“You need to get a doctor,” Bruce says, pulling a last stitch tight, and Terry winces. “I’m getting too old for this.”
“I don’t get injured that often,” Terry grumbles, and Bruce raises his eyebrows and snorts before turning away and walking back to the computer.
“Dislocated shoulder last week,” he points out.
“He was made out of rocks!” Terry protests. “I couldn’t help it!”
“Bullet hole tonight.”
“It’s not my fault the serious criminals are starting to use armor piercing rounds.”
“Sprained wrist and three broken ribs a month ago,” Bruce says. “Would you like me to continue?”
“I get it, fine, I get injured,” Terry concedes. “Your on-the-spot medical improvisation has worked so far, why can’t we stick to that?”
“I told you.” Bruce starts typing in information. He sounds irritated, the way he always does when he thinks Terry is being oblivious. “I’m getting too old for this. Medical work frequently requires precision and delicacy, both of which I’m losing rapidly. You might notice I’ve enlisted Max for repairing the suit when you break it, which you do with alarming regularity. And what are you going to do when I’m gone? Operate on yourself? It’s a lot harder than it looks.”
“Right, so, get a doctor,” Terry says, rolling his eyes. “And how do I do that without dropping my secret identity?”
“You don’t,” Bruce says. “You find someone you trust who is also a doctor.”
“Of course!” Sarcasm practically radiates out of him. “Why didn’t I think of that!” There’s a long pause, and then he raises his eyebrows at Bruce’s stony silence. “Wait, you’re serious? You tried to keep me from telling Dana and we’ve been dating for almost four years!”
“There are circumstances in which it’s not only necessary but advisable to reveal your identity,” Bruce says. “Dana was not one of those circumstances.”
“Okay, yeah, well, I’ll take it under advisement,” Terry says, irritated. “Now if it’s good with you, I’m going to go get some sleep.”
“Keep a close eye on your wound and come back here before you go to school.” Bruce doesn’t turn away from the computer. “You won’t be patrolling tomorrow night.”
“Got it.” Terry hauls himself off the cot, wincing. “See you bright and early, to my sleep cycle’s deep despair.”
When he gets back to his apartment, Dana murmurs something, half-awake as he slides into bed.
“Go back to sleep,” he whispers, and she does. In the morning, he’ll have to explain the bandage, and why he can’t move without the right side of his abdomen feeling like something squished it. Dana will be angry and worried. She’ll try to hide it and fail because Dana’s never been good at not showing her emotions, and she’ll probably yell about his night job for a bit, because that’s easier than admitting she’s scared. For right now though, she’s just warm and happy he’s back. “I love you,” he adds. She makes a noise that would probably be I love you too if it had come from an awake person, and puts her feet over his to warm them up.
Max actually comes back to their apartment for lunch the next day. Terry’s skipped his third class of the day - his side is aching and the class was too boring to sit through without squirming - so he’s been back at the apartment for a couple of hours already.
“Dana said you got shot.” Max slings her bag onto the counter. “Armor piercing rounds, huh?”
“Bruce will probably need you to help repair the suit,” Terry says, pulling the pot off of the stove. “Voila! Chicken soup and leftover bread.”
“Schway. I’ve been meaning to get over anyways, I’ve got an upgrade idea I want to run through trials. And I’ve got to actually beat that training sim.” Terry frowns and tries to ignore that statement. Thinking about Max running training sims means thinking about what Max’s long-term plans for residence in the Batcave might be, and he doesn’t like thinking about that. She may have Bruce’s approval but he’s still not happy about it.
“You made real food?” Dana says as she opens the door. She looks exhausted, but she usually does on Wednesday afternoons. Tuesday and Wednesday are close to nonstop for her. “It smells amazing.”
“That would be because I’m amazing,” Terry grins smugly, and she kisses his cheek and takes the bowl he’s holding out to her.
“You’re an angel.” She drops her bag at her feet as she collapses into the sofa.
“Bruce wants me to find a doctor,” Terry says, picking up his own bowl and sits on the couch beside her. “A doctor for Batman. He says that I’ll probably have to reveal my identity to them, so it has to be someone I can trust with that information. And someone who can’t be linked to Terry McGinnis because that’s just asking for trouble.”
“Makes sense,” Max says thoughtfully. “I mean, Dana and I both know first aid after that time you dropped in the window half-drowned, but neither of us could patch you up from something serious, not without training that we don’t have money or time for.”
“Check out the free clinics in the poorer sections of town,” Dana advises. “Most of them run on donations and kindness. Find one with a really good doctor, get Bruce to set up permanent funding for them, and you’re probably safe. You might need to add clauses about how the funding will go away if your identity is ever revealed, but legally that might be hard to do. A sealed codicil, maybe?”
“I adore you, Lawyer Dana,” Max proclaims, and Dana shakes her head.
“I’m not a lawyer yet,” she corrects, but it’s pointless. Max will call her Lawyer Dana until the day she dies, probably.
“I’ll start looking there,” Terry says. “That’s way better than any of the ideas I’d come up with.”
