Chapter 1: If I told you I felt ageless
The old man's hair goes greyer with the hour, and he says that he'll be back "to normal" after a week, but Terry has other ideas. For one, now is normal - normal is Bruce Wayne at his peak, or something close to it, normal is a Batman who is Batman. Terry's taken (demanded for, stolen) the name, but even he knows that he has a long way to go before he'll ever take the legend. Normal is the past - Bruce lives in it, after all. The old man doesn't put himself in a cave full of artefacts for no reason.
Terry thinks, how must it be like to feel the strength seep out of your bones, reliving in eight-times fast forward the nightmare you took 20 years to outgrow?
He doesn't see the answer on Wayne's face, but it's there, underneath his skin as he balances on the old gym equipment that's magically dusted itself off and set itself up in one corner. He's no connoisseur, but Terry thinks he can see Bruce holding back - he could've made that jump, done that stand. It's like he doesn't want to.
He doesn't blame Bruce. Terry walks into the cave and Bruce's probably known of his presence for the last two minutes Terry's been standing there, watching Bruce train. Bruce has assured Terry repeatedly in the past that he's not a fan of acrobatics ("Why?" "There was a Robin, once."), but if that dismount from the bars isn't graceful, then Terry doesn't know what is.
'Schway,' he says, dropping his backpack in a corner and coming over with his muscles tensing like they want to join in, want to be able to go as fast and hard and strong as this, what, 70, 80 year old guy?
'The pit undid some of time's damage,' is Bruce's response, factual and tactical. As usual. 'It's not my top form, but the activity will help the aging process along.'
'Takes away a few of the aches and pains?' Terry asks, limbering up in a corner. Bruce has only paused - it's not a stop.
'Might be,' the old man says. Then he nods at Terry. 'You're staying here for the week.'
Terry stops. He doesn't ask, what the hell, because he really should've seen it coming, and nothing he says is going to change anything now that Mister Wayne has made a decision. Bruce smiles at him, that tight smile that reminds Terry of violence and sarcasm and agelessness. He quirks an eyebrow at Bruce. Bruce says, 'Your school has been informed that I need you on a trip. Your mother has been contacted, and I've taken a leave of absence from Wayne-Powers for the time being.'
'I'm assuming you're not doing this to celebrate my birthday or anything,' Terry says.
'Your birthday was three months ago,' Bruce replies, because he doesn't have a sense of humour - no, more like his sense of humour is just fucked up.
Terry pulls his jacket off, and yanks his arm back and forth in a quick stretch. 'So what're we gonna do?' Better to go with the flow, when it comes to Bruce, than swim against. Less likely to drown. Slightly less likely, anyway. 'Play some vids? Go for a picnic?'
Bruce's smile is there again, like a knife edge. 'I'll be as normal in a week. That means we have seven days worth of time.'
Oh, something in Terry's head goes. Oh shit. Oh yes. Oh yes, yes, oh shit. 'Uh,' he says, instead. 'You're going to train me? As in, train me?'
As in, beat the crap out of me the way you've wanted to the last couple of months? As in, using your fists and your feet as opposed to just your damn voice? As in, train me?
'We'll start with basic physical conditioning,' Bruce steamrolls right over him. Then Terry looks at him and notices old (new?) reborn muscle. Repaired soft tissue. Strengthened bones. Framework that speaks of a kind of methodical self-torture that even he can appreciate, now.
'Okay,' Terry says, and - he can't lie to himself here, can't lie that he hasn't dreamt about it and thought about it and wanted it for as long as he's known that he's not the first, not the second, not even the third guy to take on one mantle or the other. 'Yeah, okay.'
Because he's not a Robin.
Batman's his name, now.
It means more things that Terry wants to think about, so when Bruce says, come here, Terry goes, and --
'Ow, not okay, not okay,' Terry grunts, reaching forward and Bruce fucking pushes and Terry thinks his thigh muscles and every single fucking ligament in his legs are going to tear and explode and implode and melt. 'Fuck!'
'Language, McGinnis,' is all Bruce says, fuck him, fuck him. He has his hands on the back of Terry's shoulder blades, and without age encumbering them they're broad and warm and strong and forcing Terry forward until he can feel the rebound of his breath off of the cave floor. 'Stay there,' Bruce commands.
