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Definite AU story.

Jason is 22 in this, Percy 21. Paige is 26. Peter is 28. Harry and Ron are 17.

I didn't know where the Fox's really lived, so I chose Michigan, because I was watching Animal Precinct, or maybe it was Animal Cops. Either way, I was watching the show that's set in Detroit, where the ASPCA sends out cops to arrest people that hurt and abuse their animals.

This was supposed to be part of a series. There were 2-3 other stories all planned out.

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SEPTEMBER

.

He thought that maybe if he didn't get a rest soon he was going to go completely insane. The events of the last few years were finally starting to catch up with him, and he hated it.

"Weasley, since you do not want to take a leave of absence, but you seem to need one, I have come up with a proper solution. A representative from the Ministry needs to go to America and meet with the American delegates there. I think it should be you."

"I am to go to America?" Percy looked at his boss in surprise.

"Yes. I think you will be perfect for the job, which is why I already sent in the forms. You leave in three days. Here is your information packet," a folder was slid across the oak desk, "don't be late."

Percy clutched the folder to his chest and didn't know what to say. He just sort of bobbed his head a couple of times, then hurried out of the office. He needed to get somewhere private in case his nerves finally gave out and he had a panic attack.

Strangely, though, when he paused to contemplate what he was feeling, he wasn't anxious about going to a foreign country at all. In fact, he was rather excited.

Though very few people would ever believe it, he had always wanted to travel and have great adventures. He had just given up his dreams to live the life he thought he was supposed to have. But this was his chance to do what he had wanted since he was a child--see a part of the world he wouldn't regularly visit. It was actually pretty wonderful.

Leaning against the side of his desk, the folder still in his hand, he felt his lips twitch.

The smile started small, but it grew until it encompassed his whole face. He was going to finally do something fun in his life, and since it was a part of his job, there was no reason to feel guilty about it.

"America," he said aloud. "I am going to America."

Percy Weasley laughed. He hadn't laughed for real in so long that it almost hurt at first, but it was nice.

 ***

 "'Science is a wonder/ science is the greatest friend./ We all live in a world of splendor/ and hopefully the scientific breakthroughs will never end,'" he sang as he showered, then laughed. "Damn, maybe I can replace Raffi someday."

He turned off the water and stepped out of the shower, grabbing a large towel off the rack to wrap around himself.

"Jason! The lecture starts in twenty minutes. Move your ass!"

Jason shook his head at the force of the voice coming through the door. "I'm already out of the shower. I just have to brush my teeth and get dressed. Don't give yourself a heart attack."

He could almost hear Marcus' huff of indignation. It was pretty funny.

He hurried up and dried off, then wrapped the towel around his waist before walking out of the bathroom with a puff of steam. "I don't even know why we have to go to this, it's just so stupid. Dr. Vorkoff is such a huge idiot, brilliant at his job, but an idiot anyway."

"Yeah, but we've all got to make great sacrifices to get the big checks," Marcus called from the living room.

Walking down the hall, Jason could see his friend's feet from where he was reclining back in his chair. His socks were blazing white from the Great Bleach Disaster that had also turned his red shirt white, three pairs of jeans white, and his green shirt white. But at least the socks he'd thrown into the wash had stayed white, so it was a happy ending after all. And Jason had gotten a good laugh out of it.

Jason went into his room and pulled his black pants and black blazer from the closet. With a white shirt, red and black striped tie, and recently shined shoes, he was ready to go. He felt like a nerd, but he knew Vorkoff was impressed by well-dressed employees, thought that they reflected his own glory or something. And he had a sneaking suspicion that the guy had a bit of a crush on him, though it wasn't like he was going to do anything about it. Vorkoff was nice for something so evil as a boss, but there was no way Jason was taking his pants off near him.

Walking out into the living room, Jason looked Marcus over. "Are you really going dressed like that?" he asked.

Marcus smirked. "I'm fine. You're the one Vorkoff likes. I can get away with looking a little scruffy. You're my cover."

Jason shook his head. "You suck, man. I don't want to be some sex object, or your excuse to dress like a slob."

"You're only mad 'cause it's you and you have to dress up fancy all the time. If it was me... you'd be laughing your ass off."

"Nuh uh," Jason said, knowing it was true. Really, he didn't mind providing cover for Marcus. If it was Marcus Vorkoff was after, Jason would have used his best friend status to dress the way he wanted and get extra time off, and it wasn't like Marcus was slacking where it counted. Marcus was doing the work, he was just doing it in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. "Put on your blazer and let's go."

Marcus smiled at him, bringing his feet down and standing up. He reached down and pulled his shoes out from under the side table, slipping them on. Then he wandered over toward the hall closet. "I can't wait until this day is over. We've got some tweaking to do on our program still."

"I can't wait until we can send in the prospectus to Arengame Systems. It'd be nice to get some more money," Jason said.

"What's it with you and money lately?" Marcus asked, shrugging on his navy blue blazer. "We've got almost a quarter million dollars in the bank already, and we've paid up our rent and utilities for the next six months. What do you need to buy?"

Jason shrugged. "I don't know. I just figured we might puff up our bank account so we don't ever have to worry. Besides, I kind of want to take a really awesome vacation this summer and who knows what kind of souvenir crap we might want to buy while we're there, you know?"

"Whatever." Marcus grabbed his keys off the table by the door. "Let's go. We're already going to be a few minutes late. Do you think we should stop off for coffee on the way?"

"Oh yeah, I need me some caffeine!" Jason crowed, hurrying over.

"You're so lame," Marcus smirked

"So are you."

They laughed and Marcus bumped his hip against Jason's.

 ***

 "Mother, I am being sent to America," Percy said.

The hustle and bustle of the Weasley household came to a halt. The twins' annoying babble about their joke shop stopped. Ron stopped fighting with Ginny over the last bread roll. Bill and Charlie stopped talking about dragons and curse breakers. Arthur stopped fiddling with his strange muggle toy--a television remote control. The whole family looked at Percy like he had suddenly grown a new head.

"What are you talking about, Percy?" Molly asked.

Percy put down his fork and looked at his mother, focusing on her so he wouldn't have to look at his brothers. They were probably getting ready to mock him again, like they always did. "I have been chosen to go to America and meet with the American counterparts of the British Ministry of Magic. I will be gone for two months, and will be leaving in three days."

"Why didn't you tell us earlier, Perce? This is something kind of important."

Percy looked at Bill and shrugged slightly. "I was only told about it today. My boss called me into his office and told me that he had selected me to go."

"But you don't really want to, do you?" Ginny asked. "I mean, to go all the way to America by yourself. You wouldn't like something like that, would you?"

For a second, Percy wanted to yell at her. She didn't think he was adventurous enough to want to go to America. She thought that he should hide shivering in his office at the Ministry in fear of leaving England and seeing parts of the world where he had never been. He wanted to reach across the table, grab her by the shoulders, and shake her until her brain turned into a pile of goo in her head. But he didn't. Instead, he gave her a little smile and twitched two fingers through his hair quickly. "Don't worry about me, Ginny. I have a job to do and I won't back out of it. Going to America is just one of my duties."

She still looked worried, but nodded. She knew that he was incredibly focused on his job, even if the rest of the family--the twins--thought it was stupid. "You'll do a good job," she said, sounding just a little uncertain.

He quirked his lips at her, not letting even a tiny bit of the hurt he felt inside show. His whole family thought he was a coward and a braggart. Nobody seemed to have noticed that he'd grown up, that he'd actually developed personality. They still expected him to be Perfect Percy. It made him so angry sometimes.

"I will bring you all gifts back," he said.

"Well," Molly said briskly, "don't spend too much money. There's nothing we really need, and presents are nice, but there's no reason for you to empty out your wallet on us."

"Oh please, do empty your wallet," Fred said, propping an elbow on the table as he peered at Percy from around George. "You should buy us some expensive presents for all the times we had to put up with you as a brother." He sounded like he was joking, but Percy felt like he wasn't. There was a thread of truth in there.

Fred actually thought that Percy owed him something just because Fred had to put up with him as a brother. It almost hurt, would have if he wasn't so used to it.

Pressing his lips together to keep himself from saying anything, Percy reached for his glass of pumpkin juice. After a careful sip, he thought that maybe he had himself enough under control to speak.

"Anyway," he said, "I am going to be gone for two months. I wanted to let you know, Mother, so you would not have to worry."

"Well of course I'm going to worry," Molly said. "But I still hope you enjoy your trip and that you're safe. You will be sending us letters, won't you?"

"Yes, Mother," Percy said. "I promise to write you at least twice a week."

"Yeah, Percy's gonna write to Mum and make it like he never left," Ron whispered to George. "He's such a Mummy's boy."

George snorted. "So are you, Ronnikins." He reached over and mussed Ron's hair, making it stand up in spikes.

"Hey, not my hair! Your hands are filthy," Ron complained, grabbing up his napkin and wiping it over the top of his head.

"Such a baby," Fred said, shaking his head in mock-disappointment. "I don't know why we even bother with you, Ronny. You have all the potential, but none of the drive. You'll never make a proper Weasley."

"Shut up you!" Ron yelled, throwing a chunk of bread at him.

"Boys! Boys! Stop that right this instant!" Molly yelled.

"Why don't you just let them battle it out, Mum? Maybe if one of them finally wins, they'll stop fighting!" Ginny called.

Bill shook his head at her. "If one of them won, they'd be after you next, sprout."

She stuck her tongue out at him, then giggled. "How long are you staying for?" she asked.

"Just a few more days, then I have to get back to work. Same with Charlie, right?" He turned to Charlie, who had just stuffed a large chunk of pot roast in his mouth.

"Y'eh," Charlie said, bobbing his head. "I hav'ta be ba' by Fri'ay." He swallowed audibly, a large bulge going down his throat. "Maleficient is being a bit of a porker. There's worry that she might be suffering from Dragon Fungitus. Someone might have to crawl down her throat to check things over, and I'm hoping it's not going to be me, which is why I have to get back. If I don't attend the biweekly meeting, I'll automatically be volunteered for the 'honor.'"

"They do that to you too?" Bill said.

"Yeah, and there's..."

Percy sighed, tuning them all out. His moment was over, and now the rest of the family would get back to what they were doing. He wondered if they would even remember tomorrow that he was going to be leaving.

He picked up his fork and resumed eating, bowing his head enough that his hair fell across his eyes. He didn't want any of them to look at him. He didn't want them to see the way his eyes watered stupidly.

It wasn't like he cared anyway. He was going to America and they weren't.

 __________

 He stepped out of the fireplace in the British Ministry of Magic's embassy in Detroit. There was the sound of muggle automobiles coming through the walls, but it was muted to an almost pleasant background buzz.

"Percy Weasley?" a nasal voice asked.

Percy looked up. "Yes, that is me," he said.

The round-faced, squash-nosed man stepped forward, offering a hand. "Randall Weams, personal assistant to the ambassador, Franklin Muntz. How was your trip? Please come this way."

With the man pressing a hand against his shoulder, Percy allowed himself to be steered out of the room. He was still a little floo-shaky, but he didn't put up a fight, just carried his suitcase with his left hand and pretended that he was in perfect control.

They left the sparsely furnished room Percy had flooed into, and Percy was a little awed by the embassy. Tall ceilings, an large arched doorway that led into what looked like the lobby of an expensive hotel, oriental rugs on the polished wood floors, curl-footed tables and matching chairs, and a broad, red carpeted stairway directly opposite the ten foot tall double doors that led outside. The embassy had been built to impress the American wizarding world, and it certainly impressed Percy.

"I'll show you to your room and talk to you in the morning, since you've arrived so late," Weams said. "You have an appointment with the ambassador in three days. Until then, you have the time to yourself."

Percy nodded. "Very well."

Weams led Percy up the marble staircase and down a long hallway to a white door that looked like every other one in the hall. "The rooms in this hall are the guest quarters. This is your room." He opened the door and gestured inside. "Why don't you settle yourself and we'll see you tomorrow at breakfast. Someone will be along in the morning to show you the way to the dining room"

Percy entered the room and turned to say something, but the man had already left. He hadn't even bothered to show Percy anything about the room.

Percy sighed heavily and laid his suitcase on the desk and looked around. The room was about twice as large as his old room in the Burrow. The wallpaper had a pastel floral design and the carpet was a smooth cream. There was a double bed with a dark blue comforter, a desk next to the door, and a window that looked out on the nighttime city.

Percy wandered over to the window and looked out. It seemed that the embassy had been set up in the middle of the city. Percy could feel the charms surrounding it that kept muggles from feeling curious about the large brick building surrounded by the tall, imposing spiked metal fence.

He huffed a small laugh to himself, then pulled the curtains closed before turning away from the window. He needed to get some sleep if he wanted to make sure he was well rested for breakfast tomorrow. He didn't want to be late.

Crossing the room to the two doors that stood side-by-side and opened the first door. It was a closet, hangers hanging on the rack. He closed the closet and opened the other door.

His eyes went wide and he couldn't help the big smile that spread his lips. He had never had a bathroom all to himself before. At the Burrow he had shared with the rest of the family, and in his apartment building he shared with three other rooms. But here he had a bathroom all to himself, with a wonderfully white ceramic tub, pink tile on the walls, a linen cabinet full of fluffy white towels, a large peach colored shell-shaped basin of a sink sitting on a marble column, and a white ceramic toilet.

Walking into the bathroom, he felt like he had stepped into heaven. The wall in front of the sink was one large mirror, and the walls echoed with his footsteps. A bathroom of his own. He could live in here.

Meeting his own eyes in the mirror, he grinned like a maniac.

"I'm taking a bath before bed," he said, just to hear his own voice echoing off the tiles. It was nice to be alone, without his brothers to burst in and bother him and without his neighbors to complain that he was taking too long.

 ___________

 Dear Mother,

I have arrived safely at the embassy where I am to be staying during my visit.

I am supposed to meet Ambassador Franklin Muntz in two days, but until then I have the time to myself. I have decided to see some of Detroit tomorrow. I will tell you about what I see in my next letter.

Your Son,

Percy

 ___________

 Breakfast the next morning was an uncomfortable affair. The food was delicious, but no one said anything. The meal passed in complete silence.

Seated in the middle of the table, Percy couldn't help wishing his brothers were here, just for the noise they would make while they tried to annoy him. The silence was almost deafening, but the occasional slurp or swallow was kind of disquieting.

He wasn't the first to finish, but no one left until everyone was done. After sitting in the painful quiet, fiddling with his silverware, he was relieved when the last bite was taken and breakfast was over.

Some strange signal seemed to be given that he missed completely, because he was surprised when everyone rose from the table as one and wandered from the room. He was left sitting in his chair, blinking in confusion. He had no idea what was going on.

"Well, that was weird," he muttered to himself, pushing his chair back.

When he had come down to breakfast, he had thought that important things would be discussed over the meal. He hadn't expected the awkwardness of complete silence. He didn't like it. It actually made him miss his noisy family.

He made his way back to his room, having to count doors to find the right one.

With practiced efficiency, he slipped off his green half-robe and exchanged his pressed trousers and starch-collared white shirt for a more comfortable outfit of jeans, a light yellow oxford shirt, and a hunter green cashmere sweater.

He brushed a hand over the sleeve of his sweater, smiling a little. He liked the softness of it, and hadn't even minded the expense. Nice clothes brought him comfort whenever he had a bad day, let him pretend that everything was going to be all right and that maybe someday he would wake up and be someone else, someone that was actually happy with their life.

He pulled on a pair of green canvas sneakers and grabbed his muggle wallet off the desk. Before coming to America he had exchanged some wizard money for American dollars. He figured there'd be some things his family would appreciate from muggle America, and since wizard money was worth more than muggle money, he would be able to buy them more and better presents than otherwise.

Though when he paused to think about it, he had to wonder why he was even bothering to bring them back gifts. They never seemed to appreciate anything that he did for them. But he just kept trying. Like any of it really and truly mattered.

Sighing, he left the room, walking down the hallway toward the stairs. He wanted to see a bit of the city, get a real feel for it.

The wizards guarding the doors nodded to him as he went past, but they didn't say anything. It was actually rather creepy.

Fourteen steps down to the walkway that led to the gate. He took a deep breath before he passed through it, feeling strangely as though he had been let out of prison. For this moment, he wasn't standing in the wizarding world anymore, but in the muggle one.

He walked down the sidewalk, letting it lead him where it would. If he got lost, he could always apparate back to the embassy, but it wasn't like he really cared. Right this minute, all he could do was breathe in the clear, slightly cold air and walk where his feet wanted to go. The sky was covered in light-grey clouds, not quite a shade for rain. The weather was actually pretty nice for September, not yet too cold to walk through.

.

After twenty minutes of wandering through Detroit, he was pleased to find himself in a shopping district. There weren't too many people out on a weekday morning, so he pretty much had the shops to himself. He wasn't going to have to deal with long lines and pushy people. And shop keepers were always more understanding when there weren't crowds of people clamoring for their attention.

After a long moment looking around to see what stores were available, he walked into a bookstore called the Literary Megacenter.

The place was huge. It was three levels of books, a café, computer terminals where shoppers could pay to access the internet, and a small toy and souvenir shop for children and tourists. He had never seen such a wonderful bookstore. There were books on every subject, whole sections on the arts, literature, fiction, the occult (which he couldn't help snickering at), cooking, home repair, photography, agriculture, herbal remedies, everything. It somehow felt like he had finally come home.

It was while he was gazing raptly at the titles in the science-fiction aisle that he ran into a young man, literally.

One minute he was crab walking down the aisle, staring at the books on the shelves, and the next he was sprawled on the ground with a pile of hardback books raining down around him.

"Shit!" a masculine voice said.

Percy looked at the young man that was on his knees in front of him. A mop of yellow hair obscured the man's face, but Percy could clearly see his hands. Long fingered, graceful looking hands that were at the same time strong and artistically delicate. The knuckles were a little knobby, but the nails were neatly trimmed and clean. They were nice hands, attractive hands, hands that deserved to be running over hot, pulsating flesh, stroking down...

Percy blinked and shook his head. He had no idea where those thoughts had come from, but he wasn't sure that he wanted them. Not in his Weasley brain, anyway.

"I'm terribly sorry," he stuttered.

The young man raised his head and Percy felt his breath catch. Behind thin gold wire framed glasses, blue eyes sparkled at him. Those lips that were just a little too wide twisted in a flashing smile that made something seize in Percy's chest.

"It's all right," a warm tenor said. "The stack of books I was carrying was too high to see over. It was more my fault than yours."

A shy smile curved Percy's lips. "I wasn't looking where I was going either," he said. "Maybe we should share the blame. I'm Percy Weasley." He offered his hand.

The man looked at it for a second before taking it, squeezing gently as they shook. "I'm Jason Fox, and you're British."

"Yes, is it that obvious?" Percy asked, surprised.

Jason grinned. "Well, you do kind of have the accent."

"Oh." Percy blushed and barely kept from squirming in embarrassment, but his lips insisted on twitching on a smile. "This is my first time in America."

"Oh yeah? Well, me too." Jason smoothly climbed to his feet, pulling Percy up with him by the hand he still held. "Maybe I should help you out, you know, seeing as you're not from around here. There must be tons of cool things to see that aren't listed in the guide books."

"Yes, I would like that," Percy breathed, gazing into those hypnotic blue eyes. It took him a moment to realize that he was standing almost too close to the man, and that they were still holding hands.

He flushed and tried to pull his hand away while stepping back. Jason stopped him. "Don't go."

Percy cocked his head. "What do you mean?"

"I don't know," Jason said, sounding vaguely surprised. His eyes were wide, almost dazed behind his glasses. "I just feel like if you take your hand away, I'll never see you again. And I do. I do want to see you."

"I want to see you too," Percy half-whispered.

They stood there drinking each other in, books lying on the ground around their feet. Neither one wanted to be the first to look away. They could have stood there forever, just gazing into each other's eyes, the warm flesh of their hands joining them as one organism.

"Excuse me," a loud voice said.

Percy blinked away from Jason, shaking his head clear. He looked at the short girl standing next to them. "Yes?" he asked.

She gave him a little frown, her brow pulling tight over one eye. "I kind of want to get through. There are other people here too, you know. A little consideration, why don't ya."

Percy gasped and ripped his hand out of Jason's, stumbling backward. He made a little "ip" sound when his back hit the bookcase. "I'm sorry," he said quickly.

The girl shook her head and stomped forward down the aisle, gently pushing Jason out of her way. "Geez, you guys need to get yourselves a room and work out some of your hormone issues, 'cause obviously there's not enough sex in your relationship."

Percy watched her go, his eyes feeling wide enough to swallow his face. "But we're not..." he started to say, but his voice was breaking so bad that he couldn't finish.

He couldn't look at Jason, though he could feel those eyes on him. He knew that every freckle on his face was burning brightly, and the tips of his ears felt like they were on fire. He bowed his head a little, letting his hair fall forward to hide him, though it wasn't long enough to do much more than brush against his glasses.

"Well this is awkward, isn't it?" Jason said.

Percy risked a glance up, peeking over the tops of his glasses.

Jason was standing with his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans, his shoulder blades up nearly around his ears. His hair looked freshly finger raked and the toe of his right sneaker seemed to be trying to dig a hole through the grey carpet of the floor.

"I have younger twin brothers and another younger brother that just live to embarrass me," Percy said, his voice coming out lower than he planned, sounding almost intimate. He could feel Jason leaning a little toward him, his body unconsciously trying to get close to the sound of Percy's voice. It made Percy's skin prickle, a not unpleasant sensation. "I've been humiliated so many times that I think my skin is twelve inches thick."

"I'm not so used to it," Jason said, a tiny smile edging one corner of his lips. "I was the younger brother torturing my brother and sister. I don't know what I would have done if I'd had a little brother like me. I probably would have killed him."

Something seemed to release, the tension dissipating. Percy grinned and bent down to gather up some of the books. "Maybe if I'd killed one of the twins when I was young enough to get away with it, the other two would have left me alone."

Jason laughed. "That's probably what Peter and Paige think. If they could have gotten rid of me and not gotten in trouble, I probably wouldn't be here right now." He leant down and starting picking up the other books.

They both reached for the same book at the same time, and their fingers brushed. Percy froze for a moment, then glanced up at Jason. Those eyes were focused on him, sucking him into their blue-blue depths. It was just so hard to breathe when those eyes looked right at him, yet it seemed like it wouldn't matter if he never breathed again. He let go of the book, grasping the ones he already held with both hands, pressing them against his chest like a shield, squeezing them like he wanted to squeeze someone else.

"Um, I," he said intelligently. He drew in a gasping breath. "I was going to buy books to send back to my family. I should... I should probably go do that."

Jason grabbed the last book and stood upright. He was about four inches taller than Percy, his body skinny and angular, but so damn appealing at the same time. "Yeah," he said, then bit his lower lip, nibbling at it the way Percy wanted to. "How about I help you find some books, then we go get something to eat?"

Percy cocked his head, trying to force his brain to think. He should say no, Jason was a muggle, it would never work out between them, but he couldn't say no. Those eyes were looking at him and he never wanted them to look away. And the charming way Jason bit his lip... it made his pants feel tight. "Yes," he said, throwing sensibility to the wind.

Jason grinned, looking so pleased that Percy was almost blinded by his beauty.

 ***

 His body seemed to run hot and cold at the same time. He kept looking at Percy, he couldn't help it. The other man was just so handsome.

It had never been much of a deal to him that he looked at both men and women. He had just put it down to a quirk of his personality. But on first sight of Percy, he felt like he never wanted to look at anyone else again. It was like he'd found something he hadn't even known he was looking for.

After asking Percy a few questions about his family, he helped him pick out a few books they both thought would be of interest. Then, each carrying a plastic bag holding their books, they wandered to the coffee shop for mochas and a shared piece of raspberry cheesecake.

"This is very good," Percy said, licking his fork clean.

Jason smiled at him. It seemed like he'd been smiling all day, and he didn't really want to stop. "Yeah, it is. So," he tried to sound casual, "how long are you here for?"

Percy shrugged. "I'm here for my work for the next two months. I think I'm going to have a lot of free time while I'm here."

Jason felt his heart leap a little. "That's nice," he said suavely. "We'll have to get together while you're here. You'll need someone to show you around. When you go home I want you to have plenty of nice things to say about America."

A shy smile curved Percy's lips and he looked down, his hair falling forward. "I already have some nice things to say about America."

Jason took a hurried drink of coffee to keep from cackling like a loon. He didn't want to scare Percy off. He wanted to keep him here forever, and not in a stalkerish, psycho-killer kind of way either. It was just that he'd never had such an instant rapport with someone before, and he didn't want to lose it.

Putting his empty cup down, he glanced at his watch. "I have a lecture at three-thirty, but I'm free until then. Do you want me to show you around for the next two hours? You can find some more souvenirs and there's tons of things to do in the middle of a working week."

Percy ran the first two fingers of his left hand through his hair. His skin was milk pale with a faint hint of freckles that really stood out when he blushed, which he was doing right now. Jason had wanted to lick each separate freckle, wanted to strip Percy naked and see if he had them on other parts of his body and taste those ones too. It was hard to stay focused when Percy was looking so beautiful.

"I didn't really have any plans for today," Percy said. "I would like it if you want to show me around."

"Cool." Jason reached across the table and brushed a touch across the top of Percy's right hand. The skin was warm under his fingers.

Their eyes met for another of those long moments, then Jason stood up, grabbing up the empty cups and the paper plate. "Let me get rid of this and we can go."

"All right."

