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Crystallized

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So don’t think that I’m pushing you away
When you’re the one that I’ve kept closest

—from "Crystalised" by The xx

When she is seventeen years old

It doesn't take much time or research to find the warehouse Max is pretty sure Zeph, the new crook on the block Terry's been investigating, is operating out of. It does take time, however, to hack the lock when she gets caught and locked in a storage closet—time she spends trying to keep her cool and thinking about how she managed to get herself into the situation in the first place. It had seemed like such a good idea. Investigate the lead before contacting Terry so she could show him—them, really—that she could be useful. Trusted, not only to help but also to keep herself safe. Zeph hasn't exactly shown himself to be a brain trust, and his operation is small fry. It shouldn't have been a problem. So of course she gets caught.

She's just managed to coax the door open enough to squeeze through when Terry shows up in full Batman mode. At least I've technically rescued myself this time she thinks. Out loud, she says, "Don't," before Terry can launch into any kind of a lecture.

"Are you okay, Max?" Terry asks anyway.

She nods and says, "I'm pretty sure Zeph's not even in the building, but this is definitely where he's setting up to store the stuff. He's not basing the operation here though. As far as I can tell, he doesn't even rate henchmen, which is weird. And also why I thought it would be okay for me to check it out."

"Bruce thinks he's trying to maneuver to get noticed by larger players," Terry says. "It's not him who's the problem as much as it's what he's trying to put together." Then he's talking to the air, and she know Bruce Wayne is the person he's talking to. "She's fine...Yeah...She was almost out when I got here...Yeah, I'll let her know."

She looks at Terry, frowns, and says, "Mr. Wayne is pissed, right?" She knows she's messed up, and the worst part of it is that she's given Bruce Wayne more ammunition to keep her out.

"You know the deal, Max," Terry says. "Let's get you home."

The next day, she goes to school as normal and sees Terry, who doesn't volunteer anything else about the case. She doesn't ask, though she's dying to know what happened after the warehouse.

It's three days later when she comes home to her mother sitting at the kitchen table holding a large envelope.

"Mom?" she asks, because something is off.

"Max, honey, this letter came for you," her mother says, still clutching the envelope. Max tenses up, not knowing what to expect but knowing it's something significant.

"Nobody sends things through the mail anymore unless it's really important," her mother continues, "so I opened it. I know I shouldn't have, Max, but I couldn't wait."

"What is it, mom?" Max asks, holding her hand out for the envelope. The news is either good or bad, but her mother isn't the best at getting to the point.

Max keeps from rolling her eyes when her mother doesn't hand over the envelope.

"Baby, you've won a major scholarship. The Wayne Foundation is paying for your education anywhere you want to go."

Max blinks a few times, unable to process what she's hearing. She almost misses it when her mother asks, "Why didn't you tell me you'd applied for this?"

Max can't say that it's the first she's heard of it, even though it is, so she says, "It's really competitive. I didn't think my chances were all that great." That's a lie because her chances for things like this are usually pretty good, but her mother lets it go.

When Max finally gets a chance to look over the contents of the envelope, she finds that she's been offered a total scholarship—tuition costs, living expenses, everything—with no talk of a limit. In addition to the formal letter and supplementary information, she finds a hand-written note inviting her to meet with Mr. Wayne in person in the next day.

She spends the night online, researching everything she can find about the man and about Wayne/Powers. One photo in particular catches her eye. It's a scan of a an old-style newspaper. The photo accompanies a cover article on "Gotham's First Family." Martha and Thomas Wayne look stately in half-toned black and white. She looks at the boy standing between them and tries to see the old man she's only seen in person a few times in the bright eyed child in the photo, but she can't.

When she arrives at Wayne manor, Mr. Wayne answers the door himself and beckons her into the great room. Everything about the room—its size, the furniture, the fact that it feels so unlived-in—is intimidating; but then, what about Bruce Wayne isn't? They sit, and she feels like she should start with pleasantries as she would any other scholarship interview; but she's too aware that this is not just any interview.

Instead, she opens with, "I don't understand what's going on."

"I thought the letter was fairly clear, Miss Gibson," Mr. Wayne says, looking her in the eye. His gaze is piercing, and it's all she can do not to squirm. "I have set up a trust through the Wayne Foundation that will fund your education including living and travel expenses through the doctoral or professional level."

"Thank you," Max says. "I really do appreciate it. What I don't understand is why."

