push for investigation. Bruce was very wealthy and powerful, and anything that's not done by the book could indicate that he has something to hide. Which he does. And it needs to stay hidden."

Terry nodded, and left the room. At the door, he stopped and looked back at his mentor, his teacher, his... father.

"What will I do without him?" he whispered, too low to be heard.

+++++++++

"Yesterday, Gotham City lost its leading citizen, Mr. Bruce Wayne, who died at his home at the age of ninety-three. Cause of death has been reported as a massive heart attack."

Terry muted the TV, allowing the images to unfold without the distraction of the anchorman's detached voice. What followed were bits of old stock footage of Bruce Wayne attending fundraisers, presiding over his business, appearing at various events with political figures, at one point even shaking hands with the President of the United States. His life work, as far as the public knew. Nowhere, of course, was there any mention of his true calling, his real benefit to society. Only a very select few knew that they had not only lost Bruce Wayne, they had lost Gotham's guardian angel.

"I am Batman." Terry remembered vividly when he had first spoken those words. But were they really true? Could he be Batman on his own? How many times had Bruce saved his skin, compared to how many times Terry had taken care of a crisis on his own? Really on his own?

"Terry?"

Terry didn't look up. "Hi mom," he mumbled.

"Terry, I'm so sorry, honey. I know what Mr. Wayne meant to you." Terry's mother sat on the couch next to him and offered a one-armed hug.

"He meant more than you know," Terry said.

His mom sighed. "Terry, this is very difficult for me to say, but... since you couldn't have your real father, I'm g-glad you had someone like Mr. Wayne. He was as good a man as they come."

Terry looked at his mother, startled. Even though she didn't know, she knew. She really knew what he had lost, even if she couldn't possibly know the details.

He cried in his mother's arms for a long, long time.

+++++++++

"Hey Terry."

"Hey Max."

"How are you doing?"

"I've been worse. Just once, though."

Max nodded, knowing what Terry was talking about. "Look, Terry, you know you don't need to keep the night job. You've already done a lot, and I think the boss would agree with me."

Terry shook his head. "You don't understand, Max," he said. "Think about what would happen if Batman disappeared on the same night Bruce died. It doesn't take a genius to see that there must be a connection. I have to keep doing it, because if I don't, the secret is out."

"Terry, not to be cruel about it, but so the hell what? Bruce didn't have a family. There's no one for his enemies to take their revenge against. Maybe he'll even be honored for it, you can't deny that as many people love him as hate him."

Terry turned to Max. "Max, you're not thinking! Let's say someone does figure it out. They must realize that Bruce himself isn't the Batman anymore, because suit or no suit, he was over ninety years old. But they would know he was working with Batman, and they would know that I was Bruce's personal assistant. Who does that leave as the most likely candidate for the man behind the mask? And what happens to my family when that connection is made?"

Max looked at the ground. "I hadn't thought of that," she said quietly.

"Well, that settles one thing, anyway," Terry said, turning on his heel. "Batman makes his rounds tonight."

"Terry!" Max shouted, but he didn't turn back. She watched him stomp away, a frightening anger and resolution in every step. "Don't you die too, Terry," she whispered.

+++++++++

Terry leaned hard to the right and felt the wind catch his "wings" as he whipped around the spires of Gotham City. Only the suit's tensing exoskeleton preventing him from snapping his neck on the hairpin turns as he made one reckless dive after another, missing hard concrete structures by inches as he flew. He'd ditched the Batmobile some time ago, unable to bear the silence within its cabin. So many times he remembered wishing Bruce would just shut up and let him be Batman on his own - now, he would have done anything to hear that gruff, admonishing voice.

He paused at the top of a short-wave transmission tower, scanning the streets below for trouble. He was itching for it tonight. He almost felt like letting a few choice foes out of prison just for the chance to whomp them some.

Then he saw what he was looking for. Jokerz. Leaving the usual path of mayhem and destruction in their wake. Looked like an impromptu street party had culminated in a massive bonfire.

