He needs a gopher because he can't sit still at a desk for too many hours any more without something hurting. It's a deep hurt; it goes right down to his bones, and every doctor and specialist he's consulted says it's arthritis, and every doctor and specialist he asks lies. They give him medicines (placebos) and he give him exercises to do (too gentle) and they advise him to cut back on his stress levels. Retire a little bit more than he's already retired.
The truth of the matter is that they don't want to tell him that he's growing old, to say to his face one-day-this-too-will-pass-into-a-six-foot-grave. Bruce knows better. He hires one gopher because Powers has a team of them; he has the boy working 10 hour days during the summer because that's how a Wayne is, and if there's going to be any boy in the house he might as well carry on the name. Those are the reasons Bruce gives himself for going looking.
Terry McGinnis' father died, killed by the hand of god or maybe something else. He comes crashing up Bruce's neglected front gate with a gang of delinquents and a surname that matches the one in the papers in the feature about a Wayne-Powers scientist murdered by Jokers. Bruce doesn't believe in coincidences. Turns out Bruce is right: Terry has a disc on hand incriminating Powers for using the company to manufacture illegal chemicals. The company; Bruce's company.
Terry is young and stupid and underprivileged. He lives with his mother and his brother in a too-small apartment in one of many anonymous districts, and is used to endless noise and the sight of a woman's hair gone frayed and undone. Terry is used to oily foreheads and smudges of chocolate at the corners of mouths. He's used to sharing a single bathroom in the morning; how and when to shower to maximise the hot water and how to arrange the toiletries so that he can reach out blindly and not grab his mum's razor instead of his shaving cream. Terry knows all of the tactics for sharing space and time and money: plastic boxes for leftovers; cards set on debit, not credit; rides hitched with his brother; the importance of silence when silence is due.
Bruce takes him to work at the main office on the first day so to knock all of that out of Terry: the memory of linoleum and cramped elevators, those things -- Bruce wants them wiped from Terry's mind. The first thing Terry sees that morning is glass, leather and wood; the first thing Terry smells is the faint whiff of Bruce's old cologne that travels easily in the sterilised air; the first thing Terry feels is the money that is at his fingertips no matter where he trails them: over banisters or desks or on the metal edges of the typographically-set buttons on the elevator.
'Schway,' Terry says to his new world.
The second thing Terry sees that morning are the red soles on the back of women's shoes, their handbags that match men's ties, and men whose cuffs are perfect and whose hair is perfect and whose fingernails, eerily enough, are also perfect. The secretary is wearing a pencil skirt that makes her look more model than assistant, and when she's stands it's all leg, entrancing until Terry realises she's looking at him with a smile in her eyes that isn't precisely pleasant.
'They'll talk about you, you know,' Bruce says to him in a low rumble of amusement when the door to his office closes behind him. He seats himself in the big leather chair at his desk and spins, slowly, to face Terry. 'They'll put together all the reasons why they think you're here and what they think you're doing.'
'Being your coffee-boy, boss?' Terry quips, leaning back against the deep rosewood shelving of Bruce's office, his teenager's clothes incongruous and outrageously out of place. Terry doesn't even know how bad he looks.
'I've always had coffee boys,' Bruce chuckles, spreading the width of his palms on the desk. Terry catches sight of unusually scarred knuckles -- or are they just wrinkles on an old man? Bruce's smile is almost as scary as a scar on his face. 'If you know what I mean.' Terry narrows his eyes, sharp and displeased, but Bruce isn't fazed. 'If you're going to have any credibility at all, you should know my preferences. Black. No sugar. I like a very specific kind of roast.'
Terry crosses his arms. 'Want me to note that down, Mr. Wayne?'
Bruce raises his shoulders in a shrug. 'The office girls will tell you the specifics. The machine's just outside.'
Terry looks at him, as though disbelief and indignation have ever worked on Bruce. He realises that quickly enough, jaw snapping tight as he heads for the door. 'So this is my hazing, huh? Walk of shame?'