 ***

 After spending three hours with Jason, Percy was reluctant to return to the silence of the embassy, but he knew he had to let the man go do his job. The only good thing about having to say good-bye was knowing that they had plans to meet the next day.

It seemed that Jason had a week of lectures, which meant no real work during most of the day, which left him free to spend time with Percy.

With the piece of paper holding Jason's phone number neatly folded in his pocket, he didn't even mind the silent dinner eaten in the embassy's dining room. And after the meal, while he held a mostly one-sided conversation with the embassy archivist, David Whittier, Percy didn't even really mind that the man didn't seem to even notice he was there. Usually he would have been fostering feelings of hurt about the way everyone seemed to ignore him, but with the memory of Jason on his mind, he didn't even care.

Percy retreated to his room for a soak in his private bath. It was a luxury he was determined to enjoy while he was here.

Lying back in the long tub, the hot water reached all the way up to his chin. It was like a full body hug, which somehow made him think of Jason, who he'd already been thinking about all day anyway.

He's so wonderful, Percy thought. He looks like he'd be fit, not too muscly, but nice. His arse was rounded just enough, and those eyes... they kept trying to suck me in. I wonder what he tastes like.

His penis, bobbing free in the water, hardened at the thought of sucking on Jason's cock. He could feel his balls drawing tight.

What a delicious prick he probably has, he thought. Even alone with no one to guess what he was thinking, he could feel himself blush, but he didn't really mind. The blush spread from his cheeks to cover his whole body in a flash of warmth that was actually rather pleasant, as long as no one saw it.

Half-closing his eyes, he trailed lazy fingers along his inner thighs, not ready to really touch himself yet. He ran his fingers alongside his groin, upward over his flat stomach, circling his belly button a few times, before passing on. With a low chuckle, he tweaked his nipples, liking how they hardened under his touch. He twisted them, liking the almost-pain of abused flesh. He thought about Jason's teeth grazing the nubs, nibbling them like he had nibbled his lip.

Never in his life had Percy been so instantly attracted to someone. Sure, there had been that bit of a crush on Oliver Wood when they were at Hogwarts, but nothing had ever come of that. He just hadn't been brave enough to tell the other boy what he felt, and he'd been afraid that Oliver might hit him with those big Keeper hands, but it didn't matter anyway, because they had graduated and Percy hadn't seen Oliver since. And he liked Jason more than he ever had Oliver.

There was a chance that today's attraction might come to nothing tomorrow. Maybe they'd get to know each other better and find out that what they felt was only a momentary thing and that they didn't really even like each other. But Percy didn't care, not right this moment. All he knew was that just thinking about Jason's yellow-blond hair and cute, kind of quirky smile was getting him very aroused. He wanted to try with Jason, just to see if they had anything to build a relationship on. And there was always the joy of having a wild affair if the long-term didn't work out.

Giving into his body's demands, he grasped his cock with his left hand, stroking it firmly. His eyes closed all the way and he sank further down in the water until he was breathing just out of his nose.

Stroking with his left hand, he tweaked his nipples a couple of times with his right before moving that hand over his side and down the small of his back, raking the smooth curves of his ass with his fingernails.

Pumping his erection, he arched his hips, liking the way the water swished over his sides as he rose up out of it before slipping back down. Biting his lip, he fingered his hole, slowly working a finger inside. He groaned loudly, releasing a wild burst of bubbles, and thrashed his head back and forth, his left hand working faster and faster, his thumb rubbing over the head of his cock on the upstroke. He was breathing hard through his nose.

The sounds of his pleasure, the splash of the water, and the rough in-and-out huff of his breathing echoed back to his ears from the tiled walls, spurring him on. And when he got two fingers into his hole and finally reached that nub inside, he had to clench his teeth hard and close his throat muscles tight to keep from wailing loudly. His thumb flicked one last time over the head of his cock, he rubbed that spot inside again, and he came, squeezing his cock in his fist to milk out every last drop, emptying his balls of cum.

He opened his eyes as he came. He loved to watch himself ejaculate in the bathtub, seeing that cloudy spurt of fluid leaving his cock to melt into the clear water. There was just something so real about that.

With a "sploosh!" of water, he sat up in the tub, pressing his thighs against his chest, hugging them tight against him. He lay his cheek against his bony knees and sat there for a long while, looking at nothing. His body was satiated, murmuring in pleasure, but his mind refused to remain quiet. He was still restless.

What do I want to do? he asked himself

You want to find Jason and fuck him into the mattress, his inner voice replied. If anyone else had been able to hear it, they would have been shocked and horrified that perfect Percy Weasley could ever think such a thing.

A smile quirked Percy's lips, but it wasn't really a happy expression. It sometimes seemed to him that everyone that knew him--his family and co-workers since he really didn't have any friends--all seemed to assume that he was still the arrogant braggart he'd been at fifteen. They all thought that he was some asexual creature without any real human emotion in him. As though he was a two-dimensional caricature meant to duplicate real life, his sole purpose to either annoy them with his incessant craving for acknowledgement or to do all of the things none of them wanted to do. He wasn't a person to them.

Hello, he thought, pretending to introduce himself to a crowd of people. It was a game he liked to play in his own head, imagining that he was a guest on an American talk show. I am Percy Weasley, annoying appendage. My twin brothers hate me, my little sister pities me, Ron has been taught by the twins to see me as either an idiot, an obsessive nitpicker, or a killjoy, and my older brothers see me as just another younger sibling, vaguely annoying and not to be taken seriously. My mother used me as a free child-rearing tool when I was a child, and now that I've grown up and don't really have a purpose anymore, she lavishes attention on my siblings and overlooks me. Oh, and I don't think my father even knows I exist.

My job at the Ministry is basically a make-work position, with no real authority; I'm certain that my mother forced my father to get it for me. I have no friends, no "significant other," and I haven't had sex with another person in almost three years. But at least I'm on good terms with my hand.

I hate my life. I think I might hate my job. I've screwed up things so terribly that when I'm at home I'm afraid all the time, especially that I might get one of my brothers or my sister hurt or killed. I don't want to be Percy Weasley anymore, I want to be someone else. I'm not perfect. I'm a human being, and no one will believe that. They all treat me like I have some incurable "stick up my arse" disease and they might catch it if they're around me. And Voldemort is giving me nightmares, the sick bastard.

But on the upswing, I've just met a lovely young man that I'm desperate to shag.

Rubbing his nose over his kneecap, he gave a little laugh.

He'd had a lot of fun with Jason today, but realistically he knew that there was a more than good chance that nothing was going to happen between them. Past experience had taught Percy that no matter how interesting or accommodating he tried to be, the object of his affections never seemed to want him. They might show initial interest, but it never lasted, and they tended to push him away with hurtful contempt.

No one wanted him, and no one probably ever would, though he persisted in dreaming that things might be otherwise. And every rejection hurt a little more than the last.

He didn't really understand what was so wrong with him, which left him unable to fix the problem. He knew that he wasn't too ugly, he was fairly intelligent, he didn't hurt children or animals, and he tried hard to be what people wanted him to be. So why didn't anyone like him? Why did people either ignore him or push him away? What was so terrible about him that no one could love him?

Tears trickled down his cheeks, and he angrily mashed his eyes against his knees, trying to press the tears back inside, but they persisted in coming. He was just so lonely. Tired and lonely and afraid he was going to die with no one to hold his hand.

"What's wrong with me?" he whispered.

This was why he didn't often allow himself to think and fantasize about having relations with anyone. After the bubbling euphoria and wild masturbation to images of happy sex with someone else, his mood always spiraled downward to a dark place he really didn't want to be.

Pressing his lips tight together and forcing his head up, he purposely reached for the plug, letting out the dirty water. He had to change the water and scrub himself clean before getting out and putting on his pajamas. He had to put on a stoic front and pretend that everything was all right, that he was Percy Weasley and nothing could touch him.

It was getting harder and harder to pull himself out of the darkness. When he had been fourteen and had entertained his first thoughts of just letting everything go, it had been a simple matter to force himself to a place of mental balance where every emotion was under firm control and he didn't have to feel anything. But as the years passed, his control was becoming more tenuous. It was just so hard to pretend that everything was all right. He didn't know what was going to happen when he finally lost control.

He had strange flashes of walls covered in blood and screaming mouths, but he forced himself to never really think of that. He didn't want to see shadowed darkness closing around him and familiar faces disappearing under spatters of gore. He didn't want to think about any of that, or feel any of the bad things that lived inside him.

He didn't really want to be Percy Weasley, but he didn't want to be what the darkness inside him urged him to become either. He knew that if he ever let go, there would be no coming back. And he loved his family just enough to not let that happen, not yet and not ever if he could help it.

But he was so damn tired.

 ***

 "I'm telling you, I think I might have found the one." Jason knew he was gushing like an idiot, but he couldn't help it.

Marcus rolled his eyes. "You just met the guy today. You don't really know anything about him. It's just a crush for now. Don't get your hopes too up. I'm not going to hold you while you cry again."

Jason pulled his pillow out from under him and threw it at his friend, hitting him in the face. "Quiet, you. I'm in the midst of a first class high. Let me enjoy it while it lasts."

"Whatever," Marcus said, lifting his head just enough to slip the pillow under it.

They were both lying on Jason's bed in their "conversation poses." Jason was sitting cross-legged at the top of his bed, his back resting against the headboard. Marcus lay with his back on the bed while his legs resting along the wall, the heels of his socked feet digging into a poster of Spike from the Cowboy Bebop anime.

"I just want to find someone I like that likes me, and not in a perverted Dr. Vorkoff stalker way. Percy just seems like the one, I mean, he's smart, funny, a little shy, and he makes... well, just looking at him gets me really horny."

"Ew, I don't want to hear about that kind of stuff!" Marcus made a face, but he was kind of smiling when he did it. Then he went all serious, which brought Jason the usual sense of dread. "I just worry about you when you get too excited about someone, and you only just met this guy today. Don't..." He closed his eyes for a second, then opened them to look at Jason, piercing him with his love and fear. "I don't want you to get hurt again, Jason. Please, just take your time with this and don't get too serious too fast."

"I never do!" Jason exclaimed.

Marcus held up a hand for silence. "I know you don't. But there's just... you're acting different this time, and I believe that you really do like this guy, but I still have to worry. 'Cause if he's not what you think he is or what you really need, you're going to get hurt, and I hate when that happens. You deserve something better than another Don."

"Percy is not Don!" Jason curled fingers that wanted to become fists. "I really thought I loved Don, but at the same time I always knew he wasn't quite right for me. I just let my desire get away from me. He was too handsome, too charming, and he always had an excuse for everything he did; it made it hard for me to push him away, even though I knew he was hurting me. Percy's different though. He just really feels like the one. He makes me happy, and I know I just met him today, but I really want to get to know him more.

"But I know you worry." He gave Marcus a little smile and understanding eyes. "I know you care about me. You're my best friend, Marcus, so I don't want you to worry about me letting another Don into my life. I may really like Percy and really believe that there's something between us, but I won't let things get away from me. I'm going to take this one slow and figure everything out before I throw myself into it wholeheartedly."

Marcus reached out to touch Jason's knee with the tips of his fingers. "I worry about you--best friend's prerogative--but I want you to be happy. Just be careful, and if this guy's the one, I'll support you all the way."

Jason grinned at him. "I really want him to be the one. I like him a lot."

"If you really like him, then I like him too. Just slow and steady, all right?"

"Yeah."

Marcus smiled at him, and it was like the sun coming out... a particularly devilish sun. "Now tell me what this guy looks like. Is he really hot?"

Jason laughed.

 ***

 Percy faced the prospect of his second real day in America happily. After breakfast, he was going to meet Jason. He didn't know what they were going to be doing, but just to spend time with the man... it made him happy.

Ignoring the silence of the breakfast table, he focused on picturing Jason's face in his mind. He wondered if Jason was going to be as attractive today as he was yesterday, or if his mind had fooled him. There had been times when that had happened before.

He would meet somebody and be attracted to them on first sight, but when he saw them again they wouldn't be as good. But he had hopes that Jason would make his heart rush just as much today as he had yesterday. He wanted to believe.

Wearing a navy blue wool coat over his tee shirt and jeans, he hurried to the Literary Megacenter where he was going to meet Jason. His heart was fluttering in his chest and he thought that anyone that saw him would be blinded by his smile. He just had so much hope that things were going to happen between him and Jason.

Even just two days out of England, without his family pressing down on him he felt freer than he had ever been in his entire life. There was no one thinking things about him, sure that he should be some certain way or other. He could be himself and no one had to know what Percy Weasley was really like, how much of a non-person he really was.

"There you are, I was worried you weren't going to come," a glad voice called.

Percy smiled and hurried his step. Jason was waiting in the coffee shop at "their" table.

Percy slid into the chair across from Jason, puffing a little as he caught his breath. "I'm glad to see you. You are perhaps the first truly friendly face I've seen since I came to this country. I have yet to meet my boss here, but if he's like the rest of the staff... well, they all seem just a little distant. I don't think anyone's said ten words to me since Weams showed me to my room." He lay his head on his arms and sighed.

Jason laughed. "I guess it's a good thing I got here a little early and already ordered for us."

Percy sat up. "What did you get?"

"Mochas, blueberry muffins, double-chocolate fudge brownies, and a plate of biscotti," Jason said, licking his lips.

"That's a lot! Are you sure we're going to be able to eat all that?"

"We'll try." Jason stood and crossed to the counter and the green apron clad girl offering him a tray.

"Do you need any help?" Percy asked, halfway standing.

"No, I got it," Jason said. He carried the tray with exaggerated care back over to the table, setting it down with a sigh. "There we go."

While they ate and drank their coffee, they talked.

"So, what do you do?" Percy asked.

"I'm a head researcher and developer for Sci-Tech Incorporated and on the side I write some of the programming for the project. It's not really very interesting," Jason said, shrugging it off.

Percy huffed a small laugh. "Sounds like my job, just not quite as tedious. I basically make sure all the... products... shipped out by our... company... are of a standard weight and density. My brothers make fun of me all the time for it. They think my job's stupid."

"Well, someone's got to be a product inspector, right?" Jason bit into a biscotti with a moist crunch--he'd dipped it a couple of times in his coffee to soften it. "The world would basically fall apart if inspectors didn't make sure a company's products were up to spec."

"Well," Percy shook his head, "my job's not that serious, not really. I mean, I like to think that I make things better and ensure that the job is done right, but... Sometimes I have to agree with my brothers that my job is boring and stupid and entirely worthless. I go in every single day and basically push paper around until it's time to go home. I'm middle management, which means that the things that cross my desk are usually completely worthless nothings, because the more important and interesting issues come from the people below me and are passed directly to my boss. I just waste my time and try to pretend to my family that what I'm doing is important to someone."

Jason reached across the table to lay his hand on Percy's wrist. He could practically see Percy struggling with the need to be depressed. Percy Weasley was not happy with his life or career or family, but he had tried for the longest time to pretend that everything was all right, but now Jason could see how unhappy he'd been. It was just so obvious... so why hadn't anyone else noticed?

"It's all right," Jason said, "really. I don't care that you hate your job or that you're miserable. All I care about is the fact that you're smart, funny, kind, considerate, and cute. I like you." He blushed a little, looking down at his hands.

There was a stunned silence for a moment, then Percy whispered, "I like you too."

They looked at each other and both their eyes shone. For the first time in a long time, neither one was alone.

 ___________

 Dear Mother,

I met with the Ambassador yesterday. He seemed a nice enough sort, very focused on his job. I greatly respect him already.

While I was wandering around the city, I met a nice young man named Jason Fox. I ran into him in the bookstore, so he was nice enough to help me find some books that I will be shipping home shortly. I think Father will like them... they're all about muggle inventions and one is a science text that explains muggle electricity, metal working, and many other things he's been asking about. I also found a book called "An Encyclopedia of Favorite Recipes Around the World" that I thought you might like. There are over 200,000 illustrated recipes. I'll have to find a sturdy owl to send it with.

Jason bought me a "hamburger and French fries" at McDonalds. I am meeting him in a few days because he says I need to "taste real American food." He said his friend Marcus enjoys a place called The Mongolian Grill, and Jason wants me to try it. I'm a little nervous, but I am willing to give it a try.

I'll write again soon.

Your Son,

Percy

 ___________

 Dear Mother,

I think I have decided that I like Asian food. It is very tasty, and nutritious. Jason and I had a lot of fun watching the man cooking it. He poured all the vegetables and meat right on the flat grill and he cooked it while we watched. I chose soy sauce, garlic sauce, and a little bit of chili sauce to put on it. It was a little spicy, but very good.

Things in the muggle world are just so different, but I like it, I really do. I have been having a wonderful time.

Your Son,

Percy

P.S. I have enclosed an Asian cookbook. It has recipes from all over Asia. I am sure there are many dishes in it that you can make for the family.

 ___________

 Dear Mother,

I went to a muggle movie theater tonight with Jason. We ate "popcorn" and drank "soda" as we watched the "movie." Jason says that next time he will buy me one or two of every muggle candy in the concession. I do not know how he expects us to eat all that candy, but he just laughed when I voiced my doubts. He says that trying is half the fun.

Tell the twins that I will send them a sample of the candies that I like. I know that they have said that they're too old for such things, and that they might not accept anything from me... but maybe they will.

I am going to meet Jason's best friend Marcus tomorrow. I am a little nervous. I want him to like me. It will be nice to have two friends in America.

Your Son,

Percy

 ___________

 Nervous acid roiled in his belly and he kept reaching up to tug on the collar of his shirt. His leg jiggled slightly.

"What's wrong?" Jason asked.

"I'm just a little nervous about meeting your friend," Percy said. "What if he doesn't like me?"

Jason stroked Percy's arm. "Don't worry. He's going to like you, I promise. You're a great person."

Percy gave him a little smile. "You have to say that. It's the only way you're ever going to get in my pants."

Jason's face twisted in mock-outrage, but he couldn't hold it and grinned. "You betcha. I'd tell a million lies for you, baby. But this isn't a lie. You're a wonderful person, and Marcus is going to love you."

"I hope so." Percy nibbled on his bottom lip. "But what if he doesn't?"

"Well, if for any reason Marcus isn't instantly struck by the wondrousness of your wonderfulness, I'll still like you. We just won't invite Marcus on a double date, that's all."

Percy smiled and leaned across the seat, resting his hand on the center console. Jason met him halfway and their lips touched, brushing lightly at first, then locking together, neither wanting to be the first to pull away. Jason's left hand rose to cup the back of Percy's head, pulling him closer.

Percy moaned in his throat. They had only kissed a couple of times before, and this was by far the longest, juiciest one, and the first with even a hint of tongue.

After a minute Jason pulled away, panting slightly. "Later, we have to finish this later," he said. "Marcus is waiting for us inside."

Percy barely muffled a groan. "Why don't we just stay out here? I'm sure we could live quite happy lives here in your car."

"Yeah, that's a wonderful future to look forward too. Sorry Perce, but I'm too tall to live out my days in a Saturn." Jason gently pushed his hand away and turned to open the driver's side door. "Come on. You're going to like Marcus, and he's going to like you. I promise."

Percy sighed heavily and forced himself to open his door. He stepped out into crisp cool air and drew it deep into his lungs, hoping to suck up some courage with the oxygen. He slammed the door. "Very well then."

He walked around the side of the car and met Jason on the sidewalk, taking his hand. Together, they followed the curving walkways from the parking lot toward Jason and Marcus' apartment.

"Huh, who'da thunk I lived in an apartment complex, right?" Jason said.

Percy's answering smile was just a little weak. "Yeah, who would have."

This was his first time visiting a muggle home. He wished now that he'd paid better attention to the stories Harry Potter had shared with Ron about his life with the Dursleys. It wasn't like Muggle Studies had really taught him a whole lot about muggle life... there was just too much to be covered in an hour long class, and the field trips had left a bit to be desired. Being able to find his way around a bus station wasn't all that helpful right now.

"Come on, Marcus is waiting. He said he was going to order some Thai food tonight. I hope you like it," Jason said, taking his hand.

"I've never had it," Percy said.

"Really? Huh, it seems like you haven't tried a lot of stuff. You must've been really sheltered growing up."

"Yeah, I was," Percy hurriedly said. "This is my first real taste of freedom without my family."

"How are you liking it?" Jason asked.

Percy looked at the side of his friend's face, drinking in that sight he was becoming so fond of. "I think that I'm liking it a lot. I don't know how I'm ever going to go home."

"Maybe..." Jason stopped walking and turned to face Percy, though he couldn't meet Percy's eyes and stared at the ground. He bit his lip, chewing at it for a long moment as he gathered his courage. Finally, he looked right at Percy. "Maybe you don't have to go back. Maybe you can stay here in the United States with... with me."

Percy felt himself pale then flush bright red. "I... I don't know," he stammered, turning his head to look at the side of the nearest building. "I've never been away from home for very long, and we've really only just met. What if... what if next month you decide that you don't like me, that you can't stand me at all, that I'm a horrible prissy bother that you hate more than anything? I don't... I don't want you to not like me, and maybe if you spent a whole lot of time with me you might decide that I'm a horrible person or something and..."

Jason touched his arm. "It was just a suggestion, an idea for you to think about. You've still got months left here. And I don't think that I could ever not like you. I don't know who ever told you that you were prissy and horrible, but I don't think that you are. I just think you haven't ever had a real chance to be yourself."

Percy glanced at Jason out of the corner of his eye. "I could think about it," he whispered.

Jason stepped forward, giving him a quick hug. "That's all I want. Now," he added briskly, raising his voice back to normal, "let's get inside so you can meet Marcus."

"Can't we just stay out here?" Percy whined.

"No. There's Thai food waiting, and I, for one, am hungry."

 ***

 Oh God, I'm going to meet Jason's boyfriend for the first time tonight. I hope he likes me, I hope I like him, I hope he's not a total asshole that I'm going to have to destroy and...

Marcus drew in a deep breath, trying to calm down. He was just so nervous. He knew how much Jason liked Percy, and he really didn't want to ruin things for his best friend.

He was so nervous that his stomach was making intermittent rumble-and-squeak noises. He didn't want to see Jason hurt again, didn't know if he could stand it.

The last time one of Jason's relationships had fallen apart, Marcus had been the one to hold him as he cried. It had taken almost six months for him to put Jason back together enough that he was acting like Jason again, and not some automaton sleepwalking through his days. He didn't want that to happen again.

He hated it when Jason was hurting. He was still pissed at Don.

There was the scrape of a key in the lock and he felt nervousness shoot through him. They were here.

The door opened and Jason strolled in, pulling a redheaded guy in after him by the hand. There was a pink flush to Jason's cheeks and his eyes were almost too bright. "Hey Marcus," he said, trying to sound casual.

Marcus looked closely at the new guy, trying to see if he was going to hurt Jason. "Hey Jase," he said, just as faux casually.

Jason pulled his friend across the living room, kicking the door shut behind them. "This is Percy," he said, pushing the guy a little in front of him. He just looked so damn proud presenting his new boyfriend that Marcus felt either like laughing or crying--he wasn't really sure which.

Jason really seemed to like this one, which meant there was even more of a chance of him ending up hurt than if it had been a more flingish-fling.

"Um, hello Percy," Marcus offered, holding out his hand.

Percy took it with an awkward smile. He seemed rather stiff, his face trying to hold to an expressing of semi-friendly blankness while his eyes screamed in bloody panic. "Hullo," he said, then cleared his throat a little, his cheeks flushing. "Hello," he said again, clearer. "It's very nice to meet you. Jason has told me a lot about you."

"Oh yeah. And he's told me about you too," Marcus said, giving the guy a minorly sideways glance.

Percy blushed brighter and dropped Marcus' hand as he looked down at his feet. He seemed really nervous, which was a good sign.

Marcus figured that if the guy was worried about making a good impression, there was a chance that he could care about hurting Jason. Don had been almost preternaturally self-confident when they'd met, sure that Marcus and the rest of the world was going to have to love him, even if he was kind of a snotty asshole.

"Well, why don't you guys come and sit down. The food's getting cold, so we should probably get to eating," Marcus said, leading the way into the living room.

It was almost cute how Jason sat on the couch and pulled his boyfriend down next to him. There was just something so possessive about a Fox in love, though Jason's version of the Alpha-male wore glasses.

.

"What's your favorite show?" Marcus asked.

"Show?" Percy looked confused. "Show what?"

Jason touched Percy's knee lightly, drawing his attention. "Television show, Percy. He wants to know what your favorite television show is."

Percy shrugged. "I've never really watched much television, just a few minutes here and there in passing."

A moment of stunned silence by the televisionophiles.

.

"And then Bilbo Baggins..."

"I still think Frodo is the best hobbit, and Gandalf the Gray is my favorite character because he..."

Jason just raised his voice to speak over his friend's. "And then Bilbo Baggins..."

.

"I have a brother and a sister," Jason said, "and Marcus has a couple of sisters. How about you?"

Percy glanced at his twisted hands in his lap. "Well, Bill is my oldest brother, then there's Charlie, then me, then the twins Fred and George, then Ron, and then there's Ginny, the only girl. Mum was so happy to finally have at least one girl in a household full of boys, but then Ginny... well, she's got her own ideas and opinions. Their quarrels can get quite vocal, and Ginny has developed the habit of breaking dishes and this ugly old lamp my father keeps fixing. It's shaped like a woman's leg and he calls it an 'award,' for some strange reason."

"Wow, you have five brothers and a sister. I can't believe you survived childhood," Jason whispered in awe.