Terry pushed off the tower and dove under full rocket power.

+++++++++

"Hey, Chucko! I'll bet that would burn pretty good!"

Chucko tossed aside what was left of his pizza, belching loudly, and took a look at Harpie's latest find. Looked like some kind of gas can. With any luck, it still had some gas in it. "Let's find out!" he snarfed, and went to pick it up.

This was the best party the Jokerz had had in weeks - and like all the good ones, it hadn't even been planned. They'd been schlumping around the unofficial Red Light District, enjoying a few breaking noises and throwing lines at the ladies of the night. Pretty boring, really. But then Jocko had found a recent wreck, some kind of hovercraft, that was leaking fuel, and they'd torched it. Instant party!

The gas can proved really heavy, which was good, as it was probably fully loaded. Chucko heaved it up onto his shoulders, gave a count of three, and launched it onto the blaze.

It must have broken on impact, as the fire suddenly flared up like a volcano. The gang cheered even as they scrambled out of the way of a fire that had instantly grown to three times its former size. Chucko felt a great satisfaction. Hmm, what was that coming flying out of the flames? Looked almost like a person -

A shattering impact sent him flying backwards. He felt his ribs snap as whatever it was hit him with stunning force, sending him tumbling into a car parked at the side of the street. His head cracked the window and all went dark, but not before he caught a final glimpse of the glowing, glaring red eyes of the Bat.

+++++++++

Terry had made the most of the element of surprise, launching himself straight through the flames of the bonfire. The explosion had been unexpected, but so great was his velocity that he was through the blaze before the suit had even registered the warmth. The fat clown he hit was down before he'd even seen what got him.

The rest of the Jokerz were still stunned by the sudden turn of events. One of them had the presence of mind to shout something like, "It's the Batman! Get him!" but Terry had all the advantage. He leaped like a jaguar at the nearest clown and struck him once, with all his enhanced strength. He felt the Joker's jaw crack under his hand. The clown went down.

By then, one of them had jumped on his back. No matter. Terry grabbed the man's wrist and flipped him over onto the sidewalk, hard. A sudden impact at the side of his face clocked his neck around, but he barely felt it. Using the momentum from the very blow he'd just taken, Terry whipped around and delivered a kick of his own to his latest assailant. One of the Dee-Dee twins, he realized in some rational corner at the back of his mind. His kick connected solidly with the slim girl's head, and she collapsed.

Another Joker tried to tackle him. Terry leaped from the clown's grasp and caught him buy the throat, then flexed out a sharp Batarang. He drew the blade up to the man's neck and -

"Terry! STOP IT!!!"

Terry dropped the Batarang, startled. Had he really just heard Bruce's voice?

He looked around, as if for the first time. The Jokerz were running, those that still could. The ones he'd already hit were on the ground, not moving except to breathe. The one he still held in a deadly grip was struggling feebly.

Terry let him go. The clown fell to the pavement, too weakened to do more than crawl away.

He's almost killed him. He might have easily killed any of them.

It wasn't Bruce he'd heard, it was some rational part of his own mind, snapping him back to his senses. Saving him from becoming a killer.

Terry turned, shaking, to the bonfire. He stared into its flames for longer than he should have, trying desperately to make sense of his own feelings, pulling himself together. It was only the sound of approaching fire-control craft that shook him out of his reverie.

He fired a couple of flame-retardant bombs into the blaze before taking off into the night.

+++++++++

About an hour later, Terry sat on the roof of Wayne-Powers headquarters, still trying to sort out his thoughts. Never had he flown into such a rage. Never had he come so close to killing someone - and doing it deliberately. Bruce would have been deeply ashamed of him. He had brought dishonor onto the Batman.

How long he sat there, he didn't know. Minutes or hours later, he heard a buzzing in his ear.

"McGinnis?"

It was Commissioner Gordon. Terry sighed - he should have expected this. "Yes, Commissioner?"

"McGinnis, come to my office as soon as you can. We need to talk."