'Don't walk,' Bruce says to Terry's back, watching him wade out amongst the sharks. 'Strut.'
Days with Bruce drive Terry crazy with a wanting that has no name. The old man is silent about his father's murder -- every time Terry asks, the answer he gets is wait. At first Terry thinks that Bruce is just standing him up, but the days go by and Terry begins to feel, instinctively, that Bruce is waiting for something. A sick desire to prove himself builds up in the base of Terry's stomach, an acid hunger that claws itself into the inside of his guts and that isn't letting go. The rest of the office drives him to it. The knowledge that Powers is three doors away from him but untouchable drives Terry to it.
It begins when Terry learns that there's already an on-going war in the office that has no name. There's a line drawn between the conference rooms and expensively decorated front desks: one one side Wayne, the other side Powers. Powers, on the outset, is winning: he's the one that the newsfeeds call the most dynamic entrepreneur that Gotham's seen since the turn of the century, and he poses much better in Armani and Boateng than the old man does. He also has the prettier secretaries, who wear heels that could stab Terry through the tongue of his street boots if they were to press down hard enough. They're the sort to rub cigarette butts, insects and small animals into the grain of tarmac. Terry doesn't doubt for a moment that they'd skewer him if he were ever to stop being belligerent and deliberately lower class, or if they knew what he knows.
It's almost insane to think of these people as killers, but Terry blinks at their money and drive and it all becomes chillingly possible. Wayne's silence and his discretion are the only things keeping Terry alive. Terry learns quickly that he needs protection from these people.
'Doesn't he look after you?' one of them coos at Terry over the watercooler one day, making Terry feel for a moment like they're in a bizarre mash-up between his high school, the Richest Housewives of Gotham and a cop reality show. The lady -- someone from the upper echelons of Powers' PR army -- could've walked out of a magazine centrefold. 'I'm saying this for your benefit, so don't take it the wrong way, but you can't keep wearing that to the office.' She reaches over with nails reinforced by 4 coats of polish and plucks at his shirt. Gently, so as not to hurt his feelings. 'We've got a reputation, you know.'
'Sorry,' Terry mutters with more animosity than is strictly necessary. If he isn't careful someone's going to leash him. 'I'm Mr. Wayne's gopher, not his personal assistant, miss.' In his head he appends miss to whore.
She goes off, but only after flashing him a polite and million-credit smile. Even going off she sways, sways like it's natural to be able to move like that. Or have legs that long. Or hair that sleek.
'They aren't human,' Terry informs Bruce upon his strategic re-entry (never retreat) to the sanctum of the Wayne office.
'They're more than human,' Bruce says from behind his screen. 'They're highly educated and very pretty besides.' The boss looks up. 'Don't blame them for wanting to lord it over you, they've worked very hard to get where they are today.' Bruce is using the voice he reserves for children under the age of 8 and people whom he hates. He's also looking Terry over.
'Yeah,' Terry says, his skin crawling. '"Worked." If that's what you're calling it.'
Bruce goes back to his work. 'Come back to me when you graduate from the universities they do, and work the hours they do, and are as good in bed as they are, McGinnis.'
'In that order?' Terry mouths off under his breath.
'Not necessarily,' Bruce shoots back, because he has hearing like a bat.
Terry gets out of there to go get some fresh air.
There are several problems with Bruce -- his work habits, his sense of humour, his lack of a sense of humour -- not the least of which is the fact that the things he says stick in Terry's head like a bad nursery rhyme: taunting, sing-song, impossible to stop repeating.
Graduate. #1. Like that's going to happen any time soon. Terry's pretty sure that his mum has some money saved up for him under the wild impression that he's going to make it to Gotham U, and if he's really honest with himself it's not too wild an idea at all. Terry's got the brains for it. He just doesn't really care; he doesn't feel anything for any of the subjects he studies. University is years away. University is for after this.
