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Fic: By Any Other Name 2/3



Moving her things out of the old apartment and back into her mom’s two-bedroom took three trips on public transit for Terri while her mother packed up what they could use of the furnishings and arranged to have a charity pick up everything else. In the end, it was one box of books, one box of memorabilia, and one box of clothing. Terri wasn’t exactly a clotheshorse to begin with and after her stint in the juvenile detention center she’d tossed out every single one of her skirts and dresses. They made her too vulnerable, after all. Anyone who wanted to could see her legs and try to touch her skin, and that wasn’t something she wanted to allow.

Matt was sulking when she carted in her final box, unhappy that he’d lost his private bedroom to her. Terri wanted to tell him to cheer up, since the instant she turned eighteen she was going to be gone, but her mom had asked her to keep that quiet. It seemed her baby brother was feeling abandoned by their father’s death.

This little piece of news, delivered in an entirely unironic fashion, made Terri’s mood even darker. “Hurry up, twip,” she snarled, struggling to balance the box in her arms. Matt took his time despite her urging and she took a moment to glare at him as she stepped into the living room. In a further compounding of her incredibly bad week, she tripped over Matt’s backpack as she walked through the room and dropped the box, which flew open. A framed picture of her and Dad, which had been sitting right on top since it was the last thing she packed, tumbled out and the glass cracked. Terri growled in frustration.

“Is that supposed to be my fault too?” Matt asked, his tone dangerously snotty, and Terri turned to him. The edges of her familiar, almost comforting rage were filling out now, though it wasn’t as bad as it normally was. She was much too tired to do any true damage.

Whatever expression she was wearing on her face, it must have been terrifying to her younger brother because he immediately ran from the room, no doubt headed for the dubious safety of the bedroom he would now be sharing with Mom. She would be hearing about this when Mary came home, but right now she couldn’t even begin to care.

Terri sighed and let her body sag a little. It hurt a little, coming home to this situation when she was clearly not wanted, but it wasn’t like she had a lot of alternatives. In nineteen months she would turn eighteen and then she would be free. Until then, it could be worse. She knew her mom loved her, even if it didn’t show much. That would have to be enough.

The picture belonged on the small desk, so she sat down on the bed and picked it up. The glass had splintered between the faces and a long crack ran down the center, but the picture and the frame were still salvageable. Who needed glass anyway? The picture inside was what mattered.

She turned the frame over, intent on removing the back and the photograph inside so that the glass could go in the garbage, when she noticed a disk sliding out of a cut slit in the back. That most definitely did not belong.

Her dad’s computer had been trashed in the break-in, but hers had been at school in her locker and now she opened up the lid and slipped the disk into the drive. It only took a few seconds for the disk to load and with a few clicks she was reading through the data.

It didn’t take long for her to realize that, for one, the information there was way above her pay grade. She had a certain knack for numbers and scientific logic, but she was still in high school and this was definitely the type of thing that was meant for someone with a high-level degree. Her second realization, shortly on the heels of the first, was that this was likely the thing that got her father killed. The concept of an overly cautious Warren McGinnis simply opening his door for a member of the most flamboyant gang in Gotham City had never made sense. The Wayne-Powers logo was visible in multiple places as she trolled through the information, along with the word ‘confidential,’ and while she couldn’t quite figure out the details of the data Terri understood enough to get the abstract concept. Her dad had stumbled into something very, very bad.

“I’m going out for a while,” she told Matt, standing up and ejecting the disk. Her dad’s old jacket was still on the couch where she’d dropped it earlier and she snatched it up on the way out. Her phone was in the pocket and she’d need to make a call. Hopefully Daniel was up and willing to offer a ride. Public transportation wasn’t going to get her where she needed to go tonight.

By the time she’d talked her boyfriend into taking her out past the edge of town and leaving her there, it was starting to get late. Terri watched as Daniel’s car disappeared around the bend. It had taken some time to convince him that she knew what she was doing, time that she needed to spend on helping unravel the secrets on this disk, and the only way she managed it was with a promise that she would call in an hour or so. With that thought fresh on the front of her mind, Terri walked up to the gate and tilted her chin, glaring at the camera there with the disdain she always shown toward authority figures. “I found something that you need to see,” she called. “Something’s rotten in your company, Mr. Wayne. It might have gotten my father killed.”

