A/N: Curse you Batman! I was perfectly content with updating my regular stories until an old friend introduced me to this series I'd seen once when I was a kid: Batman Beyond. I'm already up to season two, and so far I must admit, I like what I've seen. There were so many throwbacks to he original series that I couldn't help but to enjoy myself. This particular little ficlet, was inspired by the episode "Dead Man's Hand" for those of you who have seen it, I think it was one of the more enjoyable episodes. That was when something ocurred to me. Terry never really had a rival or a true nemesis to contend with in the series, did he? An anti-hero, if you will. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought it might be amusing to see his reaction when faced with a certain brash blond with a penchant for women and the unpredictable.

And with that...

...enjoy this latest-and last-masterpiece, Once Burned, Twice Shy!

"Funny thing about masks. You never know who's wearing one."

~?

Once Burned, Twice Shy

"Abunai, McGinnis-san!"

Terrence "Terry" McGinnis looked up just in time to catch a flash of sapphire and saffron in his peripheal vision. Then someone bowled him over. Hard. Said unfortunate someone spat an impreciation in japanese as they went down together, sent sprawling down the steps leading to the school building. A chorus of gasps and sympahetic cries greeted their unfortunate tumble as they toppled down the stairs, tangled up in a mess of arms and legs and angry curses.

Stars-whole planets-exploded before Terry's vision as he struggled to untangle himself from his attacker; it took him several seconds to realize those stars came from the fall, not from being struck on the head. Wincing at the pain throbbing in the back of his skull, he turned himself toward the one responsible for this ungodly misfortune.

"Baka yarou!" An insult assaulted his ears. "Kono yarou!"

The culprit scrambled backwards like a drunken crab, cursing all the while in a language Terry couldn't comprehend, no matter how hard he tried. Right. Terry chastised himself. Japanese. He'd taken a refresher course once in language class, and he knew just enough to know he'd been on the receiving end of a verbal beat down. The blond was glaring bloody red daggers at him, cradling a bloodied knee he'd suffered like it was made of glass or something. He didn't seem to be in pain. If anything he looked downright furious.

Terry blanched; he'd been in such a daze he hadn't noticed the student until it was too late.

"Sorry?" he offered lamely.

Silence reigned supreme.

"It's...fine." The boy sighed at length, switching over to nearly fluent english whilst he dust himself off; when next he blinked, those crimson orbs were gone. "I was the one who ran into you, anway. Besides, my jacket cushioned the fall. I think." He picked himself up with a groan, whiskered cheeks pinching angrily as he struggled to recover up the belongings his bag had vomitted. Interestingly enough it appeared to be all but devoid of schoolbooks; even from this angle, Terry could clearly see what appeared to be the glint of metal reflecting into the afternoon light. What was that, a knife or something?

But the angle and make were all wrong...

He thought he caught sight of something else, there in that pack. A radio. And a mask. Something that held an eerie resemblance to that of a fox...

"Oi, teme?" the student snapped. "You gonna stare all day or are ya gonna give me a hand?"

Shaking off his lingering suspicions, Terry offered him a hand. The student took it and allowed himself to be helped to his feet, something slipped out of his pocket as he rose. Instinctively, Terry dipped a hand down for it, his fingers closing around.

A wallet? He flicked it open, and finally found himself face to face with the likeness of the whiskered blonde; except this time-thanks in part to the ID-he had a name for the face. Unbidden, something told him to check inside, so, when the blonde wasn't looking, he did. And what did he find? Money. A lot of money. And not just in credit cards, but actual bills. Paper bills. Terry gave one a cursory glance, inspected it, found nothing out of the odrinary. A thorn of suspicion pricked him and held him back. What would a student be doing with so many unmarked bills?

"Naruto?"

The teen's head snapped up to favor him with a sharp, jaded glance.

"That depends. Who's asking?"

Terry didn't answer. He was still struggling to come to terms with the

"Hey! That's mine!" The blonde exclaimed, spying the wallet in his hands, snatching it back. "Whaddya think yer doing?!" Terry allowed the wallet to be taken; his mind was already awhirl with the realization of who this boy was. Naruto. Uzumaki Naruto. He knew that name. Be it the bright shirt or the dark jeans he always seemed to favor the colors of orange and black; they were as distinguished, as those whiskers that tripiled either of his cheeks and that unruly mess of jagged platinum blond he called hair.

