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Fic: By Any Other Name 1/3

Title: By Any Other Name
Rating: Teen
Summary: The events of Batman Beyond, as seen through the eyes of Theresa McGinnis. Genderswap, AU.

“Theresa McGinnis!”

Terri winced when her father called by her full first name. At least she hadn’t gotten the entire treatment this time; her middle name had been left out of it for now. “Yeah, dad?”

“Your school called. What’s this about you punching a boy during gym class?”

“He deserved it,” she protested. Nelson had deserved much worse for his behavior over the past couple of years, but this particular time the asshole had gone much further than his normal name-calling and was lucky he hadn’t needed medical attention. It was one thing to be called a dyke by Nelson Nash; she’d never bothered to deny the rumors because it really didn’t matter to her what that twip thought. Groping her under the guise of gym class was something else entirely and her vision had flashed red when one hand ended up on her ass for far too long for it to be an accident.

“We have a meeting at the principal’s office tomorrow morning to discuss it. Until then, you’re grounded.”

“But I didn’t start the fight!” She’d finished it, though, remembering Nelson’s pained expression with dark satisfaction. No matter what else happened, she always made sure that the fight had been completed.

“We’ll hear all about it tomorrow,” her father said dismissively, turning back to his computer. “I don’t want to hear one word from you until then.”

“Mom would hear me out,” Terri said, clenching her fists against the anger she could feel rising.

“You aren’t living with your mother.”

“Don’t remind me!” Her parents had decided to split their children sometime during the divorce and Mom had ended up with Matt, which made Terri burn a little more.

“Watch your temper, Theresa, or you’ll be grounded a lot longer than you want.”

“Like you can keep me here,” Terri sneered. She headed for the door, snagging her jacket on the way. “I’m out of here. I’ll stay at Daniel’s tonight.”

“Terri, get back here!”

She let the door close on his next words and hurried down the stairs. She doubted her father would follow her out into the hall; he never did once she’d left the apartment. Warren McGinnis wouldn’t take the chance that the neighbors would catch them airing their dirty family laundry.

Daniel lived a few levels up and in a much nicer district than Terri and her father, and Terri could navigate the commuter’s trains there with her eyes closed. She had no intention of staying the night there, no matter what she’d told her father. Dan’s father would pitch a spizz fit if she tried. He already thought Terri was pretty much street trash, trying to climb the social ladder by getting her hooks into Daniel Tan, and something like that would push the man over the edge.

Her boyfriend was the one who answered the door, dark eyes softening when he saw Terri standing on the doorstep. “You have a fight with your dad?”

“Yeah.” She tried her best not to look sheepish. “Can I stay over here until things have cooled down?”

“Of course,” Dan told her, holding the door open and ushering her through. Terri closed the distance as soon as the door closed behind them, arms winding around Dan’s neck. They were the same height and Terri had always liked how easy it made kissing. Most guys were shorter than she was and Daniel was the only guy she’d dated who could match her six feet and two inches. One of his strong, slim hands came up to cradle the back of her hand, fingers carding through her short black hair. She’d worn it long until her stay at juvie, but they’d made her cut it and she’d kept it that way afterward. The lesson about not giving someone an extra hand-hold had been hard-won, but it had stayed with her.

Dan broke off the kiss with a reluctant groan. “I need to study tonight. I’ve got a history exam in the morning.”

“I’ll help,” she said, her tone bright. She hadn’t bothered to study history yet this semester. Daniel was on the honors track, but Terri was not and enjoyed not needing to study to get a B. B’s were good. B’s meant you were doing better than average, but that you weren’t doing so well that you should be transferred into a more difficult class.

“I’ll call you when I get to science or math,” Daniel said dryly. “I know better than to let you help me with history. You stay over there on that couch and I’ll stay over here.”

“And do what?”

“Read a book,” Daniel said, his attention already back on 1938 and the things that lead up to World War II. “I’m sure there’s something here you haven’t read before.”

“Or I could stick with something familiar,” Terri said, smiling as she found Conan Doyle on the shelf. Daniel had a thing for mystery novels and there was always something interesting on those shelves, as opposed to his dad’s weird books on politics. “No offense to your dad or anything, but I’m not in the mood for a political manifesto right now.”