Silence from the intercom, which served to kick her temper up a notch. “Well? Are you going to do something about it or what? Or is that something that Batman would do?” Terri clenched her fists at her sides at the continued inaction, her frayed temper snapping. “You’re a coward! A fake! And you’re just as responsible as the person who pulled the trigger if you don’t do anything about it!” She turned on her heel, her anger simmering enough to keep her warm until she’d walked down to the bottom of the hill and called Daniel for a pickup. There wasn’t a Plan B for dealing with this. Whatever things were waiting on that disk she doubted that the cops were willing to take the word of a girl with a record, if they even looked at it at all.

There was a click and a soft creak behind her and Terri turned around to see that the gate was hanging open slightly. She had a feeling that was the best she was going to get when it came to an invitation.

Mr. Wayne met her at the door and silently led the way down into the cave, the dog at his heels. She handed over the disk without a word and watched as he loaded it into the computer. The same information that she’d seen an hour earlier came up onto the screen, but unlike her the older man understood exactly what he was seeing. “It’s a new kind of mutagen. The researcher stumbled over it while trying to create nerve gas,” he finally said, weathered hands clenching into fists. “They’re using my company to make nerve gas.”

His voice was deep and controlled, like everything else about him. Terri wondered for a moment what it would be like to have such control in the face of that kind of revelation. “So what are you going to do about it?” she asked, edging toward the case that contained the Batman suit. She wanted to be the one to open the case and hand the suit over, to watch a legend come back to life.

The old man was quiet for several long moments while Terri waited impatiently. “Take the disk to police headquarters and ask for Commissioner Gordon. I’ll let her know you’re coming,” he told her, standing up and ejecting the disk from the computer.

“Come on, the cops?” Terri made a sound of disgust in the back of her throat. “There’s no way they’ll listen to me, especially over Powers. You’re Batman, you have to do something!”

“I was Batman.”

“And what, you got old and now you don’t want to do it anymore? He’s using your company to make nerve gas!”

“Gordon will take care of it.” He picked up his cane and began hobbling toward the stairs. “Now go.”

Terri went. She was sure that if she stayed much longer she would start throwing punches. All the trouble to bring this disk to him, and the horror that it contained, and this was the reaction she got from Batman? She might as well have just tossed the thing into the garbage to begin with. Everyone knew that Derek Powers had the cops in his pocket.

She probably should have called Daniel for a ride, but she was still too angry. Daniel was pretty much the only person who could calm her down besides Chelsea and he would be glad to do it, but it wouldn’t do to abuse that particular talent. Terri was aware that she wasn’t a prize most of the time, too bossy and temperamental for most people to handle and more than a little damaged as well. She didn’t want her boyfriend to grow tired of her own particular brand of high-maintenance care and break up with her. She would do this on her own.

It took about three miles this time before Terri managed to reach the far edges of the city’s public transportation system. The storm that had been blowing in when he’d arrived at the creepy manor house had apparently blown past them, leaving it a little windy and cool but thankfully dry. By the time she’d made the various train transfers across three different El lines to get back to her mother’s neighborhood the anger had mostly bled out, leaving her exhausted and ready to sleep. She would go on Wayne’s pointless errand in the morning.

The limousine pulled in front of her, blocking the sidewalk and her way home and making her equilibrium vanish, when she was about two blocks shy of the apartment. The sight of the man inside made her blood boil, but she clenched her fists and held onto her fraying temper.

“Theresa, is it?” Derek Powers smiled at her, the kind of smug expression she’d received from the occasional guard at juvie. “Why don’t you climb inside? I’ll give you a ride home.”

She took a step back. “I’m not supposed to get into cars with strange men.”

“I’m not a stranger, sweetheart. I’m a friend of your father’s. It’ll be just fine.”

