Oh God… what am I doing here? So far out of my comfort zone right now.
Eh, I've put this off long enough. Time to go for it.
Alright, I'm Kenchi618, and this is my attempt at taking a stab at putting together an intriguing story in the deep and at times confusing DC Universe. Bear with me here. I'm going to give it my best shot, so let's see what I've got up my sleeve.
And of course, I do not own anything DC-related.
Less Than Zero
Chapter 1: A Hasty Last Resort
One could stare for hours and find nothing particularly extraordinary about Max. A fair-toned boy, atop his head sat a dirty-blond mop of hair, and behind tired lids sat unremarkable brown eyes. Covering a moderate, slim teenage build was a black concert t-shirt and blue jeans.
"Max. Pay attention."
He needed all of the sleep he could get when he could get it. The second school let out he had to run to his job, and that would keep him out until after midnight. The more hours he could work the better, as that meant a little bit longer he could keep his parents' old place. Without it he wouldn't have anywhere to go.
Having his name hissed directly in his ear jolted the young man almost off of his stool and onto the floor had he not caught himself on the edge of the lab desk. He found himself facing an exasperated glare from his lab partner. Understandable, as he had been trying to catch a power nap in the middle of an assignment,
All Max could do was give her an apologetic look. No excuses. Never excuses, "Sorry Barb," He said with a hint of an indistinguishable accent.
And he was. Most guys would have been chomping at the bit and wide awake in lab when they found out they would be the lab partner of Barbara Gordon. On the other hand she must have felt like working with him was like dragging along an anchor. It was a shame, she was quite incredible.
Long red hair, stunning green eyes, and a body to go with it all. Unfortunately, Max knew where he stood in regards to that sort of thing going anything past her knowing his name; somewhere in the neighborhood of 'fat chance' and 'snowball's chance in hell'. They definitely weren't friends. Even saying they were acquaintances was a stretch.
Yes, she was gorgeous, but girls like that weren't into guys like him. She had the best grades, was by far the most athletic girl at the school, was the daughter of Gotham's police commissioner, and she was already doing work after classes with Wayne Industries.
He was just the kid of some failed commercial scientists who were no longer amongst the living.
Barbara sighed and shook her head, gesturing to the experiment before them that she had already completed, "It's fine. It's actually faster without all of the bumbling working together stuff," She tapped the packet on the lab table that was fully filled out, gesturing for Max to fill in where his name was meant to go, "…You know, if you tried a little harder who knows what you could do? I've seen your grades. You don't even study."
Max laughed and gratefully put his name on the page, "I try plenty hard. Trust me," He didn't have the time to study. He was hardly able to find the time to do enough homework to keep a decent grade-point average.
Barbara pursed her lips but didn't say anything. Because of 'extracurricular' affairs she was very attentive to what went on around her. She knew full well that Max had lost his parents, the last one over half a year ago, even if he never told anyone or even let it go beyond the people at the school who absolutely had to know that it happened. He simply missed a few days and came back without missing a beat.
But that beat began to slip, because he had to provide for himself. He had no family stateside. He stopped playing sports, and even stopped coming to school every day. He never asked for help or even let anyone know that he was on his own, out of pride or for whatever reason. And no one cared. This was the wrong town for that.
The bell rang and Max stood up before she did, grabbing the packet and putting a hand on her shoulder as he went past to turn it in, "Thanks, and if there's something I can do later on I owe you one."
"Just happy to help," Barbara said lamely as she watched him go. In the end, it wasn't any of her business.
Well after two in the morning, Max entered his apartment and locked the door behind him, dropping his backpack at the door and flopping face down on the sofa, not even taking his shoes off first and completely ignoring the notice that had been slipped under his door in his absence. His home was a simple one-bedroom apartment. It wasn't exactly in a nice part of town, but it could have been worse.
He dozed off for three hours before waking up and pushing himself up weakly. Two more hours before he had to wake up for school.
With a sigh, Max looked around his dark apartment, still containing this and that from before his father died six months prior. Just thinking about it angered him, but it was a dull anger. The kind that you knew you couldn't do anything about.
His mother and father were both commercial scientists who had made their living when he'd been younger designing and working with teams on technology that S.T.A.R. Labs and other technological powerhouses turned for huge dollars. Then one day that all came to an end, and things grew tough. But they never stopped working. They worked more than they paid attention to him.
And then they both died, one after the other, not too long after one another. But their work had taken them away from him way before death had. He grieved, but not for long. Because there wasn't any room for it. The world didn't care about your excuses.
They left him alone, with no contingency. No contact with anyone that could take him in, or help him. No money to help him get by. No system worked out. It was enough to make him laugh if it wasn't so pathetic.