'What?' Terry snarls, feeling the tension flood into his back as Bruce moves away. 'No, no, come on, I can't do this.'
'Stay there,' Bruce says.
Terry goes silent, and reaches out, numbly, further forward. He thinks he can imagine the satisfaction on Bruce's face when he does it. 'Not cool,' Terry mutters, under his breath, because he doesn't think he wants to be as whipped as Bruce has him. (Or does he?)
'Thirty seconds, McGinnis,' Bruce tells him, which sounds not like a lot unless you're spread out in an almost-split and dying from not just the pain but the prickling of the back of your neck. Bruce is watching him, really watching him, and then Bruce is touching the back of his spine and Terry isn't going to whimper, not because of one thing or the other or anything else.
'Is it just me, or have you always enjoyed watching your kids suffer?' Terry pants, trying to take his mind off - of things.
'Not all of them called this suffering,' Bruce answers, amused, and god but Terry wants (again, not for the first time, not for the last time) to know who they were, where they are now, what they are or were like, and how much Bruce cared or cares or -
'Really?' Terry asks, letting the count of nineteen, twenty drown out everything else. 'What were they on? Because this is not fun, Bruce.'
'You picked up your training too old,' Bruce replies, and Terry is not too old, god damn it. 'There are some things your body can't and won't be able to handle that other people's will.'
'Like who?' Terry asks, taunts, requests, begs to know.
'Before your time, McGinnis.' Bruce doesn't fall for the bait - he never really does, not unless he wants to. Always refers to them as "Robin", as if all three of them were one huge, amorphous glob in his memory.
Terry can't believe he's using words like "amorphous" now. Maybe it has something to do with all the reading Bruce is making him do in between the, you know, skipping class and missing dates and saving the world thing.
'Before my time, huh?' Terry manages, each breath a labour. Twenty eight, twenty nine. He grins. 'Yeah, I guess it's my time, now.'
Chapter 2: Would you tell me I'm not old?
One light warm-up later, and Bruce has to find a place to stash Terry. Terry needs to find a place to stash Bruce's encyclopaedic history.
'Don't you ever change these drapes?' Terry asks, late afternoon of day one and just after Bruce lets them out of the Cave. He tugs at the protective sheets over the relics in the mausoleum that Bruce calls the manor, and wonders what's under them. More dinosaurs? He still doesn't get it.
'Every once in a while,' Bruce replies, slipping on a track jacket, because he's either insane, or just really particular about keeping his muscles and joints warm outside of the climate-controlled basement. He starts off away from the main living area. His walk is a lot smoother now. Gait, but Terry believes that word really only applies to dogs.
(It's a cold wind that blows through this house.)
'Why'd you put them up, anyway?' Terry wonders, following the old man. He's never actually seen much of the residential wings - he's never stayed over before, and the thought of it is kinda creepy.
Figures, then, that Bruce is padding through the hallways looking for a place to put him, like Terry will fit into the series of unfortunate others just as easily as he fits the suit.
'You're not,' Terry ventures, 'you're not going to put me in one of their rooms, are you?'
The idea freaks him out. He's not sure why, but it does. It's probably got something to do with tradition, and echoes of a past he has no clue about - instinct just tells him to run like hell in the other direction, and Terry's beginning to learn to listen to that voice in his head.
Bruce stops, turns, raises an eyebrow, and says, 'Would you rather sleep in mine?'
Terry hates him so much, but he's pretty sure the world's-greatest-detective knows that. 'What, you lonely in there?'
There's a beat, in which Terry looks at Bruce and Bruce glares, and that's one point for McGinnis, up against the three million or so for Wayne. 'I'd get lonely,' Terry confesses, picking the conversation back up as he looks down the rows of closed doors. 'You must have, what, twenty rooms in this place?'
'Twenty-five,' Bruce replies. 'If you're counting.'
'Nice,' Terry mutters. 'I'm used to two- or three-room apartments, Wayne. There's just about enough space at my mum's place for me and my brother to almost want to kill each other, but not quite.' This place echoes.
Bruce makes a noise like he's considering it. Running permutations through his head, faster than anything the Cave's ever going to have in it. 'You can take this room,' the old man says, pointing at one directly opposite what has to be the master -- there's less dust around there, and those hinges look oiled. Oh, and the doors are ridiculously huge.