#2. Work the hours they do. Which Terry would do, except that he's in school, and Bruce'd kill him if he even mentions dropping out. What would Terry do working 40+ hour weeks? It's not like Bruce trusts him with any of the complicated stuff, and there are only so many errands that Terry can run. Bruce keeps him busy now only because busy means that Terry's not out looking for trouble, or revenge.
Which leaves #3, get as good in bed as they are.
Terry knows he's got to get over this inferiority complex before it either a) kills him or b) drives him completely insane. But Bruce has got him to thinking, and the dangerous part about thinking is he can actually get pretty far along a thought before he gives it up.
There are several problems regarding #3. Bruce is male. Powers is male. Powers has too many women working for him. Bruce doesn't have any women working for him. Bruce doesn't really talk to women and when he does, it's because Powers sends them to Bruce's office just to get under the old man's skin. See whether Bruce has it in him to "stand up to the competition," ha ha ha. Terry always itches to go back to school by the time it's Monday because it's just to weird to live in a place where everyone either looks like a doll or acts like an asshole. There's something wonderfully reassuring about Dana refusing to talk to him because he's stood her up for the 5th time in two months. He's sorry -- Terry's always sorry -- but he's kind of busy right now -- it's not her, it's him. You know?
Terry wishes he knew. As messed up as it is, he thinks that if there were someone on the Wayne side of the war who wore high heels it might be a little bit easier. He could smile at her, make little jokes, make her smile back. Figure it out from that angle, because the other angles don't exactly make Terry feel very good about himself. The men in the office arm themselves with portfolios, expensive labels and a vocabulary of names and faces that Bruce isn't going to teach him.
Teach him yet. There's one thing Terry thinks he knows about Bruce, which is that Bruce doesn't think short-term. He's here for a reason. He's doing these things for a reason. This whole slagging thing is a test, Bruce-level hard where you have to make up your own questions along with your own answers.
Terry looks at the men in the office and doesn't know where to even start. They've got breeding and money and power -- or maybe he should rephrase that: they've got greed and ambition and attitude. All Terry's got is the vague feeling that he's too poor for all of this.
Does Bruce even understand what poor means? Or has he always lived his life enabled and ridiculously potent?
Terry's got to start somewhere. He starts with the feeling in his gut, the sick one.
'Oh,' the Powers secretary says to him at the watercooler three days after Terry cashes his first Wayne pay check and two days after he shamefully roamed the old-school boutique malls with their 20th century typography and facy store-front mannequins. 'You're looking pretty dress up, gopher-boy.' Her nails don't pluck at his blazer this time; they caress. 'Mr. Wayne took you shopping?'
'Nah,' Terry says, filling up Bruce's fancy-smanchy water-carafe. 'I've got my own credits.'
There's a flash in her eyes. Terry feels an irresistible desire to see that again. 'You've got expensive taste.'
'You have no idea what Mr. Wayne pays me.' Terry smiles brilliantly at her, and waves the carafe in her face. 'Gotta go.'
He isn't exactly grinning when he gets back into Bruce's office.
'You took a long time to get supplies for a coffee,' Bruce deadpans.
Terry fills up Bruce's super-high-tech espresso maker and tries to catch a glimpse of the old man's expression in the reflective surface of the machine. 'Yeah, well, pay me a bit more and maybe I'll do it faster next time.'
Bruce snorts. 'Stop spending your money gratuitously and we'll talk.'
Terry looks down at the slash of his blindingly white shirt against the conservative dark blue of his jacket, bottom button unbuttoned. 'You call this gratuitous?' he asks, looking up.
'What do you call it?'