Percy's traitorous cheeks decided to color again. For some reason, whenever Jason lowered his voice past anything normal, he felt waves of heat go through him. There was just something so intimate about a whispering Jason, like they were alone in a bed somewhere, cuddled up together with their hands idly running down each other's body, comfortable in the touches they shared.

"Well... it wasn't like any of them were going to physically harm me," he said.

Marcus cocked his head, hearing something in Percy's voice that the man himself didn't even seem to notice. "They wouldn't physically hurt you? But what about non-physically?" he asked. He had decided that he liked Percy, which meant his protective instincts had the right to overpower his common sense.

Percy shrugged. "Sometimes... sometimes they would forget I was even there unless they needed me. I was always..." his voice failed him for a moment, but he was Percy Weasley and couldn't let it go. He looked right at Marcus with terribly clear eyes. "Every single achievement I had, I had to bring it up and make it seem more important than it was, just to get them to notice me. They called me Perfect Percy and a braggart and a pillock and an arse. The twins seem to like calling me an insufferable git even now. I just... I just wanted them to look at me and really see me. I don't... I didn't like how they always seemed to just look right through me until they needed something from me, like they wanted me to watch after the twins, then after Ron and Ginny. The rest of the time I was invisible and even after I went away to school everyone just seemed to be like at home, and I was just another Weasley no matter how hard I tried to be Percy."

He fell silent, ashamed of how he had just opened up and let all the stupid stuff inside him spill out. They'd been having fun until he'd opened his big mouth. He bowed his head, staring down into his lap so he didn't have to see the mocking light creep into Marcus' eyes or the realization of how unlovable he was filled Jason's.

A warm arm slipped around his shoulders and he was pulled against a flat chest. Jason pressed a kiss down on the top of his head. "It's all right Percy. I see you."

A shy smile tilted Percy's lips a little.

.

By the time Jason left to take Percy home, Marcus had decided that it was official. Jason really liked Percy, was maybe even beginning to fall in love with him. And Percy was worth all of Jason's affections.

I guess that works out, Marcus thought, going into his bedroom to change into pajamas and get ready for bed.

He liked Percy and thought he and Jason could actually be happy together.

Percy seemed to have some problems with his family, but that didn't mean he wasn't a good person. Besides, Jason had a family that would suck Percy in and give him all of the attention and love he seemed to crave.

Marcus was brushing his teeth when Jason came home.

Still holding his toothbrush, Marcus went out to meet him. "Hey, I really like Percy." He nodded his head to give the declaration more weight.

Jason smiled and leaned back against the closed door. His lips had that just-kissed look to them and his eyes were bright. "Me too."

"In awhile you should take him to meet your mom and dad," Marcus suggested. "He seems like he needs a little bit of positive parental contact."

"You think?" Jason asked, cocking his head.

"Oh yeah. And your parents... they're probably just what he needs. They'll treat him like a real person, and I really think they'll get along."

Jason shivered dramatically. "Shudder. My mom and Percy getting along... I can just see the ways she's going to warp him." He stood up straight and stepped away from the door. "Seriously though, thanks for the suggestion. It's a good idea."

"Yeah."

"I don't think I like his family."

"Yeah."

"They seem like jerks."

"Jerks that haven't read any children's psychology books about the treatment of middle children."

Jason rolled his shoulders. "You going to bed now?"

"Thinking about it." Marcus cocked his head. "I could stay up a little later. You wanna play the X-Box?"

"Yeah."

"Okay then. Just let me put my toothbrush away. You set up the game." He started walking toward the bathroom.

"Hey Marcus." He stopped, not turning to look at his friend. "Thanks for tonight, you know, being so nice to Percy and everything."

Marcus started walking again. "He's a nice guy. I like him."

He could practically feel the blister-burn of Jason's sudden happiness. There were very few of Jason's crushes and boyfriends that Marcus had ever liked. Now Percy was one of them. It was high praise.

 ***

 It was funny. When the house seemed to be overflowing with the presence of three active kids she'd dreamed about the day they'd all move out and get their own lives, becoming separate people. But now that it had happened, the house seemed too quiet and too big with just her and Roger.

Peter had married a cute little blond waitress named Anne. Andy still thought he'd fallen too fast into the relationship with Anne, but she had never said anything about it. She knew he was still hurting over Denise and the way she'd died. It was a grotesque irony how a girl could lose her sight to a drunk driver when she was seven, then lose her life to another one when she was twenty-one. Peter still had the engagement ring he'd bought a week before she died. He'd never gotten the chance to ask her the question, and it burned inside him like an incurable rage. He wasn't as easy-going as he used to be, though on the surface he still laughed and joked. On the inside he was a silent scream looking for a way out.

Paige was desperate to be a model, even though everyone knew it was never going to happen--she didn't have the right kind of look. She lived in the city and went out to auditions and just generally had her dream trampled to dust beneath her feet. When she came to visit her parents, Roger would slip a few hundred dollars into her hand and press a kiss against the side of her forehead. Andy knew about the money, but never said anything about it. Paige had her own version of pride and wouldn't have accepted anything if she thought her mother knew about it. Paige was going to make it on her own even if it killed her.

And Jason... well, he was the only one whose life seemed to be going well. He made good money working at a job he loved. He and Marcus were still inseparable. And he was gay.

Andy had had her suspicions about her youngest son for years, but it had still been a giant shock when he'd said the words. It still ached inside to know that her baby was never going to meet a nice girl and get married. But she never let any of her pain show, because he didn't need to see that. He was happy the way he was and she wasn't going to change him for her own peace of mind.

She was folding laundry when the phone rang. Laying aside one of Roger's favorite shirts--which had a small, but incredibly noticeable ketchup stain on the front pocket, but that he wouldn't let her throw out--she went to answer it.

"Hello?"

There was a second of silence, then Jason's voice filled her head. "Hey Mom, it's me. How are you?"

"I'm fine, Jason, just doing some laundry. You know how it is around here on a Saturday."

"Dad's hiding in the garage, huh?" His rich laugh brought a smile to her lips. He sounded so happy. "Um, I'm coming for dinner next Sunday."

"I know. You usually make the Sunday dinners, unlike Paige who could really use a good meal, but who insists on..." She broke off and drew in a deep breath. "Sorry about that. It's just that she's gotten so skinny."

"I know," brief tone of worry marring the happiness in his voice. "But Paige isn't why I called."

"What is it?" Andy asked.

"Well, you know I'm coming for dinner, but I was wondering if I could bring someone with me."

"Of course you can bring someone. Who is it?" she asked, already guessing what was coming.

"He's a friend. My... my boyfriend. His name's Percy. I want you to meet him." There was a tiny hint of pleading, a desperation for his parents to like his boyfriend, a need for some kind of acceptance.

"Well, just bring him on Sunday and we'll feed him," she said, keeping her voice cheerful.

"Thanks Mom. I gotta go, but... um," little boy uncertainty. "Can you make real food? I mean, your tofu and lima beans are great and everything, but... well, we don't want to scare him off too soon, right?"

Andy sighed heavily into the phone, making sure he heard it. "Tofu and lima beans are healthy Jason, and with all the junk food you eat, you can really use at least one good meal a month." Then she relented, "I think I might be able to round up some steaks and a nice potato salad," she said. "Just this once."

"Thanks Mom, I love you!" He hung up with a click.

Laying the receiver back down in its cradle, Andy leaned against the table for a moment, getting herself back under control.

She tried so hard to be supportive of her gay son, but there was still a part of her that cried at the thought of never having any little-Jason grandchildren running around. He had been a terror as a kid, but had also been sweet and wonderful, and she missed the little boy he used to be.

Jason had grown up so much, and she was happy to see him as a mature man. But that secret mother part of her still saw him as her towheaded little baby, trouble on two legs. He was her youngest son and always would be, no matter how old he got.

I hope his boyfriend is a good person, she thought. He's been hurt so many times. He didn't want me to know, but it was so obvious that that jackass Don ripped his heart out and stomped on it. I don't want this... Percy to do the same thing.

 ***

 During the forty-five minute drive out of the city to the suburb where the Fox house was located, Jason kept Percy from completely freaking out by keeping up a running commentary on the music playing on the radio. He actually got the fear-pale Englishman to laugh a few times and almost forget the fact that he was terrified. It was a great accomplishment.

"Don't worry, Percy," Jason said. "My parents are going to love you. After about half an hour, they're probably going to start thinking of you as just another member of the family. After an hour or two, my mom's probably going to be looking to replace me with you and is going to be loudly wondering why I can't be as polite as you naturally are and if maybe we got switched at birth. Then she'll be looking to get us married so she can keep you. And after about five years everyone's going to start thinking you're married to her and not me, she's going to monopolize your time so badly."

Percy managed a wan smile. "I highly doubt that. I will be happy if they simply don't hate me on first sight. There are very few people in the world that actually like me, and that includes my own family."

Jason reached across to touch Percy's hand, his eyes flicking from the road to his boyfriend and back again. "I like you," he said.

Percy gave a much realer smile, though the distance in his eyes said that he was still occupied with his thoughts. "I'm glad you do," he said, "because I really like you." His cheeks colored charmingly and Jason couldn't help his pleased smile.

Even though their relationship was still pretty new and they hadn't gone past kissing, Jason instinctively knew that they were perfect for each other. There was just something about Percy that he couldn't and wouldn't deny.

"It's gonna be all right, I promise," he said. "The accent alone is cool enough that my family is going to like you, and just meeting you will win them the rest of the way over."

"I highly doubt that they're going to like me that much," Percy said. "I'm just too boring and rule bound."

 

====

NOTES --

hereherehere

 

It was a strange world where Percy wasn't around to annoy. Ron had never thought it would happen, but he actually missed his older brother.

Glancing over his shoulder to make sure he was still alone in the kitchen, he faced the fireplace and spoke firmly, "Bill Weasley."

Bill's head formed in the flames. He was laughing at something someone in the room with him had said, then sobered a little when he saw Ron. "Hullo Ron, what's wrong?"

Ron shrugged. "There's nothing wrong. I just..." He closed his eyes and looked down for a moment, regaining his courage. "I don't think Percy's ever coming back, and I'm worried."

"What's happening over there, Ron?" Bill asked, sounding just a little worried.

"Percy went to America, you know. He was supposed to come back after two months, but he keeps putting it off. I don't think he wants to come back, Bill."

"What? But he loves his job at the Ministry. There's no way he'd ever jeopardize his position just to stay in bloody America."

 

 

 

hereherehere

 

Percy's first real day in America. He arrived the night before and hasn't seen much of anything.

he's not supposed to meet the delegates for two days. He decides to wander around some, which is how he ends up in the bookstore, where he accidentally runs into Jason, who's loaded down with a stack of books so high he didn't seen Percy at all.

Percy kneels down to help pick up the books, and when he looks up--pushing his glasses back up his nose while apologizing profusely--he gets his first clear view of Jason and is almost dumbstruck.

 

 

Jason and Marcus have to attend a week of lectures.

 

Harry's 18th birthday is just before 7th year starts. (August/or/September something. late August, early September)

 

 

Detroit, Michigan

 

 

Jason--yellow-blond hair, blue eyes, thin gold wire framed glasses, flashing smile, cute.

 

he carefully doesn't mention the fact that Jason is a muggle. He's hoping his mother will assume that Jason's a wizard.

 

OCTOBER

Jason takes Percy to a Halloween party.

 

NOVEMBER

Percy's supposed to go back to England on November 12th. He doesn't really want to go and takes some of his vacation time so that he can stay for awhile.

 

 

 

needing a break after all that's happened recently, Percy takes on an assignment from the Ministry of Magic, and heads to America to meet with his American counterpart.

While there, since his workload is so light, he decides to use some of his time to "take in the local color." He wanders around looking at how American muggles live.

While in a bookstore he accidentally runs into Jason Fox (who's 22 years old, a year older than Percy.) The two hit it off, finding out that they have a lot in common, though Jason, who has calmed down a lot as he's grown up, is still a little more wild and adventurous than Percy. Still, they immediately hit it off.

The two young men begin spending time together, Jason showing Percy around the city.

Andy calls Jason, reminding him that he promised to come home for a family dinner. Since Percy is only going to be in America for a little while, and Jason doesn't want to miss any time with him, he invites Percy to come home with him. At first Percy says no because he doesn't want to get between Jason's family, but Jason insists, and Percy agrees.

The Fox's live outside of the city in a suburb (Jason lives in the city where he works. He graduated early from college since he skipped the eighth and ninth grades.)

Percy and the Fox's hit it off. They are so different from his own family. There are fewer of them, they actually seem to like and respect him, and they actually pay attention to him as a living breathing human being. They are, in some ways, better to him than his own family, and his attraction to Jason only makes him like them more.

 

Eventually--

Jason finds out Percy's a wizard

Percy decides he doesn't want to go back home to England. He wants to stay with Jason.

Percy takes a leave of absence from work.

Their relationship heats up. (Sex, sex, movie, sex)

Bill shows up, intent on dragging Percy back home. Molly was complaining and worried.

Percy refuses to go back to England. He tells Bill that he loves Jason.

Percy accepts a change of job, becoming a diplomat/go-between between the Ministry and their American counterparts.

 

2nd story-- SUMMER (9 months into relationship)

An American Fox in England

Jason and Marcus go to England with Percy for summer vacation.

Harry just finished his 6th year.

 

3rd story-- SIDE STORY (during Jason and Marcus' summer visit)

Harry Potter and the American Crush

Harry has a crush on Marcus from when Jason and Marcus came to England.

Harry has just finished his 6th year. Ron brings him back to the Burrow.

He's struck almost speechless by Marcus. He can barely say two words to the guy, but he likes him a lot. He thinks Marcus is smart, funny, handsome, charming.

mostly Harry thinking.

 

4th story-- SUMMER (21 months into their relationship)

 

The twins come to visit their brother. They bring Ron and Harry (who have just graduated) with them.

Ron falls in a lot of like with Paige.

Harry gets the hots for Jason's friend Marcus, though it's mostly just angst and lots of secret lusting.

Lots of sight seeing.

Character study of how Percy forms a close attachment to Andy. Molly was always so busy with the other kids that Percy was always left out. He kind of rather raised himself. With Andy he feels like he has found a mother for the first time in his life.

Chapter Text

PROLOGUE

.

He crept through the internal security overlays of the system like a ghost, absorbing data as it came to him until he found what he was searching for.

I am become God, he thought with a little chuckle. He could do anything he wanted in the system. He had stolen complete access for himself. The world was open to him, but all he wanted was one little thing, a minor little bit of technology that probably wouldn't have meant anything to 99.9% of the people that saw it. To him--it was the gateway to all his dreams.

I will change everything, he thought, and began his dark work.

.

.

CHAPTER ONE

.

"Dammit Terry, look out for his tail!"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Terry muttered. "Geez, Old Man, you gotta get yourself a hobby."

"This is my hobby," Wayne growled.

Terry rolled his eyes and kicked the dreaded Dragon-Boy hard in the crotch. "See, the guy's got scales and a tail, but if he's not wearing a cup, he's gonna go down. There's no way he would last long in zero-g ball."

Dragon-Boy clutched his groin and screamed. "You hurt me! You hurt me!" He was almost crying, like he'd never been hit before.

"What a wimp." Terry punched Dragon-Boy in the chest, then slammed his knee in the guy's stomach to get him to hunch over so he could bring his doubled fists down on his head. There was a crunching sound and Terry felt bones shifting and bending beneath the force of his blow.

"Batman 3492, Evil Guys nil. I win again. Yay me!" Batman pumped a fist in the air, set his foot on the guy's back and struck a heroic pose.

"Don't get too cocky, Terry. One of these days you're going to think you've won, and find out you've really lost."

"Come on, let me have a little fun before I die. What's the point of being Batman if all I ever get to do is worry about the world being destroyed and not getting any fun out of anything? I mean, I'm only seventeen years old, and like they say, 'You're only young once.'" He snorted a laugh. "Youshould know. You're older than the hills and still way spry for your age. It's a little freaky. But I can completely understand why you want to suck the life out of me--you want to relive your time as the Bat, and I'm your only outlet so you want to be in complete control of me as a symbol of your überpower. It's one of those weird psycho-disorders, or whatever."

"As usual, your ability to explain the deeper meanings of the universe astound me by their asinine foolishness. Now get on over to the..."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. I'm done for the night." Terry yawned and tapped his belt to send out the beacon for the Batmobile. "I've gotta crash and burn or I'm not gonna be able to keep my lids open for the poli-sci test I've got tomorrow. I already think I'm heading for a low thirty, which will completely make my mom happy. I don't think either me or you are going to be exactly happy when I have to rot in summer school--moms won't let me work for Wayne, which means I can't be Batman, which means evil doers beware, you've got a free ride in the city. So I seriously have to catch some REMS and maybe even study a little in the a.m. so I end up with a pass over a fail. Comprehension on your side?"

Wayne didn't say anything, so Terry thought he might have won. I am on a definite win-win roll here,he thought, grinning.

When the Batmobile was direct overhead, he activated his rocket thrusters and flew straight up into the cockpit. It was a neat trick he always made look easy, never mind the couple of times he'd been a little diddled after a fight and missed. Cracking his head on the underside of the Batmobile was only considered embarrassing if there were witnesses, otherwise it was just yet another Bat-secret.

Ten minutes later the Batsuit was tucked away in his backpack and he was creeping in through the front door of the apartment. His mom had left a small light on in the living room, but otherwise everything was quiet and dark, peaceful.

Terry yawned and tiptoed to his room. He paused outside Matt's room on his way past and peeked in the partly open door. His brother was lying on his back with his arms and legs thrown out, the sheets and blankets kicked down toward the bottom of the bed. His mouth was wide open as he snored, so completely out of it his own noise didn't even wake him up.

"Goodnight, brat," Terry whispered.

Matt rolled over in his sleep but didn't wake up. A little smile quirked Terry's lips and he went on to his room. If he had known what was going to happen, he might have woken his brother up and talked to him for the rest of the night. It would have been good to spend some time with Matt--it would have given him a sense of peace for later.

Instead, he stripped and dropped his clothes in a heap on the floor and fell facedown on his bed in just his underwear. There was barely a transition from his being awake to sleeping. He had been pulling a few too many all-nighters in a row, and he was still recovering from the battle royale he'd had with Inque when she broke out of her confinement tube again. Swallowing a mouthful of her greasy body still made him want to vomit--it was so disgusting, and he hated the fact that it had happened three times now even more. Yuck!

His dreams were pretty peaceful for someone that wore the Batsuit every night. He probably should have suffered from horrible nightmares, but instead he dreamed of past summer days spent in Gotham Bio-Park where the animals and trees lived. He saw his father and mother still married like they were when he was little, back before he became a trouble-making punk and his life started falling apart. He dreamed of his childhood and it was a sweet memory, one that he could wish he would never wake from.

* * *

Hamilton Hill High School was like a little country standing alone in the middle of the city, or at least, that was what Max liked to imagine. She stood with her back pressed against the stair railing, waiting for Terry. Dana Tan stood next to her, humming a little under her breath. She was so beautiful that it was hard to look directly at her.

"Don't stress, he'll be here soon."

Dana looked at her and rolled her eyes. "Come on, be real. I love Terry, but his being on time would be a complete psychic shock."

"What would be a shock?" Chelsea asked, coming down the stairs behind them.

"Terry being on time," Max said.

"Yeah, the guy's timing sense is a bit skewed," Chelsea said, laughing. "Ever since he started working for Mr. Wayne... well, he's like the invisible boyfriend."

"Yeah, but he's my invisible boyfriend." Dana pressed her hand against her chest, her dark eyes flashing impishly. "He's like my own imaginary friend. Never here, but always there."

Max opened her mouth to say something when her phone went off. "Oops, that's me," she said, tabbing it live. "'Lo?"

"Hey Max, it's me."

"Terry," she said loudly.

Dana looked at her and raised a brow. "Where is he?"

"Dana wants to know where you are, and I'm a bit curious myself. What's keeping you from the hallowed halls of learning, McGinnis?"

"Bad trouble, is what. Mad Stan is plaguing the halls of justice right now. He's got the place wired to blow and only 'you-know-who' can stop him. Right now I'm winging my way over to the Gotham Municipal Courthouse to screw up his plans before he manages to hurt someone." She heard him sigh heavily. "Man, and I really needed a high ninety on my poli-sci test. Looks like my mom is going to have a reason to complain."

Max glanced at Dana. "So, you're going to miss a couple of classes and want me to share my notes with you?"

Dana growled in her throat. "Dammit! Give me the phone, Max. I need to have a few little words with our boy."

"Uh, okay. Dana wants to talk to you now."

"Oh crap," Max heard him say as she passed the phone to Dana.

"Hey Terr, what's up? Why aren't you here getting an education like the rest of us? What great and wonderful thing are you doing now that takes priority over learning all the neat and important stuff you're gonna need for a great and fantastic future?" Pause. "Uh huh, sure. I don't think I want to hear anymore of your excuses. It's great that you have a good job and everything, but you're letting it eat up your life. You don't have time for me anymore." Pause, pause. "Yeah, whatever. I'll see you later, and you and I are going to have a long and excruciatingly drawn out conversation. Bye." Dana passed the phone back over to Max. "Here, thanks for the loan. If he calls you back later, remind him that he promised we would do something. I'm getting just a little tired of his lame-ass excuses."

"Uh, sure." As soon as Dana turned away, Max blew out her cheeks. She really hated having to get in-between Terry and Dana's relationship, but she knew it was part of her helping out a friend. She enjoyed being Batman's "partner," which meant she got to handle all the things he didn't have the time for. It was all part of the job, and there were some definite perks to liven things up, so she couldn't let herself mind it all.

Chelsea winked at her behind Dana's back. "Come on guys, let's get to class. Terry can handle himself."

"Bye Terry," Max said, clicking off her phone. She hurried up the stairs after the other girls. They had classes to get to and not even being curious about what trouble Terry was getting into was going to keep her out of class.

She didn't really care about it, but she was going to be valedictorian when the time came.

* * *

"You know, Old Man, you're kind of putting a hinge on my school life," Terry complained as he changed into his street clothes.

His complaining about the Job might have had a bit more impact if he had actually been talking to Wayne. As it was, he was just muttering to himself, his body aching with bruises after being blown up four times. Mad Stan really was fond of the bombs, and he seemed to see Batman as one of the things that had "gone wrong with this city." It didn't exactly make for a super great day. But at least the 'suit had saved Terry from any serious damage.

Terry rolled up the Batsuit and slipped it into his backpack. Then, barely pausing to make sure his bag was closed tight, he slipped out of the janitor's closet and jogged his way out into the public terminal.

He barely made the 'train, leaping in through the already closing doors. He leaned against one of the standing poles with a sigh, his eyes carefully not focusing on any of the people around him. This wasn't exactly the best time of day to be riding the 'trains. There were some real dregs on board, folks he didn't really want to associate with as Batman, and definitely didn't want to screw with as plain old Terry McGinnis.

The 'train raced across the city at 240 miles per hour, stopping with a smooth, slowing glide at Gotham Station, commonly known as Terminal Station. He still had a bit of a jog before him, but at least he was going to make it to school in time to attend at least one class. There were some days when he didn't even get the chance to show up. It was pretty pathetic.

Back in the old days, when Wayne was Batman and the world was a much simpler place, Batman was a creature that only came out at night to do his heroing. But here in this techno-centric modern reality, "Batman" was a full-time job, and even Terry was beginning to have to admit that it was true. He wasn't really making any money at the job, but there was nothing else he could do but try and protect the city he loved.

From the minute he had accepted the role of Batman, he was pretty much stuck. Because even though he could just turn his back on the post, the memory of being a hero would linger. He couldn't ignore the cries around him--all the people demanding to be saved. It was impossible for him to stand on the sidelines and watch as people were hurt and killed, not when he could do something about it.

Once a Batman, always a Batman. It was just the way things had turned out.

He sighed heavily and trailed the crowd off the train. He had places to be, and he had never been one for heavy thought when action would suffice.

Terry rubbed a somewhat painful bruise on his chest as he walked up the stairs to the main terminal with its faux-marble columns and glaring white dome. It was an awesome design echoing stuff from the past, but to a boy raised in a society that worshipped technology as a given--it was as anachronistic as hell. Still, from the amount of money the city had spent getting this place into shape, it was pretty nice all around.

He was nearly to the double doors when there was a thundering "BOOM!" and the ground shook beneath him. The floor rose up in an almost liquid wave, knocking him off his feet in a rolling fall.

People screamed as they hit the ground, most of them instinctively covering their heads with their arms. Terry swore as his knees hit the floor hard. Idly, he wished he was wearing kneepads, then the second wave hit.

There was a sound like the keening of dying doves, the squeal of rabbits in pain, the howl of extinct wolves trying to claw their way back to life. It was impossible to describe the noise, but it was a sound that lingered in the ears.

Tears streamed from Terry's eyes, partly because of the sound, but mostly because of falling dust. A couple of the ceiling tiles had fallen, but no one seemed to be hurt. At least, amongst all the yells no one was screaming in genuine agony.

"What happened?"

"Oh my God, what was that? Was it a bomb?"

"My ears! Ow, my ears!"

Terry clawed his way back up to his feet and looked around. People were strewn across the big floor, but they looked all right. One little girl was crying and rubbing her eyes like they hurt--but that was most likely just dust irritation. She didn't even have a bruise from where her mother had thrown herself over her.

Terry frowned as he looked around, trying to figure out what had happened. It didn't seem to have been an earthquake, but he wasn't exactly a geologist.

His phone beeped in his pocked. "Yeah?"