"The Zeph case," Mr. Wayne says. "That wasn't the first time you've been caught when you were trying to help."

"So you're sending me away?"

"Yes, but not necessarily for the reasons you probably suspect. You want to help. I understand that, believe me. But if you're serious about helping, then you need to learn how not to be a liability."

"So teach me," Max says.

"Why do you want to do this?" Mr. Wayne asks. "If it's just out of curiosity, that's not good enough. This isn't a hobby, it's a calling. A dangerous one. I've known a lot of brilliant, driven young people who thought they wanted this, too. Most of them no longer talk to me."

"I don't have reasons like you or Terry," Max says, "but I live here. I see what's going on. Why wouldn't I want to help?"

Mr. Wayne nods. "I could train you, but not in the same way that I work with Terry. The first thing you need to know is that the scholarship is yours, free and clear. You can take it and do what you want with it. I've seen your records, and I have no doubt the investment will be a sound one."

"But?" Max asks.

"If, however, you are serious about working with Terry, then you will follow a path I set before you. One that starts with leaving Gotham."

"How is my leaving Gotham going to help Terry?" Max asks. "I promise I won't follow leads by myself anymore. You don't have to send me away for that."

"You won't follow leads by yourself anymore, period, Miss Gibson. But that's not why I'm asking you to do this. When I first set out to become Batman, I left Gotham. Traveled. Sought out people who could help me learn what I needed to know. Terry needs to stay in Gotham and be Batman. He can't leave, so I need you to. You're a creative thinker with impressive intuitive analysis skills, Miss Gibson, but there's more to detective work than that. With your grades and your test scores, I have no doubt that you would have managed to fund a world-class education one way or another. But what I'm offering you is more than the degrees. I will introduce you to people who will help you become a great detective—someone who can really help Terry. But I need you to do it the right way. It will be your choice, and you can change your mind at any time. But if you want this, this is the way it will happen."

She's about to respond when he says, "One more thing. If you do this, you are not to tell Terry about it until you're done with your training."

"I don't think I can lie to him, Mr. Wayne," she says, frowning. "And more to the point, I don't want to."

"You'd be surprised," he says, and she knows it's not something he'll change his mind about.

 

When she is eighteen years old

She visits Terry on the day she leaves for college. Even though she's been thinking about it for months, she's still not sure of what to say.

"It's finally time, huh?" Terry says, and Max nods.

"Part of me can't believe I'm leaving Gotham," she says. "I wish you could come with me."

He smiles and says, "Right, Max. I'll just pack my bags." He shakes his head. "There's too much here. Mom, Matt. And that's without Batman. Or money issues. Or any number of things. I can go to college here."

"Are you sure that's what you want, Terry?" Max asks. She hates the sound of the words as they leave her mouth.

"It's what has to be," Terry says. Then, "Good luck, Max. Keep in touch. I mean it."

"I will," she says and hugs him, meaning it too.

***

College is a whirlwind that's easier than she expected in many ways. Mr. Wayne doesn't interfere. Much. She selects her own course of study and gets involved on campus. She starts to wonder how his plans will play out with their arrangement when she receives notice of a two-week winter internship at CERN that only one person she knows could have possibly made happen, especially for a first-year undergraduate. She smiles and rolls her eyes, then calls her mother to let her know that her vacation plans have changed.

 

When she is nineteen years old

She applies to spend a semester studying in France. When she's accepted into the program, Bruce Wayne arranges for her to train with a Krav Maga instructor named Rebekah in the evenings.

"How do you know Bruce Wayne?" Max asks her after the first class.

"For someone who's not particularly good with people, Bruce Wayne has more contacts than anyone I've ever met," Rebekah replies. Then, "Whatever it is he has you doing, just make sure it's what you really want."

"It is," Max replies, but she can hear the touch of uncertainty in her voice and knows Rebekah can too.

"He can be very convincing without you even knowing that you're being convinced," Rebekah says, eyes narrowing as she holds Max's gaze. "And he's a hard man to say no to. Don't look back on a life that hasn't been yours."

Max wants to know the story implicit in Rebekah's words, but before she works up the nerve to ask, Rebekah sighs and says, "We will not spend this time talking about a man who isn't even here. Come, Maxine. I will make tea and you will tell me about yourself."