The inside of Terry's new room is musty, but clean, in an old and dark kind of way. Bruce comes back after a moment with a stack of sheets and linens. 'Change them yourself,' he tells Terry. 'I'll be in the dining room.'
Terry sticks his leg out in front of Bruce before the old man can move off too quickly. 'Who's was this?' he asks.
'No one's,' is Bruce's reply. There's a warning tone, somewhere in there. Too bad Terry's never been good at listening to those.
'D.G? That's Dick Grayson, right? The commish says he and you used to fight all the time. Or was it hers? Gordon's?'
Bruce takes the words like how Terry imagines he would've taken bullet wounds in the past: staid, steady, without blinking, and breathing so steadily that it has to be fake. 'It was a spare,' Bruce says. His voice is somewhere else. 'Alfred put everyone else in the southeast wing.'
Terry quirks an eyebrow. 'Easier access to the cave?'
'Farthest away from me,' Bruce replies, savagely factual.
So, about those three million points for Wayne, again.
By the time Terry gets a hang of spreading the sheets (a king? He's used to sleeping on singles, and he has enough problems with tucking the corners in on those) and getting back downstairs, Wayne's thrown together a late lunch that is completely nutritious and altogether tasteless.
'Not your speciality, huh,' Terry asks after the second bite. Bruce raises his spoon, and it's amazing how he manages to make that look like an extremely dangerous offensive measure. 'I could teach you,' Terry says, taking a third bite (and a fourth, and a fifth, and this has to be a sort of test, right?). 'Mum and, well, Dad used to be real busy all the time, working for the company.'
'Wayne-Powers Engineering doesn't keep easy timetables,' Bruce admits.
'Yeah,' Terry nods. 'So there was a lot of practical cooking to make sure I didn't starve myself to death.'
'Alfred did most of the work in that department,' Bruce says. Ghosts, again, even though Terry knows more about the old butler than anything else from the Big Book of What.
Terry finishes up his food, and looks for an appropriate rejoinder. 'Must have made living alone a real hell.'
'Loneliness I was used to,' Bruce shrugs. 'Household chores, not so much.'
Terry clears up his utensils and looks across the table. Okay, time to put the foot down (or in his mouth, or something). 'Is there any conversation I can have with you that doesn't involve, like, three layers of history that I'm not aware of?'
That actually makes Bruce smile, which tells Terry way more about the guy's psychology than he really wants to know.
'You can try,' Bruce says, and everything's a challenge, isn't it?
Chapter 3: I went looking for some writing
It's inevitable that Terry starts discovering things that he would otherwise have left untouched now that he's at the manor more often. Should otherwise have left untouched, a small part of his common sense points out, but if he listened to it all that often, he wouldn't be here in the first place.
Sometimes, at home, he wakes up to the sound of Matt being a twip, and the whole of his life kind of flashes before him in two halves, and Terry isn't sure which one is more real than the other. It's the kind of identity crisis that he doesn't subscribe to, on principle. He's Terry McGinnis. His job is being Batman. The two aren't mutually exclusive, or they shouldn't be.
Lose the cape, kid, he remembers Gordon telling him. The commish is a nice piece of work, for a lady who's probably been past menopause for half a decade now.
Terry brushes his fingertips over the edge of one of the real photo frames that Wayne keeps about the house: physical, print-based, nothing so crude as pixels and liquid display. He wouldn't have known it otherwise, but Barbara (Batgirl) had red hair. It stands out bright like a flame, even though the paper behind the framing glass is yellowing. Barbara Gordon, a la nineteen-ninty-something: she (the old one) seems diametric to her (the new one, who's actually the old one--).
Were they all so fiery, once? Whoever they were? Were they all this messed up?
There's this guy, Terry knows.
Not Drake, because Drake only appears once or twice in Bruce's above-ground mausoleum, usually with a cardigan over his shoulders like he'd just been dropping by for a visit. That, or he must have been the preppiest guy on earth. He looks entirely different from the forty-year old engineer version of himself, the one with two kids and a wife. Terry doesn't know what he'd ever get out of being a "communications expert", unless the job description's actually code for "inventing really cool toys".
There's this guy.