"I'm on my way."

+++++++++

"They're all alive, in case you were wondering."

Barbara Gordon paced in front of the window through which Terry had just entered. He had come in quietly, and stood in the middle of the room, not even looking at the Commissioner. He presented the appearance of a small boy waiting to be punished, not a superhero.

Terry hung his head. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lost it like that. It was wrong of me, very wrong, and I'm sorry."

"I'm more interested in what you're doing out here in the first place." Barbara sat down at her desk and looked Terry in the eye until he returned her gaze. "Terry, I've always had my doubts about whether this city was better off with the Bat back in business, but they were soothed because I've grown old trusting in Bruce's judgment. Now you're a fine young man, and you have a good head on your shoulders. But you are inexperienced, undisciplined, and at the moment you're an emotional wreck. You're in no condition to take a math test, let alone make split-second life-or-death decisions as a costumed vigilante."

Terry didn't respond.

"Now, I'm waiting to hear your explanation of what the hell you thought you were doing out there tonight."

Terry finally looked up. "I'm Batman," he said. "I need to be out there."

"Bruce Wayne was Batman," Barbara responded. "You have filled his shoes admirably, but he's gone now, and maybe the Bat should go with him."

"I've already had this conversation with someone else," Terry said. "If the Batman dies with Bruce, then someone will guess at the secret. And it's not just his secret, it's mine. And yours, in case you'd forgotten."

"I haven't forgotten anything," Barbara said, her voice taking on an edge. "I was battling the likes of the Joker and the Penguin while your mother and father were busy being born. You can't do it alone, Terry. And you have no right to try."

Terry stood up straighter. "Maybe I had no business being out there tonight. It's too soon. I admit that I made a mistake. But what would you have me do? If I give up the Bat, I'm putting my family at risk. I won't do that."

"By continuing to fly around the city, you're putting all of its citizens at risk. I'm warning you, Terry, lay the Bat to rest."

Terry angrily ripped off the cowl and threw it on the desk. "Then I might as well go out like this and hold a press conference!" he shouted. "And then the Jokerz and Spellbinder can get together with Mad Stan and every thug in town for a party at my mother's place! They'll have a grand old time wiping out all of my family and friends. Then they'll come after you – it won't be too hard to guess that someone who was as close to Bruce as you once were must have been in on it. Everything that he ever did as the Batman will be knocked away in one glorious stroke as everyone he, you, and I ever made an enemy of comes crashing down on us! Is that what you want?"

Barbara was quiet for a long time, matching his stare.

The she stood up, and faced the window again. "I think it's time we had a staff meeting. I'll ask you to put the Batsuit in the closet for the next two nights, then meet me at Wayne Manor Saturday evening at eight o'clock. You can go –"

She turned around, but Terry was already gone.

+++++++++

"It's all arranged," Barbara told over the phone the next day. "Tim Drake and Dick Grayson will meet us there. We'll all decide what to do."

"I already know their opinions on the subject," Terry said. "They've wanted the Bat to die for years. Why even bother discussing it, it's a foregone conclusion."

"Look Terry," Barbara said angrily. "Despite what you may think, we are all on the same side here. And you aren't the only one with a family to consider. Now you can show up and have a say in this, or you can go sulk and we'll decide without your input."

Terry hung up. None of them would care what he had to say. He was the new kid, emphasis on "kid." They barely acknowledged his existence - he reminded them all of a life they'd rather forget. He needed someone in his court, someone they would respect. Max was out, obviously – he couldn't expect they'd even let her stay. And he wasn't prepared to share the secret with anyone else, it had to be someone who already knew.

He thought for a long time. Then the answer came to him.

+++++++++

"You have no idea how hard it is to get a hold of you."

"I can imagine."

"So, you obviously must have heard the news."

"Yes. I should have called you myself. I'm sorry."

"You're a busy man. I understand."

"I also heard you went on your rounds the other night. That was courageous of you. A bit foolhardy, but courageous."