Max does, and she finds Rebekah to be a good listener. She doesn't know how much Rebekah knows, so she doesn't mention Batman or her plans to return to Gotham. She does tell Rebekah about her family and her plans for her education. Rebekah tells Max about her military background and her training as a dancer. Neither talks about how she knows Bruce Wayne.

***

The time in France flies by in a way Max is starting to get used to. She doesn't plan to return to Gotham after her time abroad until she gets a message from Terry. It's the kind of message they send each other all of the time—just a quick hello. But it includes an image of him and Matt that causes something to click into place in her mind. She looks up the Gotham Times article again to be sure, compares high definition color to half-toned black and white. No matter how many times she looks, she can't shake the knowledge that Matt looks like a very young Bruce Wayne. Too much like.

She has a lot of time to think about how to broach the subject before she is able to talk with Mr. Wayne in person at Wayne Manor weeks later. She goes with blunt, as that's what's worked best between them.

"Why does Matthew McGinnis look so much like you?" she asks.

Mr. Wayne stares at her for a while, and she realizes he's genuinely taken aback. Finally, he says, "I don't see it."

"Are you his father?" she asks. "Or Terry's?"

"Warren McGinnis was their father, Miss Gibson. I have no biological children."

"Does Terry know?"

"There's nothing for him to know, and there's nothing for you to tell him."

"It hasn't gotten easier," she says. "The lies. You said once, that I'd be surprised, but it hasn't gotten easier."

"I meant you'd be surprised by what you are capable of, not anything about ease."

He gestures with his cane towards an old grandfather clock. "Enough about this," he says. "It's time I showed you something."

As far as distractions and subject changes go, the Batcave turns out to be excellent.

 

When she twenty years old

She tells Bruce Wayne of her interest in Capoeira, and he sends her to Brazil for the summer to train. She falls in love with the music, the rhythm of her body as she moves in the ginga, the sense of play, the history. The hiding in plain sight. She has never been a strong singer, but she finds the voice for these songs.

One day, she makes and holds eye contact with a bright-eyed young man as she stands and sings. He is short, with a compact, powerful build that he puts to good use when it's his turn in the circle—kicking and escaping with finesse. His brown skin is kissed deeper by beach sun.

"I'm Joaquim," he says after training as they walk together to the home of the woman hosting the after-lesson meal.

She introduces herself in Portuguese, and he smiles.

"Your Portuguese sounds like a classroom," Joaquim says. "A classroom in Portugal."

"So teach me the right way," she says. They meet often, and he helps her work on her accent by teaching her how to cuss. After a while, she takes him to bed. They talk for hours between training and sex and sleep.

One night, he whispers, "You're a woman with secrets, Maxine," and kisses her softly before falling asleep. She smiles in the dark at his words.

Over the summer, she lets her hair grow long enough to start dreadlocks. On her last day in Brazil, Joaquim runs his hands through her hair when she kisses him goodbye.

 

When she is twenty-two years old

She finishes a joint degree in computer science and physics with a minor in psychology. She decides she needs a master’s degree in psychology, paramedic training, and to better develop her forensic skills.

Her mother remarries, and she comes to Gotham for the wedding before heading to graduate school. She visits Terry and can't name what she feels when she sees how much he no longer looks like the teenager she knew—knows he probably sees something similar in her.

"Wow, your hair got long," Terry says.

"So did yours," Max says. "Very Nightwing, the early years."

He raises an eyebrow at her.

"What? Haven't you ever looked up old news footage? You really should."

She sits with Terry and shows him some of the best of what she's found over the years, though there are some images she is careful to avoid.

 

When she is twenty-three years old

She gets a message to call on the secure line she uses when she needs to talk with Bruce about what she's taken to euphemistically calling business. When she makes the connection, she's surprised when Terry answers. He says with no preamble, "Bruce Wayne is my biological father."

"Terry..."

"Did you know?" Terry asks. "He talks to you about things he doesn't talk with anyone else about, not even me—and seriously one day one of you is going to explain why you have a fucking secure line you don't think anyone else knows about."

Max starts to speak, but Terry cuts her off. "Did he tell you about this?"

"I suspected," Max admits. "I asked him. He wouldn't answer."

When Terry stays silent, she continues, "It wasn't my place to tell you."

He breaks the connection. She doesn't use that line again until Bruce signals her to talk a month later. Bruce tells her that he's going to tell Terry about their arrangement but wanted to tell her first.