School ends at 3. The car's always waiting for him outside. Everyone knows. Work ends at 9, usually. He sends Wayne home. No driver. There used to be one, but that ended the same day that Terry learned about Bruce's inconceivable love for privacy and the uber-creepiness that is the manor. Terry usually drives the car back to the Wayne-Powers garage near his house, where it joins the bountiful and anonymous fleet of sedans that the company uses to roam Gotham. There're no valets; the clock-in is automated. Terry's driven it back at 2 in the morning after particularly spectacular cross-city spy missions with no problems.
So he takes the car and everything else is pretty easy, because Dana's friend's friend friend is the daughter of Power's second-in-command. And her friend's friends are friends with friends of friends. There are a lot of friends. The pattern is precisely the same one that appears around the watercooler.
'What brought this on?' Dana asks him when they're standing in line for a club that Terry's only ever heard about in old rumours. The Penguin is a Gotham staple, entertaining new generations just because it can. Dana's hand is on his arm. 'Ever since you started working for Mr. Wayne I was beginning to wonder if you'd taken turning over a new leaf a bit too seriously.'
Terry's not here for work. Not really. 'We all have to live a little,' he says with a grin. In the background he hears the friend's friend's friend compare The Penguin to a place that he's not familiar with. Terry files the thought away. 'C'mon,' he says to Dana as they hit the front of the line. 'I think we can give the others a run for their money tonight.' He's wearing a shirt that cost more than he wants to think about. Maybe it'll be okay if he thinks of it as an investment.
Dana notices the shirt, but for different reasons. Her hand migrates to the flat of his stomach. 'Let's go.'
Friend's friend's friend is impressed when Terry scores them a VIP table at the new place. Terry thought it'd be hard to get, but another month and another pay check and another suit and he's beginning to see the merit in being Bruce Wayne's gopher.
'I saw you talking to Hans Rikker the other night,' Bruce says to him the day after Terry wrangles himself the deal. Terry's long given up on being frightened by how much Bruce notices; it's something he's deemed a part of Bruce's great Plan, the one that doesn't involve losing out to Derek Powers' Well Dressed Secretariat Pool with Badly Brought Up Boy.
Bruce's mind is a rollodex of business cards. 'Rikker's father was a hotelier. Magnate. Very good at expanding the business. But I hear Rikker's not especially interested in the main family trade.'
'He seems more...' Terry looks up at Bruce. This isn't his world he's venturing an opinion on; at least, it wasn't. Not three months ago. 'More interested in event-management and programming. He's got a younger brother he says is better with the numbers and the finance.'
'Hans Rikker isn't a very old man,' Bruce says, the fingers of his hands laced together under his chin as he sits, watching. 'How old is his younger brother?'
'My age?' Terry ventures.
'Hm.' Bruce's smile is half-cocked and whimsical.
'Oh nothing, Terence.' Terry hates the voice. Really hates it. 'Just wondering if you have a penchant for older men.'
Noel Rikker is indeed Terry's age, and it takes him maybe four weeks of really hard partying and more mixed drinks than Terry's ever seen in his life for him to get together with Friend's friend's friend. Dana finds this hilarious, the same way she finds Terry's change in attitude regarding their dates hilarious. 'You don't have to try so hard, you know,' she tells him at the opening of a new rooftop bistro-bar that the Rikkers launch. 'I love all of this,' she gestures out at the scene spread out before them -- the lighting and the ambience and the little things served on plates that Terry knows he knows the names of, just not now, not when he's this tired of Gotham nights. Every week. Every weekday. Every weekend. Names. Names. Names. Genealogies of rich people and the things their money create or erase. Dana's fingers on his cheek are cool to the touch as though he's running a fever. 'But you look beat.'
'I'm fine,' Terry says, catching her hand with his own. He looks her over: she's in a dress that he bought for her that wraps around in all the right places, beautiful and sleek all the way down to the graceful elevation of her heels and the gentle curve of her ankles. Her hair's done up and there're subtle signs of makeup that Terry's learning to read like a bible -- the darkness around her eyes and lashes, the high colour in her cheeks, the liquid polish of gloss against her lips. He wants to hold her close and never let her go but he can't, not like this.