"I was kind of hoping you'd be on my side for this."

"To a point."

"You owe me your life. I'd think that would count for something."

"Don't presume to exercise judgment for me, Mr. McGinnis. I'm well aware of what I owe you, but I will make my decisions based on what I feel is the best course of action."

"I'm sorry. I haven't been myself lately."

"Understandable."

"So, you'll be there?"

"Of course."

+++++++++

Terry arrived at the Batcave through one of the many secret entrances, wearing the Batsuit, entering the same way he fully intended to enter for years to come - as the Batman. Wings and rockets allowed him to drop to a perfect landing on the platform next to the Batmobile. He whipped off the cowl.

"Mr. McGinnis, I presume?" asked a voice behind him.

Terry turned around and saw a familiar face that he'd never really seen, but if he allowed for the passing of years, and compared the face to the pictures he'd seen... "Mr. Grayson."

Dick Grayson looked a little older than Barbara, though Terry knew they were about the same age. His hair was long and iron gray, tied in a ponytail that hung low on his back. He dressed in a black overcoat that was years out of style, but which fit him so well that it looked classic rather than old-fashioned. His left eye was covered by a black patch. Like Bruce, he walked with a cane - Terry noticed that it was, in fact, the same cane, and that he wasn't really using it for support, just holding it. Apparently, Grayson had a point or two of his own to make about who was in charge now.

"I wondered if we would ever meet. It's unfortunate it had to be under these circumstances."

Terry hesitated, not knowing exactly what to say. Then he said, "I think Mr. Wayne would be glad you're here."

Grayson gave him a cold stare, as if to say, don't presume to tell me how Bruce felt, I knew him far better than you. Then he wandered over to the glass cases in which the suits were enclosed, pausing in front of the Nightwing costume. "Interesting way to make an entrance," he said, not looking at Terry. "Something wrong with the stairs?"

"Something wrong with your leg?" Terry shot back. He refused to appear intimidated by this man, even though that was how he felt. If he was to have any chance of proving his worth as Batman, he had to show no fear.

Grayson raised his exposed eyebrow at Terry, then smiled - but it was a smile without much humor. "Bruce's protégés just got more belligerent as time went on, didn't they?"

"The problems you had with him don't have to extend to me," Terry said, fighting to keep his temper down. "I'm not an extension of Bruce, I'm my own person. That's a concept I'd think you of all people would understand."

For a moment, Terry saw anger flare in Grayson's eye, which quickly faded. "We're here to discuss the fate of Batman, not our relationship with Bruce," he said in an icy calm voice, and went to take his place at a table that had been set up for the occasion.

Terry noticed he'd left the cane leaning against the glass cases. He counted that as a victory of sorts.

+++++++++

"Thank you both for coming," Barbara Gordon said as she stepped down the stairs into the cave. "It's been a while, Dick."

"Too long, Barbara," Grayson responded with a warm smile. "You're looking well, under the circumstances."

Terry nodded his greeting at the Commissioner. He was feeling more like the odd man out all the time.

"What about Tim?" Grayson asked. "Is he on his way?"

"He'll be a bit late," Barbara responded. "He didn't want to come, but I insisted. I felt we should all be here."

Grayson nodded.

"How are you holding up, Terry?" Barbara asked. Her eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly at the sight of the Batsuit, but she gave no other indication that she noticed anything unusual about him.

"Not too badly," Terry said. "A bit hard to sleep. I'm not used to having two nights off in a row."

"The crazy hours tend to stick with you," Barbara said. "I can't remember the last time I was able to get more than five hours of sleep in a given night. Which is useful for police work."

"Speaking of which, I've noticed the city's behaving itself lately," Grayson mentioned. Terry's eyes narrowed - he felt that this might be a stroke designed to show that Batman wasn't needed in Gotham anymore.

"I've had my people putting in overtime," Barbara responded. "Batman's absence is bad for the crime rate."

Terry smirked.