"Terry, there's been some kind of explosion in District Three. Get over there on the double. Varying reports indicate that that whole section of city may have been decimated," Wayne barked without even a how-do-you-do.

"Right, boss. I'm on it." Terry flipped off his phone and made a run not to the doors, but back toward the inner section of the building. He knew of a maintenance closet that had Batman's name on it. This definitely wasn't a job for plain old Terry McGinnis. Disasters demanded the iron-fist of the Bat.

"Looks like I'm back on the clock," he muttered to himself. The Job took up more of his life than any intramural sport ever could. Not that he could complain without sounding like an immature kid. He'd been the one to accept--steal--the 'suit, after all.

With a quick slip into the maintenance closet, he emerged as Batman. The 'suit fit him like a second skin and with it pressed close around him he slid into the largely fearless persona of the Bat.

Batman was a figure to induce fear in the heart of criminals. There was no room in the legend for whatever weird mental hang-ups Terry McGinnis might have. He could only be the Batman.

He ran through the terminal, making his way outside where the Batmobile was already lowering itself. It hurt to have to ignore the cries of the people he left behind. They all wanted to know how Batman had gotten in, what was happening, where he was going, and what he was going to do about it. They seemed to think that the mystical Batman would have all of the answers. But there was nothing he could do for them now. They weren't hurt, just surprised, but there were people out there that were in real need of rescue.

Punching coordinates into the Batmobile computer, he set it to auto-fly while he dug through the supply crate, searching for whatever gear he thought he might need. He didn't know what he was going to find when he reached District Three, but he had a feeling it would be some serious badness. He had to be ready for whatever he might find.

.

Never exactly cheery in the light of day, Gotham City was still a powerful looking town. After surviving so many hard years and catastrophes, today it was really showing it's age. Smoke rose up into the iron gray sky and the thunderous sound of sirens filled Terry with dread. Things had gone bad really fast and he didn't quite know what he was supposed to do about it.

Batman fought crime on a pretty much one-on-one scale. He wasn't like Superman, who regularly stoppered volcanoes with big rocks, or any other of the superhero set that had been saddled with some "horrible" metahuman ability.

Gazing down at the wreckage from the safety of the Batmobile, he could only wish that he had some kind of power to save at least some of the people down there. But he didn't.

For a sixteen block radius around District Three there was nothing but wreckage. Buildings had collapsed in upon themselves and people lay where they had fallen, burned and bleeding with no one to help them. Rescue vehicles were moving in on the disaster area, but it was like it was all happening in slow motion, too little, too late.

Terry knew he should have been horrified by the suffering he could see. He should have been trembling sick at the way living people had been turned into so much ground up and burnt hamburger, but his attention was drawn away from the devastation to the sight of a scene that could have been right out of one of his worst nightmares.

The area around District Three was pure devastation, but District Three itself...

It had been wiped clean. Smooth as newly poured concrete, it was the color of ashes. A large, round circle in the middle of the city with no buildings, no trees, no garbage, no life. It was hard to believe that just minutes before it had been bustling with a sea of humanity, all going about their daily lives, unaware of what was going to happen to them. District Three could have been a parking lot now.

This isn't happening, Terry thought. A hysterical sounding giggle bubbled up in his throat.

In his mind's eye, he could still see where his apartment had been. He could see the roiling architecture of the Hamilton Hill Elementary School where Matt was in the fifth grade. He could see the high school a block up the hill from the elementary school, where Dana and Max and Chelsea and Jackie and...

He was almost surprised to find tears streaming down his cheeks, soaking the inside of his mask. It was hard to be the stoic Batman when nearly everyone he knew had just been killed in some inexplicable event. They had just been wiped off the face of the earth with no warning and there was nothing he could do about it.

"McGinnis... McGinnis... TERRY!"

He jerked at the rasping bark of his master's voice. "They... I don't know what happened, Bruce. Everyone... everyone's just gone, all the buildings and cars too. It's like... there was never anything here. They just don't exist anymore. What happened, Bruce? What happened?" His voice broke on tears and his body shook with sobs.

His time as Batman had forced Terry to face the fact of his own mortality. He knew that he was going to die someday, whether it was while fighting some superpowered villain or from old age. Someday, he would die, and there was something oddly comforting about that. No matter what he did, he would die, and even if some enemy killed him, it was bound to happen anyway.

But in all his thoughts of death, he had only ever faced his own. He had imagined his friends or at least Matt outliving him, and there was something good about that. But now it had happened so fast, and they were gone forever; his friends, his brother and everyone else in this area of the city. They were all dead. And he had been left behind.

"What... what do I do?" he asked, his voice coming out as a dry whisper. "What the fuck am I supposed to do?"

"Calm down, Terry. We'll..." the old guy's voice broke. Through the Batsuits video uplinks that connected Terry straight to the Batcomputer, Wayne was seeing everything Terry was. Even secondhand, the devastation was terrible. "We'll find who did this and they will pay for their crimes."

"M... Matty," Terry said, and was surprised by how childlike he sounded. It felt like something had broken loose in his brain.

His little brother was dead. His girlfriend was dead. His friends from school were dead. There was a chance his mother was dead. Everything was over. Everything was broken. Everything was bad. Matty was dead. Max was dead. Dana was dead. Chelsea was dead. Blade was dead. Even asshole Nelson was dead. His life was never going to be the same again. Matty...

All unknowing, something began to smolder in his belly. His hands tightened on the Batmobile's controls. "Who did this?" he asked, sounding almost normal. "Who the fuck did this?" he yelled, hurting his throat.

"Please, Terry, you have to stay calm, you can't..."

"Shut up Bruce! I can fucking do whatever I want. Everyone's dead here. They're just... they're just gone like they never existed. Someone has to pay for this. I want whoever did this to bleed."

"The Batcomputer is already processing the information as it's coming in from the police and mobile rescue crews' scanners. As soon as I know what happened there, I'll tell you, but you have to calm down, Terry. I can't trust you with the information just so you can go on some killing spree. Calm yourself. Gotham has been through a lot worse than this in its time. Not even this damage will last."

Terry squeezed the controls so hard he could hear the reinforced metal creak. "Fuck Gotham! This isn't about the damage done to the city. Public works can fucking deal with that. This is about my family, my friends. They're all dead, and someone has to take the blame for that, even if it's just some asshole that forgot to turn off their toaster oven on some obscure religious holiday. Someone did this, killed everyone, and they have to pay for that!"

There was the sound of Wayne taking a deep breath. "You're awfully close to the edge right now, Terry. It might be a good idea for you to step back and let someone else handle this."

"What do you mean?" Terry demanded, his voice squeaking upwards.

"Right now you're ready to destroy whoever did this, but when the passion's run its course, you're going to wake up to the realization that you are not a god. You cannot play judge, jury and executioner. And if you kill whoever did this, you will be just as much of a murderer as they are. Believe me, I've been there."

"I don't care. Maybe later I'll trip over some morals, but right now I don't care. I want whoever did this. I want them to scream and beg and die. My little brother was somewhere in District Three, Bruce. My little brother is dead, and so are nearly all of my friends. This is not something that whoever did this is just going to walk away from. They are going to taste some kind of retribution, and the only relief I can find is if it comes from me.

"I will find the bastard that did this, whether you help me or not. So, now, Bruce, tell me whatever information you've got."

.

.

CHAPTER TWO

.

"We're too late."

Mina looked at her partner. "What do you mean? What's happened?"

Bannon looked at her, his eyes so grief-stricken they could have been dead. "That whack job set off a time bomb in the middle of Old Gotham."

"Shit!" she cursed. That was bad, real bad. A time bomb completely obliterated a person from the timeline. Twenty-four hours after one went off, it was like the victims had never existed, their pasts and their futures wiped clean, which affected all of the lives they had ever touched as well.

A time bomb was a devastating weapon, not just for the people it killed in the moment it went off, but because it acted like a contagion. The affects of a time bomb never went away, and not all of the consequences of its use could be foreseen. And to set one off in the middle of Old Gotham City, where all of that history had taken place...

"Yeah, it's bad. Initial reports indicate that as many as six hundred and ninety-seven billion people have been knocked off the timeline so far, and the Researchers are still calculating the death total of the descendents. And no oneknows how this is going to turn out for the timeline itself. There's a good chance that time has been changed so much that this universe will cease to exist."

"Well, crap. We knew Chronos was insane, but we thought his sense of self-preservation would save us some trouble. But if he's not even a little afraid to die, we're going to get royally boned on this deal."

"We have to find him fast," Bannon said. "If we reach him soon enough, there might still be a chance to save this timeline. The affects haven't had time to set yet. We might be able to reverse the processes."

"It'll be hard," Mina said. "It might just be more prudent to let this timeline go and capture him if and when he attempts to jump to the next time-string." She knew it wasn't a very nice suggestion, but it might very well be the only thing they could do. They might have to cut their losses and try to capture him elsewhen; and she would just have to live with the guilt she felt about all of the people that died for her choice.

"Let's leave that for a last resort," Bannon said. He usually took the stance of hard ass, but he didn't seem too upset over her usurping his position, in fact, he sounded almost proud that she could be so heartless to a bunch of innocents. He probably thought his affects were rubbing off on her.

Mina felt like crying over all the people Chronos had killed, but she knew there was a good chance that there was nothing she could do about it. Chronos had a flare for making his acts of evil irreparable, and she knew that this was probably one they couldn't change no matter what they tried.

So many people had died because of Chronos, and no matter how many Time Cops were sent out, the madman was still on the loose. His only goal was to live up to the reputations of his favorite supervillains. He wanted to be as evil and sadistic as Two-Face, Lex Luthor, and especially the Joker.

"I know we'll try our hardest to bring him to justice," Mina said, "but it just feels so hopeless. He's been one step ahead of us all along. We're never going to catch up."

"We still have to try," Bannon said. "He has to be stopped somehow, and maybe we can salvage this timeline if we work fast enough."

"I really hope we can. I'm tired of all the death."

"Me too." Bannon reached out and took her hand.

They had been partners on the force for over three hundred and twenty-two years. They had gradually developed an understanding of each others' quirks. Bannon had finally accepted the fact that Mina Azumi was a tactile person and that being able to casually touch another living being brought her comfort.

And Mina had learned that even though he was just as cold-hearted as some people thought, Bannon Gordon-Young was still a good friend to have. He was her partner.

* * *

The damage was horrific. Staring at his computer screen, Bruce couldn't even blame his aging eyes for the way the data wavered in his view. He didn't quite know what he was supposed to do next.

Terry was raging in his ears, cursing whoever had or whatever had done this, but there really wasn't anything they could do about it yet. They didn't have all of the facts, didn't even have the outline of a suspect to blame the catastrophe on. Thousands of people were dead and both Batman's were helpless to do anything about it.

Ace, lying on the floor next to his chair, made a questioning "Wherf?" sound.

Bruce looked down at the Great Dane. Sometimes the dog was just so human, more human than a lot of people Bruce had dealt with in his life anyway. "Don't worry, boy. I'll keep Terry from completely losing control. He will not be killing anyone today, not on my watch."

There had been plenty of times in his life as Batman that Bruce had been tempted to let his anger get away from him and go too far in punishing a criminal, but he had always pulled himself back from the edge. He had kept himself from becoming as bad as the villains he pursued, though it had been a difficult thing at times. There were just some people that he hated with a fiery vengeance that almost couldn't be denied.

He had pulled himself back, but it had been a close thing. And now, years later, there were a few particular supervillains that he wished he had just taken care of when he had the chance. But there were others he was glad he had kept himself from harming too bad.

At least he had the comfort of knowing that no matter how crazy he had ever gotten, he had managed to remain human when it counted.

Now it was Terry's turn to face the temptation of the Batman. He wanted to kill whoever had destroyed District Three, but if he did that, he would be as much of a murderer as the criminal. It was the Catch-22 of the modern hero.

There was a thin line between a hero and a vigilante, and Bruce didn't want to see Terry cross the point of no return. It would hurt him to have to take back the Batsuit, because he could understand what Terry was feeling.

A part of him wanted desperately to end the life of whoever had hurt Gotham so much.

"I can't really blame him for his rage," Bruce whispered, glad that only his dog was present to hear him. To admit the existence of such a chink in his armor would be to invite derision and disrespect. He wasn't just Bruce Wayne... he was Batman, and once someone took their place in the Bat-Dynasty, there was no stepping down. But he knew how it felt to lose his family, how angry it had made him at the man that had stolen his loved ones from him. He understood Terry's rage. He felt it himself.

* * *

To be Batman meant to take on the heavy weight of a legendary responsibility. After awhile of wearing the Batsuit, Terry had learned the lessons of being Batman well.

He did not have the freedom of being himself. He had a Duty as immutable as time. It was up to him to fight the good fight and put down the bad guys, keeping Gotham City safe. And though he often wanted to wallow in his own emotions and thoughts, he had long since accepted the fact that he couldn't let that happen. He was Batman, and Batman didn't have time to cry, rage against fate, or fall apart when he was most needed.

With the knowledge that he was Batman firmly in mind, he took all of his hate and rage and buried it deep inside. As long as he had to be Batman, he had to forget that he was human. He had a job to perform and his own feelings weren't allowed to get in his way. He had to be the cold, iron fist of justice, not the burning heat of vengeance.

Though he wanted to break down completely over the death of his brother and friends, he held that impulse firmly away from him. There was no time to be Terry McGinnis. He had to be the Bat.

"I'm comin' in now, Old Man," he said. His voice was thicker than usual, but clearly audible, firmly in his control.

"Are you all right, Terry?" Wayne asked.

Terry wanted to yell at him. The only time Wayne called him by his first name was when he was messing up or when he was acting like a kid. Usually it was "McGinnis" this and "McGinnis" that. So to hear Wayne calling him "Terry" now made him feel like he wasn't doing the job right, like he was letting things get away from him. Like he wasn't being Batman.

"I'm fine," he rasped, sounding like Batman, no Terry in him. "I'll be there in a minute. There's nothing more I can do here. The rescue crews don't need my help, since there's no one to rescue in District Three and there's only peripheral damage to deal with."

Fully cloaked, Terry flew the Batmobile toward the secret entrance that led to the Batcave. Batman shouldn't be out in the light of day like this, people would get the wrong idea.

Bats are nocturnal, he thought for no real reason at all.

It was strange, but while his conscious mind was fully focused on the course at hand, his inner voices kept coming up with weird things to babble about. It was as though something had been fractured inside his mind and he was wallowing around in pieces, trying to find his way back home. So he did what he needed to do.

He ignored it. There was no time to worry about inconsequential things. He had a job to do now.

* * *

It had been easier than he had expected it to be. One push of a button and BOOM! Bye-bye to a huge chunk of stinky Gotham City.

"I never thought it would be this easy, Crono," he said to his best friend and beloved pet.

The gen-monkey on his left shoulder chittered, wicked amusement sparkling in her dark brown eyes. She was adorable dressed in the costume he had made for her, a black bodysuit with a green cape and a green mask around her eyes. Her tiny hands were covered in close-fitting green gloves. She loved her supervillain costume, though when he had first presented it to her he had been met with a dubious look and an angry bang of pots as she made dinner.

Clever fingers, longer than her reeces monkey ancestors' had had, tapped at her wrist-cuff keyboard. "What's the next part of the plan, Boss?" the mechanical voice asked.

Chronos shrugged. "This wasn't the time we wanted to come to anyway, and sure, we've had some fun, but this place holds no more interest for me. We must go back further to find what we seek."

"Then let's go," Crono said. "I want to have more fun. Can I set off the next time bomb?"

He reached his right hand across to pat her on the leg. "Of course you may, my dear. Why don't you go set up the next bomb while I recalibrate the temporal gate?"

The gen-monkey leaped from his shoulder, hurrying over to the large crate of equipment on the grav-sled. "Yay!"

Chronos watched her for a moment, shaking his head and smiling slightly. She was just so enthusiastic about it all. She made the perfect criminal sidekick, much better than any human could have done, and she was smarter than a lot of professional minions too. Her gengineered body and enhanced intelligence in combination with the personality modification chips he'd added to her neural interface meant that she was the compliment to his supervillain self.

He was glad he had taken her from the research facility now. He'd had his doubts at first when she had been defiant and angry, refusing to be what he wanted. But once the chips were installed... she was his greatest ally and he didn't know what he would do without her. And some of the evil schemes she came up with...

Yes, I am the greatest villain of all time,he thought. I am unstoppable. The future is mine to shape and form. No one will stop me from achieving my destiny.

* * *

"There's no trace of anything to investigate," Bruce said patiently.

Batman looked at him blankly. Terry had refused to take off the hood, so it was impossible to tell what he was thinking, his face completely hidden. "That's not very helpful," Batman said.

For the first time ever, Bruce felt what criminals must feel when they faced Batman. It didn't exactly make him happy. In point of fact, staring into that blank mask, he couldn't help feeling a bit threatened by that emptiness.

"Why don't you take off the 'suit and go up to your room and rest?" Bruce suggested. "You must be tired and you can't let exhaustion slow you down if a call comes in."

"I'm not tired," Batman said.

Bruce poked his cane at him. "Go lie down, that's an order."

"Dammit, Bruce! I don't want to fucking rest. I want to find the guy that did this." For the first time since coming back to the 'cave, Terry actually sounded like himself. Bruce couldn't help but to feel relieved to hear that young, uncertain voice. He had missed the Terry he'd thought he knew. The Batman was too hard to deal with over an extended length of time.

"Go lie down, boy," Bruce said softly. "You need to rest and let your mind work through what's happened. Go on now, Terry. I'll call you when any news comes in."

"I don't wanna rest," Terry said, but he turned and headed toward the stairs.

The clump of the boy's footsteps heading upward were like music to Bruce's ears. He was really worried about Terry and he knew things were only going to get worse.

* * *

"There are indications of a temporal disturbance in Sector 2-57, currently known as Gotham District Twelve," Mina said.

Bannon glanced over at her display. "Let's go then," he said.

She jerked a nod, quickly typing coordinates into the skim-jumper's computers. "We'll reach the apex of the disturbance in approximately six minutes."

"Let's just hope we get there before he can either time jump or move to another area in the city," Bannon said. "I'm tired of chasing this asshole around. I want to bring him in."

"Me too," she said.

This was their chance to capture Chronos. They had been the agents nearest the point of the incursion, which had allowed them to follow the madman's time-stream into place, using his wake to bring them in. But since he had surrounded the timeline in a shield bubble, no other Time Cops could get within twenty years of him on either end of the timeline.

Mina Azumi and Bannon Gordon-Young were on their own, no backup available in anytime. If they screwed this up, Chronos would have a free ride and could do anything he wanted to the natives. They couldn't let him win at any cost, not even if it killed them both.

Wearing faces filled with resolve, Mina and Bannon hurried across the city. Five minutes until they reached the point of the disturbances and tried to settle this once and for all.

* * *

"It's time to go now, Crono. Are you done?" Chronos asked.

"I've been done. Let's go wreak some havoc on the timeline, Boss. I want to have some fun."

"You're such a good monkey," Chronos crooned, holding out his arms.

Crono leapt into his arms to climb up onto his shoulder, settling herself comfortably. "When can I set the bomb off? I really want to blow shit up." She held the remote controller in her small hands.

"As we're going through the gate you can depress the button," Chronos said. "I really don't want to be blown up too."

"Don't be such a baby, Boss. I've got the timer set to go off five minutes after we leave. I don't want my monkey bits merged with your human bits all across the temporaverse. That'd be sick."

"You've picked up quite the attitude while we've been here, haven't you?" Chronos said, amused. There was just something so cute about a mouthy monkey. If Crono had been human he might have killed her, but since she wasn't... it was adorable.

"You really need to get me a TV wherever we end up," she said. "I never knew the idiot box could be so amusing. I want more."

"Of course you may have a television when we reach the time we're going to. I don't want you to be bored while we work to take over the universe."

"Whoohoo!" She tugged his hair gently. "Come on, Boss, let's go now. We can blow shit up and oppress the human dregs. It'll be lots of fun!"

"Yes, let's go," he said, heading over to the grav-sled and switching it on, watching it rise four inches off the ground. "This timeline bores me. I want to see the others now." He pushed the handle of the sled and it easily slid across the space toward the chalk lines where the gate would be forming. "They may not know who I am yet, but they will soon realize who their master is."

Holding the handle of the sled with one hand, he tapped the jewel in the center of the metal collar he wore around his neck twice. There was a bright flash of light and a WHOOSH! sound.

His hair was ruffled gently in the breeze that sprang up in the middle of the room. The gate came swirling out of the emptiness, a purple and gray vortex with sparks of miniature white lightning flickering around the edges of it.

"You may push the button now," he said, stepping forward.

As the sled disappeared into the swirling maw before them, Crono gave a cruel monkey laugh and depressed the button on the remote, tossing it back over her shoulder. "Four minutes," she said, "and none of this area will be left at all."

They stepped through, the gate snapping closed behind them.

* * *

The two Time Cops were twenty seconds away when the time bomb blew. Their temporal converters held them anchored to the timeline, but it was only going to last a few precious minutes.

As the skim-jumper spiraled out of the air headed toward the unforgiving ground, Mina closed her eyes tight, not wanting to see the impact. Even if they survived the crash, they were both already dead. The molecules of their bodies were already beginning to unravel. Soon they would cease to exist in any and all timelines.

I'm scared, Mina thought, gripping her fingers tight in the padding of her seat arm.

They hit the ground hard.

.

.

CHAPTER THREE

.

"McGinnis, there's been another explosion, this one in District Twelve," Wayne barked. He was sounding really stressed.

Terry bobbed his head. "On it."

He leapt the last few steps and raced across to the Batmobile. He'd only had ten minutes off the job, and he was already on again. He knew he should be exhausted, but since District Three had been destroyed adrenaline had been pumping through him, keeping him on high. He figured he was looking forward to a hard crash later.

He'd manage to calm himself down a little bit, finding a place inside of iron coldness where nothing could touch him. The rage burned in him, but he was able to think through it some, enough to pretend that he was all right. He had managed to fool Wayne, at least.

"Are you ready to go?" Wayne asked through the Batmobile's audio system.

"Oh yeah," Terry said. "I want to find this guy." And beat the shit out of him, make him feel as bad as I do, hurt him until there's nothing left to hurt, rip him apart, make him...

"District Twelve is gone, Terry. Rescue crews are already there, but it's like District... Three. Are you sure you can do this?" Wayne actually sounded worried. It was almost funny.

"Of course I can do this," Terry said, his voice coming out in a strange almost-growl. "This is the job. I am Batman, and this guy isn't going to get away with killing all those people. Not when I can stop him."

"Remember the rules of the game, Terry. There's a thin line between a hero and a vigilante. I don't want Barbara to have to mark your name off the good guy list, because she won't hesitate. Batman's already on thin ice with her. She's serious about her job as Commissioner."

"I don't care," Terry said. "The job'll get done." Anyway I have to.

As he'd been talking to Wayne, he'd been prepping the Batmobile, and now he pulled back the stick and the Batmobile went through the quick launch. He was flying at such speeds that he couldn't trust his reactions to steer the Batmobile and had to rely on the autopilot.

Pressed back against the pilot's seat, he focused his mind tightly on the task at hand. He was Batman and there was a lot that needed to be done.

.

District Twelve had always been a low-rent area. There had been quite a few times when he had seriously thought that it needed to be wiped off the map and remade. He couldn't help feeling a little guilty as he gazed at the parking lot it had become. His idle wish had come true, but in an exceedingly horrible way.

He couldn't help wondering if the people of District Twelve had suffered as they died, if their last few seconds had been filled with pain. If Matt and Max and Dana and Blade and everyone else he had loved had screamed out in agony as they disappeared into nothing. Just the thought of it brought back all the pain and anger he'd been trying to deny.

Of him and Bruce, he had always kind of considered himself the better Batman. He wasn't as rage-filled and vengeful as Bruce. He was able to take off the 'suit and relax as himself, and the rest of his non-Batman life wasn't just a mask he hid behind. He was the more human Batman, and he didn't allow his anger at an unfair world cause him to treat everyone like a criminal and his life as a hostile environment he had to slash his way through. He had been able to live as both Terry McGinnis and Batman, keeping the two identities largely separate.

Now, though, he could understand the darkness that had driven Bruce to become a cape wearing crusader for justice. He could understand how the loss of people he loved could have completely changed Bruce's life and could have overshadowed everything he had ever done. For the first time, he understood Batman from the inside, and he wasn't afraid.

Someone had purposely killed hundreds of thousands of people and for some reason Terry couldn't even begin to comprehend. There was nothing in the universe that could have ever driven him to do something so completely out of control. Whoever the murderer was, he had to have some kind of reason driving him to kill, and Terry was going to find out what it was.

He was determined to catch whoever it was and beat them to the brink of death... and maybe beyond. He wasn't quite certain where he was willing to draw the line on his revenge, wasn't even sure if he would know it if he saw it. All that rested in his mind was the need to hurt.

The Batmobile's scanners suddenly began beeping insistently. Terry punched a button on the console and information began scrawling across the vidscreen that was the Batsuit's eyes.

Object found, the text said. Unidentified style craft located in District Twelve.

"How is that possible?" Terry vocalized. "Computer, run scans. How was the craft able to maintain its presence in ground zero?"

Unknown.

Terry chewed on his lip, then brought the Batmobile around, zooming toward where the map marked the location of the craft.

As soon as the Batmobile was close enough for a fairly in-depth scan, Terry was surprised by what kind of schematics popped up in front of him. The craft was like nothing he had ever seen before.

"Is there anyone inside?" he asked.