Terri left after a couple of hours, feeling marginally calmer once she’d spent time with Daniel. Just being in the room with him while he studied and she read Sherlock Holmes had helped more than her boyfriend would ever realize. She wasn’t quite ready to head home, still not in enough control to talk to her father without arguing, so she headed toward some of the local hangout instead. Chelsea would be out partying like always and a little time with her would probably chase away the remains of Terri’s anger. Chelsea was kryptonite to bad moods.

She caught up to Chels at 21, with a crowd of boys playing court to the young blond woman. “You trained them to fetch and carry yet?” she asked, grinning.

“Hey, Ter!” Chelsea threw her arms around Terri in an exuberant hug. “I figured you’d be locked up in solitary by now!”

“Walls can’t hold me,” Terri said, shrugging out of her jacket. Back before juvie, she would have cared a little more about how her jeans and black T-shirt compared to Chelsea’s minidress. Now it didn’t matter what any of these idiots thought. Attracting that kind of attention wasn’t something she would ever be interested in again. Daniel was more than enough. Sometimes he was even too much. “I needed some time away.”

“Come on,” Chelsea said once the jacket was gone. “You can have one of them for the evening if you want.”

“I just want to dance,” Terri told her, leading her friend out to the crowded floor. The thump of the bass against her skin felt like a heartbeat and she fell into the music just like always. Back when her parents were trying to find ways to make her behave like a well-mannered girl instead of a tomboy she’d been enrolled in dance classes and hated every second, going so far as to feed her tights and leotard into the garbage disposal. It wasn’t until they had given up and let her take her first aikido class that she began to understand the concept of moving to a rhythm. Now dancing was as much of an escape as any of her other pursuits.

An hour lost to dancing and music left her feeling sweaty and tired and much, much better. Chelsea dismissed her toys and they stumbled out of the stifling atmosphere of the club and into the slightly more comfortable air of Gotham at night. Of course, Gotham City was being it’s usual obstinate self and they stepped almost directly into a gang of Jokerz. It pretty much explained the day she was having.

They’d been hassling the crowd waiting outside, circling on motorcycles, and Terri almost smiled when she saw their most recent victim. Nelson might be the one person that actually deserved those clowns. The smile became a little more real when one of the gang members drove the motorcycle up onto the roof of Nelson’s prized 2040 Ferrari, no doubt destroying the paint job and denting the body in multiple places. Surveillance footage of that, intercut with Nelson’s nearly apoplectic face, should be shown every year at Christmas.

Then, while Terri was distracted with that very enjoyable thought, another one of those clowns swooped in and grabbed Chelsea. Terri got a glimpse of gloved hands going where they were absolutely not invited and the rage she’d felt at Nelson earlier that day made a return appearance. She shoved it down and took a second to survey her surroundings and make a few quick judgment calls on the fighting proficiency of a guy dressed in a purple suit and wearing make-up. Then she acted, getting Chelsea away from the jackass and using him to at least temporarily disable another one. That just left two of them, and one was a girl that didn’t even know how to do much more than whirl a heavy-duty rubber chicken.

Two she could handle. It was when she heard the not-terribly-stealthy sound of several more coming her way that Terri knew she had to get away. Hopefully she could piss them off enough to lead them all from the club and slowly lose them in pursuit. Most gang members didn’t know Gotham very well when they were outside of their territory, and she was counting on it. She’d spent the last three years learning how to hide in Gotham City and was fairly certain she could lead them on a chase that dragged through several rival gangs’ claimed sections.

“Come get me, suckers!” she howled, pulling up one of the abandoned bikes and gunning it for the freeway.

They followed pretty quickly, cackling a little in a way that no teenager could possibly think was cool. One of the things she’d learned during her three months was that Jokerz were pretty good at terrorizing normal people, commuters and ‘good’ teenagers and such, but they were worse than useless and completely disorganized when it came to anything else. Their sheer numbers were the only reason they got noticed at all, and the only reason they hadn’t gotten wiped from the face of Gotham by the more competent gangs.