"For the short term," Barbara finished without even looking in Terry's direction.

His smile faded quickly away.

"I'm here," came a voice from the stairs.

Terry turned to look. It was Tim Drake, looking tired and apprehensive. He hadn't changed much since the last time Terry had seen him, and considering those circumstances, that was hardly a good thing.

"I'm glad you could come, Tim," Barbara said.

"Do we need to do this here?" he asked. "I should think Bruce's library would do just as well."

"It's for security," Barbara said. "This place is completely shielded from every known and theorized method of eavesdropping. We'll be discussing matters that require the strictest privacy. The Batcave is the best place."

Tim nodded, and descended the stairs without further hesitation - though Terry sensed that it required some effort for him to do so. He walked quickly to the table and sat down next to Dick Grayson without another word or a sideways glance.

Terry chose the seat across from Grayson, sensing that in the former Robin he had his most vocal opponent. Barbara took the fourth chair.

"Then let's begin," she said. "Before we say anything, though, I think we should make one thing clear. Terry, I need you to answer me honestly. Did Bruce ever say anything to you, while he was alive, that indicated one way or the other whether he wanted you to continue being the Batman after he was gone?"

Terry felt all eyes on him. He couldn't lie, not here, not about this. "No," he admitted. "He never said anything about it."

"I thought not," Barbara said with a nod. "I searched his computer all day yesterday, and found nothing. Whatever his wishes may have been, he's left us no choice but to decide on our own what to do, without his input."

"May I?" Grayson spoke.

Barbara shrugged. "This isn't a board meeting, and I'm not the chairman. We're here to discuss this matter as equally interested parties."

"Of course," said Grayson, "and I think the best way to begin would be for us all to simply state our opinions at the outset. I think Mr. McGinnis has already made his opinion clear."

"Terry," Terry said.

"Excuse me?"

"If we're here to talk about this as equals, Dick, then let's be friendly. Terry."

Grayson nodded in agreement.

"And like you said," Terry continued. "My opinion is pretty clear. I have my reasons and they're good ones, but I'd like to hear your position first."

"My position, then," Grayson said. "Batman has had his day. He's done a lot of remarkable good, in my day and in yours. But Batman was the alter ego of Bruce Wayne, and can't survive without him. Let him go."

Barbara nodded. "I'm tempted to let him go as well," Barbara said. "But I'm not completely convinced that now is the time. Terry made some good points to me the other day, and got me to thinking that maybe we need to let him continue for a few months longer. Then, we can lay the Bat to rest."

There was silence around the table. "Tim?" Barbara prompted.

Tim Drake stirred. "I don't know," he said. "I don't think I'm the one to ask."

Terry stood up. "Mind if I say a few words?"

"By all means," Grayson said.

Terry drew in a deep breath. "Barbara knows my story. The two of you know edited highlights at best. Let me tell you a little about what this -" he indicated the Batsuit "- what this means to me.

"I was a problem kid. Got into a lot of trouble, gave my parents a lot of grief. I was going nowhere fast. Then I spent a few months in juvy - not the worst thing someone can undergo, but I saw what it did to my mother, my father, my brother. I saw how I was ruining them. And so I decided to go straight.

"Now before you think this is all some kind of inspirational bad-kid-goes-good tale, let me tell you that while this can sound like some cheesy movie of the week when I tell it like this, it's very real and very hard to really live through it. You've all faced some dragons in your lives, some of which I'm only beginning to guess at. But these are my dragons, and you need to understand them to understand where I'm coming from.

"So I'm out. I'm living straight, but the damage is done. My father doesn't respect me anymore, even though I can tell he desperately wants to. He was killed before we could sort out our differences. Murdered. I think that's something that some of us can identify with."

Grayson's face showed no expression.

"But by then, I knew Bruce's secret. I had the means at my disposal for revenge, and I'll admit that's what I was after. Not justice, but revenge. I wanted blood. Bruce stopped me, he didn't want the Bat back in his life either, but then something else happened. He trusted me. He gave me guidance and help, and I did some good. And as time went on, I felt for the first time in my life like I was really making a difference, a positive one. Do you all remember what that felt like? Has it been so long that you can't recall that feeling of really doing something good?"