Terri took another step back and ran straight into the brick wall that served as Powers’ bodyguard and driver. Huge hands clamped down onto her arms and she instantly started to struggle, kicking up her legs and crying out in wordless panic.

“I’ll make this easy for you,” Powers said, all cordiality gone from his tone. “I want the disk. I know that you have it, and I want it now.”

“If he lets go,” she said, biting off the words. She needed time to think and space to act and she wouldn’t get either with the giant standing right behind her.

Powers nodded and the man released her arms and stepped back. It wasn’t terribly far, all things considered, but it was enough to allow her to gather her composure and come up with a plan. The plan she came up with wasn’t perfect, but it would hopefully allow her to get away. Her father had been killed because he’d seen what was on that disk. Terri had a hard time believing that Powers was going to simply let her walk away.

She’d worn a pair of cargo pants out to Wayne’s creepy house because they were comfortable and they gave her plenty of room to move, and also because multiple pockets meant multiple places to store things. It was a lot harder for a thief to pick your pocket when said pocket rested just below the knee. Her keys and wallet were in the pocket on her left leg and she’d tucked the disk into the one on the right. She bent over with her back to her chosen escape route and took it out, because her chances of escape were much better if Powers thought he had the evidence. There was no need to mention that Wayne had made a copy.

There was a split second pause once she had the disk in hand while she plotted out the next couple of moves. Terri glanced at the behemoth of a bodyguard from the corner of her eye and tossed the disk into the air with a quick, sharp motion. A second later her knee found the behemoth’s groin with all of the force she could muster and then she was off and running. There was a cable line stretching from the nearest building to a pole on the level below and Terri made a running leap for it, using it to slide down to the level below with only a minor jolt to her knees.

Well, this required a change of plans. There was no way she was going home when Derek Powers was trying to tie up loose ends. With the disk gone, she would have to get creative.

It was surprisingly easy to break into the Cave. Terri was expecting lasers and a high-end security system, but with bats flying around motion detectors would be pretty much useless. She tied up the dog first because she didn’t want it coming up behind her while she was in the middle of her plan. It was already going to be a problem slipping around the old man to get to where she needed to go. After that, all Terri needed to do was get into the house and slink through the hidden entrance without getting caught.

The Batgirl costume was three cases away, but that held no interest for Terri. It wasn’t as high-tech, for one thing, and while she knew she had some decent skills that probably wouldn’t be enough. The main factor, though, was that people didn’t fear Batgirl. She was held in respect, of course, but respect wasn’t what Terri was going for right now. She needed to be feared, and Batman terrified people even now. It was that simple.

It was probably the first time since she’d hit puberty that Terri was truly glad of her lack of curves. She’d always been tall and skinny for her age and she’d spent most of her early teens waiting for her boobs to show up and being constantly disappointed that they hadn’t yet appeared. Then she’d spent three months in juvie and had emerged with a dedication to weight-lifting, making her lean build even more androgynous. Now that look would come in handy.

The tight material of the batsuit bound her modest breasts better than anything else she could come up with on the fly, and the little bit of padding that served as insulation and protection disguised the slight curve of her hips. The boots were too big for her narrow feet, but that was a minor inconvenience that was easily handled with a pair of socks. She glanced at her reflection in the glass of the case until she was satisfied that her gender was sufficiently masked from the casual observer and pulled the mask over her head.

The effect was instantaneous. The material of the mask altered the planes of her face just enough that she was now looking at the reflection of Batman instead of a seventeen year old girl. Terri felt her heartbeat pick up. She stood up straight with her arms down at her sides and tilted up her chin. It was time to remind Gotham City who was meant to protect it.

She didn’t need much time to figure out how to use the different features of the suit. Everything was set up in a logical fashion, almost exactly the way she’d have done if she’d been designing the thing. All of the systems responded to small but deliberate muscle contractions and there were more than a few things that she picked up by accident as she made her way towards the Wayne-Powers building.