Of course, the numbers defined her problem in this situation. She needed to shave off a few of these guys as soon as she could, before she hit the outskirts. Out in the open, with that kind of majority and unknown weapons at hand, these idiots could do way too much damage. Even dregs like the Jokerz got lucky sometimes.

Between her admittedly aggressive driving and the simple inability of the gang members to handle their weapons, Terri managed to lose four out of the eleven before she ran out of city and hit the outskirts of Gotham. That left seven, which gave her slightly better odds. They still weren’t great, but if she could just pick her fighting ground she might be able to get through this without any broken bones.

Her last bit of luck gave way as she whipped around a bend on the ‘cycle and caught sight of an old man squinting against the illumination of the headlight. She lost the vehicle as she swerved to avoid the sudden roadblock, rolling clear as it dropped to the ground and slid into the trunk of a tree. As the clowns zoomed up the path and circled her, she climbed to her feet and ditched the helmet. She would need her peripheral vision more than any protection that it might offer. She picked a spot far enough from the old man that he might have a chance to get away, put her back to the fence, lifted her chin, and dared them to come after her.

The raucous cackles died down a little, offering the twip in the purple suit a chance to speak. That would make him the leader, then, and it would be important to take him down a few pegs if she wanted to come out of this as whole as possible. Gangs were a dominance game, now and forever. All she had to do was put down the alpha.

“Looks like the little girl had an accident,” the other teenager crooned. “Little girls should be more careful. A pretty thing like you could get hurt.”

“She looks like she needs to smile,” a dark-haired girl in a dress that could double as a shirt said. Terri stifled the familiar feeling of disgust and ignored her. Back when she’d tried to join up with a gang with Big Time as her back-up, she’d very quickly learned that this was the only way any of them would take a girl. Eight years of martial arts hadn’t meant anything back then. All they wanted was for her to dress like a slut and be available to anyone in the crew.

“Leave her alone,” a rough voice said, cutting across the laughter. “You are all trespassing. Get off my property, now.”

Terri chanced a quick glance at the old man. What the hell was he doing? She’d given him a window to get away, why wasn’t he taking it? For that matter, what was the guy doing out here by himself after dark? There was nothing out here but one or two old houses. It was why she’d played follow the leader with these dregs in this direction in the first place. Jokerz were city dwellers. They didn’t handle the uncertain footing of actual dirt instead of concrete very well.

“I’ve got this,” she told him curtly. Her heart was pounding, hands nearly trembling with adrenaline. If she didn’t get a chance to hit something soon, Terri might fly apart. “Come on, dreg, put me in my place. It’ll probably be the first time you’ve touched a woman in your life.”

Her barb struck home and Terri could see the guy’s face turn red with anger underneath the makeup. He stayed on his bike, gunned the engine, and rushed toward her.

She waited until the last possible second before dodging out of the way, snagging the sleeve of that ridiculous purple suit as she went and pulling the dreg from his seat. It wasn’t a perfect move, because the seam gave way just as she’d managed to redirect his center of balance, but it was effective and it would do. A foot to the groin as she stood up put him down long enough for her to regroup and check on his minions, just in time to block a blow from that stupid rubber chicken.

It made contact with a thud, sending pain shooting down her arm, and Terri stifled a curse. Of course the thing was weighted. It was the only way something like that could be turned into an effective weapon. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the big one approaching on foot, the blade of a knife glinting in the headlights. The other four were still riding around the periphery of the fight, their mocking laughter giving way to the usual insults dregs like that aimed at a female. The leader was groaning and pushing up, murder written on his face. Great job at getting away, Terri.

She stepped forward, into the knife-wielder’s personal space, and let the big guy absorb the rubber chicken blow that was intended for her head. It wasn’t hard to intercept it from the smaller girl and remove it from play while dancing back and away from the larger threat with a couple of delivered blows to give her some space. Another quick glance alerted her to the fact that the leader had recovered enough to make a run toward her, and Terri tripped the girl, turning her into a roadblock for the latest threat and handing out a kick to the chin to keep him honest and away.