Almost everyone knew that face-that name-at least around the school.

Naruto was odd. Near perfect scores all across the board, popular with the jocks-not to mention the ladies-well liked in general. And yet...there was something off about him. Every afternoon-much to the consternation of those very same peers-the blonde ate lunch by himself. It wasn't that he was a loner per se, Naruto simply seemed to cherish his privacy, more than most. He was almost always the first one in class, the last one to leave, and always, always the kind to speak his mind; to swing first and ask quesitons later.

If he had a beef with you, then god help you.

Strangely enough, Terry sympathized with the boy. Leading a double life as Batman he had oft suffered the misfortune of being scrutinized for events he couldn't control. Privacy was something precious, something he could ill-afford when he was needed by Gotham.

What little time he did have-when duty didn't call-was often spent with his longtime girlfriend, Dana, but even their relationship was beginning to fray under the constant strain of being the Batman. If only he could tell her...god knew there were times when he wished he could. Maybe...no. Terry wouldn't. He couldn't. That would put her at risk. Such was the life he lived. But Naruto didn't have to worry about that now, did he? It was widely known that the blonde was supposedly estranged from whatever family he might've had and lived alone in the upper echelons of Gotham. Not a rich kid, but not exactly poor, either.

In a way, he almost envied the blonde his normalcy.

"Moshi Moshi? Hello?" Naruto waved a hand before Terry's face. "Earth to Terry! McGinnis? Anyone home?"

Terry blinked.

"Oh. Sorry about the wallet."

"Like I said, it's fine." Naruto muttered beneath his breath as he counted the money in the wallet. "You didn't take anything, did you?"

Terry shook his head.

"You know, I envy you."

"How so?" Naruto quirked a brow, his attention riveted upon the floor as he retrieved the last of his belongings and placed them in his bag. "I'm just your average, ordinary guy." Were one to listen closely enough, they might've detected just a sliver of strain-a figment of falsehood-in the blonde's words. "There's not much to envy."

Terry shrugged.

"Well...from what I've heard about you, you've got a good life."

It was the wrong thing so say.

Naruto turned on Terry with such speed that the crime-fighter thought the blond would actually take a swing at him. His eyes were the color of blood, slitted pupils narrowing upon him with intent.

"And what would you," he replied in a low, deadly voice that wasn't entirely his own. "Know about our life?"

Our?

Terry almost balked at the gravel in his voice, at the blatant anger in those words; unable to understand what had caused the sudden mood swing. But he pressed on regardless. He wasn't looking for a fight. Not yet. A deep breath later, and he tried to placate the blonde.

"Look man, whatever I said, I'm sorry-

"Sorry?"

This time Naruto did swing, connecting a solid punch that bent Terry backward but did not move the fighter from his place. Terry did not return the blow-though he was sorely tempted-but rubbed his jaw appreciatively in pain. Good punch, he mused, Damned good punch. Naruto glared at him a moment longer and McGinnis was suddenly-painfully-aware that they were alone. Their fellow students,having realized the two of them had survived their impromptu fall, had long since lost interest and departed. It was just the two of them. Alone.

'Shit,' A touch of dread ran its flighty fingers down his spine, 'Just who the hell is this guy?'

Naruto made an angry noise between his teeth.

"Funny, I don't recall asking you to feel sorry for us."

An overpowering sensation of pressure bore down upon Terry McGinnis like an invisible hand. He sensed something enormous nearby, silent in the afternoon light, like a giant passing within arms reach. A great, gravid deadly prescence too huge to grant him notice. He glanced to Naruto and saw him smirk, smirk as Terry's fingertips pressed against his temples. A droplet of blood fell from his nose. And then as soon as it had come it was gone; the pressure vanishing from Terry's brain as though it had never been.

He slumped to his knees gasping for breath, sweat beading upon his brow. He hazarded a glance up at Naruto, only to find the blond looming over him. Oddly enough his eyes were no longer that sinister shade scarlet; they'd since reverted to the color of sapphire skies as he looked on.

"I don't need or want your pity, McGinnis." Terry became dimly aware of Naruto helping him to his feet-when had he fallen?-and he was left with no choice but to aqueisce and accept his tormentor's aid. "But I swear to kami, you spout bullshit like that again and I'll make you wish you were never born." He hoisted him up against a wall and held him there, fingers wrapping around his throat like a vice. "Do we have an understanding?" Naurto's words were pleasant, but there could be no denying the implied threat lurking beneath his tone.