Unknown. Shielding is too dense.

Terry cursed and brought the Batmobile down for a smooth landing next to the strange craft. "Guess I've gotta handle this myself."

"Be careful, Terry," Bruce said in his ear.

Terry nodded. "Yeah, yeah, I know. It's not like this is my first day on the job, you know. And speaking of the job... do I get workman's comp if something untoward happens to me?"

"Yeah, two bags of candy and a signature on your many casts," Wayne cracked in that oh-so-serious voice of his.

"Way to joke, Old Man," Terry said, dishing out the usual banter even though he didn't really feel it inside. Things had been so bad, but he had to keep up appearances and do the usual things and not show how hurt he felt inside. People he knew had died, but he had to go on with business like normal because he was fucking Batman and Batman couldn't just break down and cry because his family or friends were dead.

Terry landed and cracked the shell of the cockpit. The Batsuit would protect him from any toxins in the air and minor radiation, of which the Batmobile's computer said there were none. That didn't mean he was going to be perfectly safe stepping out, but he didn't really have much choice. He had a job to do here, and he was itching to get it done and done right.

Stepping out of the Batmobile, he glanced around the completely bare area. He felt a twinge inside, but ignored his emotions to head straight toward the downed craft. It was of a strange design and he really wanted to know how it had survived whatever had happened here intact. There was definitely something weird going on, and with what had been happening, he was pretty sure this craft tied in with all the badness. So if there was someone inside that could give him the answers he demanded... he would stop at nothing to question them.

"Be careful, Terry," Wayne said, using his first name to show how serious the situation was and to illustrate how worried he was.

"I'm always careful," he growled, knowing that it wasn't true. There had been times that he had taken stupid risks for even stupider reasons, but he knew what he was doing here, and there was no way he was going to die before he got the job done.

The vehicle in front of him was sleek and lethal looking, glossy silver and exuding the kind of danger that the Batmobile did. He could see the cockpit, but it had some kind of polarized glass that kept him from looking in, so he couldn't tell if anyone was moving around inside or not.

Reaching out his hand, he was half-expecting to get a bad shock or something when he touched the craft, but there was nothing. Breathing a little easier, he cranked up the strength meter on the suit and grabbed what he thought was the door handle and yanked as hard as he could.

It felt like his arms were going to be pulled out of their sockets even with the powered armor doing most of the work, but finally the door squealed and came open.

"Anyone alive in there?" Terry asked, peering into the darkness inside.

He thought he heard something move, but he couldn't be sure. "I'm going in," he told Wayne.

"Wait until we run some more scans," Wayne ordered.

"No. I'm going in now. I want answers, and I'm going to get them. This weird ship appearing is too much of a coincidence, especially with how it didn't get wiped out along with everything else. It just screams suspicion to me." He boosted himself up and through the doorway, his every sense on high alert. He wasn't going to be taken by surprise, not if he could help it.

"Woah," he said, taking in the sharp technology that surrounded him. There was stuff here that would make even the techiest-tweeb come in his pants. "Are you getting all this?" he asked.

There was no answer.

"Wayne? Wayne? Bruce?" It looked like the interior of the craft was shielded somehow. He was cut off from communicating with Wayne. "Great, just great."

"H... hlp."

"What the..." He hurried toward the sound and found two figures strapped into what had to be the pilot and co-pilot seats. One was obviously dead from the way his head had been separated from his shoulders by a loose metal case, but the other...

"Holy shit." She was beautiful, an Asian sex-goddess in a skintight blue mesh suit. Her glossy black hair had fallen loose around her face and her startlingly green eyes were glassy as she tried to focus on him.

"There's... there's no time. Take... take it." She weakly flopped her arm sideways to point at the case that had taken out her partner. "Save... save the timeline. You... only hope. Hurry." Her eyes fluttered closed and her raspy breathing turned into one last gargling exhalation and she died.

* * *

His hands were clenched tight on the arms of his chair, his fingers eating into the padding. He could feel the vein in his forehead pulsing as he tried to keep his fury under control.

"That arrogant little shit!" he growled. Ace lifted his head to look at his master, sensing the anger in the air as well as the worry that underlay it all. The dog didn't understand what was happening, but he knew it wasn't anything good.

All Bruce could think was that he'd told Terry not to go into the craft, and the boy had ignored his command. And the minute Terry had stepped into the ship, all sensory input had been cut off. The vid-feed had fizzled out, there was no audio, and Bruce was feeling helpless and old yet again, and he hated it just as much as he always had.

"Old Man, you there?" The sound of Terry's voice, seemingly fine and all right sent a jolt of relief through Bruce.

"Dammit Terry, I told you not to go in there without further scans. When I lost com with you I thought something had happened," he rasped out. He hated how worried he felt, but there really wasn't anything he could do about it.

"Sorry, boss," for a change, Terry actually sounded mildly contrite, as though he realized the kind of horrible scenarios that had been running through Bruce's head. "But it was worth it. Both pilots of the ship are dead, but before she died, the woman gave me a case, and I really think it'll help us figure out what happened to Districts Three and Twelve, and who was responsible."

"Bring it back here where I can run an analysis," Bruce ordered.

"Yes, sir, Old Man, man. Oh, whoops."

"What?"

"Looks like the PD just caught a clue. I better motor before they decide that I had something to do with this and try to haul me in. Warm up the sci-fi machines. I'll be there in a nano. Batman, out."

Keeping one eye on the bank of monitors that showed scenes of the police arriving at the wasteland that was District Twelve, five major news report shows, and the view through the Batsuit's mask, he readied an examination table and laid out the tools he thought he might need.

* * *

He'd thought he was going to end up helping Bruce take apart the metal case, but instead he was off to one of the emergency shelters that had been hurriedly set up in District Five in the building next to the Grand Cathedral. His mom was alive and she was waiting there for him.

"Mom?" he asked after he was directed to a corner of the main room where she waited.

She didn't look like his mom. It wasn't just the red and puffy eyes or the messy hair. It wasn't even the fact that her work clothes were covered in soot and were torn and wrinkly. It was the expression on her face, one that he had never seen before, one so full of loss and despair that she looked about a thousand years too old and broken in ways he couldn't name.

Her blank and staring eyes suddenly snapped into focus on his face and she was up on her feet and raising toward him. Her face practically blazed with an almost frightening joy and hope. "Terry!" She threw herself into his arms.

He had never noticed on more than an unconscious level that he had become taller than her, stronger than her. Somewhere in his head, he was always going to be her little boy and she was always going to be this giant tower of strength. Except now, hugging her tight, he could feel how bird delicate her bones were, how thin her skin had gotten. Sometime when he wasn't looking, his mother had metamorphosed from an Amazon protector-goddess figure, to this fragile creature he could seemingly crush with the strength of one hand.

"Oh Terry, I thought you were dead!" she sobbed against his neck, soaking his shirt.

"I'm okay, Mom, really. I... I got sidetracked this morning. I was heading to school but... but it hit while I was at Terminal Station." It seemed like that was all a thousand years ago and a million miles away, and not just hours past.

"At least you're okay. God, I can't believe I would ever be so glad that you decided to skip school one day and..." shudder ran through her body. "I... I..."

She pulled a little away from him and looked right into his face, her expression changing to something weird. "Terry? What... what's happening, Terry? Why..."

Her face crumpled, that was the only way to describe it. Her face just crumpled, and he could tell that his mother had slipped away to somewhere strange, somewhere where he couldn't go to save her. She was beyond his reach, and nothing he said could bring her back to him.

Terry pulled his mother close, hugging her even as she fought to get away, calling out for Matt, wanting to know where he was, what was happening, why everything was so strange. She didn't seem to understand that Terry was still there with her, holding her and never wanting to let her go.

He held Mary McGinnis tight and closed burning eyes as he leaned his cheek against the top of her head. He wanted to tell her that it was going to be all right, but he knew that was a lie. Matt was gone and he was never coming back.

But Terry was going to find whoever had killed his brother and his friends and all those countless others and that bastard was going to pay.

* * *

After leaving his mother in the care of the doctors at the shelter, Terry made his way back to Wayne Manor and the Batcave.

"What's in the box?" he demanded as he stalked toward Wayne. His hands were clenched into fists at his sides and his jaw ached from his teeth being clenched so hard for so long.

Wayne gave him a sharp look that quickly faded to understanding. He had the metal case open in front of him, its contents carefully laid out for examination. "I know how you're feeling, so I'm going to let that slide," he said, "once. Now come here and look at this."

Terry was a little ashamed, but not enough to apologize. He was still stinging inside over the scene he had just left with his mother, where she was forcibly sedated and dumped into a bed so she couldn't hurt herself. "Did whatever's in there tell you what happened?" he asked, coming up to peer over Wayne's shoulder.

"Yes," Wayne said, tinkering with what looked to be a miniature computer. "It looks like we've got a case of time travel here."

"What, like that whole Static Shock thing we did a couple months ago?" Terry placed his palms flat against the table and leaned close, trying to get a good look at what the old man was doing.

"Almost, but a little different," Wayne said. "It looks like sometime in the future an organization called the Time Cops is going to be formed to police the temporaverse. The various agents of the Time Cops are harvested from their born timelines. Once they are recruited, they are pulled out of the time streams, never to directly affect them again. Basically, once a Time Cop, always a Time Cop, because they can never fit back into normal time.

"Time Cops usually travel in pairs, and it looks like two of them were sent to our timeline to hunt an escaped madman named Chronos. He has stolen time travel technology and is now hopping from time to time, killing as he goes. He is the one that set off what is called a 'time bomb' in Districts Three and Twelve. And now it seems as though he has gone further back in time to cause more trouble."

"So he's out of our reach," Terry stated, the smoldering anger in his voice almost overwhelmed by the sense of defeat. The guy that had killed his brother and friends was seemingly out of his reach.

"Not exactly." Bruce tapped the mini-computer with his finger. "There are schematics in here to build what is called a temporal gate. It is a one-time use version because of the power source. Once the gate is operated, our timeline will be shut down to any time travel for a set period of time.

"The bombs Chronos has used are time sensitive as well. If their affects are not neutralized within eight days of their use, everyone that died will stay dead even if the bombs are stopped from ever detonating."

"Isn't that a paradox?" Terry asked.

"Yes, but that's the way the bombs work. They utilize causal affect to maintain their damage quotient. Once a time bomb goes off, if the affects aren't stopped soon enough, they can never be reversed, and the resultant paradox will cause the timeline to implode. We will cease to exist."

"Shit."

"Exactly." Wayne turned his head to look straight at Terry, his terrible old eyes filled with that spark of latent fury that had made him so frightening as the Batman. "I can build a temporal gate, Terry, but you're the one that is going to have to go back and stop Chronos."

"How will we know when he went back to?" Terry hated how childish he sounded, but talk of time travel always left him feeling awkward.

Wayne picked up what looked like a black wristwatch. He touched a stud on the side and a three inch hologram of a spinning dial shot up. The dial had a little arrow on it that went around and around faster and faster before abruptly stopping. Information flashed just behind the dial, too quick for Terry to clearly see from the angle he was standing at. "This is a tracer. It tells me that Chronos has gone back to September 13, 2005. That is when you will be going to."

* * *

Terry could have stayed at Wayne Manor for the night, but he knew his mom was going to need him, so he asked Wayne to take him back to the shelter. He would have just ridden the train, but the subway system had been shut down for all non-essential travel, and going back to his mom was considered non-essential by the dicks in charge.

When he returned to the room where he had left her, he found that the sedatives had worn off and she was awake, huddled on her cot in white-faced grief. Mary McGinnis looked about twenty years older than she had that morning and her loss hung heavy around her, like a dead thing.

Leaving Wayne in the doorway talking to her doctor, Terry hurried across the room to sit on the bed next to his mother and wrap his arms around her, trying to offer as much comfort as he could. It was hard though, because his own grief was so raw, and her pain was so bad that it just made his worse and he really didn't know how to deal.

"It's all right, I'm here," he murmured stroking her hair.

When she turned her head to look at him, he knew that it was a mistake to catch her attention. It was incredibly selfish, but he simply could not deal with the overwhelming nature of her pain, not when he was feeling almost as bad.

"Matty? Where's Matty?" her voice sounded fragile with a rising note of panic on the end. Her fingers clenched tight in the sides of his tee shirt, pulling and tugging, clawing at him, trying to force the whereabouts of her youngest son out of him. He could feel the sting and burn of skin breaking beneath the thin cotton of his shirt, knew that he was going to have bruises and scratch marks and didn't care. He had failed her and he deserved all kinds of punishment and pain.

Terry wrapped his arms tighter around his mother, trying to make himself believe that she could actually comprehend what he was saying to her. "I'm sorry... I'm sorry... It's my fault I didn't get there in time."

"Where's Matty?"

Wayne stumped over and took her arm, pulling her away before she could do more damage. He could tell that Terry wasn't going to stop her. "Why don't you scoot over a little and give Terry some more room." His eyes shot a message at the doctor--a message of calming drugs and momentary peace. As though the lack of lucidity would make this situation any less terrible.

"Don't worry, Mom," Terry said. "I'll get him back... I'll bring them all back."

Tears streamed so thickly from his eyes that he saw her as a blur of movement and color, but he knew that she was there, falling apart inside like him. All she could know was that her son was dead... little Matthew McGinnis was never coming home... not unless Batman did something about it.

Resolve tightened his lips and forced his shoulders square. He knew what had to be done. There was no room in him for the teenager he would have liked to have been. Batman was an ageless mask of vengeance and of redemption, a way of atonement for those that had sinned by loving too much and a punishment for all evil-doers.

"This is so not real," he whispered, but the sound of his own voice forced him to realize that it was. This was all terribly real--and Batman was about to set out and make it even realer.

Playtime is over, he thought. Playtime is most definitely over.

For those he had loved that had died today, he was about to change history and everything else. He would rebuild the world back the way it had been and damn the consequences. He was afraid to die, but that didn't mean he wouldn't throw himself into the maelstrom and trust to fate. Fighting was all he could do now.

.

.

CHAPTER FOUR

.

Two days after the detonation of the time bomb, Terry stood in one of the labs of Wayne Enterprises, the machine that created the temporal gate set up before him, waiting to send him back in time to change everything.

"Are you ready for this, Batman?" Wayne asked, not using his real name for the sake of those listening.

"Yes," Terry rasped.

There were several technicians fiddling around with buttons and dials, making last minute adjustments so Terry didn't end up spread out across the temporaverse as Batman roadkill.

"You have exactly one hundred and ninety-six hours to reverse the affects of the time bombs," Wayne said, looking directly into the face of Batman. "For safety's sake, I want you to work as though you actually only have seven days to get back in time, find Chronos, and subdue him with this." He held out a batarang modified with a little silver capsule on the end.

"What is that?" Batman asked.

"Time Cops use this chemical on their prisoners to reverse the affects of everything the criminal has done. It basically rips the criminal out of time. Their body is still there to be hauled in for processing, but everything that they have ever done or will do no longer has any affect on the timeline. It is as though they never existed at all."

"So if I use this on Chronos, it will be like he never set off the time bombs?"

"That is correct. There is only one capsule because that was all that was in the case and we have been unable to make more--the technology is beyond us at this time. You have one shot. Take it."

Terry took the batarang and held it carefully in his hand. This was his hope of bringing his brother and everyone else back. He tucked it in one of the pouches of his belt. He wasn't even going to load it into his batarang shooter until he was close enough to see the whites of the asshole's eyes. There was no way he was taking a chance on wasting his single shot.

"Are you ready?" a loud voice asked.

Batman nodded at Dr. Yang, one of the tech division's main people. The guy wasn't exactly the kind of person he wanted to hang around because he was annoying as hell, but he knew his job. "I'm ready."

Taking a deep breath, he approached the marked spot where the temporal gate was supposed to appear. As he braced his feet and tried to gear himself up for what was going to happen, he turned his head to look at Wayne.

"Hey, Bruce," he said, low-voiced, "you think you're going to miss me?"

A grim smile twitched the Old Man's lips, but there was a definite spark of humor in his eyes. "If you do this right, I won't even know you were ever gone."

"Yeah, but you'll still miss me." Terry wished he could give the guy a big shit-eating grin, but that kind of expression wasn't exactly share-worthy when he was wearing the Batsuit.

It was one of the effects of the temporal gate. One-time use, meant one-time use. This was a one-way trip and once he walked through that gate he was never coming home again.

But if he was lucky, he could make it so Chronos never set off the time bomb, and then none of this was ever going to happen. A version of Terry McGinnis would step blissfully into the future, completely unaware of how close his whole reality had come to being destroyed.

Of course, this Terry was going to be trapped back in time, wandering around aimlessly until he finally poppedout of existence, but hey, no plan was perfect. And Terry would gladly take his own destruction over the death of everyone and everything he had ever loved.

He had freely accepted the weight of being Batman, and there was no stepping down from the post now.

"I'm ready," he said again, his voice firm with resolve.

He reached out and grabbed Bruce Wayne's hand, squeezing it with careful strength. "Don't worry. I'm gonna make this right again."

Those might have been tears in Wayne's eyes, but Terry couldn't be completely sure. "I know you will. I know you won't let me down. In the short time that I've known you, Terry, you have become a man to be proud of, and I am proud of you."

Terry nodded his head once, then gently pushed the man away. "You probably don't want to stand too close. It won't do any good if you get sucked in too." He turned to Yang. "Hit it, man. I'm ready to visit the good ol' days of Gotham."

"Good luck, Batman," Terence Yang said, then hit the start sequence.

Terry's stomach tried to drop to his knees when the swirling vortex opened in front of him, but he didn't pause one second. He stepped through, leaving the only world he had ever known behind.

* * *

Watching Terry disappear into the gate, Bruce felt a heavy weight descending on his heart.

Over the years he had lost everyone that he loved, and now it felt like he had lost one more. And even if time somehow managed to reset itself so that none of these events had ever taken place, he was sure that on some level he would still remember the brave sacrifice that boy had been willing to make.

"All right, set up the monitoring stations," he barked turning away from where the gate had been. He firmed his shoulders and drove all thoughts of past and present grief out of his mind. "If this actually works, we want to be able to communicate with him so we can help him find Chronos."

There was a job to do here, and while Terry did his part on the other side of the time stream, Bruce Wayne would be keeping an eye out here.

* * *

Traveling through time was definitely like nothing he had expected. It was a bit like being shoved headfirst into a washing machine that was already running. First there was the nearly drowning factor as he was completely swallowed up by the weird flashing lights and heavy weight of color that was on the other side of the gate. Then there was the sense that he was being at the same time smashed flat and expanded past all endurance. It was definitely not the kind of experience that he wanted to enjoy more than once. In fact, he really didn't want to go through it this first time, but it was already too late to back out now.

Closing his eyes tight and clenching his teeth, he forced himself to endure the agony and ecstasies of time travel, promising himself that this was one memory he was definitely going to suppress once he reached the other side.

With his stomach roiling sickeningly and his entire body feeling like it was being forcibly turned inside out, Terry McGinnis traveled back in time over forty years.

* * *

"Watch your six!" Robin yelled, flipping over the head of one of the robot sentinels before slamming the electrified tip of his staff against its spinal node, effectively crippling it.

"Thanks!" Batgirl called as she rolled out of the way of the goliath coming up behind her. One of Robin's spare staffs fit easily in her hands as she used it to mash one of the mini-robots out of the way as she moved in to take on the big boy.

Batman was holding his own with his usual fierce competence, batarangs shooting out every which way to sent electrical charges through his targets, while his feet and fists were always busy. He was a well of darkness under the bright lights, destroying as many of the robots as he could, but even he knew that this situation was headed quickly toward hopelessness. There were just too many sentinels for the three of them to take out. They were going to be overwhelmed by numbers pretty soon.

Rampaging robots being controlled by the central processing unit, Haley, overran the Crowne Robotics factory. Most of them were worker 'bots, their chassis built for hard labor, but about sixteen of them were combat 'droids that had been built for the military. Hundreds of robots, out of control and looking to destroy what Haley termed "soft life."

Sometimes Batman felt as though he was trapped in some kind of science-fiction nightmare. He had been born in a simpler time, but technology had moved at such a pace that there was no way even he could keep up with it. Sure, he used all the new gadgets that cropped up, he even designed some of his own, but on some level he felt oddly removed from it all, as though none of it was real.

"Ooh, Alfred's gonna be pissed when he has to fix this," Robin growled, his staff whipping out in a lightning-quick blow that removed the offending robot's head with a shatter of sparks. His cape was torn and stained with black splotches.

"This is no good, Batman," Batgirl said, hitting another robot. "There's just too many of them. There's no way we're going to be able to stop them all."

"I know," Batman growled. "It looks like we're going to have to retreat and try another approach."

"I do not think so," the dulcet tones of Haley's voice rang through the entire factory. "You soft life have attempted to deactivate my core processors. You will not be allowed a second opportunity. You will be terminated."

"That's not good," Robin murmured, backing up until he was only a few feet away from Batman. He could feel Batgirl moving in closer too, the three of them forming a weak circle.

Robots were closing around them at all sides, hundreds of them packing in until there was no room for escape. Too many robots for them to ever fight and win, because while they were human and would grow tired and make mistakes, the robots were built to last.

.

It all happened in a blur of flying fists, boots, staffs, and batarangs. The three crime fighters taking out as many robots as they could before they were overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

Batman was just about to send Robin and Batgirl away to safety and try to hold off the robots alone, when he felt it. A vibration under his feet that quickly moved up his entire body and left his skin twitching and his teeth tingling unpleasantly.

"What... what was that?" Robin grunted. Sweat streamed from the exposed portions of his face and his muscles were trembling as he fought to the point of exhaustion. He was only a teenager, his body not even to its adult growth, and he had pushed himself past all endurance, but refused still to stop.

"I don't..." Batman was cut off by the shrill shriek of wind and the crack of electricity as a portal snapped open just over their heads. A lithe figure outlined in black flung itself out of the breech.

"Woah, what's up with this?" a voice demanded as the figure defied the affects of gravity on the human body to spin in mid-air and land in front of them, facing the approaching army of robots. "I come all this way to fight a bunch of robo-goons? How lame is that?"

"Who are you?" Batman demanded.

The head turned to one side, but the figure didn't even bother facing him directly. "No time now, Bats," the cocky voice said, then the man--definitely male from the shape--threw himself forward at the robots.

"Either that guy's a metahuman, or he's got some kind of cybernetic enhancements," Batgirl said. She leaned her back against Batman, using him to prop herself up as she gasped for air, trying to catch her breath. He could feel her trembling against him and knew that she was going to collapse once the adrenaline wore off.

"You think he's like Cyborg under that outfit?" Robin asked, crouching down in his spot, his staff held ready in front of him while he caught as much rest as he could.

"Maybe," Batman growled, his eyes tracking the graceful figure of destruction even as he held himself ready for attack from the robots. But none of them got close. If even one robot made a move to approach the three members of the Bat-family, the figure in black took it out.

Using just his bare hands, the man was crushing robots left and right. And when the combat 'droids finally made their approach, he didn't even hesitate, just threw himself at them with furious strength and the crunch of metal beneath his fists and feet.

Assessing the guy's moves, Batman saw several flaws in his fighting style, but they were mostly minor ones, easily compensated for by his obvious superhuman strength. It was those flaws that led Batman to believe that it was a young man they were dealing with, one that only needed a few more years of experience before becoming someone even he would be hard-pressed to face.

Watching the guy twist the head off one of the combat 'droids, Batman hoped they weren't going to be facing him as a new enemy. He would really hate to have to call in Superman to handle his problems here. It was always so humiliating.

Finally all the robots were relegated to nothing more than scrap, and the voice of Haley was screaming at them over the speakers, angry that its army of robot minions had been destroyed.

"Is there anyway to shut that thing up?" the guy demanded, turning so Batman could see him fully for the first time.

A runner's build covered head to toe in black material, the only color a bit of red at the belt and a stylized winged shape on the chest that might have been a bat.

"Crap, looks like we've got another wannabe," Robin muttered. "At least this one can fight."

"You know, Rob, I'm not deaf," the guy said, then turned to Batman. "What do I need to do to deactivate that completely annoying voice?"

Batman pointed toward the column at the middle of the room. "That's where the core CPU is housed. If we take that out, then the Haley will be deactivated."

"Schway." Turning with lightning grace, the guy flung out one arm and a black and red blur shot out and away, embedding itself in the side of the column with a flare of electricity. There was an electronic scream, then Haley's voice abruptly cut out. "There, no more twick voice banging out our ears."

"That's so cool!" Robin sounded as though the words had been dragged out of him.

"And who do you think you are?" Batman asked.

* * *

The opening was too good to miss. He'd popped out of the gate into what ended up being a pitched battle between Batman and a bunch of primitive 'bots, definitely not what he had expected to find in the past. He had a feeling that Wayne had planned for him to show up here so he could take out some of the guy's old enemies and right what had probably been a galling defeat.

Terry grinned behind his mask. The thought of pulling the Old Man's chain was just too much of an opportunity to miss, especially when he knew he'd been used.

"I'm Batman."

.

.

CHAPTER FIVE

.

"I saved your butt, real, shway."

After his surprising announcement, it shouldn't have seemed so strange when the young man walked around him, examining him from all angles.

"Do you mind?" Batman asked.

"Not really," the cocky voice said. The man leaned in close and raised a hand as though to poke Batman's chest, but fortunately for himself, refrained at the last minute, dropping his arm. "I really can't believe I'm seeing you like this in the flesh. It's kind of weird. Kind of frosty-fresh, but definitely high on the weirdo-meter. And just look at you... You really were the scary muscle-boy back in the day, weren't you? I mean, you're still pretty buff for an old guy, but right now... yikes. Don't know if I want to face you in a fair--or unfair--fight."