“No, let me guess.” Max smirks, holding up a hand. “Abduction? Threatening? Masks under your mask?” And at the expression on his face, she cracks up. “Oh my god, you were totally going to do masks under your mask, weren’t you?”
“No, of course not,” Terry defends himself. “Temporary abduction may have crossed my mind, though.” Dana shakes her head and rolls her eyes, but she’s made her contribution. Given that she has to be out of the door again in twenty minutes, Terry wasn’t expecting more.
“Let me know if you need research for your quest, Luddite,” Max says, hopping up and grabbing her bag. “I’m just going to grab some of your soup and shut myself in my room like a hermit. Gotta finish some code for class. See you guys later.”
He does check out some of the clinics, but he’s got to use this time off to catch up on his grades and it’s hard to know when someone’s trustworthy enough to just hand them the biggest secret in his life. It’s kind of a big deal. It took him two years to finally tell Dana. His mom and Matt still have no idea, and never will if he has anything to say about it.
A month after Bruce first tells him to get a doctor, a Batsignal lights up the sky. He follows it to a roof of an abandoned meat packing plant. In the light from the spotlight, Melanie’s hair is almost white.
He switches off the signal and waits for her to turn around.
“You know that I’ve been going to medical school for two years now.” It’s not a question, but he answers it anyways.
“I thought I should let you know that I’m officially moving into your territory,” she says. “My residency starts in a couple of days, working at a clinic a couple blocks from here.”
“It’s a rough neighborhood,” Terry says. “Are you asking for my protection?”
“Hardly.” Melanie scoffs, annoyed by the idea. “I requested the position. Most of my classmates couldn’t handle themselves down here, I can. I just thought I should let you know. So you don’t have to go to the trouble of hacking my school records or however it is that you’re keeping track of me. You know, as one does to former criminals.” She sounds kind of pissed. He has to admit it’s a reasonable reaction to being spied on. “And I don’t want you showing up, and I don’t want you bothering my brother, and while I have you here, the spying thing has gotten really, really old.”
“Which clinic?” he asks slowly.
“St. Jude’s,” she says after a long, angry pause. “I’m serious about the spying thing, Batman. So why do you care?”
“You never know when you might need a friendly doctor,” he says, and smiles at her. It’s at once a joke and a test. Maybe Melanie could be the person he needs. Just maybe. But maybe it wouldn’t be fair.
“This almost-doctor is anti-crime. That does not mean she is pro-Batman.” She sounds very firm.
“Message received,” Terry says.
“Feel free to go condescendingly kick ass.” She opens the roof door to leave.
“Melanie,” he blurts out, and she pauses.
“I doubt it matters to you, but I’m glad you and your brother are doing so well.”
“You’re right,” she says. “We are doing well. And your opinion doesn’t matter to me.”
He keeps looking. It doesn’t get any easier.
“I think it should be Melanie,” he says to Max a month later. “I’ve been watching her at the clinic, she’s good. And she knows both of my identities.”
“But she doesn’t know they’re the same person. And I’m sure you spying on her at the clinic is really going to endear you to her,” Max snorts.
“You think it’s a bad idea,” Terry realizes, and Max sighs.
“I think you’re grasping at straws because it scares you.”
“Ever the diplomat,” he says wryly, and she smiles and pats him on the head as she gets up.
He talks to Dana about it.
“She does seem like a logical choice,” Dana acknowledges. “It’s slightly irritating that she’s an ex-fling of yours, but if she’s the best choice she’s the best choice.
“You’re sure you wouldn’t mind?” Terry says, and Dana rolls her eyes.
“I care much more about the fact that we aren’t practicing for my debate right now,” she says briskly, and Terry clears his throat and looks down at her notes.
“Right, so, vigilante-ism and permissibility in the courts.” He scans the scribbled notes briefly, then looks up in dismay. “You’re arguing against vigilantes?”
“Random assignment,” she assures him. “And haven’t you heard? You’re a menace to this city. The new mayor said so himself.”
“Yeah, well, slag him,” Terry mutters, and she laughs and bumps his shoulder with hers.
“I’m inclined to agree. Calling my boyfriend a menace? That’s kind of rude.”
He runs into Melanie on campus a few weeks later. If there was one thing he hadn’t been expecting, that was it.
“Terry!” she says, startled. There’s emotion in her voice, but he’s not sure what it is, precisely. He has to meet Dana for lunch in ten minutes.
“Melanie,” he says, and bites his lip. “How have you been?”
“I’m doing all right.” She shifts, uncomfortable. “Studying to be a doctor.”
“Schway.” There’s a long, awkward silence.
“You never read it, did you?” she says.
“No,” he admits. “I just. Couldn’t.”
“It’s okay,” she says. “I get it. I’ll see you around, I guess.”
“Melanie?” he calls, and she’s frowning when she turns around, like she’s trying to remember something. “I’m really glad you’re doing okay,” he says, and she smiles a little wistfully.
“Me too,” she says, and turns back into the crowd of students pushing past.
His first instinct had been right. It wouldn’t be fair to her. She’s building a new life for herself, and throwing Batman back into it with all the complications of knowing his secret identity – it’s not fair. He’ll find someone else.