'What is it, Terry?' she asks him.
'You look amazing,' he tells her, which makes her smile her question into forgetfulness.
It's true. She looks amazing. But it's in her eyes, not anywhere else.
They go dancing on the floor with the rest of the people Terry's come to know. They go around and around the room in circles while Terry feels the same sick taste he felt the first day he started working with Bruce excrete itself along the insides of his mouth. For a long while after, he's dizzy.
Terry can't sleep that night, a combination of drink and exhaustion and the memory of Dana's eyes looking at him, knowing him. At this point there's only one other person who could see through him like that, see through all of the things Terry has got pasted on. It's been months. Months and months. Terry's strutted and he's preened; he's listened at doors and walks the highwire of the Wayne-Power duality with the respect due to the danger that lies on both sides. Mr. Bruce Wayne is old and frail and a bastard, sitting in his office all-knowing and unforgivably sure that it's going to work out, as if he doesn't know how slagging hard it is to talk and waltz and lie and think the way that the lying, waltzing, talking assholes of the world think. Terry's tried and Terry knows he's not smart enough for this; he hasn't gone to university and he can't work these hours and he won't sleep his way to the top though right about now he almost wishes he could; almost wishes it were easy like turning into a beautiful girl like Dana, with red on the lips and black on the eyes and colour on his face like the best sort of offence, the best sort of defence. The best sort of costume. He can't do this. He realises that he can't do this. Not like this.
Terry punches his pillow in silent rage, and goes to sleep before his thoughts can go anywhere else that he doesn't want them to go. A picture of his father watches over him from his bedside.
Terry knows there are two ways this is going to go: either he walks out of here with a way to get through this, or he fires himself from the job before Wayne can drive him screaming with apology to his father's grave.
'Bruce.' Terry slouches into the old man's office in his old t-shirt and his old pants and his old, street-urchin boots. Everyone stared at him on his way in, but Terry didn't have the energy to care. 'I need to talk to you.'
Bruce looks at him for a long while without saying a word. Terry almost wants to be in a suit again, superficial as the protection may be. Bruce doesn't comment. He gets up from his desk, walking with his cane to the broad windows that look over Gotham's skyline. Terry wordlessly joins him, hands tucked deep into the pockets of his jacket. 'Come to your senses, have you,' Bruce says to his reflection in the glass, voice gravelly and low.
'I can't beat them at this game,' Terry admits quietly, not really prepared for the relief and the guilt that the statement brings out in him. 'I know Powers did what he did to my father.' Terry's fists are balled up tight where Bruce can't see them. 'I know he did. But I can't prove it. Not like this.'
'One might say it's an attitude,' Bruce says bluntly. He's still not looking at Terry. 'Maybe you just don't have it.'
Terry's not looking at him, either. 'I don't think so.'
'So you're giving up?'
'I said I don't think I have the attitude,' Terry corrects him, not angrily. He turns, and really looks at Bruce. 'But I don't think that's why you let me work here, Mr. Wayne.'
Bruce doesn't say anything.
'You wanted me here for a reason,' Terry goes on, voice still level. 'I've done everything I can think of short of walking across this floor and punching Powers in the face myself, but I get the feeling that if you wanted someone to play the inside game you could really have picked someone better.'
'Yes,' Bruce agrees, still looking out on his city. 'I could've.'
'Then why me?' Terry raises his voice at last. 'What do you want me to be? I'm an urchin but I'm not one of them,' he jerks his thumb outside. 'They're something else all together. I've been at this months and I haven't gone anywhere. Where do you want me to go, Mr. Wanye? What do you want me to be so that this gets done right?'
The answer to the question seems like it's never going to come.
But then Bruce Wayne turns away from the glass and light, puts his face into the shadow of Gotham and asks, 'Do you really want me to dress you up?'