"Who are you?" Batman demanded.

"Like I told you," the guy said. "I'm Batman."

"Talk about mass delusions," Robin muttered to Batgirl. She nodded agreement.

"Come on, guys," the Batman-wannabe laughed, "this will totally make sense when I give you the rundown."

"And that is?" Batman asked.

The guy looked around. "Um, not here. This place is a little too open, and the creep-factor of a thousand dead robots? Not of the feel-good, comprehension achieved?"

"Fine," Batman growled. "We're done here anyway. Come on."

Once they were outside, Batman shot a grapple into a nearby warehouse and flew upwards to land soundlessly on the roof. He heard Robin and Batgirl following after him, and it was only when they were all together on the roof that he thought about the fact that the man had no way to reach the roof.

He turned to look back over the edge when there was a PUFFT! and the man landed in front of him with a scuff of loosened gravel. "Wow," the guy said, staring down at his feet. "It's actually pretty weird to be here. I mean, even if you kind of know what to expect, its still kind of surreal to experience it first hand. And it's always the little things, like tar and gravel on a roof, that make you blink."

"How did you get up here like that?" Robin asked, examining the guy closely. "Are you a metahuman? Can you fly?"

The guy laughed a little. "Sorry, I totally forgot what that might look like to you." He lifted one foot a little off the ground. "I've got thrusters in my boots. Along with the mini-flappy wings, it makes it so I can do the whole lift and bounce thing. Being able to glide through the air is a real help when you're taking down the bad guys."

"That's why we use grapples," Batgirl said.

"Yeah, that's real frosty, but buildings of the future are all of the no-stick, slick variety. If I tried to use one of those artifacts, there wouldn't be anything for it to grab onto, so that's a no-go. Besides, thrusters? Way cooler than bent metal."

"So you're from the future?" Batman said.

The guy nodded. "Yeah. I..." He stopped and shook his head. "This is so totally weird, but I think it's better if you get a good honest look at me." With that, he reached up and pulled off the mask.

* * *

It was kind of strange standing there in the Batsuit with his face completely bared, but at least he didn't have to worry about anyone catching a glimpse and going after his mom and Matt. A twinge of pain went through him at the thought of Matt, but he wasn't going to let it overpower him. He had a job to do.

Putting on a determinedly cheerful expression, he lifted his chin a little so they could all get a clear look at him.

"My name is Terry, Terry McGinnis, and I am Batman."

"You're just a kid! You can't be Batman--you're my age!" Tim's voice squeaked embarrassingly.

Terry grinned and punched him on the shoulder. "Well, hey, hey, Tim Drake, long time no see."

"What are you talking about?" Tim demanded.

"Last time I saw you, you were a fifty-something year old communications engineer." He glanced at Batman out of the corner of his eye. "That was when I completely apexed the Joker. Even the Old Man," he jerked a thumb at Wayne, "was stunned to tears by the wackiness of my tactics as I took down the legend with a surplus of ease. I think he was actually jealous, considering all the trouble he had dealing with the Great Green One."

"Who are you?" Batman growled. "Who are you really, and why are you here?"

Terry fisted his hands on his hips and let one half of his mouth rise in a smile. "Come on, I already revealed the stunningness of my identity. My name is Terry McGinnis. I am Batman. You gave me the post yourself--after I stole the suit, beat up some bad guys, and set myself up against that glowing freak Blight. And you're the one that sent me here to warn you and save the day. We Batmans never get any peace. It's almost enough to make you cry... especially when my mom looks at my report disk. She's gonna flip when she finds out I'm gone. I'm probably gonna be landed and grounded for the next long while. It's a complete suckfest. But hey, I always do what you say, so here I am to help you out of yet another Bat-fix.

"Really though, having seen what you have to face, I have to say that you completely have it easy in the way of enemies. You're not exactly facing down the technical elite, and you only have one Joker to deal with. I mean, the Jokerz may be a bit of a... well, a joke, but there's tons of them wandering all over the place dishing out the damage. You've seriously got the luck of the trade. And you're super rich, so you can buy whatever tech pops up on the market before anyone else gets a handle on it. I'm tellin' you Wayne, you're one lucky Bat. I've got to deal with the uberpowered freaks like radioactive Blight, the Jokerz, Mad Stan, and real weirdos like Inque, not to mention having to clean up some of the messes you left behind, like the guys gretching off Bane's junk, Mr. Freeze and some of the rest. It's enough to make me wish I could switch with you. I could use an easy break."

"Terry!" He twitched.

"Old Man?" he asked aloud, looking around. "Wayne, is that you?"

"Who's he talking to?" Tim asked Batman quietly.

"Of course it's me, who else did you think it was?"

"How are you doing this? I didn't think the temporal variance waves would allow you to reach all the way back to now."

"I managed to correlate the flux patterns of the portal generators to your suit, so I am able to send radio waves to you. It took me awhile to key into the suit, and I don't know for how long it's going to be possible, but for now I'm able to speak with you. Now, put me on external suit speaker so the others can hear me."

"But... but I'm not wearing the cowl. You're talking right into my head. How are you able to do this? What's happening?" Terry touched his head, still feeling that voice resounding inside his skull.

He reached out toward the mask, but before he could even touch it, he felt something click in his head. There was a crackle and the external speakers activated by themselves.

"Terry? Terry? What's going on? Run a diagnostic and send me a report,immediately. Dammit Terry, don't block me out, you know I can't get a visual from where you are. What's happening?"

"Stop yelling and help me deal with what's going on! How are you talking in my head? What's happened to me?" Terry raked a hand through his hair. "That time travel crap--what could it have done to me? I'm not going to change into some floppy fish or something, am I? What other little fun facts have you been hiding?"

"Calm down, McGinnis. I'm calling up the data now." There was the clicking sound of the Old Man working his computer. "All right, I've got it here in front of me. Let's see... hm, there shouldn't be any adverse physical effects, but... it looks like the possibility existed that you would end up merging with whatever was closest to you, and since you were wearing the Batsuit..."

"Merging with the Batsuit? Are you completely whacked out of your head? Something like this could happen and you didn't say anything?" Terry huffed out a breath. "It looks like I'm able to interact with the suit even when it's off, but things could have been way worse. I could have ended up some mutant freak, half-human, half-suit. No way that would have been Poppin' fresh."

"You knew there were risks involved with time travel. You volunteered for the job anyway. I'm sorry if you're scared, but..."

Terry waved his hand in the air. "Yeah, yeah, whatever. I can deal, as long as we get the job done and clean things up right. Now that we've settled that, I've got your past-self here. Talk to the man before he decides to ice me. You never were all that comfortable with people knowing your secret identity. So go."

"Hello Bruce," the Old Man rasped. "I would have come back myself, but temporal paradoxes are not things to be played with. I know Terry's a bit... young, but he is Batman, our successor."

Batman looked at Terry. "What kind of trick is this? Who sent you, really?"

"You did, forty-three years in the future. We've got a new baddie to face, and he's a definite weirdie. He hotfooted it back in time, and that's why you sent me. I'm here to help clean up the mess and make sure Chronos doesn't screw up the future. My world is at stake, and I'm not going to let anything stand in the way of saving it."

"Terry, you don't need to..."

"Dammit, Bruce, I'm here for a purpose, and we need help. Deal him the truth and don't dishrag it," Terry growled, sounding a lot like he did when he was in the suit. His usual nice guy voice was taking on a definite sinister cast. He didn't know whether to be creeped out about that or to think it was cool.

"Terry, you're sounding a bit... strange," Wayne said. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Terry said, forcing his voice to sound normal. "Just tell him what he needs to know to get him to help me. I want Chronos. I want him bad."

"What did this Chronos guy do?" Tim asked.

Terry clenched his hands into fists at his side to maintain his control. "He killed my little brother, all of my friends, and about two hundred and fifty thousand other people. And to top it all off, if we don't stop him here and keep him from ever doing it, billions of other people are going to blip out of existence as though they had never been."

* * *

"No way," Tim said. "That didn't happen."

Terry looked at him out of eyes that burned nearly black with remembered grief. "I was there just a little while ago, man. The damage was of a truly epic scale. Practically everyone I know is dead. This is not a game we're playing here. This is the real deal.

"And I'm going to get Chronos whether you help me or not."

Tim stared at the other boy, feeling surprised by how intense he was.

On first appearance, Terry McGinnis looked like the kind of cocky young guy that got a mad little thrill out of diving head first into danger. But the look on his face when he talked about Chronos... It made Tim believe that he might really be Batman in some future version of reality.

"You're going to have to calm down now," that oddly familiar voice said. "Chronos will be brought to justice, but it's not going to happen if you lose control of yourself."

"Don't tell me what to think," Terry growled. "If he decides to turn himself in peacefully, well that's the way we're going to go. But if he goes for the trouble giving... well, that's something else." And there was something dark in his face, frightening.

Terry could very easily have been classed as just another pretty boy, from his lean body and sharply-defined good looks. But there was a depth to him that shone through the easy-going exterior when he was being Batman.

In just the short while that Tim had observed him, he had seen the guy go through several different mood swings and it was a little concerning. This was a guy that was wearing a Batsuit

 

 

Chapter Text

"Do you see what I see?" Harper whispered, a quaver of disbelief in his voice.

"What?" Beka asked, turning away from a fist sized metal ball with some amazing properties to see where he was surreptitiously pointing. Her eyes went wide and her hand fell to her holstered gun. "Shit!"

They were at the Ashanda Asunde Market, a large open bazaar that spanned a whole station built simply for the purpose of rampant consumerism. They were supposed to be picking up supplies, but Harper had quickly talked Beka into wandering off with him on a "reconnaissance expedition," which largely translated as a chance for them to goof off and look at things that definitely weren't on their supply list. Dylan and Rommie were at the weapons table checking out the new tools of destruction, so it wasn't like they could complain too much about Harper and Beka's lack of attention to the list.

This was supposed to be a relaxing day spent browsing the bazaar and stocking up on consumables. Suddenly, though, everything felt very different.

Dressed in a loose white robe and with an ornate gold collar around his neck, Gabriel, the avatar for the destroyed Balance of Judgement, was bent over a table of rare jewelry. He hadn't seen them yet, but Harper was sure that if he did he would quickly get violent. Harper could still remember that hand around his throat, lifting him off his feet while that smooth as silk voice threatened him with extinction. That was one more day when the Harper line had almost come to a dead stop.

Sure, the original Gabriel had been a nice guy... android, but that didn't excuse the fact that he was the avatar of an insane AI. His destruction had been a tragedy, but it had had to happen for the good of everyone. No one wanted to have to deal with an AI with a hard on for the mass murder of everyone.

"I thought he got scrapped?" Beka said/asked.

Harper shrugged. "Yeah, but there he is. How's the question, but that's gonna have to wait for later. I'm thinking now is a good time for us to mosey on somewhere else before he sees us and decides to get medieval on our asses."

"Good idea. Dylan will want to know about this," Beka said. "Captain Terrific can handle the powerful android while you and I stand on the sidelines cheering. Nothing really permanently bad ever happens to him scar wise."

"Yeah, we're more likely to get the shaft than Dylan. Let's go." Harper grabbed her arm and started pulling her away.

Seeming to sense the strangeness to the side of him, Gabriel looked up. His eyes locked right on Harper and a small smile tugged at his lips, but there didn't seem to be any recognition in his gaze. He nodded his head pleasantly, then went back to looking at the jewelry.

"Did you see that?" Harper asked. "Last time we ran into ol' Gabe, he was looking to do some serious damage to yours truly. This time... he didn't even seem to know who I am."

Beka shook her head. "This is definitely weird. Let's go, now."

They hurried back to where they had left Dylan and Rommie. It was a relief to find them still there, if a few stalls down the row. The two were still examining the weapons, Rommie waving a thousand plus pound cannon around like it was nothing.

"Dylan, you'll never guess who we saw," Harper called.

"Who?" Dylan asked absentmindedly, still focused on the sales pitch displayed on the screen. The more than half-naked woman in the recording probably had nothing to do with his fascination.

"Gabriel's here," Beka said. "You remember Gabriel, don't you? Avatar of the Balance of Judgement? Robot-guy that tried to kill Harper and who took over Rommie?"

Rommie's head snapped up. "What?" There was something almost like pain in her voice, but it was hard to tell. Harper knew she was hurting though, but that was only because he had put together her android body. Sometimes he regretted not giving her the ability to cry.

"Don't joke about that kind of thing, Beka," Dylan said, looking at her. "That's still a... sore subject."

"Yes, but it's also a current subject, since we just saw Gabriel browsing over in the apparel section. He was checking out the jewelry, if you wanted to know."

"Gabriel's dead," Rommie said decisively. "You must have mistakenly identified someone else."

"Nope, sorry," Harper said. "I got a close up look at Gabriel, and if that's not him... then he's got a twin no one knew anything about. A twin that likes funky jewelry and weird clothes."

"It was him, Dylan," Beka said. She gave Rommie a commiserating look. "Sorry Rommie."

Rommie shook her head. "If it was him, then it was him, and we have to find out what he's doing here and what he's after."

Dylan patted her on the shoulder. "We don't really know what's going on. Let's find out, people."

"Hoo-ha!" Harper barked with a cheeky grin that barely hid his nervousness. Last time he ran into Gabriel, or rather the Balance of Judgement in a Gabriel-shaped android body, he had almost killed Harper. It wasn't the kind of thing the engineer was likely to forget. He had a well honed survival instinct.

Together they strolled off toward where Beka and Harper had last seen Gabriel.

"I don't see him," Dylan said, looking around. "Are you sure he's here?"

"He was," Harper said, his head moving back and forth.

"There!" Rommie cried, pointing. She stalked off through the crowd, gently pushing aside anyone that got in her way. The others chased after her.

"What are we going to do?" Harper asked.

"What needs to be done," Rommie said, her voice sounding grim.

Harper looked at Dylan, wanting some kind of reassurance, but the Captain's face was coldly expressionless. He didn't like it that someone had jerked Rommie around like Gabriel had, even if it was another android.

Gabriel was turned away when Rommie grabbed his shoulder and spun him around, her fist driving forward hard into his chest. There was a surprising CRACK! followed by a wet splatter.

"Oh my God, Rommie, what did you just do?" Harper gasped, horrified, staring at her blood covered fist.

Rommie's head came up and she looked at them all with wide eyes. "He's not an android. I... I killed him and he's not an android."

 

***

 

Coming back was always a painful transition, the shocking shift from life to death back to life. He had never gotten used to it, no matter how long he'd lived.

He heard his own loud gasp as his body jerked and his eyes popped open. "Ow," he moaned, pulling himself to a sitting position so he could look around.

He was sitting on a table in what looked to be a medlab. The lights were set to the half-light standard that usually meant "night" in ship time. He was grateful to be alone.

What happened? he thought. He didn't remember dying, just a flash of pain and the face of a beautiful woman.

"Huh," he said, swinging his legs over the side of the table and standing up. He gripped the edge tightly for a moment as his knees threatened to buckle, then sighed and let go as his balance reasserted itself.

He had no idea where he was, but after living over eight thousand years he was getting rather used to waking up in strange places under strange circumstances. At least he had the luxury of knowing that his curiosity was still as fire-bright as it had always been; he hadn't become as burnt out as a lot of old Immortals did.

Some days he woke up with a feeling of awe that he had managed to survive the Game long enough for it to end. His rather inept handling of a sword had pretty much assured that he was going to find himself without a head. He had been lucky enough, though, to have become Immortal only a few short decades before the "Gathering," and when the Prize was discovered to be a hoax... well, with the Game ended, he had been saved.

Now he was on a starship, though he didn't quite know what kind or who it belonged to.

I wonder where I am, he thought.

To cover his nakedness, he dug through several drawers and cabinets until he found a pair of loose drawstring pants and a too-large shirt. There were no underclothes or socks, and he could only think fondly of shoes, but he was happy just to not have his private parts flopping in the wind. That was a kind of attention he just didn't need.

Once dressed, he walked over to the door and tried to open it. He wasn't too surprised when the hatch slid open easily. People rarely bothered to waste security measures on dead bodies. It was something that he very much appreciated right now.

Idly, he wondered if the ship had left station. If he had been really lucky, they would still be docked and he could just walk right off.

But from the subliminal hum of the deckplates beneath his barefeet, he knew he wasn't that lucky, not this time.

Skulking down the corridor, keeping an eye out to avoid detection, he had to wonder why someone had killed him then taken the time to steal his body. It made him worry that someone had found out about Immortals again and he was looking forward to another very unpleasant situation.

But if they had known he was Immortal, then surely they wouldn't have left him to revive unattended. Or at least they would have strapped him down so he couldn't try this escape he was contemplating.

 

 

 ---------------------

Daniel is an Immortal.

the Balance of Judgement (?) or whatever warship's AI's appearance was based on him, since he helped with the project.

when the Andromeda runs across someone that looks exactly like Gabriel, the Balance of Judgement's avatar/AI, they think at first that he's an android or something. They are surprised to find out that he's a living human being.

Chapter Text

Jesse called me about two months ago, trying to arrange our "annual" get together. He does it about every ten years, just picks up the phone and tells me to come to wherever he is, that or he at least tries to get me to meet him somewhere in between where he's at and I am. It's gotten to the point where I don't even complain anymore, I just pack up a bag and hop a bus.

He thinks it's funny that I don't have a car or a motorcycle like him, that I just putter across the countryside using public transport. But like I've told him before, it's hard enough trying to stay off the government's radar without putting my name into the system by getting a license. Besides, I'm pretty indestructible. It's not like a ride on the bus is gonna kill me. Though sometimes I wish it would.

I promised to meet him in L.A. on the twenty-second, but I didn't have anything holding me down where I was at, so here I am a week early. I figure the extra time will give me a chance to look around, poke out some kind of fun or something.

So of course the first place I go off the bus is a seedy bar. I needed a drink.

.

Sitting right at the bar, I can't help but to notice that some of the patrons of this place are a little... weird. It was hard to catch even a little glimpse of the ones tucked away in the darkest corners, but the ones right out in the light just had something about them that was a bit off.

"What'll you have?"

I twitched and looked at the bartender. He was giving me the hairy eyeball and the creeps. "Whiskey sour."

He sniffed derisively and turned away.

The part of me that was always ready to pick a fight wanted to pound his head into a ball of mush, but I held myself back. There was no point in getting myself run out of town before I even got to see Jesse. He would be pissed if he showed up and I was already gone. There was no point in causing trouble--and that kid could really whine.

Thinking about my little brother, I couldn't help the slight prick of hurt I felt somewhere in the vicinity of my heart. He was off trying to meet his ladylove, his darling Winnie that he'd spent the last century talking about and pining over, imagining that young love was supposed to last forever.

I know it's kind of mean, but I don't have much hope that Winnie's gonna be there waiting for him. Call me pessimistic, but I saw the look on her face when she heard about our whole living forever thing, and I really doubt she's still there waiting for Jesse to come sweep her off her feet. I imagine the faint dew of youth is long since off her cheek and she's suffering from the withered crone effect. There's no way in hell she's bothered to wait eighty years for him to come back for her, though I almost wish she had.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a little bitter over my own past experiences with love, none of which have ended anything even approaching well. Still, experience is burning its way through me and I'm not the same twenty year old boy I was when I first drank from the spring.

I'd really and truly loved about a handful of women, but after a couple of decades none of them had been able to handle the whole idea of me not getting any older. And sure, love is a powerful emotion, but I know for a fact that it doesn't ever really last. People just grow old and die before it all has a chance to fall apart.

Take my Ma and Tuck. They've been together damned dear forever, and sure, they've got a fondness for each other, but it's pretty obvious the sweaty-love has faded. They're close companions and sometimes friends, but even though they're open with the fact that they're married, the love they've got left is barely enough to fill a thimble. It's just that they've been together so long that they don't know anything else and aren't brave enough to get out and find something better.

Not that I want my parents to break up or anything. It's just hard to watch as the feelings they once had for each other fade away a little more each year. I love them both so much and I want them to be happy, but they're not. They're maybe sometimes content with what they have, but that's pretty much it.

The bartender clunked my drink down in front of me, ignoring how some of it sloshed over the edge of the glass. I could practically smell the hiss and burn of the alcohol.

I reached into my pocket and passed over a ten dollar bill. "Thank you." It's always important to be polite.

Jesse may think I'm the next thing to the Grinch, but just because I don't buy a bunch of useless junk doesn't mean I don't have any money. I'm just really careful with it, except for when I'm in a bar or a restaurant. I figure a healthy tip pretty much guarantees a lack of spit in my drinks or food and it's money well spent.

I sipped my whiskey and hunched my shoulders a little to get into the good barstool slouch position. My elbows automatically propped themselves on the polished wood and my toes hooked on the rungs of my stool. I was completely comfortable sitting like this and in being in dank little holes like this one.

I'm not too proud to admit that I've spent quite a few years of my extremely long life in places sunlight had never reached. Dirty bars and no-tell motels were a pretty regular feature of my existence.

I think it's my proclivity for hanging out in dumps that finally had Jesse going off on his own. He'd been with me for a couple of years, but finally it all just got to be too much for him and he went off to have adventures of his own.

He's become a bit of a party boy over the years, bouncing from disco to pop to alternative music. He was as comfortable shuffling on a neon checkered dance floor as he was slamming into strangers in a mosh pit. And he'd done drugs I'd never even heard of, putting things up his nose and in his arm with a complete lack of fear because he knew it wasn't going to kill him.

The last time I'd seen him, Jesse had cut his hair short and worn it in black-tipped spikes. He'd been dressed in black leather pants, a black tee shirt with the sleeves torn off, and black engineers boots. His arms had rattled with the weight of enough metal that he'd never be able to get through a metal detector without a strip search. There was a studded dog collar around his neck and he'd been wearing black lipstick and eyeliner that made him look like a raccoon.

From what he'd said when he called me, he'd dropped the whole goth-punk look for a clean-cut image. He said he'd started growing his hair back out again for when he rehooked up with Winnie. He didn't want to scare her with how much he'd changed.

Personally, I think he's only fooling himself. Winnie's not waiting, and if she is, she's not going to be the same sweet girl he left behind so long ago. Eighty years will do a lot to a person, even if they never change.

If he was going to go back for her, he should have done it long ago. He gave her way too long to think, and I'm pretty sure he's going to be disappointed. Love never really lasts forever.

.

.

CHAPTER ONE

.

"Come on Cordy, where is it? Where is it?"

"Geez, have a little patience. You're going to make your face all wrinkly, which is so something you don't need, especially not in your all 'grr' face."

Angel clenched the phone a little tighter in his hand and felt his lips curl unhappily. He hadn't wanted to leave Connor, but Cordelia had had a vision and he had a job to do, never mind that he was still in the new-father camp and didn't want to leave his son for even a moment.

He'd been out on a diaper run when Cordelia had called. Now he was at a red-lighted intersection waiting impatiently for her to tell him who he was supposed to save.

"All right, here goes," she said. "Um, it's a demon bar called the Black Horse. I'm looking up the address right now. There's a young guy in there, about twenty-something, and he's going to be attacked by a bunch of vampires. I saw him sitting at the bar and them circling around him about to attack. You're gonna have to hurry."

"Don't bother looking up the address, I know where the Horse is. I'll be back soon." He hesitated for a second, biting his lip, then hurriedly said, "Make sure to sing Connor a song and don't forget Mr. Boo." Click, he hung up.

Being a parent was more fulfilling than he had ever thought it would be, but it was also a bit more embarrassing than he had been prepared for. He didn't mind seeming like an overprotective geek, but even he knew enough to feel a little uncomfortable. Still, Connor was the most important thing in his life and he wasn't going to relax his vigilance over his son, not even if it made him seem like an asshole.

The light changed and he sped out, glad of the lack of traffic. It meant he didn't have to think about how completely neurotic he was becoming. It was just that a little life depended on him for everything, and he didn't want to let Connor down.

.

The Black Horse was a real dive, looking more like someone's filthy basement than anywhere a person would want to drink. Angel had to wonder why a normal human would want to come here, but he knew that people were always doing dumb things without a reason. Like here he was trying to save the life of yet one more person that probably didn't even want to be saved.

He pushed the door open and sauntered into the place, putting out so many vampire "vibes" that none of the local demons would bother him. It was obvious that he was a Master, dominant to pretty much anything that wanted to come after him, and even if he couldn't take the next monster that wanted him, he would go down fighting. No one wanted to mess with him, not smelling the way he did, of danger and soul. He would not back down, and a Master vampire that won't give in is a vampire that will kill any threat or die trying.

Angel flared his nostrils, scenting the vaguely putrid air, while at the same time scanning the place with his eyes. The sound of a human heartbeat pounded out its siren's song and his attention was drawn to a figure hunched at the bar. The only human in a place filled with demons and other things.

Angel shot the bartender a flat-eyed look, a silent warning the Qrual demon didn't even need to take out its third eye to recognize. The bartender nodded at him and grabbed up his filthy rag and came out from behind the bar to wipe down the tables, carefully not looking directly at the vampire.

There was always a grim sense of satisfaction in scaring the locals. A remnant of Angelus perhaps, delighting in being the meanest, toughest bastard around. The whole having a soul thing didn't exactly tamp down his delight in being a badass. It just made him better at hiding it.

He crossed the room to sit next to the man at the bar. Glanced at him out of the corner of his eye and found his attention caught despite himself, his throat going a little tight.

