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Unthinkable

(a Batman Beyond fanfiction)

“Terry…”

“No! I can’t do this anymore, Bruce!”

“Terry!” Bruce pushed himself out of his seat, but Terry was already at the stairs leading out of the dank cave. He knew Terry too well to try stopping him. Nothing he could say would help now.

The door behind the grandfather clock swung shut with an echoing bang, and he and Ace were alone. The Great Dane raised its head and whined, sensing his distress. Sighing, Bruce turned to glance at the table where the Batsuit lay, discarded. Hobbling over on his cane, he picked the cowl off the floor, still warm from Terry’s body heat. He laid it carefully on the table beside the rest of the suit as a familiar ache formed in his heart.

“You should call it a night, Terry. You’re tired.”

“Alright, I’m on my way back.” He didn’t bother stifling the yawn that rose from his chest. The thrums and movements of the engine pulsed through his arms as he pushed the throttle forward. Buildings streaked past to either side as he tried to keep his drooping eyes alert.

Suddenly, a flash of light from below caught his attention.

Dana’s heart leaped faintly when she saw Max emerging from the computer lab. She darted between the students crowding the school hallway.

“Max!”

“Dana,” Max greeted, though Dana noted uneasily that she didn’t smile.

“Have you heard from Terry?”

“I haven’t seen him all week. His cell’s still connected, but there’s never been any answer when I call.” Dana glanced away with a frown.

“His mom’s worried sick about him. I called Mr. Wayne, but he said Terry quit, and he hasn’t…”

“What?” Max’s eyes grew large. “He quit?”

“Yeah,” Dana answered curiously as Max covered her mouth in shock. “I hope nothing’s happened to him.”

“Me, too,” Max stated quietly.

Screams filled the air as people poured out of the hotel lobby. Terry leaped from the Batmobile and spread his wings, gliding down towards the chaos. His mind shifted gears as he examined the scene, his heart already pounding with the rhythm of the impending battle. He thought briefly of what Commissioner Gordon had told him long ago, about it being like ballet.

He toggled the invisibility on the suit as he glided into the lobby through an already shattered window. The thugs were tearing into the hotel’s computer system and transferring credits.

The noise of the city droned around her as she walked silently through the small park. She saw Terry ahead, leaning over his knees on a bench beneath a streetlamp. The shadows on his bowed head couldn’t conceal the intensely troubled look she saw etched into his face.

It was only when her shadow met his that he leapt off the bench, poised as if to strike. His hand twitched, reaching, she realized, for a Batarang. She stopped.

“Sorry, kid,” Barbara stated. “Didn’t mean to startle you. Old habits die hard.” She glanced meaningfully at his hand. He followed her gaze slowly.

“Yeah. I guess so.” Barbara waited for him to sit back down before she lowered herself onto the park bench beside him. His hands shook in his lap.

“I guess Bruce told you.” Terry’s voice quavered as much as his hands.

“Just the basics. I’m not here to encourage or discourage you from anything. I just thought you might want someone to talk to.” He glanced away, hiding his face from her. Silence pocked with distant sirens and the steady roar of traffic above fell over the quiet park.

“I just… how can I go on, knowing what happened?”

Barbara’s eyes sank halfway shut. “Sometimes you don’t really know. You just pick up the costume anyway.” She turned to him, but he still wouldn’t raise his eyes to hers. “But no one says you have to. You need to do what’s right for you.” He finally looked at her, blue eyes glistening with moisture. “Believe me, kid, I know where you are.” He sniffled, turning away again. Reaching into a pocket, she offered him a tissue. He took it with a faint nod of thanks.

“How did it happen?”

“Easy now,” Terry stated, holding up his hands nonthreateningly.

“I said stay back, Bats!”

The man’s unkempt hair and wrinkled clothes enhanced the mad grin marking his face. His companions already moved toward the emergency exit door with the credits, but Terry stayed rooted to the lobby floor. A little girl sobbed from the man’s arms behind the knife he held to her throat.

“There’s no way out of this. Just let her go.”

The man chuckled darkly.

“You think you’ve won, Batbrain? Fine, you can have her.”

“No!”

The knife slashed.

“I couldn’t save her.” Terry buried his face in his hands. Barbara turned, her stoic features softening as she gazed at him with pity. “I couldn’t save her.” She reached out a hand and laid it on his shoulder. His whole body shook beneath her touch.

“I roughed ’em up pretty bad,” he added, his broken voice muffled by his palms. Her mask returned.

“I won’t fault you for that, kid.” Leaning her head back, she gazed up at the empty night sky, the city lights staining the darkness orange and flushing away the stars she knew were somewhere up above. “I’ve made that mistake before. We all did.” Terry pulled his hands away and rubbed at his eyes with the sleeve of his coat.

“How did you do it? How can you go on after… after something like this happens?” His voice was desperate.

“Sometimes, you don’t.” A lump formed in her throat as her last memory as Batgirl tickled her mind.

“It just seems like… like I’m expected to be Batman. Like I have to. I can’t even take a day off, and if I can’t even save everybody…”

“You never can save everybody.” Their eyes met, both weary. “I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff as a cop, too, and sometimes it’s all I can do just to get up and go to work in the morning. The point is to remember that as long as you try your best, you do make a difference.” She stood. “And that the choice is yours. It always has been. But even if you decide not to be Batman anymore, at least be Terry McGinnis. Your friends and family are worried about you.” With that, she turned and walked away.

The apartment was still lit when Terry finally came to the door. He hesitated, then carefully opened it and crept inside.

“Terry!”

Mary was upon him before he could even glimpse the living room. “Where have you been? I was so worried!”

He raised his hands slowly, then grasped his mother tight. “I’m sorry, Mom.”

“Oh, thank God you’re alright.” She pulled back and looked him in the eyes. Hers widened in concern. “What’s wrong?” He shook his head.

“I’m just tired.”

“You go get some sleep, then. I don’t know where you’ve been sleeping at night, I called all your friends trying to find you. I’d better call the police and let them know you’ve come home.” She hurried off to the phone in the kitchen, but paused before picking up the receiver. Terry glanced at her as he walked past. Reaching an arm forward, she embraced him once more.

“Don’t do this to me again, Terry.”

He rubbed her back in response. “I won’t. I promise.” He walked back towards his bedroom as she dialed.

Halfway down the hall, he stopped. He glanced into the room next to his own, the door partway open. Stepping forward, he looked inside. Matt slept, blissfully unaware of his brother’s return. Terry’s eyes wandered over the cluttered room before stopping in a corner. Several Batman toys littered the floor next to a corkboard covered with newspaper clippings, all of them, he knew, about his own pursuits. He slowly glanced back at Matt.

“You do make a difference.”

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his cellular phone. The display told him he had eighteen new messages. Ignoring them, he dialed a number etched into his memory. Only a click greeted him.

“I noticed you didn’t call.”

“I figured you would when you were ready,” Bruce’s voice came back.

“… Thanks. Listen… do you mind if I take another night off?”

“Take as long as you need.” Terry heard Bruce’s voice shift wryly. “But I only offer two weeks paid vacation a year.” For the first time in a week, Terry smiled.

“I guess I’d better get back to work, then.”

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