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Fic: By Any Other Name - Meltdown

Part of her training, once she’d been allowed into the Cave, included reading over old case files on the computer when she had a little down time.  There had been a fair amount of that in the beginning, before Wayne had decided that she could handle the streets as Batman, and she’d absorbed that knowledge much more easily than her high school history class.  Her teacher at Hamilton High had a knack for making the subject especially boring.  Bruce’s files were exactly the opposite.  They were much more detailed, for one thing, since he’d lived the events, but something about the way he wrote the case files was appealing, enough that Terri would happily spend an afternoon absorbed in learning about the many people that her boss had faced over the years.

So when Victor Fries’ face was splashed across the vidscreen, she recognized him and tuned into the Gotham news while she practiced her balance exercises.  Meanwhile, Wayne plowed through paperwork and made the occasional acerbic comment in an effort to make her stumble.

Fries was enough to make the old man push away his work and give the computer-generated anchors his complete attention, which rarely happened.  Wayne was a master at multi-tasking.  His expression was more sour than normal and he didn’t return to his papers when the segment ended.  “Suit up,” he finally said, and Terri hopped down from the balance beam and headed towards the door.  Her costume was in the cave.  “I want you to follow him.”

“You don’t trust him?”

“It’s not a matter of trust.  Fries could never stay on the straight and narrow for very long.  Something will happen and he’ll fall off the radar and find an old weapons cache soon enough.  Batman needs to be there when it happens.”

Terri did as he asked despite her personal misgivings.  She was willing to give Fries the benefit of the doubt; the man had been handed a second chance to beat them all and he seemed ready to take it.  Second chances weren’t something that should be wasted and no one knew that better than Terri.  Of course, the old man was rarely wrong when it came to predicting criminal behavior.  Following him was the best course of action.

The man continued to impress her as she watched from the shadows.  Fries seemed to be making the most of his second chance, doing his best to make up for what he had done, and it made the girl smile, though she kept it from Batman’s face.  She disagreed with his decision to not have the guy who’d shot at him arrested, because the guy could easily have shot someone else beside his intended target.

She was back in the Batcave when the announcement hit the net, getting in some detective training and having a nice break from trailing Victor Fries around Gotham.  She’d need to patrol and bust some heads soon, because the gangs in Gotham had very short memories and two days without the Batman busting heads meant that they decided they were free to do whatever they wanted.

Wayne made a sound of disgust and clicked off the feed when Fries said the word ‘justice.’  “More like blood money,” the old man said, voice rough.  “No amount of money can ever make it up to his victims.”

It was a valid point, but Terri knew that there was technically nothing anyone could ever do to ease someone else’s pain.  At least Fries was trying to help, even if it wasn’t the greatest way to do it.  “He’s just trying to do the right thing,” she said, not truly arguing with him.  “Cut the guy some slack.  It’s hard to ask for forgiveness.  He’s just a guy trying to put his house in order.”

Her boss grumbled something and turned to her.  “I’ll keep a virtual eye on Fries while you patrol.  There’s been some unusual traffic midlevel in the business district, so keep an eye out while you’re there.”

Going out into the night as Batman was still one of the best feelings that Terri had ever experienced.  It was hard work, probably a lot more difficult than anyone would realize, but despite the sweat and the blood and the bruises this was the most important thing she’d ever done.  She’d worked through three groups of Jokerz and one of the T’s (Gotham’s more low-key gang, despite their size) and gotten close to the area that Wayne had been talking about earlier in the day when the lower-level sidewalk trembled a little.

The radio link in her cowl came to life a second later.  “The Wayne-Powers science building.  Now!”

“What happened?” she asked as she took off in that direction, not bothering with the Batmobile.  She was close enough that it would just be a hindrance.

“Fries happened.  He’s going after the doctor responsible for putting him into that body, and he’s taking the building with him.  You need to take him down before that happens.  Hundreds of people will die if that building collapses.”  There was a pause, barely noticeable over the sounds coming from the building.  “And be careful, McGinnis.  I’m getting some strange readings from inside.”

‘Some strange readings’ apparently was secret Bat-code for ‘radioactive guy throwing fireballs,’ something Batman discovered once inside the place and started to immediately dodge said fireballs along with ducking around the ice slowly filling the room.  The only piece of luck in the whole mess was that Mr. Freeze apparently hated the newly arrived and named ‘Blight’ and they were fighting each other more than they were fighting Batman.  It was pretty much the reason she was still alive, because if they’d teamed up they probably could have taken out Batman in short order despite the amount of training she’d been getting over the last few months.

Reading the old man’s case files and given her at least some helpful advice: when two villains were fighting each other more than the hero, the best thing to do was damage control and keeping them confined to a relatively small area.  This scenario only ever ended in two ways: they would continue to fight each other until one or both of them were down, or they would work together to fight Batman.  As long as Blight remained Freeze’s focus and vice versa, they would end the fight for her.

True to form, Blight got in a crippling blow and then was knocked clear of the building by Freeze.  Terri watched from behind her mask and a wall of ice as the man died.  She knew that Bruce would say that it was long past time, but it was hard not to feel some sort of sympathy for the guy.  She hated to see someone lose his second chance like that.