The man was young, though he had one of those faces that was hard to put an age to. When he was sixteen he probably looked to be in his twenties, and when he was forty, he would still look twenty. No matter how old he got, people were always going to be misreading his age, thinking him older or younger than he really was. But that didn't mean he would just disappear into a crowd, oh no.

He was attractive with dark brown hair and lightly tanned skin, every bit of his body screaming good health. He should have been just another brainless pretty boy, but the sullen quirk of his eyebrows and the vaguely sneering twist of his lips told another story, hinted at a temper barely held in check. Looking closer though, his eyes were filled with a silent pain that told of a past that wasn't exactly perfect joy. His life hadn't gone exactly the way he wanted it to, and maybe he was a bit bitter about it, but that only added spice to his beauty.

If he had still been Angelus, Angel knew that he would have wanted to possess this man. To either warp that beauty into his own toy, or crush it so no one else could ever have it. There was nothing like the delight of destroying something precious.

But he wasn't Angelus. He was here to save this man, to take him out of the darkness and knock him back into the light. There was something almost regretful about that.

* * *

"I'm Angel."

Miles glanced at the man that had sat down almost too close next to him. "What?"

The guy smiled a little, being friendly, though it was obvious he was bad at it. "My name is Angel."

"And I care why?" Miles' voice came out dry, a little raspy. He lifted his whiskey and swallowed the last of it, then glanced around for the bartender, but the guy had disappeared somewhere. He pushed his glass a little away from him, hinting for a refill.

"Why'd you come into a place like this?" Angel asked.

Miles rolled his eyes. "Thirsty. I came in here for a drink, not a date, so back off."

It was kind of funny how flustered the guy got. "What? No, no, I'm not trying to pick you up." He waved his hands around, almost hitting Miles on the arm. "I'm... I'm here to save you. That's what I do. Save people, you know. Hero stuff for hire."

"I don't need saving," Miles said, giving the guy a hard look. "If you're trying to convert me, I'm not interested, and if you're serious about the superhero thing, if you voluntarily sign in you won't have so much trouble in the psych-ward. Why don't you go get yourself some help, Superman?"

"You don't understand, really. My secretary--Cordelia--she has Visions, and she Saw you being attacked by v... a gang. I'm here to protect you."

"Man, you seriously need to have your brain examined. Go bother someone else, I don't need the trouble now. Once I finish my next drink, I'm out of here and you can try and save whoever comes in next." He purposely turned so his back was a little to the guy. He really didn't need this shit now. He was already in kind of a dark place in his head. There was no way he was going to let some crazy take a smack at fucking his head up even more.

There was already too much crap in his brain. He could tell that he was too close to the breaking point, when he would go on some rampage and people were going to get hurt. He didn't need to be bothered by some jerk with a hero-complex that couldn't take no for an answer.

Miles' attention was caught when the door opened and a crowd of raucous people tumbled in, talking loudly and hitting each other with smacks of leather and flesh. He didn't turn around, but he hunched his shoulders more. Years of fighting had taught him when trouble was coming at his back, and even if it couldn't kill him, there were ways for him to feel the pain.

"Hey, what's the blood-bag doing in here? Did somebody order takeout?" Laugh, laugh.

"He's not paying any attention to us, just showin' off that tasty neck. Think he wants it?"

"Oh yeah, and I wanna give it to him." Laugh, laugh.

A hand fell on Miles' shoulder and spun him around to look into five leering faces. "Hey, blood-bag, thanks for coming onto our turf. We were feeling kind of hungry," the obvious leader said.

Miles held his hands palm out at about chest height. "Look, I don't want any trouble. Why don't you go bother somebody else?"

The man's face twisted a little in what was supposed to be thought, then he shook his head. "Nope, don't think so. Just smelling you has gotten me all hungry, and I want to eat." His face suddenly morphed into a hideous visage, all yellow eyes and ridged forehead, like a badly made up Klingon.

"Dammit, vampires?" Miles turned his head to look at Angel. "Why the hell didn't you tell me it was a bunch of vampires? I probably would have listened to you then."

Angel looked surprised. "You know about vampires?"

"Duh. If you get around as much as I have you pretty much see a bit of everything." He glared at the vampires in front of him. "You really don't want to do this."

"Oh, but I think we do," the leader said, lunging forward with his teeth bared.

His face smoothing out into a mask of non-expression, Miles hooked his stool with his right foot and hopped to the floor with his left. He swung his right leg hard, snapping his foot into a point and flinging the metal barstool off it. The stool struck the vampire in the face, barely slowing him, but giving Miles time to make his next move.

He leapt up onto the bar and used it as a launching pad, springing into the air in a perfect flip over the vampires' heads. He landed behind them and quickly began to lash out with punches and kicks, a part of him liking the solid impact of his fists and feet against flesh. He might decry the idea of war, but he couldn't help it that his body liked to fight. He had killed people, always in the name of some just cause or other, but in the end it was all about the fact that a part of him enjoyed the violence. It was only while fighting that he ever felt truly alive. The rest of him had died a long time ago.

Fighting made his heart beat faster and the adrenaline flow through him. For a little while, it let him pretend that he was still the man he used to be, the person he had never really wanted to leave behind.

When you decide you love someone enough to grow old with them, staying young forever while their hair turns grey and their face gets wrinkled is like a betrayal of every promise made. He hadn't asked for this to happen to him, and he would give it back if he could. Humans just weren't meant to last forever as unchanging monuments. He had nothing to show for all the years he'd lived, because his face was still as wide and blank as it had always been.

He was tired of living when he was fifty, yet here he was still around, unable to lay his head down and rest. He just couldn't die, and he fucking hated it.

Sometimes he looked around at all the normal people going about their daily lives and was just so damn resentful he didn't even have the words to describe it. The bitterness just welled up in him and if he could have killed them all, in those moments he probably would have. They got to stop fucking living. They had the power to end their meaningless little lives. They weren't forced to last forever when all they wanted to do was sleep. It just wasn't fair.

About the only people he thought might feel the same as him were vampires, but they were all assholes. Controlled by their demons, their sole existence was bundled up in the feed and kill. They never got tired of living, not as long as they got to torture and maim and there were throats to rip out. They were constantly amused, and a part of him envied them that.

He didn't have anything to thrill at. He just had endless days of normalcy. All of the pains and aggravations of being normal, but without the fear of getting hurt or dying, there was nothing to really motivate him to try anything. It was just an endless expanse of same-kind-of days. And he hated it, always had.

He wasn't Jesse, to constantly be caught up in the moment, with the attention span of the average gnat. He didn't have some strange wide-eyed passion for the future and new technologies. He was basically just an eighteenth-century man plunged out of his depth and desperate for things to go back to the way they were supposed to be. Driving horse-drawn carriages instead of cars. Being poor and not caring about it because everyone around him was too. Farming with a single-blade plow while wearing clothes made from rough, homespun cloth. Standing in the middle of a field or forest and knowing that there was no other human for twenty miles around. Going to the store was a treat worth getting dressed up for, because there was no TV to bring entertainment right into his home. Dancing with his mother while his brother played a penny whistle and Tuck squeezed the accordion. Looking out at the world and knowing that everything was all new, untouched by him or anyone else.

He missed the days when he was young, back when he was as fragile as any other human being. He missed knowing that he could be broken, because now that he was invulnerable... he couldn't really believe that he was human anymore.

* * *

Angel had never seen anything like it before. The guy was just so unassuming, then BAM! Stools were flying around and fists and feet were striking vampires with amazing speed, then there were "poofs" of disintegrating vampires turning to dust. It was pretty awesome.

For a vampire, dusting ten other vampires was a feat to work at. But for what smelled like a normal human... it should have been the impossible.

This is the guy I'm supposed to rescue? Angel thought disbelievingly.

The guy didn't need any help kicking ass. He was killing vampires with a serious aplomb. It was like something out of an action movie... or maybe a page out of Angel's autobiography.

He couldn't imagine why the Powers That Be had sent him here. There wasn't anything he could do. The man was taking care of everything for himself.

Fourteen vampires killed in as many minutes. A Slayer couldn't have done much better.

With a last "poof," the guy panted to a stop and stood there breathing deeply, his chest pumping like billows. He turned to look at Angel. "Why the hell didn't you tell me there were fucking vampires after me? I really hate having to kill like that," he growled.

Angel stood there blank faced, wearing what might have been confused as his usual "brooding" expression. "Most normal people typically don't believe in the existence of vampires, and when you tell them that a horde of bloodsucking demons are coming to get them, they tend to assume that you're crazy. I didn't want you to discount everything I had to say because you thought I was insane, so instead I tried the old 'it's a rampaging gang hopped up on PCP' excuse." He shrugged.

"Well, I suppose I should thank you anyway just for trying, even though the warning was a little late and I didn't listen to you anyway. My name is Miles Tuck." He moved his erstwhile stake to his left hand and offered his right.

Angel looked at the hand. It was coated in dust, but there was no sign that he had been punching vampires just minutes before. Even Buffy, with her Slayer strength, got scraped knuckles after a night of vampire beating, but this guy's hand was completely unmarked.

Angel took the hand, noting that it was warm, so he wasn't dealing with some kind of living-dead creature. He cocked his head. "I already told you I'm Angel. Why don't you come back to the office with me, if you don't have anywhere else to be? There's some things we should probably talk about."

Miles smiled, but it didn't touch his eyes, which remained hard. "I think I will go back with you. I don't really have anywhere to be, not until next week."

They stood there for a long moment looking at each other. There was a lot they could have said, but they didn't. Angel could have revealed that he was a vampire with a soul and a mission from the Powers That Be, or Miles could have said that he was an unaging human that probably couldn't ever be killed. There really was a lot they could say, but neither even tried.

Angel started walking toward the door and Miles followed after him, unspeaking.

.

.

CHAPTER TWO

.

Riding in Angel's car, they quickly arrived at the Hyperion where Cordelia and Wesley were waiting for them.

Cordelia was sitting behind her desk trying to look busy, while Wesley was perusing some dusty tome. They both looked up when Angel walked in. Cordy's bored expression turned into a blinding bright smile when she saw Miles.

"Hello, and who are you?" she purred.

Angel glanced at Miles. The man remained completely unmoved by Cordelia's show. "Leave him alone, Cordy. I don't think he's interested."

Her lips twisted in a pout, but she relaxed back in her chair, pretending that it didn't matter. "Who are you then?" she asked sharply, looking at Miles.

Miles shrugged. "My name is Miles Tuck."

"Never heard of you. Are you going to be a paying client?"

Angel shot her a sharp look, silently trying to tell her to shut up. "He's not a client. He doesn't really need us to handle his problems... he's pretty good at taking care of them all on his own."

"Which means what, exactly?" Wesley asked, arching an eyebrow.

Angel shifted a little uncomfortably. "He killed fourteen vampires on his own. The Vision was wrong. I didn't need to save him. He saved himself. Now we just have to figure out what the Powers-That-Be wanted us to do with him."

"I don't think I want anything to do with your gods. I'm not really religious anyway, but I don't think I want to believe in your 'Powers-That-Be,'" Miles said.

"Doesn't matter," Angel said, "they believe in you. And once you're marked by the PTB, that's pretty much it. You end up working for them whether you like it or not."

Miles' face scrunched up in discontent. "I don't think I really like your PTB's. They seem rather pushy. Why would they choose me anyway?"

Angel shrugged and looked at Wesley. "Can you think why?" he asked.

Wesley thought for a moment, then shook his head. "I would have to know more about you," he said to Miles. "The fact that you managed to kill fourteen vampires by yourself tells me that there's something special about you, though. Are you a normal human?"

For a second there was an almost shifty look on Miles' face, then he lifted one shoulder before letting it drop. "I used to be. I don't quite know if I am anymore, things are so different now."

"What do you mean?" Wesley asked.

Miles walked across the lobby to lean against a chair back. He gazed at nothing in particular with a pensive look on his face. Angel got the feeling the man didn't want to meet anyone's eyes, not even by accident. "I used to be normal," Miles said, "then everything changed. I don't know how or why it happened, but I stopped aging. I'm just the same as I was since then."

"How do you mean you stopped aging?" Wesley asked. "How old are you? What happened?"

"I drank the water," Miles said. "I drank the water and time stood still. I don't quite remember how old I am now, since Ma was never really sure about when I was born anyway, but it's been at least a hundred and eighty years, and I look just the same as I did back then. I still don't know what happened to me, or why I was chosen, but I don't want it. I don't want to be this way forever."

"We all have our burdens to bear," Wesley said. Angel had the feeling of eyes brushing against him before carefully moving away.

"It's not fair!" Miles' hands twisted in the air in front of him. "I was happy before I knew. I had a wife and children and my life was exactly what I wanted it to be. Then we realized that I wasn't getting any older. I was staying the same while my wife's hair turned grey and wrinkles took over her face, and she couldn't take that. So she took the children and she disappeared. I eventually found out that she went mad, spent the last days of her life in a sanitarium. It kills me that it was my fault that she lost her mind. Because I always stayed the same, she had to be the one that became different. She just couldn't deal with the fact that she got older while I stayed young."

Angel felt a pain deep inside. He understood that perfectly. It was the reason why he had had to leave Buffy, and why he could never really love Cordelia. Because even though he could turn them into vampires and keep them with him forever, they wouldn't be the people he loved anymore. And if he selfishly held them to him, locking them into his eternal night, as they grew old they would hate him because he wouldn't age with them. He was eternal; they were a moment. It hurt, and that was the way it would always be.

"Is there... Have you tried anything to turn yourself back the way you were?" Wesley asked, sounding hesitant. There was something about Miles that was reminiscent of a caged animal; he looked ready to lash out at anyone that got too close.

Miles' eyes flashed with anger and self-hate. "I tried everything. At first I just threw myself into danger in the hopes that I would somehow be killed. When that didn't work, I went to a voodoo priestess; she said there was nothing she could do for me. Since then, I've been to chaos sorcerers, wizards, vampire kings, high level demons, everything." He bowed his head under the weight of emotion, his hands clenching into hard fists at his sides. It seemed to take a monumental effort to keep from striking out at the world around him. He was just so angry. "I am still immortal, and I always will be. And I hate it. It's so lonely, and everything I do now, I've done a thousand times before. There's never anything new, and I can't escape from it. I just want it to be over."

Not really thinking about what he was doing, Angel walked forward. He laid a hand on Miles' shoulder. "I know what you mean. The world passes you by, but you stay the same."

Miles raised his head. His original expression of contempt--that anyone would dare to presume that they could understand him--melted away when he met Angel's eyes. "You really do understand, don't you? What are you?"

"Vampire with a soul." Angel braced himself for a violent response.

Instead, Miles just nodded his head. "Ah. I should have guessed. So you can actually relate to the way I feel, since you live forever too. Though you must be even more screwed up than the average vampire, seeing as you have a soul, and they get to wander around soulless and fancy free. They don't have to deal with guilt and morals. Lucky bastards."

A little smile quirked Angel's lips. "Yeah. Sometimes I envy them, then I remember all of the evil things I did when I didn't have my soul, and I'm glad to be the way I am. Even if some people," he carefully didn't look at Cordelia, "think I'm way too broody."

"Huh. You should meet my brother. He thinks I'm broody too, though he says I'm bitter about what I don't have. Though it's kind of stupid that he's still obsessing over a girl he left behind like eighty years ago. And he says I don't know how to let things go." Miles smiled at Angel when he said that last sentence, and Angel realized for the first time how attractive Miles Tuck really was.

There had been something so grim about the man. Looking at him, it was obvious that he was an attractive person, but it was something that got left to the wayside when you met his eyes. They were dark and angry, resentful of the happiness around him. He was holding onto his rage, and it took something away from him. But when he smiled for real... it was like the light had come on.

Angel flushed a little when he remembered where his hand was. He was still touching Miles' shoulder, his forefinger and thumb somehow having edged their way close to Miles' neck. He could feel the warm brush of skin against the end of his thumb where Miles' shirt ended. It was nice.

"I guess neither one of us was made to just get over the things that happen to us," Angel said, nonchalantly pulling his hand away, or at least he hoped it looked nonchalant. Inside, he felt nervous for some reason, and there was a fluttery feeling somewhere in his stomach. He was just glad that his vampiric condition didn't let him get too blushy and flustered.

If he played it right, no one had to know he had somehow lost his cool.

"Geez Angel, way to get deep into the talking with strangers," Cordelia said, providing a welcome distraction. Angel turned to look at her, raising an eyebrow questioningly. She shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Duh, you haven't even asked about Connor. I would have thought you would have had ten gazillion things to say by now."

"Oh yeah," Angel said dumbly, then threw off the strange emotions overtaking him. He started walking toward Cordelia's desk. "How was he for you? Did he get to sleep all right? Did you make sure he had his Mr. Boo when you tucked him in? He wasn't fussy was he? You did sing to him, right? What about..."

Cordelia held up her hand, stopping him. "I did everything you said to do, and Connor's fine. He's in his crib right now, sleeping his little heart out. Why don't you go check on him so you can relax, and since with the way you wander around like a chicken with its head cut off when you think about him, the rest of us can deal with something a little more important. Go on now, we'll wait here for you. Just don't be too long."

Angel was confused. Everything seemed to be moving too fast. One minute he was talking to Miles, then he was switching into overprotective mode over Connor, and now he was being dismissed by Cordelia.

When he'd been Angelus and something had confused him, he used to let his anger loose on the world. After a long session of torture and murder, he'd been able to pretend that he was calm again. Sometimes he almost missed those days, though he could never admit that to the humans he worked with.

"I think I'm going to check on Connor," he said, already hurrying out of the room. He didn't want any of them to look in his face and guess what he was thinking.

* * *

"Now that he's gone," Cordelia said briskly, turning toward Miles. "Why don't you give us a little more information about you. Like what do you have in mind for Angel? Why are you really here? And give me a good reason why I shouldn't be hitting you with my big sword right about now?"

Miles looked confused. Wesley could sympathize. "What are you doing, Cordelia?" he asked.

She looked at him. "Wes, we don't know this guy. He comes in here and Angel's all talking about the PTB. But I don't know about your gaydar, but when they were talking, mine was picking up some definite subtextual signals. Something is going on between Angel and this guy, or it's going to be going on soon. So I kind of want to know what kind of person he is, before he turns Angel all evil again. I've almost gotten out of the habit of carrying a mace can full of holy water, and the cross I usually wear is at the jewelers because the chain was chafing me. So I want some answers, that's all. Nothing really big."

Wesley gave Miles a "sorry" face. He didn't quite know what to say to the man, but he knew Cordelia was being incredibly rude, which was pretty much normal. "I do apologize, but maybe you should tell us a little more about yourself, just so we can be sure you're safe."

A smile quirked Miles' lips. "It's all right, don't be sorry. You're perfectly right to be worried. You don't know me. I could be a mass murderer for all you know. It's better to be careful."

"That's so right," Cordelia said. "So why don't you give us a little information before you go get all groiny with Angel, huh?"

Miles shrugged, folding his arms and cupping his elbows with the palms of his hands. "I wouldn't really put it like that, since I don't really think that's going to happen with me and your boss, but... I'm just basically what I appear to be--a guy. I may not age, but I don't have any magical powers or anything either. I am just a man that happens to have lived for a long time, and who can't really be hurt. I don't have any deep motives--like an insane drive to buy myself a white cat, gain a hundred and sixty pounds and try to take over the world. I'm just basically a man that's living from day to day, and wishing that I wasn't.

"I'm tired of never getting any older. No matter what I do, my life never changes and everything just goes on the way it always has, and that's pretty miserable. I'm a Scorpio, I don't like yogurt, and the only reason I came to LA is to meet my brother, who should be arriving in about a week."

"You have a brother?" Cordelia said. "What's he like? Is he evil?"

Miles shook his head, a tiny smile quirking his lips. "Jesse is about as near to an innocent as a person can be after living over a century. Right now, he's trying to win back the 'love of his life,' a girl he hasn't seen in eighty years. The fact that he still has hope that she's waiting for him is pretty much proof-positive of his innate naivete and relative innocence about the way the world changes. Like she's really going to be sitting there waiting for him to ride in on his white horse to take her away to a new life... of wandering around like a vagabond, never putting down roots, never doing anything that really matters, and watching everyone you ever meet die. What a life he wants to give her." He snorted derisively. "I really doubt she's waiting, but if she is, then she's as stupid as he is, because this really is no way to live, and a girl that was that sugary sweet deserves something better."

"Wow, bitter much?" Cordelia said.

"Yes, um, that was a tad emotional, wasn't it?" Wesley said, studiously rearranging the books on his desk. For a second there, passion had burned in Miles' voice, and Wesley couldn't help the way his body had responded to it. There was just something so hot about a man raging at heaven and earth over the fate of life.

"I just can't stand the thought of that girl throwing away everything her life could have been to follow after my brother. Jesse's a sweet boy, but that's all he's ever going to be. Since his body is stuck at seventeen, he has never seen a reason to expand his mind. He really is going to be seventeen forever, and he doesn't even know enough to realize that his immortality is a curse, not a blessing, and that no amount of drugs, alcohol or sex are going to ever make him as happy as he was when he truly was seventeen."

Wesley opened and closed his mouth several times, unsure of what he was supposed to say. He was saved from having to make a response when the doors to the hotel swung open. The voice began even before the man himself appeared. "I'm here. Is there anything ax-worthy going on?" Gunn sauntered into the hotel.

Wesley seemed to perk up a little. He ran a hand through his hair, smoothing it. "There isn't really anything happening, but we have a guest. This is Miles Tuck," he gestured at Miles. "It seems there's a reason the Powers that Be want him to be here; we just have to figure it out."

Gunn looked at Miles for a long moment, then walked toward him, extending a hand. "Charles Gunn."

Miles glanced the hand over quickly before taking it. "My name is Miles Tuck. Nice to meet you."

"Yeah. So what's so special about you that the PTB would want your ass for service?" Gunn asked.

Miles shrugged. "I have no idea. I am just a simple man."

* * *

Holding Connor to his chest, Angel felt the warmth of contentment spilling through him. With his son in his life, it was sometimes a struggle to retain his soul. Just watching the baby sleep could make him so happy...

"Who's daddy's best boy?" he whispered.

Connor sucked hard on his tiny fist, nuzzling against Angel's shoulder. He was a small warm weight, snuggly in his one-piece sleeper.

Angel bowed his head to press a kiss against the wispy brown hair. Connor was so beautiful, so alive. Angel had never thought that his life would ever end up like this, with friends and family of his own. A child to carry on his name and the chance at redemption. Everything seemed to be going right for once.

Which partly filled him with dread. It was when things were going a little too good that the worst kinds of things happened.

Case in point: His relationship with Buffy was going along perfect, things had just about gotten to the point where he could forget all the people he'd murdered and imagine that he was a real person. Then BAM! He had sex with Buffy, lost his soul, and started killing people again.

There was no way that he could trust good fortune; it never lasted. And now it wasn't just him that was going to be shat on by life. He had a baby that was depending on him for comfort, love, and the resolution to overcome any horrible situation that came up while providing the necessary protection.

Being someone's father was a scary prospect. A tiny life was depending on him, and he couldn't be sure that he would do a good job. All he could do was try his best and hope that Connor got the chance to grow to adulthood as a happy, well-adjusted individual, ready to provide a positive influence on the world.

He was so afraid of messing up. There was so much chance that he was going to ruin Connor for the rest of the world, and he didn't want his son to be just another mistake he had made in his life.

Connor depended on him for everything, and Angel vowed, looking down at that tiny face, that he would do everything in his power to ensure that Connor grew up safe and loved.

.

.

CHAPTER THREE

.

He had never thought that he was going to be interrogated by the friends and coworkers of a vampire with a soul. It was just one of those things that had never come up on his list of possibilities for the future.

Miles sat on the chair provided with his legs crossed at the ankles and his hands folded neatly in his lap. For some reason, he thought it best to put on an image of relaxed innocence, not that he had any great sins to be worried about having revealed.

He just happened to be immortal, it wasn't like that was a crime or anything. There were plenty of "people" out there with the ability to live forever. And it wasn't like he had sold his soul or anything to become immortal. He just was. Damned water.

If he could have given back his immortality, he would have. It had cost him his family and everything he ever cared about, including his humanity.

He didn't know what he had become, but it definitely wasn't what he had once been.

Chapter Text

Terry has 196 hours to reverse the effects of Chronos' bomb.

after Terry shoots Chronos with his special batarang, all the effects of the bomb are reversed and it was like Chronos never existed. Terry blips out of existence and everything goes back to normal in the past and the future.

at the end, Tim sees something that has to do with his time with Terry and it gives him a warm feeling in his chest that he can't explain.

 

Tim (Robin) thinks Terry/Batman is super cool, but is completely shocked to find out that Terry's only a few years older than him--when Terry takes off the mask and shows himself. [[Batman/Wayne, Batgirl, and Robin are all still masked/cowled]]

 

 Because of his being sent back in time the way he was, Terry has been merged with the Batsuit. Even out of costume he's stronger and faster than he normally is. Even without the suit he has the same ability to hear as with the finger microphones--which really creeps him out at first.

 

 "One of the coolest things about being Batman is all the property damage I get to do without having to pay for the repairs. Being a masked avenger is really a bit of a sweet deal."

 

Terry has to shoot Chronos with the modified batarang. When the chemical inside the little capsule detonates against Chronos' skin, the guy will be set outside of time and everything that he has done will never have happened.