In the end, he doesn’t get a choice. Not really. Bruce goes into the hospital for a couple of nights, a standard procedure, and naturally all hell breaks loose. There’s one thing on top of the other, the night’s villains melting into each other until he feels like he can barely breathe. There are fights and car chases and at the end there’s a bomb, and he’s lying on his back in the debris when Max’s voice comes on tinny in his ear.
“Terry? Terry, what happened? Terry, come in!”
“Ow,” he manages after a long silence. There’s a rush of wind in the background when Max replies.
“I’m on my way,” she says. “How bad is it?”
“Really ow,” Terry grunts, pulling himself up slowly and painfully. His right arm is hanging at bad angles, his ribs feel like someone crushed them, and there’s blood starting to coat his left leg from a tear in the suit.
By the time the Batmobile pulls up and Max leaps out, wearing one of the suits she’d been test-driving, he’s back on the ground, breathing labored.
“St. Jude’s is right around the corner,” Max says. “I need you to get to the Batmobile, Terry, can you do that?”
“Yeah,” he gasps, standing up with her help. “Yeah. I don’t know if he got away.”
“I’ll handle it later,” Max says. “Come on, let’s move.”
“St. Jude’s?” he tries to say, but it comes out funny. Max understands him anyways.
“She’s doing late night stocking, and she’s all we’ve got,” she says. Melanie. So they’re going with her after all.
Max checks that the coast is clear and then brings him in the back. Melanie is in the storeroom, but she comes out when he walks over a box. To her credit, she doesn’t drop anything and she doesn’t order him out again. Honestly, Terry is so out of it he’s only barely tracking. Max helps him onto a cot.
“Friendly neighborhood doctor, huh?” Melanie says, hands on her hips. “Who says I’m going to give you any help?”
“Because you care about him,” Max replies simply, and then she pulls the mask off.
“No,” Terry rasps, but it’s far too late for that. There’s a long stunned silence, and then Melanie crosses the room, closes the front shutters, and locks the door.
“I’m only in training,” she says, “But I can probably patch him up for now.”
“Shouldn’t have come here.” Terry’s voice is rattling somewhere in his lungs and Melanie is moving briskly but there’s hurt in her eyes.
“Nonsense,” she says, bringing over a syringe. “As your friend Batwoman can tell, I’m clearly the best candidate for whatever gig this even is.”
“Batwoman?” Terry looks up and Max is preening, she is definitely preening, but it’s kind of hard to care given how much pain he’s in. The suit is the only reason he’s not a smear on the pavement right now.
“This is going to hurt,” Melanie says, and Terry tries to laugh. It comes out garbled.
“Everything already hurts,” he gets out through clenched teeth. “Can’t be. Much worse.”
“A sedative’s up next,” she reassures him.
When he comes to again, the clock reads five in the morning. He’s back in the Batcave, patched and bandaged and safely on the medical cot.
Commissioner Gordon is drinking a cup of coffee as she reads the newspaper in a nearby chair, and Max has fallen asleep on the computer console.
“Good, you’re awake.” Gordon sits up, folding her paper. “How do you feel?”
“Sore,” Terry says. “Pissed-off. Worried.” He moves and winces. “Really sore.”
“You did a good job last night, kid.”
“Did you find him?”
“She did,” the Commissioner says, with a nod towards Max. “Well, then, I feel I’ve done my duty by Bruce. I’m going home now. Don’t go patrolling for a while.”
“What if my doctor clears me?”
“Then they’d be an idiot, which they clearly aren’t.” She pockets a batarang as she walks off. Ace follows lovingly, and she pats him on the head as they go up the stairs.
He asks Melanie over for coffee a few days later. He’s been stuck in the apartment, with Max, Bruce and Dana conspiring to keep him there. Max has taken over patrolling. Terry tries not to think about that too hard, but she’s been training under Bruce for a year now. She’ll be okay.
Melanie comes late, but she does show up, which he figures is the most important step.
“Melanie, this is Dana and Max,” he introduces her. “Guys, this is Melanie.”
“Good, you’re still using the crutch,” Melanie says. “I should take another look at that leg.”
“Single-minded attention to patient,” Dana comments, holding out her hand. “I like you. Max and I were just on our way out for yoga, so this is hi and bye, but it’s nice to have met you. Thanks for your help.” They shake hands briefly and Dana breezes out the door, towing Max.
“So,” Terry starts awkwardly, and Melanie sits down.
“You actually couldn’t read it,” she says. “I made you promise not to.” For some reason, she finds this amusing, a smile lurking on the corners of her mouth.
“Yeah.” He looks down at the instant coffee he’s measuring out.
“You want me to keep on doctoring you when you need it, don’t you?” He nods.
“I kind of do need a doctor,” he admits. “I’ve been looking for someone I could trust for several months now. I wasn’t going to go to you. It didn’t seem fair.”
“I’m a big girl, Terry,” she retorts. “I can make my own decisions.”
“In that case,” he says. “What do you think? You’d get paid.”
“I think it could work,” she says. “Strictly professionally.”
“Of course.” He pauses. “Would you like some coffee?” he offers awkwardly.
“I would love some coffee.” Her smile is genuine and friendly.
“Good,” he says, and smiles back.