Terri turned back to knife guy just in time to see a solid, sturdy cane intercept the guy’s knife hand and block the slash headed toward her upper body. The old man stood next to her, his weathered face stern in the unsteady light. “I said leave,” he said, the words ground out from behind clenched teeth. The cane whipped up into the teenager’s throat and he dropped back, clutching at his neck and making choking noises.

The girl in the dress that was barely a dress was helping up her leader, his jaw slightly misshapen from her earlier kick. Terri refused to feel bad about the fact that she’d probably broken his jaw, and possibly a few teeth. He’d made the first move and deserved everything she could dish out. He mumbled out a gargled “bitch” at her and retreated towards his motorcycle.

The other gang members were picking themselves up from the ground and stumbling toward their bikes. Apparently the old man had been busy while she’d been occupied with those three. One of them stopped long enough to grab the big guy and shove him towards his motorcycle in a show of compassion that was rare for the Jokerz, and the leader and the girl followed suit with more speed than was probably necessary.

The old man at her side slumped a little, leaning more heavily on his cane. She had originally thought that the thing had been just for decoration, but it was clear that the man needed it. “Thanks,” she told him, because he had definitely saved her life. “Are you all right? Can I help?”

He nodded, the supposedly casual movement looking painful. “I need to get up to the house. Need my medication.”

Terri came up to his left side and allowed the man to drape one arm over her shoulder. He had a surprising amount of muscle for someone who was probably pushing eighty and was a little heavier than she expected, but it wasn’t anything that she couldn’t handle.

A dog growled menacingly at the two of them as they stepped through the gate, but a low word from the man reassured the animal and Terri helped him down the driveway and into the quiet, empty house. “My pills are in the kitchen,” he told her once she’d guided him into a chair. “I’ll need the nitroglycerin and a glass of water.”

Terri retrieved the items, not sure if the man had given her a demand or a request. She had a feeling that there wasn’t much difference between the two when it came to him. “I need to call for a ride,” she told him once he’d taken the medication and leaned back into the comfortable old chair. “I’m pretty sure I trashed that bike when I crashed.”

There was no response but the man’s slightly hitched breathing. She took the empty glass back to the kitchen and came back to look at the guy. Had he fallen asleep, or did she need to call an ambulance or something? Nitro meant a heart condition, and probably that he shouldn’t be left alone, and she hadn’t seen any signs of anyone else in this house. Damn it, as far out as this place was if he dropped dead it could be days before anyone noticed.

“I’m going to be grounded for life,” she groaned, and went in search of a telephone. She’d left her cell back home on purpose when she’d stormed out so that she wouldn’t need to go to the trouble of ignoring her father’s calls and that was probably going to come back and bite her later. No doubt her dad was already planning out some gruesome punishment for her most recent rebellion.

She found a telephone sitting on the corner of a well-organized desk and was squaring her shoulders in anticipation of the argument that would follow when a high-pitched sound drew her attention.

Terri zoomed in on the source almost immediately, abandoning the phone as the shrieking continued. There was a bat trapped in the grandfather clock, its wings beating frantically against the glass, claws scraping as it tried to escape. “All right, all right, calm down,” she muttered, long fingers moving along the edges of the case as she tried to find the latch. She had no idea what she would be doing with the thing once it was free, but the shrieking drove her to figure it out quickly. “There it is,” she said, finding a catch much further back than she was expecting.

When she lifted it, the entire case swung forward rather than just the front and the bat managed to fly out and down the open door behind it. Terri paused for a moment, struck by what she’d just uncovered, but she’d always been a little too curious for her own good. She stepped through the dark, open passageway, feeling cool damp air against the exposed skin of her face as she walked down a flight of stairs that she could barely see.

There was a bank of switches at the bottom, just at normal arm’s reach, and Terri flipped them one by one, watching as spotlights lit up display cases, a car, an enormous computer, and finally a row of cases, each holding a costume that would be familiar to any native of Gotham City.

The costumes drew her in and she paused before them all, finally standing in front of the one she didn’t recognize. It was smoother than the others, pitch black except for a dark red insignia across the chest. She reached out to touch it, one hand already on the door of the case and the other one reaching for the shape of the bat, when a calloused, worn hand closed around her wrist and jerked her away from the display case.