"This isn't about making ourselves feel better," Grayson said. "It's about what's best for all concerned. For you as well as the rest of us.

"I remember that feeling very well," Grayson continued. "But I learned over time that there are other ways to get it besides dressing up in a black costume and swinging through the streets throwing Batarangs around. How many times have you come within a hair's breadth of death, Terry? How long do you think you can go on before the Reaper catches up with you? We all beat the odds. You might not. There's a very good chance you won't."

"That's my life, and my chance to take."

"Is it?" Grayson countered. "I've reached the same conclusion you did, that if the Bat disappears at the same time as Bruce, it's a glaring clue as to their connection. But it's just a supposition, with no proof. When you get killed out there - and I say when, not if, because the odds are so stacked against you it's a virtual certainty - the first thing your killer's going to do is take off the mask. Then the secret's really out. Then we're all dead. So don't think for a moment that this is only your decision, any more than it belongs to any one of us alone. This is not a case of us against you, no matter how much you might want to think it is."

"Dick, that's enough," Barbara said. "Let's try not to make this personal."

"But it is personal," said Grayson, his anger beginning to seep through. "This is nothing if not personal. Have you really thought about the risks involved in this line of work, Terry? Take a look at this!"

He ripped off the eyepatch. Terry maintained an expressionless face, though it was difficult with that empty eye socket staring back at him. No, not empty - a clear glass ball. Barbara had looked away.

"This was from Two-Face," Grayson said. "The details aren't important, but if he'd aimed another millimeter to the right, I'd be very, very dead. I'm sure Barbara has her scars to show you as well... and I don't think I need to talk about what happened to Tim."

Tim Drake sat unmoving, staring into the middle distance as if no one else were even there.

"You talk about doing good, about maintaining the secret, about facing down your demons. Noble thoughts. But you still haven't faced one-tenth of what any of us have. And we all had help, from Bruce if from no one else. What makes you think that you can go it alone, where none of us could? Are you so superior to the rest of us at this table?"

"Bruce went it alone," Terry insisted, feeling his conviction slide away under Grayson's assault.

"Bruce trained his entire life from the time he was eight years old," Grayson said. "He honed his body and his mind to a razor edge, he put in the time to become what he became. And even he needed help. You, my young friend, are a self-admitted reformed juvenile delinquent. You've got a magic suit, but that doesn't make you Batman. Bruce Wayne made you Batman. He's gone now, and I for one am not willing to take his place for you."

Terry was silent.

"I know what you're thinking," Grayson said. "You're thinking that you haven't asked me to take his place, and how dare I even make the assumption. Well, let me ask you a few things. What makes you Batman? I'm not talking about your morals, or your intentions, or your conviction to do good. I grant that you have what it takes there. But that just makes you a good and decent person. It doesn't make you Batman."

"Where are you going with this, Dick?" Barbara asked. "If all you're trying to do is wear down Terry's resolve -"

"I'm trying to point out a few realities to him. Such as: when is the Batmobile's next scheduled tune-up?"

"Huh?" Terry asked. That question had come from totally out of left field.

"All right, let's try something easier," Grayson continued. "How do you re-load the system program for that Batsuit? How do you go about manufacturing replacement Batarangs? What's the formula for the antidote to the Joker's toxin? And getting back to the Batmobile, let's say it needed a tune-up tomorrow - do you have any clue how to do it? Could you even fix a lousy dent in the door if you had to?"

Terry was speechless.

"Face it, Terry, you need help. I could give you some, to be sure, but I'm done playing costumed vigilante, and even if I did want to help you, all this equipment in here is twenty years past my experience. I could fix that car in the museum room if I had to, but I don't know how to repair the hovercraft any more than you do."

"I could," Tim said quietly.