The wings that spread out from her arms were light and she caught on to gliding right away, letting the jets in the boots and the air currents do the work of getting her places. Landing was a bit trickier, but she didn’t do a nose dive onto the pavement so she called it a win. Powers seemed like the kind of guy to have a penthouse office, so she headed for the top floor and the floor-to-ceiling windows that marked the corner.

The lights inside were glowing brightly, so she hugged the corner and leaned in close, resting the fingertips of one hand on the glass for balance. She was hoping to hear what was going on in that office, since it was pretty much impossible to get any kind of visual, and was pleasantly surprised when some function of the suit she was wearing picked up the sound vibrations and transmitted them to the mask she was wearing. Forget jet boots, that little feature was useful.

She would never forget the sound of the man’s voice after that encounter earlier in the day, so it was easy to pick up that Derek Powers was the one doing most of the talking. He was talking about the mutagen in a too-smooth tone, pointing out all of the useful things a dictator could use it for, and a man with a heavy foreign accent was asking him specific questions about what exactly it could do. When Powers started talking about an ‘unfortunate accident in the lab’ Terri clenched her fist. She knew that had to be how her father had gotten the disk, because he would never have worked on such a project.

More talk, this time about payment and delivery, and she noted when and where the shipment would be leaving. Her dad had died because of this thing. There was no way she was letting it out of Gotham. Kasnia would have to go on without this particular bioweapon.

Through all of this she remained focused on her goal, on finding out what was going on and stopping it. She was just starting to smile at her apparent self-control when Powers and his creepy Lurch of a bodyguard came back into the office. “You’ll take care of the details?” she heard Powers ask.

“It shouldn’t be a problem.”

“I know I don’t have to tell you how important this deal is. It could open up whole new doors for our more circumspect business matters. That little bitch shows up here, I want you to take care of it.”

There was a slight chuckle. “I took care of her old man, didn’t I?”

Terri felt her pulse start to race, breath coming quicker, and she struggled to hold onto her control against the anger those words brought on. It was one thing to suspect that Powers had arranged for someone to kill her father over the contents of that disk. To have it confirmed like that, in a casual conversation that might as well have included a reminder to pick up his dry-cleaning, was something else entirely.

A slight click from behind brought her attention back to her surroundings. Terri looked behind her and had to blink at the set of armed security guards on the ledge. They were twenty stories up, how did those guys even get up here without her seeing them?

“It’s a little early for Halloween,” one of them said, pointing a gun in her direction.

She smiled because it was a good opening and now that she had a direct mission she was already feeling lighter. “But just in time for fall,” she said, dropping her alto down into something that would hopefully be mistaken for a male voice. Then she stretched out her arms and dove forward into the open space.

She triggered the wings when they started shooting, using them to glide down and away from the laser shots. This landing was better than the first and it wasn’t hard to get away and hide. She had to find that transport and stop that shipment from going out, and then she had to figure out some way to arrest the man responsible for killing her father.

The sound in her ears came without warning and she instinctively flinched at the unexpected intrusion. “Bring it back, McGinnis. Now.”

“What?” Terri looked around and didn’t see anyone even close to her position. She moved further into the shadows just in case.

“The suit. Bring it back or I’ll disable it. It doesn’t belong to you.”

“I’ll bring it back when I’m done,” she told him, trying very hard to keep her voice level and tone respectful. She might not have chosen to use these particular skills most of the time, but she hadn’t forgotten how to get an elder to listen to you.

“No, now!”

“Powers is shipping out that mutagen tonight.” She looked up into the rafters, hoping for a more secure escape route. “He has to be stopped, and I’m the only one who can get there in time. Please. Let me do this. I read up on you, Mr. Wayne. I know how your parents died. The man who murdered my father is going to be on that transport. Let me do this, and I’ll bring the thing right back to you.”

She could feel the silence weighing down on her while Wayne made his decision. She had no intention of simply going back if he said no, despite his threats to disable the suit and leave her where she stood, but it would be much easier with his backing. “There’s a storage room on the second floor,” he said finally. “The back wall should get you away from the guards.”

“Will it get me to the transport?”