It's not the anonymous third party, either, the one who's there by not being there. Terry'll be the first person to admit that he's not the sharpest tool in the box (half of Gotham's criminals must think that Batman is a schizo, with the way he talks to Wayne) - but you aren't Batman for too long before some of Bruce's stop-asking-stupid-questions attitude gets to you. Terry finds himself thinking when he walks through the manor: thinking about the glass case downstairs, the only one with a name, and the one without the face. Jason Todd. A good soldier.
Every war has its casualties. Bruce's old one went and robbed Wayne Manor of all evidence of the one he'd lost. No one really positions photographs like that, with gaps in between, like history falling through the cracks.
So, there's the guy.
Terry knows he's the one because there are versions of him hanging around the house. The rooms. They cave. If you're measuring proximity to the Bat by the general level of weird, then this has to be him. The one guy who was probably as dedicated to Bruce as Batman was to the mission. The one that's an eight-year-old in one photograph, and an eighteen-year-old in the next, each in formal --
'Family portraits never go out of date, huh?' Terry asks the empty air, which resolves itself into Bruce a moment later. There's always a different kind of quality to the silence when the old man's around. He makes it thick, even though you don't ever hear him coming.
'Shouldn't you have better things to do, McGinnis?' Bruce asks, but it's one of those cutting rhetorical statements, more to let Terry know that he disapproves than any real attempt at dissuading things.
'Did my runs, finished my homework, made my bed, fed the mutt, and lunch means I've got thirty minutes of idle time scheduled, unless you want me to throw up all over the gym equipment,' Terry replies without turning from his discovered loot. Bruce follows the trail of discarded drapes to come up just behind him. Terry tries not to make it too obvious how tentative he really feels about doing this. 'Thought I'd do some dusting, top it all off.'
It's a lame excuse, but Bruce is probably the champion of taking those for what they really are; Bruce probably invented the need for them in the first place.
("This bruise? Fell off my bed, yeah, it was really funny." "Tried helping mum in the kitchen. The knives are really a lot sharper than they seem, ha-ha-ha.")
Bruce responds to him by not responding. That's probably one of the tactics from the Art of War.
It's day two and the old man looks a little greyer, but not grey enough that he's stooped down to shorter than Terry's height, physically. It's just really weird to have Bruce reaching over his shoulder, as physically tall as Terry's always imagined him to be, in his head.
The picture he pulls down is the oldest (most recent?) one of the guy; he looks twenty-fivish and spectacular. Terry feels a clench in his gut at the way Bruce looks at the man, all sorts of pain and memory and maybe even fondness wrapped up in an old man's eyes, eyes stuck in a young man's head.
Terry gets the feeling that Bruce hasn't always been this warm and fuzzy, for a given value of "warm and fuzzy". There has to be a reason why all these people left, and even better reasons for why they didn't come back.
'So,' he says, before the silence can go from awkward to lethal. 'Is this the famous D.G?'
'His name is Richard Grayson,' Bruce says, giving the picture one more passing look before replacing it, precisely, on the mantelpiece Terry excavated. 'Dick Grayson. D.G.'
Terry looks at Bruce. 'Dick? You actually called a twenty year old guy Dick?'
The expression on Bruce's face is cutting, amused, smug. '"Richard" never suited him.'
'And Dick did?'
'Say what you want, Terence,' Bruce replies, which is a really good way of driving the dagger in and twisting it a lot. But at least he hasn't killed Terry for asking.
So Terry asks a little bit more. 'Which one was he?' (Maybe he should've asked who, but he's just that slightest bit afraid of how many answers that question might have, and what it might mean, for Wayne, for Grayson, for himself.)
'He was the first Robin,' Bruce shrugs, picking up the drape from the floor and replacing it over the mantelpiece. 'Before he left.'
'Fled the roost?'
'I fired him,' Bruce says.
Atomic bomb #3. And what do you say to something like that?
'Uh,' Terry manages.
'I adopted him eight years later,' Bruce mentions, as an afterthought while waiting for the younger man to recover.
'Now you're just screwing with me,' Terry accuses, knowing that that is just about fucked up enough to be true. 'He's your son?'
'I think the word he used was legacy,' Bruce corrects, and he when he looks at Terry it makes Terry feel like he's both burning up and freezing. If you could zoom out on the whole world, Terry thinks, you'd see him right there, Terence McGinnis, in the middle of Wayne Manor, out of place and exactly where he wants to be and such a stranger.