"Ugh!"

McGinnis groaned. He knew he was missing something here, but the ache in his brain wouldn't let him think. He could barely even bring himself to breathe. Naruto increased the pressure of his hold, fingers digging into the supple muscle of Terry's thoat with inescapable pressure. Terry aimed a kick at his chest, but it was like striking steel; no effect whatsoever. Naruto squeezed again and his vision began to blacken around the edges plunging him into a dark hazere between life and death. Was this how it would end, then? Strangled at the hands of a stranger? What a way to go...

Abruptly, the blond loosed him.

Air; sweet, blessed, life-giving air flood Batman's lungs

"Say, don't you have a city to patrol or something, McGinnis?" Without another word Naruto released him and stepped backwards into the shadows afforded by the rising sun, words trailing after his retreat. "Or perhaps I should call you...Batman?"

"What?!"

Terry's head snapped back and forth, a puppet severed from its strings, desperately searching for the blond. Naruto was nowhere to be seen. It was as if he'd just up and vanished, leaving him stand there, speaking with empty air. Or had he ever been there to begin with? A flash of agony in his brain reminded him of the intense mental assault the blonde had inflicted upon him. Oh yes, he'd been here alright. There could be no imagining the sort of pain he was agonizing in.

Yes, there was certainly something odd about the blond. Anyone with that...ability, was one to be watched for.

Maybe he should go patrol after all...


(Sometime later)

"I think we went a little too far."

"How do you figure?"

Naruto feigned a shrug as he peered down from his balcony, overlooking Gotham City in all its technological glory and splendor. The sun had finally begun to set, draping the buildings in its golden glow, casting shadow after shadow upon the street as night came to claim the city once more.

"Earth to kit!"

Naruto blinked, momentarily drawn from his reveries as Kurama's voice echoed within the confines of his skull.

"Sorry, what was the question?"

"I was asking why you didn't just off that McGinnis boy back there."

"Isn't it obvious? The kid's the new bat on the block-

-not to mention our competition-

"Quiet!" he snapped! "So I just wanted to rough him up a little. But then you tried to strangle him! How many times have I told you to watch our temper?!"

"He insulted us!"

"Case in point!"

Naruto shook his head, dispelling his partner's arguement as he turned his gaze unto the city below.

Gotham was lovely, in her own unique way. With her towering spires and technological advancements, she was truly a city of the future. Even so, she still failed to compare to the resplendent natural beauty of Naruto's home village. Konoha. So many years had passed since that fateful day, so many days, and still he pined for a return to his home, a return to normalcy.

Twenty years.

Twenty years since he found himself flung forward in time to this future, trapped at the ripe age of nineteen. One did not simply build up that much chakra and clash bijudama with the Juubi without suffering some sort of consequence. He took some solace in the fact that the Fourth Shinobi War had been won; they must have won, else there would be a giant red moon hanging ove rhis head right now. Or maybe they had lost after all and he was trapped in an illusion right now? Naurto shook his head. Best not to think of such things. That way lay madness.

"Well if this is an illusion its a damned good one." Kurama interjected.

"Oh?"

"Have you seen some of the women here kit?! I didn't think they made skirts that short! Oh, that's right, I almost forgot." Sarcasm dripped from the kitsune's tone. "You've been too busy living like a monk ever since that pink-haired banshee rejected you, and that was before we landed here! What's that saying you humans have? Once burned, twice shy?"

Naruto grimaced. It was true Sakura had ended their tennuous relationship during the war; he didn't need to be reminded of that.

"That was low."

But Kurama wasn't finished.

"And what have you done since then, with the last twenty years of your life? You've taken it upon yourself to fight crime, with little to no recognition! And really, Yoko? You couldn't have thought up a better name for yourself? Its no wonder no one's heard of us! We'd be better of robbing banks, making a fortune, or-

The kitsune was about to continue when-mercifully-a sqwuak of static grated across Naruto's ears. Silently praising kami for divine intervention, the blond strode from the balcony and into his apartment. It wasn't quite the best place to live, but it was home.

"Are you even listening to me?"

"Will you be quiet?!" Naruto shushed the fox. "I'm getting something."