"I'm amazed that I've lived this long, Maxine," he says. "But one thing I've learned is how to recognize mistakes. Our work would be pointless if the two of you weren't talking when I finally get around to dying."

She spends two weeks expecting a call from Terry and is genuinely surprised when he knocks on her door.

"Is what Bruce says true?" he asks as soon as he's in the door. "Have you been planning to come back to Gotham to run point on Batman this whole time?"

"Yes," she says, simply.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Bruce said not to. I think he wanted me to be free to change my mind."

Terry shakes his head. "But what about college?"

"College was part of it, as is grad school. But Bruce has provided me with what I like to call a supplementary curriculum."

She invites him to sit in her kitchen while she makes coffee, and they catch up. She tells him about what she's been learning, and he makes her promise to show him some Capoeria. He tells her about his plans to propose to Dana.

Before long, he has to leave for the trip back to Gotham. The time feels too short. As he hugs her good-bye, he says, "Let Bruce have his secrets, Max, but we don't need to lie to each other anymore."

She nods into his shoulder and says, "Okay." She feels the weight of the lies fall away and breathes freer than she has in years.

 

When she is twenty-five years old

Gotham is bright with sun on the day of Bruce Wayne's funeral, which feels wrong somehow. She's among those who gather to lay him to rest. They're fewer in number than a man of his stature might have been expected to draw, but all are people like her for whom falling into his orbit became a definitive moment in their lives. Some she recognizes—Dick Grayson, Commissioner Barbara Gordon, her teacher Rebekah. A few metahumans in normal human disguises. The service is short and free of frills. Bruce Wayne is buried on the grounds of Wayne Manor next to his parents. After the coffin is lowered into the grave, the guests walk back to the Manor except for her and Terry.

"Dana left me," Terry says when they're alone. "When it became clear that it was finally the end, I think it just sunk in that Batman is what I am, not just this thing I do. And I couldn't tell her not to go."

Terry looks at her, then looks away. "He couldn't hold on to the people who cared for him, Max—pushed them away. I don't want to end up like that."

"You won't," Max says. "And he didn't. You were there."

"He really liked you," Terry says. "Respected you. I hope you know that. He said I should tell you to go. When he was dying. Said I should tell you to go live your life."

"What do you think?"

"I think he's right. That you should."

He shakes his head, and she holds her breath.

"But I don't want you to," he says, not meeting her eyes, looking instead at the fresh grave in front of him. "I knew this was coming, but I don't know if I can do this by myself."

She takes his hand in his. Squeezes it. "You're not doing this by yourself," she says as she leans up and kisses his cheek.

He doesn't answer, just stands silently holding her hand until he says, "The Justice League is having their own memorial. I need to be there."

"I'll cover," she says. "It'll be like the old days."

"Thanks, Max," he says, and this time, it's him kissing her cheek.

She straightens his tie and brushes his hair back with her fingers. He chuckles, saying, "You know this isn't the suit I'm going to wear."

"Indulge me," Max says, brushing his lapel, before turning to walk back up the hill.

She sees Dana as soon as she enters the Manor.

"Hi, Max," Dana says. "Have you seen Terry?"

"He had to step away for a bit," Max says. "Said there was something he needed to take care of."

"Don't bother, Max," Dana says. "We're not in high school anymore."

Max nods and says, "Point taken."

"You knew back then, didn't you?" Dana asks with something like resignation in her voice. Dana sounds older—like Terry (and Max herself, she's sure), looks older too. Her chic haircut suits her. If the circumstances were different, Max would tell her.

Dana sees Max notice the tan line from the engagement ring that's no longer there and says, "It was different when Batman was a part of Terry's life, but not the only thing. It was scary part, but a good part. A part I could understand even if it was hard, you know? But now Batman is going to be Terry's life, full stop. It's too much. Terry will never admit it, but it is." Dana pauses, then asks, "Who ends up alone in a house this big?"

Max doesn't have anything to say to that, so she stays silent.

Dana says, "Tell Terry I came, okay?" and Max nods and says she will.

After the funeral and the attendant arrangements have all passed, Max is surprised by how easily she and Terry settle into their cover stories. Though Bruce Wayne provided for both Terry's family and her own, Dick Grayson remains Bruce Wayne's heir and becomes the owner of most Wayne properties. The public has known Terry as Bruce Wayne's trusted attaché for years, so no one is surprised when he becomes caretaker of the Wayne Manor grounds. Max quietly moves back to Gotham, splitting time between doctoral studies at Gotham University and the Batcave. An intense commitment to her studies serves as a feasible cover story for a limited social life. Before long, running point on Batman shifts from goal to routine and feels like the most natural thing in the world.