What was he going to do, become a ward of the state? To hell with that. Adoption? Not a chance. He was sixteen, so it was too late for that to work out for him, even if he did want that sort of thing which he most assuredly did not.
And now the rest of his days would have to be spent eking out what he could with odd jobs? Before he was even old enough to have a fighting chance at a start? No. If he was going to go down, it was going to be because he made his own stupid mistakes to put himself in the hole. Age be damned, he was going to find a way out.
Enough of the nine-to-five crap. Even if he ever got to college, then what? He wouldn't even be able to pay his way through. Not like this.
Jumping up with a grit to his teeth, Max stomped with a purpose and began digging through everything he could get his hands on that he knew belonged to his parents. Scribbled notes, unfinished designs that were nothing more than gibberish to him, and assorted parts that at one point in time might have been used to actually make something, but Max couldn't make heads nor tails of any of it.
Inside of the one room that he and his father shared, he tore through the closet, drawers, anything he could look behind, underneath, or within to find something worthwhile.
Eventually he came across a case that smelled relatively new and looked important. He definitely hadn't seen it before, but then again after they'd moved in and before his dad started getting sick he didn't remember noticing much of anything. All of it revolved around his dad's work, and his work made him angry to think of.
So upset was he, that he barely noticed the fingerprint scanner on the front that he'd brushed his thumb over, causing the case to open with a hiss much to his surprise. Upon opening the case he found a folded-up suit and other little instruments to go along with it.
A onesie? The thought was more than a little irritating as he pulled it out and looked at it. He'd been nervous about finding something or getting kicked out of his home, and he wound up finding a suit.
It was a dark green one-piece bodysuit with porous fibers and padded bands around the joints of the limbs. On the exterior they were as hard as metal, but on the inside they were easily moveable, allowing the wearer to bend. It covered every part of his body up to the second knuckle of his fingers.
"Ugh… kinda tight," Max grunted, feeling the suit meld to every nook and cranny on his body it could find, even between his fingers and toes, and there was an uncomfortable tingle to it. Sharp, as if his entire body was taking one constant jolt of weak electricity. It was quick to adjust to him though, a snug and comfortable fit, like a second set of skin. He almost felt naked.
Okay. So a suit. Sweet. Unless it actually did something he was still out of luck.
But as he thought about it, it made him feel… kind of super actually. Smiling at the thought, he bounced on his toes and honestly believed that he'd never felt so light. It was as if his body weight hardly existed. Feeling as if he could go out and win a slam dunk competition he took a hop and promptly drilled his head off of the ceiling.
Falling into a heap on the floor he held his mouth after biting his tongue, "Ahhhh."
Pain aside, the important thing was that he hadn't even tried. He'd barely pushed his toes off of the ground.
…What was this suit? He felt great and everything he did felt enhanced. How? It was like something out of a comic strip. Like the first scene of some sort of hero's story.
But the thing about everything was that Max wasn't some sort of hero, and he didn't want a story. He just wanted to live without worries.
And he was young enough to think that things could really be that simple the way he wanted to go about it.
Over the next few days, he couldn't stop thinking about the future. He'd worked with controlling his reactions in the suit and realized that everything he'd ever picked up from playing sports in the past, every bit of athleticism he'd ever garnered, was bolstered heavily. He reacted quicker. It was great.
Every time he woke up he looked at the suit and went to school and to work, just thinking about the day he'd take a chance and take what he wanted. It would come soon.
When the weekend fell, he started looking around the city for something to try and take first. Something that would get him a bit of change. Enough at least to pay his rent for a good while and keep him fed. Enough to leave that job of his behind.
Even though he knew it was dumb and it was out of his league, his attention wound up being drawn to an open exhibit of jewelry that would only be in town for two days before continuing on a tour of the world.
Walking around and viewing everything inside that could probably be fenced for a fortune put a silly look on his face the entire time he stayed there. Images of sitting in a posh, luxurious penthouse suite, or even a spacious townhouse uptown flew through his head.
As he stood in front of a glass display of a large diamond behind several armed guards and ropes, he felt the presence of someone slightly shorter standing right next to him, apparently observing the diamond as well, until he felt the uncomfortable sensation of being watched and realized that she'd been looking right at him with striking blue eyes.
A full-grown woman who couldn't have been much older than twenty-five if she was even that old, she smirked at him and tucked strands of her long dark hair behind her ear. Her attire was like night and day compared to his when it came to representation of class. She wore a black jacket over a blood red dress and an expensive piece around her neck, as well as black shoes so fine, Max felt he could have pawned everything in his pockets and on his back and still wouldn't have been able to afford a single one of them.
The woman leaned in close, making it clear she was speaking only to him and didn't want anyone else to hear, "Kid you are making it way too obvious what you're here for."