Everyone turned to stare at him.

Tim looked up. "I could do it," he said again. "I have the specs, and the knowledge."

"What are you saying?" Terry said. "Are you saying that you would be the man on the inside?"

Tim went silent again.

"Tim?" Barbara prompted. "Terry deserves an answer."

"I... I spoke too soon," Tim said. "I can't do it. I don't want that life back again. I'm sorry, I had no business saying I could."

"What if we worked together on this?" Terry prompted. "I could be the man in the suit. Tim, you could keep the equipment. Barbara, you're the liaison to the police department. Dick, you're in charge. Bruce is gone, but all of us together can be what he once was!"

"Terry, haven't you been listening?" Grayson said, shaking his head. "We don't want to do this. We've been there, and put in our time. You're the only one here who wants this to go on. We want it laid to rest. I understand that you're a young man with a life ahead of him, but we want that life behind us. Am I right?"

Tim said nothing, but his silence spoke volumes.

"Barbara?" Terry asked.

Barbara shook her head. "He's right, Terry. We want it to end. I'm sorry, I guess I misled you before. We had our minds made up before we got here."

Terry stood up angrily. "And how do you people intend to stop me If I decide I want to keep doing it?"

"Don't do this, Terry," Barbara said.

Grayson stood up to face him. "You should know, Terry, that Bruce Wayne specified in his will that this property, Wayne Manor and its grounds, was to go to me. That means this cave is mine and so is everything in it. You have the suit, I grant you that, but how far can just the suit get you? Don't make this harder than it needs to be."

Terry backed away from the table. "So you are all against me," he said.

"We're trying to save your life," Grayson insisted.

"My life is over anyway!" Terry shouted. "How many times do I have to say this? If the Batman dies on the same night as Bruce Wayne, it doesn't take a genius to figure it all out! Surely you all realize that!"

Barbara stood up. "I have a suggestion," she said. "Let's provide Terry with the support he needs -" she stared at Grayson, who cut off his own protest "- for six months. He will continue to make his rounds as Batman, and I'll see to it that he has the support of the police department so that the risk - and I agree it's still considerable - is minimized. Then, when the time is right, we send the suit out on its own. It can be programmed to move by itself. And we kill it."

"Kill it?" Terry asked.

"We stage a very public, very destructive death for the Batman. We blow the suit into shreds, leaving just enough behind to prove that it was the genuine article, but not enough to leave any human remains that might have been in it. And Batman dies. It will be over."

Silence around the table.

"Are we in agreement?" Barbara asked.

Grayson nodded. "I will do my part," he said. "Tim?"

Tim Drake nodded slowly.

"Terry?" asked Barbara.

Terry leaned hard on his hands. "Is it possible that you all really have forgotten the good that Batman does? How many times he's prevented this city from going up in smoke? How many individual lives he's saved? And after all that, you want to kill him?"

"It has to end sometime," Grayson pointed out. "What will you do, otherwise? Take in a kid off the street when you're too old to continue on, and the cycle repeats itself? How long can it go on?"

Terry fell silent.

"If you refuse, Terry, we'll have to do it without you," Grayson said. "That means the suit will be destroyed immediately, not six months down the road. It makes it that much more likely that someone will guess at the truth. Don't put us all in jeopardy for the sake of a dream that's past its time."

"Can't we at least discuss it further?" Terry asked.

"I think we've all said everything we need to say. The three of us are in agreement. You've given your arguments, and we've considered them carefully. There is nothing more to say."

"Yes, there is," said a new voice from the deep shadows at the back of the cave.

Everyone spun around, startled, searching for the source of the voice.

Everyone but Terry, who simply said, "How long have you been here?"

"Long enough," the voice spoke.

"Who are you!" Grayson shouted, his body tensed like a steel coil. Terry could see the Robin - or Nightwing - in him more clearly than he would have been able to imagine. Tim Drake, too, crouched at the ready, while Barbara stood with her pistol leveled at the source of the voice.