Naruto craned an ear as he adjusted the headset, filtering the feed into his right ear. The minitranceiver he'd planted on McGinnis was doing its job magnificently. He'd listened attentively whilst 'Batman' had attempted to stop a yacht robbery-small change really-some hours after their encounter and had been paying close attention, ever since. Dampened by the deluge of information, his enthusiasm had begun to wane over the hours as Terry returned to base-wherever that was-whilst he listened. Oh, he'd wondered who that old fellow was on the other end but the second voice had done little than ignite a passing interest. Until seconds before, he'd allowed his mind to drift in and out of conversation with his tenant. Until now.

"Where did you get this?" A scratchy voice asked.

Naruto was perversely pleased to hear McGinnis curse.

"Hey, don't look at me! I have no idea how that got there-

"Give me that!"

Naruto winced as a sharp electronic squeal greeted his ears; so much for his bug. But not all was lost.

Just before his little receiver had been discovered and crushed underfoot, he'd detected something; a certain turn of phrase had piqued his interest.

"Royal Flush Gang, eh?"

Interesting.

But ultimately not his concern.

Naruto stepped back inside his apartment and discarded the headset and equiptment, reaching for his jacket as he went. An errant thought locked the door behind him, and then he was off. Maybe that old fuzzball was right. A night off wouldn't kill them. Kami knew he deserved it after all he'd done for this city. With McGinnis serving as the new Batman, there had been precious little in the way of crime as of late; maybe it really was time to take off the mask...at least for a night.

"Now were are you going?" Kurama inquired.

Naruto whistled tunelessly.

"You said so yourself, I need to get out more." He shouldered his jacket. "So that's what I'm doing. Goint out."

"And this has nothing to do with McGinnis?"

"Nope."

"So we're seriously going clubbing?"

"Yep."

"This IS going to involve women, I trust?"

Narut flushed, the tips of his ears burning bright pink.

"For the love of kami, I've told you a million times; I am not gay!" he glared at his tenant from within the confines of the seal. "Yes, I am going out! No, this does not involve McGinnis, nor do I swing that way! And yes, YES, for the upteenth time, I'm going to prove you wrong!"

"Oh?" he could see the intrigue glimmering in those crimson orbs. "How about we make a little bet, then?"

"Bring it!"

"If you can get at least one girl to kiss you tonight, I'll stop complaining."

"You're on!"

"But if you don't...

Naruto gulped.

"If I don't...

Kurama grinned, exposing row upon row of sharp teeth.

"Then I'll forcibly assume direct control and give the ladies of Gotham such a good time it'll put Bruce Wayne to shame."

The former chunin paused, weighing the pros and cons of such a bargain; on one hand, he would give almost anything to be rid of his tenant's constant complaining. On the other...he was fairly certain surrendering the rights to his body-even for a single night-was bound to be something he'd regretted. Kitsune or not, he shuddered to think of what Kurama might do with his body if was given leave to do as he pleased. But Naruto was nothing if not stubborn; he refused to back down from such an affront to his pride.

"D-Deal!" He extended his hand and bumped fists with his partner. "You're on, fuzzball!"

The kitsune's grin was the sfuff of nightmares.

"Shway."

A/N: And there you have it. I'm thinking the pairing will be NarutoxMelanie or NarutoxMaxine, hell, maybe both! I've seen how fiercely loyal Terry is to Dana, and to be frank, I really don't want to mess with that. Also, its heavily implied that this Naruto came from his own universe, and got himself flung far, far into the future. With the Fourth Shinobi War over, and our heroe's aging slowed to a crawl thanks in part to his tenant, what else did you expect him to do, commit himself to a life of crime? Nope, didn't think so! Hilairty is bound to ensue next chapter over Naruto and Kyuubi's little bet! Melanie's going to be in for one hell of a surprise...

Which brings us to the all important question...is Gotham real, or fake? Is Naruto in reality, or is he trapped in the Moon's Eye genjutsu? What do you think! One can only wonder...

So...in the immortal words of Atlas...

...Review...Would ou Kindly? And enjoy the preview! One more thing, you can expect an update for DIE ANOTHER DAY very soon now!

"Do you know what happens when people go out looking for revenge?" Naruto asked.

She didn't respond.

"They get it. Along with all of the guilt remorse that goes along with it."

"And I suppose you would know…" Melanie said sarcastically. She tried not to laugh.

Naruto frowned.

"More than you'll ever know...

"And why is that?"

There was just a touch of hesitation in his words.

"I've...been around awhile, Mel."

R&R! =D