“I’ll guide you there.” Now that she’d apparently convinced him to help, he was quick to respond. “Through the door first. Then follow that hallway and down the stairs. Take a right at the bottom and head out the second door on the left. That should take you outside and avoid security.”

“Done,” Terri said, about thirty seconds later. “What next?”

“Something like that would probably be shipped out of the special projects building.” There was the sound of rapid typing on his end. “Yes. It’s not right on the dock, but it’s close. Building 27.”

“Got it. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck,” Wayne echoed. “You’re going to need it.”

They had just finished loading the canisters into the first transport and had started on the second one when she slipped into the room. The suit made it easier to go unnoticed and she stayed to the shadows and the hidden corners of the room, noting the presence of her father’s killer standing next to Derek Powers as he supervised the shipment.

“Any ideas on how I should play this?” she asked quietly.

“Carefully,” the old man returned. “There are a lot of guns in that room. The suit’s good, but it’s not that good.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Is there any chance they’ll just give up?”

“No.”

“All right.” Terri studied the transports more closely. Disabling them would buy her some time to think, but there was way too much light shining down on top of them. She needed to announce her presence, then, and she should probably do so in the most spectacular, distracting way possible. With one last survey of her surroundings, Batman went into action.

A flung batarang went into the controls of the forklift they were using to load the canisters. That should slow down the process, anyway. She managed to aim another one into the more sensitive parts of the transport’s undercarriage, disabling the hover capabilities and making it list towards the ground. “Show’s over, Powers.”

The man made a snort of disbelief and gave a gesture towards his security men. “Not this again. Shoot him.”

Batman was quick to move in front of the transports, letting them take the laser fire so that hopefully they would damage the things. Powers shouted something that she didn’t quite hear to his bodyguard and the full transport rumbled to life and started moving towards the door. She let the lasers further disable the second vehicle before taking off after that one, the sound of things crashing to the ground echoing behind her. No way in the world she was letting this guy get away now.

The transport headed straight for the harbor and the Atlantic Ocean, which wasn’t exactly a surprise. Terri caught up to it while it was still in the bay, thankfully, and tossed the only two security guys on board out into the water. They would probably be safer there, in the long run. No sign of anyone else, so the bodyguard had to be piloting the damn thing.

The pilot’s chair was empty when she spun it around, but something moved in the corner of her eye and she dodged around it and away, just avoiding the punch from her father’s murder. There was something sparking and metallic on his hands, some kind of modified brass knuckles, and she knew that she was going to have to duck his hands if she wanted to avoid electrocution.

She used the chair to insulate the blows while she regrouped; fighting was a lot more difficult when you had to avoid your opponent’s hands completely. The guy was taking her seriously as well, so she didn’t have the element of surprise from earlier that day when she’d gotten in her one lucky blow and ran. She realized in a flash of clarity that this odd form of respect was because she was Batman. Theresa McGinnis might be a girl and a juvenile delinquent and below most people’s notice, but Batman was someone that made others pay attention.

Focus, focus. There would be time to think about this later. Disable the transport first, disable her father’s killer second, and don’t die. Those were all very important things that should be taking priority right now. The possibility of a future as Batman would have to wait. She flung a batarang into the main instrument panel, causing a shower of sparks to fly up from the electronics. The craft immediately lost momentum and altitude, dropping toward the water as the engines shut down.

Terri had been braced when it happened, but the bodyguard wasn’t as prepared and he stumbled, grabbing onto the pilot’s chair for balance. There was a slight opening on his right side as he did it and Batman quickly took advantage of it. She had practiced the move that dislocated the man’s shoulder in one of her classes, though she couldn’t recall exactly which one. To the guy’s credit, he didn’t utter much more than a cut-off grunt of pain when it happened. Terri knew for a fact that a dislocation hurt more than a break sometimes, and the one she’d just delivered hurt a little more than average. She kicked out his knee while that was distracting him, possibly damaging ligaments, and got another grunt of pain and his full attention. Despite his screwed-up right leg, he managed to stand up. He was pretty much stationary, but there was nothing wrong with his left arm and he had a reach that Terri underestimated slightly. The glancing blow sent an unpleasant electric shock down her spine and she stepped back quickly.