"Don't worry," Terry said. "I invited him."

Grayson spun back around to face him, his eye blazing furiously. "What the hell gave you the right to invite anyone else to these proceedings!" he shouted. "You talk about the need to preserve the secret, the honor you find in Batman, and now you do this?"

"It's all right, Dick," Barbara said, her voice suddenly more relaxed.

Dick Grayson turned, and finally got a good look at their hidden eavesdropper. A man dressed in black, with a stylized white symbol across his broad, muscled chest. A man who glided down from the high ceiling of the cave supported by nothing but air.

"Superman..." he whispered.

++++++++

An hour later, the five of them stood overlooking the ocean, on the cliffside behind Wayne Manor.

"Are you sure this is what you want?" Barbara asked Terry.

"It's what I have to do," Terry said. "I'm just not ready yet. I can't let it go."

"I still think you're making a mistake," Grayson said. "But I'm willing to go along with it." He sighed, suddenly looking much older than he was. "I said before that I wished we'd met under different circumstances," he said. "I wish it even more now. Forty years ago, I might have called you Friend."

"I'm willing to do so now, if you'll let me," Terry said, holding out his hand.

Dick Grayson shook it. "Batman and Robin shouldn't be adversaries," he said with a smile.

Tim Drake held out his hand as well. "I'd just like to say goodbye," he said quietly. "No offense, but I never, ever want to have Batman in my life again. I'm sure you understand."

"Of course," Terry said, nodding gravely.

Barbara stepped up to him next. "I may wish it weren't true, but Gotham will miss its crusader," she said.

"He'll be around. Just not as much."

"Have a good life, McGinnis." Barbara followed Dick Grayson and Tim Drake back to their cars.

Terry turned to Superman. "Thank you," he said.

Superman smiled. "You have a lot of conviction, my young friend," he said. "Not much discipline, but we can work on that."

"Don't hold your breath," Terry said with a smirk.

"Well, we have a lot to do. Everything in the cave will need to be moved, in secret of course. Then the cave will be sealed." His voice dropped to a lower tone. "You should know that Bruce asked to be buried there. I've already removed his body from Gotham Cemetery. We will hold services for him after the cave is emptied."

"I'll be there, of course."

Superman's voice grew hoarse. "We had our differences," he said. "But in a way, I felt closer to him than any other human being I've ever met. We shared a kindred spirit. I see it in you as well. Bruce always did know how to pick his friends."

Terry nodded. He thought of the responsibility he was to shoulder, a duty that he now carried alone. He had help, and support, but he alone was the Batman now.

"To the Watchtower, then?" he asked, slipping on the cowl.

Superman nodded. "The Justice League is proud to welcome you."

The End

End Notes:

This was my first Batman Beyond fanfic. It may be my only one, I don't know. I have an idea for another story, but it's a far more complex plot than this one and I may not want to put in the work. There will be no sequel to this story - I am not interested in writing about the Justice League.

I guessed at Bruce Wayne's age and the history of Dick Grayson up to the time frame of Batman Beyond. I made other suppositions throughout the story, but whenever possible I relied on what is known from the show and drew logical conclusions from that.

My thanks go out to the following people:

Bob Kane, for creating the remarkable character of Batman.

DC Comics, Warner Brothers, and AOL Time Warner for giving him a home.

The creators of Batman Beyond and all the people who work of the show.

The webmasters who are kind enough to post this story.

My beta reader (and beautiful wife) Rachel. For the record, she has no knowledge of Batman Beyond and so any inconsistencies between the show and my story are entirely my own fault.

Batman, Terry McGinnis, and other characters appearing in this story are not my creation and are used without permission.

This story, with the words chosen just so and put together in the proper order, is my creation, Copyright 2002 by Mike Yamiolkoski, and was written without the intention of making profit. I hereby grant permission for anyone to copy and post this story on the web as long as it remains unaltered with this notice intact.

E-Mail Mike Yamiolkoski at MikeYamiolkoski@msn.com.