 

 

temporal implosion

universe blips out of existence

 

Robins--

Dick Grayson

Jason Todd (who died in the comic "Death in the Family")

Tim Drake

 

Batgirls--

Barbara Gordon

Cassandra

 

Time Cops are "harvested" from their born timelines. When they are recruited, they are pulled out of the time streams, never to be directly affected by them again.

 

 

Terry's in the protection of Terminal Station when the Time Bomb goes off. The ground shakes and a few tiles fall, but everything seems okay. Hamilton Hill High School, the elementary school are destroyed, and that whole section of the city--over 100-square blocks--are destroyed.

Terry rushes over there, but the damage is so bad he can't even get close.

 

dreg

twip--like "twerp"

shway--cool

Matty

"Man, what a waste case"

 

 

Terry as Batman is more Terry in the Batsuit, than Bruce's metamorphosis into the Bat.

Terry wears the suit. Bruce is the suit.

 

 

Batman alternaverse novel--

Batman Beyond meets original Batman to save the world

Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Nightwing (Dick Grayson), and Robin (Tim Drake) costar.

 

 

"Hey Terr!"

"Hey Dane."

 

 

neural interface to hack the system

 

 

a guy jumping back in time from 3492 appears calling himself Chronos. He's a criminal escaping from the future. He's unhappy about the utopian curve the future has taken and is hungry for the excitement of crime and stuff. He was a spacetime engineer with an interest in the supervillains of the past--the Joker, Two-face, Blight, Lex Luthor, etc.

He is followed through time by two detectives in the Temporal Police. He managed to create a shield that shuts down the timeline to visitors, but the two detectives managed to make it through. Other "Time Cops" can only go to twenty years before and twenty years after any timeline he travels along.

He starts trying to be a supervillain himself, and Batman stops him. Chronos gets angry, kills the Time Cops that followed him and jumps further back in time, intent on changing the future so Batman/Terry never exists, and the way he sees of doing that is killing the old Batman--Bruce Wayne.

One of the Time Cops, Mina Azumi, lives long enough to pass on the way to create a temporal vertex to Batman, whispering that only someone that has never lived in the past can visit it, i.e. old Bruce Wayne and Superman can't go back because they're already there.

Using all the power of Wayne Enterprises, Bruce Wayne uses the plans to have the temporal gate made. The only problem was that it could only be used once, and that anyone that goes back in time can never return to the future. But if Terry goes back and stops Chronos, it should reset the timeline and none of the bad stuff he had done would have ever happened... theoretically.

 

As a supervillain, Chronos released a "time bomb" in Gotham City that wiped out half the city, including Hamilton Hill High School and the elementary school down the street from it--the school that little Matt McGinis goes to.

Dana, Matt, Max, everyone is killed instantly. Terry would have been killed too except that he was on the other side of town acting as Batman to stop a hostage situation. ("Batman working in the daytime? Talk about the weirdness of it all.")

Terry is grimly intent on stopping Chronos and making it so no one had died.

 

 

 

 -------------------------

Tim takes Terry out for something to eat. They end up at a Happy Burger.

Terry is really getting into eating a hamburger.

"Um, this is great! What is it?"

Tim looks at him like he's crazy. "It's a hamburger."

"I know that. But what's the patty made out of?"

"Beef, of course."

Terry spits out a gob of half-chewed burger. "Oh yarf! I had real meat in my mouth? Gross!"

 ---------------------

"Don't you guys have a vegemat around here or something?"

 

 

 

 

Terry wandering around in his brown leather jacket with the olive green swatches. He is completely blown away by the complete reality of the past. Everything is so gritty and real--but he can barely get along without all of the tech toys.

Humiliating moment when he tries to use his "easy-pass" to board the subway train. Or when he doesn't have any real money, just cash cards. ("What the hell is this crap? You better have some real money, kid, or you're not getting anything."

 

 

 

 

 

Jason Todd was killed by the Joker.

 

REAL LIFE BAT-NOTES:

 OLD BRUCE WAYNE--

Origin: Gotham City

Age: late seventies, early eighties, accounts vary

Occupation: CEO of Wayne Enterprises

Height: 6'1"

Weight: 195

Hair: White

OTHER: It has been twenty years since Bruce's weakened heart forced him to retire as Batman. Now in his seventies, he has replaced his cape with a cane.

Bruce also retired as head of his company Wayne Enterprises, when it was taken over by the ruthless Derek Powers (Blight) and renamed the Wayne-Power Corporation.

Bruce retreated to Wayne Manor, his estate on the outskirts of the city. There he lives in seclusion with Ace, his Great Dane.

 

TERRY McGINNIS--

Origin: Gotham City

Age: 17

Occupation: crime fighter, high school student, personal assistant to Bruce Wayne.

Height: 5'10"

Weight: 170

Hair: black

OTHER: Blue eyes. While investigating his father's murder, Terry sought the help of Bruce Wayne, whom Terry had discovered was the original Batman. Although Wayne forbade Terry to assume the role of Batman he relented after Terry "Borrowed" the super-charged Batsuit and used it to bring retribution to his father's killers.

Having proven himself a worthy successor to the name of Batman, Terry now acts as Gotham's dark avenger. Terry was once part of a street gang. Now a few years older, Terry sees his commitment to Batman as his chance to redeem himself and others who might be drifting toward a life of crime. (Three months in juvie, record expunged.)

He calls Ace "Scooby," "Batdog," etc.

 

DANA TAN--

Origin:

Age:

Occupation: student

Height:

Weight:

Hair: black

OTHER: Terry's girlfriend.

 

MAX--

Origin:

Age:

Occupation:

Height:

Weight:

Hair: dyed pink

OTHER:

 

YOUNG BRUCE WAYNE--

Origin:

Age: 30-ish

Occupation: multibillionaire,

Height: 6'1

Weight:

Hair:

OTHER:

 

TIM DRAKE--

Origin:

Age: 15

Occupation: student, Robin

Height:

Weight:

Hair:

OTHER:

 

OLD BARBARA GORDON--

Origin:

Age: mid-60's

Occupation: Police Commissioner of Gotham City

Height: 5"6

Weight: 140 lbs.

Hair: white-grey hair

OTHER: Blue eyes. Married to District Attorney Sam Young

she studied law, was elected Gotham City District Attorney, and eventually rose to the position of Police Commissioner.

Has said about Bruce: "Such a great man, so alone."

 

YOUNG BARBARA GORDON--

Origin:

Age:

Occupation: college student, Batgirl

Height: 5"6

Weight:

Hair: red hair/auburn

OTHER: Blue eyes.

 

DEE-DEE TWINS (DELIA and DEIDRA DENNIS)--

Origin: Gotham City

Age: 16

Occupation: criminals, thrill-seekers

Height: 5'6"

Weight: 110

Hair: red, matted to look like yarn. Out of costume, they have long blond hair past their butts and blue eyes; they look a lot like Harley Quinn.

OTHER: The Dee-Dee twins, Delia and Deidra (often referred to collectively as Dee-Dee or simply, the Deeds) are cute, charming, funny and completely rotten to the core. They love being part of the Jokerz gang and working for the big man, the Joker, himself. After all, their grandmother Harley was his main squeeze back in the day. How could they not uphold family tradition.

The Deeds are Olympic-level athletes, experts at tumbling and hand to hand combat. Many an enemy has underestimated their playful, Raggedy Ann-like smiles only to wind up in traction later. The Deeds motto is "Trouble on the double" and they do their best to live up to it.

Red tube tops, white short-shorts, red vinyl/rubber-looking boots, white berets, black ribbon chokers. White face paint, red lips, red circles on their cheeks.

 

BAT-TOYS--

Batsuit: The highly advanced Batsuit which Terry wears as Batman both accentuates his natural physical prowess and provides him with an arsenal of crime-fighting weapons.

Impervious to small weapons' fire. Can withstand extreme heat and cold.

Finger Microphones: Located in the fingers of his gloves. Can pick up sound through walls and windows.

Rocket Thrusters: Located in his shoes/feet. Allow Batman to hop from rooftop to rooftop. With a running leap, he can jump more than fifty feet high.

Audio/Video Links to the Batcave: Located in his ears/mask.

Bat Gadgets: Batarangs and Bolas pop into Batman's hand with a flick of the wrist.

Utility Belt: the little depression circle on his belt. He's stored explosives in it.

Magnetic Soles: Allow Batman to walk on walls.

Retractable Wings: Open during flight enabling Batman to glide on air currents.

 

OTHER STUFF:

Jokerz gang

cash cards

Rhino's (a dance club)

Splicing

Gotham Park Towers

Gotham General//Gotham Hospital

Gotham Airport

the Justice League Watchtower in Metropolis

Apocalypse World

Gotham Bio-Park (town's not big on the animals and nature, more into the cement-jungle idea)

 

 

monorail

 

prototype battle pod

 

Terry calls Dana "babe."

 

Terry drives Bruce Wayne around.

 

Wayne Enterprises--vast, multinational conglomerate

 

the Batsuit connects to the car.

the ears of the Batsuit are about 2x longer than the original. No cape

 

Mary McGinnis--Terry's mother

Matt McGinnis--Terry's little brother

 

Mary calls Matt "Matty"

 

Chelsea--Dana's friend.

Blade--stuck up, little Miss Perfect girl

 

Tim Drake is a top level communications engineer, with a wife and a couple of kids.

 

V.R. Newsman/Newspeople

 

the Batcave--Grandfather clock entrance.

 

Alfred

 

Terry has a phone in his motorcycle helmet

 

insult: dreg

 

Arkham Asylum

 

"Hands off, Brat-girl."--Harley

 

Robin was the "Boy Wonder"

 

Tim Drake stopped being Robin 40 years before Batman Beyond.

 

police uniform--black bodysuit that covers the head, equipment belt, microphone/audio headset, white jacket with grey pad patches, large red circle badge with a black ----precinct number----

 

old Bruce calls the Batwing "the car"

 

"Toodles."--Joker

 

Batwing//Batwing

 

Batsuit sensors can pick up pulse fluctuations--to tell if someone is lying.

 

monkey-boy--Joker calls Terry Bruce's

 

Terry goes to Hamilton Hill High School

 

Max is the brainy girl

 

Bruce Wayne--"the Boss Man"

 

"shway"

 

Batsuit--all black except for a red bat across the breast, the grey of his belt, and the red buckle of his utility belt

 

Derek Powers' son is Paxton Powers

 

TV in the car//windshield view screen

 

Wayne-Powers' stormtroopers/security

 

Tim Drake was in his mid to late fifties--gave up being Robin 40 years ago (before Batman Beyond)

 

audio transceivers and tracer bugs in the Batarangs.

 

Batarangs are razor-edged

 

If Terry is hit hard enough in the head, the suit stops sending him a clear visual signal.

 

the Batsuit blocks out some radiation--too much, though, and too bad.

 

Blight--his radiation levels keep going up and his temper is out of control.

 

new Justice League named the Justice League Unlimited, JLU for short.

Superman, Aquagirl (Marina), Micron (guy who changes sizes), Warhawk (metal-winged guy), Barda (muscle chick who wields a metal zapper baton called a "megarod"), Green Lantern (looks like a kid).

 

Superman looks to be in his late forties or early fifties. Kryptonian DNA keeps him fairly young.

 

new Superman costume--black and grey. No cape.

 

Batman clicks his belt to engage the autopilot on the Batwing. It comes right to him for an automatic pick up.

 

Bruce has saved a spike of kryptonite

 

Chucko is the leader of the Jokerz (straw-haired looking guy)

Inque is a shape-shifting corporate spy (supervillain)

Willie Watt is mentally bonded to the Gotham Golem

The Batsuit has a fail-safe mechanism that turns off the suit's capabilities. (It goes statue.)

 

roughly 50 years in the future

Chapter Text

Note: I did not know the real names of the members of Team Go, so I assigned them based on personality. Shego--Sheila Marie, Hego--Harold Evan , Mego--Melvin Albert, Wego1--Warren Alan, --Wego2--Eric Robert, Igo--Timothy Ivan. Their last name is Go.

.

.

It was a bad day for Team Go.

They defeated their villain, but were forced to ask for the assistance of another super team to do it. It was a blow against the Team to practically have to beg for help from a group of strangers.

It was a good day for Tim Go.

He met a group of people his own age who all knew what it was like to have superpowers in a world of normals. He became a member of their team--which met only on the weekends. He found a friend... a boyfriend.

It was definitely a good day for Tim Go, especially considering how bad the day before had gone.

 

"Mego, duck!" Tim shouted, reaching out to grab a filing cabinet and hurling it at Galactor.

Mego twisted over onto his back to watch as the giant was sent flying into the wall with a loud crash. "Nice one," he said. Then, "Of course, I was just about to do something spectacular and death-defying. Everyone knows that all you have to rely on is brute strength, while I on the other hand, am a master of subtlety and..."

Tim used his power to jerk Mego out of the way as Galactor rose with an infuriated roar, flinging the bent filing cabinet through the air. The bottom drawer would have gone right through Mego's head.

"You all right?" Tim asked, setting Mego down beside him.

The purple garbed superhero drew in a deep shuddering breath. "I'm all... That would have killed me. I almost died." He looked right at Tim, actually seeming to see him for the first time in years. "Thanks."

Feeling his throat tighten and his eyes burn, Tim jerked a nod. "No problem. You're my brother."

Mego gave him an actual, real smile for a second, then the mask of the man he had become swallowed him up once again. "Well of course I'm your brother. Your wonderful, fabulous, brilliant older brother. Anyone can see that I've taught you everything I know."

Tim drew in a deep breath, donning his own superhero mask once again as well. "Come on. We better get back and warn the others. There's no way Galactor is leaving without a fight."

Mego gave a dramatic sigh. "If we must, we must."

Grabbing Mego up with a pair of telekinetic hands, Tim flew them both out of the abandoned office building and back to Go Tower. There were plans to be made.

* * *

"So let me get this straight: You called me back here to help handle your enemy?"

Hego crossed his arms over his muscular chest and jutted out his chin slightly. "We called you here because even though you left the Team, you're still a member of the Go family."

"Plus, you have access to something we need," Mego said.

"And what is that?" Shego demanded.

"Dr. Drakken's translocational portal generator. We need to use it." Tim leaned close to his sister. "Please, Shego. Please, Sheila."

She flinched at the sound of her real name. It was one no one had dared use in years. "Don't call me that."

"Just help us," Tim said, staring directly into her eyes, giving nothing away.

She met his gaze for a moment, then had to look away. "You should have switched sides with me," she said. "You'd make one truly badass supervillain."

"I know," Tim said. And that was why he hadn't switched over to evil. He would have been too good at it. There was no way his brothers would have been able to stop his reign of terror. And he couldn't say he hadn't been tempted to leave with Shego, because he had been.

"Fine," Shego said, rolling her eyes. "I'll help you. Just because you asked so nicely."

Tim flashed her one of his rare, bright, real smiles and she blinked. "Thanks big sis."

Shego visibly pulled her tough bitch persona back around her. She wasn't one of the good guys and had no desire to ever be one again. "Let's just go get Drakken's doohickey so I don't have to be around you losers anymore."

"Well, she's pleasant as usual," Mego said out of the corner of his mouth. Hego nodded agreement.

Tim could readily admit to himself that he loved his family no matter how screwed up they were. And boy were they.

He remembered his family from before the meteors came to Earth, changing them into metahumans. He remembered his brothers and sister from before their parents had died and their whole world had changed. He remembered when his life used to be normal and they were all entirely different people.

As the years passed it seemed as though their worst traits were magnified more and more until they were almost unrecognizable from the people they used to be. It made Tim feel as though his family was being taken away from him a bit at a time. And the fact that he knew he was losing parts of himself as well didn't make it better.

They were what they were and there was no time for regret during this latest crisis.

"Is Drakken going to be there?" Tim asked. "Are we going to have to get him out of the way?"

Shego snorted. "He's off at some Evil Mastermind Convention and won't be back till Monday."

"Cool!" the Wegos said, fairly vibrating in place. They were more than ready to go.

Tim had the suspicion that the twins had been experimenting with drugs. They had just been so erratic personality-wise that it went far beyond the typical rebellious teen angst they had been displaying previously. Add superpowers to the equation and Tim was sure the situation was destined to blow up fairly soon.

"Come on. To the Go Jet," Hego proclaimed.

Shego snorted in derision, but didn't say anything. Hego wasn't the brightest of the bright and most sarcasm went right over his head. And if someone did manage to insult him, he pouted for days at a time.

As they were walking the long hallway that led to the hanger bay, Shego asked, "What are you going to do with the translocational portal generator?"

"Why don't you ask Igo?" Mego said.

"The name is Tim. Tim Go." He knew he should have held it in, but the sound of that ridiculous name put his teeth on edge.

He hadn't been Igo for over five years--since Shego left the Team. He hadn't been happy with the name for years before hand, had never really liked the name he was given, but until Shego broke the mold he had just kind of taken it. But he wasn't that person anymore. Had never really been that person no matter what his siblings thought.

Loading aboard the Go Jet, they fell into their almost forgotten seating pattern with Shego in the copilot's seat and Mego sitting in the back. It was almost painfully familiar, as though they had stepped backward into the past, to a time when things were different. Before their family fell apart.

"Why didn't you go with Dr. Drakken?" Wego 2 asked.

Shego snorted. "Yeah right. Like I wanted to spend my weekend at Nerd-Con being hit on by morons like Professor Spurge and Diablo Dan. Definitely not my scene."

"Remember when we all went to the 10th Annual Heroes of the World Convention?" Tim said. "You were so excited when you got Superman's autograph."

Shego crossed her arms tight over her chest. "Whatever. Shut up."

They made the trip in near silence.

* * *

Dr. Drakken's laboratory of "pure evil" was actually pretty lame. Tim had figured any bad guy Shego was willing to work for would be first class all the way. But from what he saw of the evil lair, it was pretty pathetic.

"What, were you that hard up for cash?" he muttered.

"What?" Shego demanded, turning on him viper-quick.

"Nothing." His eyes were focused on the neon green plasma energy surrounding her clenched fist. Pissing her off really wouldn't be a good idea.

She turned back to tinkering with the translocator, the user's manual spread open in front of her.

She pushed her hair out of her face with one hand and he felt a twinge at the familiar gesture. Especially when he saw the little scowl of concentration she wore. This was his big sister and he had missed her terribly.

From her snark to her evil hairdo, her absence had left a definite void in his life. And even if he had pretended that everything was all right and carried on like usual, her loss had been like a heavy weight bearing down on him, crushing him slowly with each breath.

But she was here now, just when they needed her.

"All right, this is done," she said, brushing her hands together as she stood up. "I really hope you know what you're doing since Drakken's inventions rarely work like they're supposed to. Not that I care if you get splattered across the country or anything."

A small smile quirked Tim's lips. "Sure you don't."

Shego glared at him, rolling her shoulders like a bird ruffling its feathers. "Whatever. Let's go."

"You're not coming," Tim said.

"What? You demand my help, then you're going to tell me I have to stay behind?" Shego tried to hide it, but he could tell he had inadvertently hurt her feelings.

"You don't understand," he said. "None of you are coming. I'm going alone."

"No way," Wego 1 exclaimed.

"You're not going alone," Wego 2 said.

"You need us," Wego 1 said.

"No I don't," Tim said, "and you have something more important to do."

"Like what?" Hego asked. He really didn't like the thought that he might not be needed.

"You have to keep Galactor from destroying Go City before I can make it back," Tim said, staring straight at Hego.

Hego lowered his eyes ashamedly, nodding slowly. "You're right." He looked at the others. "He's right. He's going to have to go alone."

"Why does he have to be the one to go? Why not one of us?" Mego asked.

"Duh," Shego said, rolling her eyes. "We need to stay here to keep Galactor as in check as we possibly can, and with all our powers together we can probably manage that for a few days. Tim needs to be the one to go because he's strong enough to take care of himself if things don't go well. Because who knows how they're going to react to his arrival. If it was you and they took your arrival wrong, you'd be dead in about ten seconds. Being able to shrink yourself isn't much against the powers I've read about them having."

Mego crossed his arms with a pouty expression. "I could protect myself."

Shego snorted. "Whatever. Your big thing is changing size. If you shrunk yourself, all anyone would have to do is step on you and it would be over."

Mego huffed a little, but didn't say anything else. He knew his power wasn't the greatest in Team Go and was nothing to the rest of the world's superheroes.

"I'll be fine by myself and I highly doubt they're going to do anything to me," Tim said. "I just need you guys to hold the line until I get back with or without help."

"So where are you going?" Wego 1 asked.

"Who are you going to beg for help?" Wego 2 demanded.

"I'm going to the Teen Titans," Tim said firmly, showing none of the worry he felt inside.

He knew he could have gone to the Justice League for help, but they would probably just see him as a kid. Team Go wasn't exactly well known outside of Go City and even then most of the villains they faced could best be described as laughable. So his appeals for assistance could very easily be taken for an extremely lame joke.

His studies of the rest of the world's superhero groups had made him decide that the Teen Titans were the most approachable. For one thing, they were all teenagers like him, so they couldn't use his relative youth as an argument not to help. And for another, their well documented association with several other famous superhero groups meant that if things went horribly, horribly wrong, there was a good chance that the Justice League or the Outsiders or someone would show up for a rescue.

"Why'd you choose those guys?" Hego asked.

"I have my reasons," Tim said, deigning not to go into it.

Most people would have kept asking questions, but Hego and the others went quiet. They knew him. When he made a decision it was always well thought out and usually ended up being the right course of action. And those that doubted his reasoning usually ended up looking like fools. Hego had learned that lesson well.

"Is it programmed for Titans Tower?" Tim asked.

Shego ran green eyes quickly across the instruments again. "Yep. It's all ready. Are you really sure you want to do this?"

"Do I have any choice?" Tim crossed to stand in front of the portal generator. "Hurry up and switch it on before I completely lose my nerve."

Wego 2 snorted. "Sure, as if that would ever happen. You've got more nerve than any sane person ever has the right to."

Shego hit the switch and a pulsating blue-green portal formed between the nothingness of the portal generators. It flickered for a few seconds, then solidified to a mirror-like surface, a faded image of the main room of Titans Tower in the center.

"Maybe I'm really not so sane," Tim said, leaping forward. "See you on the flip side."

He didn't hear Shego curse, but he knew it happened. Then he was hundreds of miles away in San Francisco. Facing a roomful of shocked, teenaged superheroes.

* * *

They were just hanging out, waiting for their next chance to save the world from the scourge of some supervillain when the portal opened. All swirly blue and green, they barely had a chance to stand up and brace themselves for a possible conflict when a teenaged boy came through.

Wearing a black mask to cover his eyes, his body was covered by a dark blue colored bodysuit with black accents here and there. Oddly, the outfit was kind of reminiscent of the Riddler's body stocking, just in a different color.

"Who are you?" Robin asked, trying to deepen his boyish voice into as close an approximation of the Batman's growl as possible.

The boy looked around, taking them in. "My name is Tim Go and I have come to ask for your help."

"Doing what?" Kon asked.

"Go City is currently under attack by an alien being called Galactor. From what I've been able to find out, he was an intergalactic gladiator of the omega class. After retiring, he decided to go out and make his own fortune by conquering worlds. Which is what has brought him to Earth. He plans on being our new Emperor." The boy crossed his arms, a determined look on his face. "I'm not going to let that happen... with or without your help."

"So are you some kind of superhero or something?" Kon asked.

"Or something," Tim said, smirking a little.

"Why are you coming to us?" Bart asked. "Why didn't you go to the Justice League?"

Tim shrugged. "Who would trust a teenager with superpowers to know what's going on? I mean, really."

The group of teenaged superheroes looked at each other. What were they supposed to say to that?

"Are you a superhero or a wannabe?" Cassie asked, crossing her arms.

Tim quirked his lips, a hard glint sparking in his eyes. "I'm a member of Team Go."

"Never heard of it," Kon said.

"Few people outside of Go City have," Tim said. "Just like Superboy isn't real well known by the people I protect, and the Justice League is just rumors and not much actual news."

"Whatever. So what do you do on this Go Team?" Robin asked.

"Team Go," Tim corrected. "And I'm telekinetic." He held out his hand, pointing at the couch. His fingers twitched slightly and the large, U-shaped couch lifted a few feet in the air, spun a complete 360-degrees, then lowered again.

"Wow," Kon said, "that's really great and everything. But is that all you can do?"

"Telekinesis is my thing," Tim said. "Combined with the powers of my brothers and sister, we've got pretty much all the bases covered. Strength, plasma fire, being able to self-duplicate, shrinking, and lifting stuff with a thought."

"So if you're basically this awesome super-team, why do you need our help? Can't you handle... eh, what's his name, Galaxiator? on your own?" Robin asked.

Kon shot him a look out of the corner of his eye, a little surprised that his friend was acting like such an asshole. Usually Robin was almost painfully happy-go-lucky, but there was something about this Tim guy that he didn't seem to like, which Kon really didn't understand. Other than the sorta dorky costume, Tim seemed like a pretty normal guy. And he had come to them for help, which was actually pretty close to awesome.

"Dude, calm down a little," Kon said, touching Robin on the shoulder.

Robin twitched out from under his hand with a little growl. "This guy just showed up out of nowhere. I'm not going to trust him until we get a little background about where he came from."

"Fair enough," Tim said. "My brothers and sister can hold Galactor for a little while, just not forever." The guy seemed so comfortable in his own skin that paradoxically the people around him were left feeling unsure. He was their age, maybe a little younger, yet he had complete confidence in himself. It was kind of unfair.

Where was all the teen angst?