“You’re not bad, for some loser who thinks he’s Batman.” The man grinned, an expression that you might see on some kind of starving predator. “Too bad you’re going to die right here.”

She felt the anger come back, overly warm and familiar, but this time it didn’t take her over. It simply gave her more fuel to burn. “I am Batman,” she said, her voice growling out and practically unrecognizable. This time when he tried a left roundhouse she latched onto his wrist and continued pulling him forward until the arcing brass knuckles contact the ruined control panel. She let go and stepped away once the motion reached inevitability and watched as the weapon on his hand overloaded, the electricity making his body jerk and twitch.

When he dropped she knelt down next to him. She’d had multiple opportunities to witness the effects of a taser when she was in juvie and the more muscle you have the more effect an electrical shock will have as well. He wouldn’t be a threat after that.

The engines were making a whining noise and the vehicle was tilting further towards the water in an ungainly nosedive as Terri braced against the battered pilot’s chair and tried to find a pulse.

Nothing.

She would worry about the implications of that later. Right now, she had to get out of this transport before it crashed into the ocean with its load of canisters. The angle was so steep now that she used the jets in the boots and simply flew out through the open hatch, just before it hit water. She watched as it sank, taking her father’s killer with it, until the water smoothed out again.

xxx

It was probably a bad sign for her future that instead of returning it the way she’d promised the batsuit was stashed under her bed. She’d just been so exhausted by the turmoil of the night before that she’d come home, peeled it off, and tucked it away before crashing. Terri doubted that Wayne would call the cops or anything, since that would blow the secret wide open, but he wasn’t going to be pleased with her.

When her mother knocked on the door, she had a moment of intense panic while she tried to remember if there was anything incriminating lying out in the open or if any of the effects of last night’s battle would be easily visible. By the way her body ached, there were bound to be bruises. “Terri, get dressed! You’ve got a visitor!”

“What?”

“Mr. Bruce Wayne is here! Hurry!”

That got her out of bed in a hurry. She’d tossed on a tank top and a pair of shorts before she’d fallen asleep, but that was clearly not something she should be wearing outside of her bedroom today. It took approximately three minutes to put on a clean pair of jeans and a button-down shirt. She didn’t bother with shoes, deciding it was better to not keep the man waiting.

Her mother was serving him a cup of coffee when she stepped into the room, apologizing for the fact that they didn’t have any cream. Terri rolled her eyes at that because they never had cream. Her mom was on a perpetual diet and she took her coffee black, while Terri was fine with milk in hers. “Mr. Wayne,” she said, cautiously taking a seat on the couch across from him.

“Theresa.” The smile he gave her was so perfectly inoffensive it had to be fake. “Glad you could join us. I came to speak to you about something.”

Her mom was smiling that nervous smile she used when the situation didn’t really make sense but she had to go with it. “He’s here to offer you a job.”

Terri’s eyes widened and she turned her full attention to Wayne. “Really?”

“I saw the news story about your father the other day,” he said, his voice appropriately solemn. “My own parents died as a result of criminal violence, and as it happens I am in need of an assistant. I find that I could use an extra hand to help keep things running smoothly. I thought I might offer you the job, if you’re interested.”

“Of course she’s interested!” her mother said, smiling a little too widely. “You are, aren’t you, sweetie?”

“I am interested, Mr. Wayne.” Terri was watching him now, seeing how he kept track of everyone in the room and kept a firm grip on his cane. She remembered how he’d used it as a weapon in that fight a lifetime (four days) ago.

Wayne nodded. “It’s not much to start,” he said, his tone changing slightly. “I need someone to run errands, mostly. An ally to help me out, as it were. And I’m the first to admit that I can be a very strict taskmaster at times.”

“I think I can handle it.”

“Very good.” There was a grim smile from the man as he stood up and held out his hand. “Welcome to my world, Miss McGinnis.”

Part 3