He has to ask. It's suicide pushing into Wayne's private affairs, but sometimes you just have to know why everyone (important) thinks that Bruce Wayne is a man who deserves the kind of bitter ending he almost had. 'If he's your legacy,' Terry asks, 'then why am I the one wearing the suit?'
'Do you know what they say about parents and their expectations, Terence?' Bruce Wayne asks him. It creeps Terry out, the way he can shift, just like that. The look in the old man's eyes is a hundred percent Bat. It makes the dissonance worse. 'They say that you should never try to make your children be what you were not. Live the life you wanted but couldn't have.' Bruce finishes with the drapes, and Terry knows that it's time to exit, stage right.
He's - they're - almost out the door when Bruce (Wayne?) says, quietly, steely, with pride and regret like Promethean fire: 'I never had to tell Dick that. He was fearless, even as himself. Especially as himself. Effusive,' Bruce says, like it's a script, or an epithet, or scripture. 'And full of grace.'
Terry doesn't open the door to that room again.
Chapter 4: That I knew would not be there
Training with Bruce should be a game played by Bruce's rules: should.
Terry\Bruce (oddstroke for potential gen; tomato/tomahto)
The thing, Terry thinks desperately, about Bruce is that he always pays you back.
It's a dangerous thing to do - thinking, that is - when he's already using ninety percent of his willpower not to grunt in agony, but it's the only thing he can do to stop himself from screaming in pain.
Bruce always pays you back, and it doesn't matter which direction it goes. He gives as good as he gets. And then, when he has to, he taketh away.
'If you didn't want me to do the dusting back there,' Terry says, as his forearms start shaking and his eyes blind out from the sweat trickling onto his face, 'you could've just invested in a vacuum cleaner.'
'Fifteen more seconds, McGinnis,' Bruce tallies, keeping his eyes on the line of Terry's back. 'And then it's twenty reps.'
'Twenty?' Terry chokes, because he's been on the damn bars for the last ten minutes, swearing half of the time and spending the remainder wishing he were dead. If he has to do one more pull-up, his elbows are going to dislocate. Only logical, then, that Bruce wants twenty on top of the previous twenty on top of having Terry hang on his own weight like a - ha - bat in a cave. 'Anyone ever tell you you're a sadist?'
'Never to my face,' Bruce smiles. He knows, has to know, that it makes Terry's arms shake twice as hard. 'But always behind my back.'
'You're a sadist,' Terry says, to Bruce's face. Bruce has to know, too, that he did that on purpose. The fact that the smile widens, sharpens, says a lot more than the old man ever will.
'I'm practical,' Bruce does say, getting up from the chair (young habits die hard) and coming around behind Terry. 'Especially now that I have a proper feel of what you can do.'
And how far I can bend and twist before I break, Terry adds, but only to himself - he's not completely suicidal, and Bruce spent most of the afternoon pacing him through everything from runs to weights to stretches and routines and this entire insane obstacle course that Terry didn't even really know they had. He managed to jump through most of the hoops Bruce threw his way. What was scary was how Bruce matched him; jump for jump, step for step, measured in a way that spoke of all the training Terry knows he doesn't have.
'Not that I don't see a point in PT,' Terry mentions as he waits for the last five seconds to tick agonisingly past, 'but I'm not going to be able to lift my arms for a week after this.'
'You underestimate what the human body can do,' Bruce rumbles from behind him. There's a tonality to his voice that reverberates. Terry flexes his fingers on the bar and tries to believe him. 'You rely too much on the suit to augment your strength.'
'I'm not Superman,' Terry objects. Bad move - Bruce doesn't like the natural fliers, or speedsters, or mutants. That much is evinced by the really creepy plans in the computer that sound way too much like strategies against the metahuman good guys. Rewind: 'Or even track captain at my school, or anything.'
'You could be,' Bruce says. 'You aren't. Now,' he says, just as Terry strikes off his last mental count. The noise Terry makes when he drags his body up to the bar is disturbingly loud - everything hurts, and then hurts more when he's about to come down before Bruce says, 'Clear your chin.' Terry can't, he can't, he just fucking can't, even though he's contracting his abdominals and cheating by using them and curling in on himself; he can't even do one and it drives him absolutely crazy.