 

When she is twenty-seven years old

They're in the field, undercover, following up on leads that Zeph is back in business after laying low for the past year he's been out of jail. It's a quiet moment when their guard is as down as it can be on the job—which is to say not at all—when Terry kisses her.

She narrows her eyes and says, "What was that for?"

"I've been thinking about kissing you for weeks," Terry says. "Asking myself why we've never..."

"This isn't the time," Max says, caught somewhere between annoyance at Terry for doing this now and at the situation because "the time" could be days away.

"I know, Max, but when is it ever?"

"Don't call me Max, Frank," she says, referring to their cover names. She's Marie, and they're supposed to be consultants doing safety assessments.

It takes them five days before they can drop cover and go back to the cave. She waits until everything related to the case is filed, assessed, debriefed before she takes his face in her hands and presses her lips to his. She crosses her arms before asking, "What is this?" as Terry holds her gaze, lifts her chin in one hand. His thumb settles in the corner of her mouth before he gently drags it across her bottom lip.

"I love you, Max," he says. "It's that simple."

"Nothing is simple," she says as she pulls back slightly. Then she asks, "Why now?"

"Why not now? With our lives, when is it ever going to be the right time?"

She looks away.

"You could have gone anywhere you wanted, done anything you wanted to do; but you came back," Terry says. "Do you have any idea how much that means to me?"

"I didn't do this for you," she says, then amends, "You weren't the only reason, anyway."

"I know that," he says. "I'm glad of that."

"Don't do this just because I'm here."

"And don't push me away just because of this," he says, gesturing around them at the contents of the cave. "There's always been something between us, Max. I know you feel it. I've been very happy to be your friend. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't want more than that."

He leans down to kiss her again, then says, "We promised we weren't going to lie to each other anymore."

"I'm not pushing you away, Terry. But what if this doesn't work? We're kind of stuck with each other."

Terry smiles. "Stuck with you doesn't sound bad at all, Max."

She pulls him down to kiss him in earnest, their bodies pressing together with years of want and need. She thinks about their beds upstairs but they seem impossibly far away. She moves instead to the cot she keeps by the command console for long missions when she needs to stay nearby.

Terry moans deep in his throat when they fall on the narrow cot together, and she has to kiss him again—has to swallow the sounds he makes to keep them for herself. They scramble to get their clothes off, normally nimble fingers clumsy with desire. When they're finally skin to skin, she slows it down, straddling him, taking time to touch him everywhere while she rubs her labia against his erection. She's wet, and they find a rhythm easily. Terry's hands find her hips, her breasts, her face, and she wonders how his touches linger and still feel like he's everywhere at once.

"I'm not going to last like this," Terry says, and he cups her ass, nudging her forward until she moves to where he wants her, tonguing her folds before lightly brushing her clit. His mouth feels amazing, and it's not long before she coming, leaning with both hands against the wall to hold herself up.

He says, "I want to be inside you, Max. Please," and she says his name, too breathless for anything else. She moves down his body and straddles him again. He sits up as she lines him up, her mouth parting as he presses into her. He holds her, his fingers tangling in her hair, and she moves with his thrusts. Part of her wants to make it last, but the part that wants to see his face when he comes wins out, and she leans back to make the angle better and clenches around him. Terry moans and tries to keep his rhythm. Soon she feels him tense. She watches his face. His eyes are closed, and his mouth is open. His hair is wet with sweat and plastered to the sides of his face. She thinks he may be the most beautiful thing she's ever seen.

When he comes back to himself, she says, "I love you too." She takes a moment to remember the way his face looks when she says it—open, vulnerable, happy. She hopes he sees the same thing in her face.

 

When she is twenty-nine years old

She watches the feed from the HUD in Terry's mask. Gotham flies below as he glides, and she laughs with the exhilaration of it. She tells him she loves him just because she can. It's been a quiet night, but she knows how easily that can change. She's learned to grab the moments of joy when they come.

She thinks of Rebekah and knows that she could honestly tell her that this is the life she chose. It isn't easy and it isn't perfect, but she's young—they're young—and they have the world ahead of them.