The old man was standing there, silhouetted by the lighting in the cave, and the dog was growling at his feet. “Get out,” he said, voice low like gravel.

Terri stumbled back. “You’re . . .,”

“I said get out!” He didn’t move, though his hand was clenched around the handle of his cane. The dog leaned forward and bared his teeth.

She didn’t turn her back on either one, all of the life lessons from her time at juvie pushing toward the forefront of her mind, but she did hurry backwards until she hit the stairs and was out of sight. The dog followed her to the gate, its presence threat enough to keep her moving forward, and stood there growling as she started walking away.

“Freak,” she mumbled, more by habit than anything else. She would have to do some research when she got home, just to answer her curiosity. In the meantime, Terri had a long, cold walk to contemplate what she’d learned and her inevitable grounding.

It took about half an hour of walking before she encountered any other sign of human life, and she must have looked fairly pathetic because the driver of the truck pulled over and offered her a ride. After taking a moment to weigh the possibility of the man being a mass murder against the dangers of walking all the way back in the dark while not at her best she climbed up into the cab. If it came down to it she could fend off his advances, but if that gang from earlier stumbled onto her it wouldn’t be pretty.

He dropped her off a few blocks from home without giving her any more trouble than a lecture on why it wasn’t safe for a young lady to be out at this time of night. Terri considered it a warm-up for what she’d be getting from her father when she showed up two hours after curfew on a night when she was supposed to be grounded.

Her bulky jacket was enough to keep her warm for the most part, and by now she had cooled off enough to admit that her dad might have had a point. Nelson always managed to yank her chain and while he really didn’t have the right to touch her she should have handled it differently. She would have to apologize to her father and take the punishment he decided to hand out.

The flashing lights made her pause mid-step as she turned the corner. This was Gotham, and bad things happened everyday and a lot of the time on her block, but somehow she knew that this time, right now, was different. Terri started running before she had even made a conscious decision, moving toward her building and the largest concentration of flashing lights with as much speed as her battered body could muster.

Her mom was standing in the hallway, head bowed as a police officer spoke to her. “Mom!”

The relief that flooded across her mother’s pale, tired face was not as comforting as it should have been. “Terri! We were so worried when we couldn’t find you. Are you all right?” The woman reached out one small, cold hand and rested it on Terri’s cheek, dark eyes roaming over her form to check for blood or obvious injuries.

She nodded. “I’m fine, Mom. What happened? Where’s Dad?”

Terri watched as the relieved expression faded away. “It was a gang,” she said, her tone soft and full of pain. “They surprised your father.”

The reality of her mother’s words hit the teenager like a sack of bricks and she stepped back. “No,” she said, turning toward the door of the apartment and the cop standing guard there. “No!”

It wasn’t hard to push past the officers and her mother and run into the apartment. They weren’t expecting it, especially not from a teenage girl, and she managed to get into the living room unimpeded. Her father was stretched out on his back, his head resting on the stained carpet, and Terri couldn’t figure out why none of the people milling around the room were helping him. His glasses were missing. Someone needed to find them. Dad couldn’t see anything without his glasses.

It wasn’t until she dropped down onto her knees next to him that she realized why no one was trying to help him.

Later on when she tried to remember her father’s funeral, all Terri would be able to clearly recall is the way her mother clung to her, Matt holding on tight on her other side. The other events were all a blur of people dressed in dark clothing and a casket left closed up tightly because the damage hadn’t been something that the undertaker could conceal. She knew that at some point after everyone had gone Daniel had come along and just stood there for her, offering his support whenever she was ready.

She had ended up back at her mom’s apartment sometime after the service, though her memories of getting there were a little sketchy. The dress pants she’d worn to the funeral were slightly damp under her palms and she had no idea how that had happened. Her mom was standing in the doorway of the darkened bedroom and she was talking quietly, but Terri couldn’t really comprehend what she was saying. The only things she could hear were the last words she’d spat out at her father, the kind of nasty things only an ungrateful brat would say to her father.

When she said as much to her mother, the older woman embraced Terri. “Your father loved you,” she whispered. “He knew that things were sometimes going to be rocky with you, and that’s the way life works.”

Terri didn’t cry, and the words didn’t comfort her.

Part 2