'Stop flailing,' Bruce says, still from behind him. Terry's back is soaked through, but he feels a chill run down his spine, electric and Pavlovian. He's not sure whether he likes that.
'Could you stand in - front of me while you're - giving out - the orders, boss?' Terry grunts, locking his knees together and wrenching himself upwards hard enough that he can practically feel the lactic acid building up in his sides. 'One!' he grits out, and when Bruce doesn't object he flops back down into gravity's beautiful, tortuous embrace. 'The entire disembodied voice thing isn't working for me,' he wheezes.
'But it keeps you on your toes, doesn't it,' Bruce states, amused as all hell and showing it. 'That was one rep, Terence. Nineteen more.'
There's a beat. Terry hates to let the silence in, but he does, and then he says, 'I can't do it.'
The humour evaporates, even though Bruce isn't speaking. Terry hangs there, in limbo.
He almost yells when a hand, dry and cool, touches him on the small of his back. 'You're playing my game, McGinnis,' Bruce says, right in his ear, and Terry doesn't feel his arms at all because every one of his nerve endings seems to be connected to that patch of skin just under the line of his shirt, the tiny strip of space where he can feel the rough rub of Bruce's palm right there. Oh god. Bruce's voice is a statement, an order, cardinal. 'And that means you play by my rules. Two.'
And then Bruce's other hand, on his hip, boosting him up.
Terry stretches like he'll drown if he doesn't do this.
The bar comes up to him almost too quickly, and he tucks his chin neatly over it, comes back down in a controlled dip, breathes in, tucks his stomach in on the exhale, three, comes down, inhale again, feels Bruce move to brace him better, oh fuck, fuck, fuck, four, goes up, gasps for breath at the top.
'Exhale,' Bruce orders. 'Slowly.'
Through the nose, small increments, everything else blanked right the hell out, just do it, come back down.
'You've no finesse, McGinnis, and it's going to get you killed one day. Regulate.'
The words brand themselves on the back of his neck and make his hair feel like standing and his mind runs them over one two three times in a row.
'You're on five. Do the next five, each on the exhale, rest on the inhale.' Bruce lets go. Don't let go. 'Do it.'
Terry makes six before he realises his body's responding, seven on the second exhale, eight and he feels his palms go sweaty, nine and he adjusts his grip, ten and his lungs feel like they're fuelled on pure oxygen, and ozone. 'I'm losing my grip,' he manages, trying to see something other than the whiteness of his own concentration.
And Bruce is there again, touching him and grounding him and stabilising him, and Terry's heart breaks, for a moment, because this is day two and half, and none of this is going to last.
'You still have ten more,' Bruce tells him.
'I know,' Terry replies, shattered, and Bruce hears it.
'Can you?' Bruce asks, simple.
'Think I can?' Terry asks; his rules.
Bruce says, 'Yes.'
That, for a blinding, irrational, unbearable, overwhelming instant, is everything Terry needs to do it. He's got so much adrenaline rushing through that he doesn't, can't feel Bruce stepping back after the fifth, and barely hears himself when he finishes.
He hangs there, afterwards, eyes closed and arms trembling and toes curling. Bruce doesn't say anything, but Terry can hear him moving - his steps oddly light until you think about it - to the front again.
'Not bad,' Wayne says.
Terry's eyes flash open, and for an instant he sees past Bruce, right past him and through to the casings at the back of the cave: the Batman, the Soldier, the Robin, the Batgirl, Nightwing, then his, him, Terry McGinnis in the glass, and that's what makes him force dilating pupils to focus on the man in front of him, pleasure written all over Bruce's face like it's synonymous with pride.
'Is that so?' Terry says, rubbing the edge of the nail of his thumb against the bar. He stares down at Wayne, and pulls the weight of everything past his shoulders up, one more time, over and above (the call of duty). 'Well,' Terry pants, voice edged with a craziness that is entirely his own. 'Eleven.'
When Bruce touches him again, it's from the front, his fingers on the hollow of Terry's hips. When Bruce touches him again, it's with pressure, not uplift. 'Can you do twelve?' Wayne asks, looking up.
Terry tells him, 'I can do fifteen,' and pulls up against everything that Bruce does when the old man tries to pull him down.