The woman grinned at Max with an expression that he could only compare to that of a cat. One that had knowingly eaten the family's canary. It made him want to stay away actually, her beauty aside. But he couldn't. Because he could tell that she knew something he didn't.
"Don't have eyes too big for your stomach," She said, blue eyes shining in amusement as she brushed his face with her fingers, "You should head on home. Watching a few movies doesn't get you ready for something like that."
Max's slackened jaw quickly snapped shut and he followed the woman out, trying not to make it look like he was pestering her. Every step he lagged behind her seemed to amuse her even further. She hadn't told him to get lost, so he wanted to find out just what he was missing.
"I wasn't thinking of stealing that you know," Max said, more of his accent breaking through as he found himself at a loss, "That's totally not my thing."
The woman spared him another glance without stopping her stride and let out another laugh, "Jewels are everyone's thing kid. But for the few that actually want to take them, even less of them know how to," The two fell into a silence as the smartly dressed woman navigated the streets of Gotham, the kid following her no matter what street she crossed, 'He's not going to try and mug me, so what is it?'
She took him through an alley where no one would see or hear anything and all he did was follow. He didn't try a thing. She didn't even think he had a knife on him.
Eventually she tired of walking with a shadow and hailed a cab, and that was where she found he would not or could not follow. As she got inside and got herself situated she noticed the frown on Max's face as he watched her. It took a bit of curiosity and determination to follow someone he didn't know as far as he did from the open house, but he had limits.
…That was somewhat respectable.
"Do you need a ride home kid?" She eventually said, scooting over to make room for him?
Max looked around, not believing at first that she was talking to him, "Uh, yes?"
"Well I'm not taking you yet. I'm going to shop for a few things, so carry my bags for me and I'll take you home later."
Was he really going to say no to that?
(Later that Afternoon)
Through a quick introductory exchange, Max learned her name; Selina Kyle. And while he didn't catch her occupation, he did pick up on the thinly veiled fact that she knew what she was talking about when it came to taking what she wanted. For hours she humored him, listened to him, and rebutted when he was severely off about something he'd been saying.
It was the most productive day he could remember having in years.
Eventually, arms full of bags containing Selina's high-end purchases, she brought him to her place and didn't simply tell him to get lost after they got to the doorman of her building.
He'd been dead-on when he tried to figure what kind of woman she was. She had a taste for the finer things, and she had them in spades.
She didn't seem to be much of a fan of his though.
"No-no-no. Here's the thing! I don't need to!" Max said, excited at the thought of doing something so… so wrong, and getting away with it, "I'm not gonna fight, I'm just gonna steal. I just need to be good enough at enough stuff to handle what I need to."
"Uh-huh," Selina said, completely unimpressed by him as she sat and listened, "Well that's the general idea kid. You're not supposed to want to get into trouble. Not unless you're one of those flamboyant crooks that like to go after heroes' neck," The complete look of distaste on his face put a grin on hers, "Well it looks like you're not totally in over your head if you know your chances of getting away if you go toe-to-toe with them."
"I'll do small-time stuff."
"Won't work. If you keep pulling things off and getting away with it, eventually you'll run into dear old Batman," Selina said, lazily filing her nails as she tried to persuade the boy that his choice was not the wisest course of action.
She stopped and thought about it for a moment. With the fact that the bulk of Gotham City's more egregious crimes were being committed by true supervillains that intended to cause true and legitimate harm to the general population, the chances that a mere thief would be left alone by Batman existed, especially one that was small potatoes.
"…Well with the Justice League calling on him, maybe not Batman himself, but you'll wind up tangling with one of the kids he keeps with him," Selina amended, sparing Max a partial glance for a moment, "I'm pretty sure they'll still put you into the ground if you run into them."
Damn, Max had forgotten all about them. Robin and Batgirl. There was more to this than he'd thought. Sitting on the couch in Selina's penthouse he thought to himself, but nothing seemed to come, "I'll-. I'll-, ugh. I don't know."
"Leave Gotham City and go somewhere else," Selina advised, deciding to throw him a bone. He just looked so pathetic, "This isn't exactly a good place to get your feet wet. Sharks are more than willing to take them off for you."
"No money to go anywhere else," Max reasoned with a mumble, "That's why I'm doing this. I'll be out on my ass with nothing and nowhere to go in less than two months at best. Then what?"
"Play a sport," Selina said, trying to coax the young man out of doing something he didn't know the first thing about, "Get a scholarship or something. Go pro."
"I tried playing everything I could before my parents died," Max said, "That'd take too long even if I had been any good at any of it. I can't do that and stay off of the streets y'know?"
"You really think you don't have any other options do you?"
"If you have one that's realistic, I'm all ears," Max said earnestly, "Hit me."
"Where am I getting the car from, how am I paying for upgrades, how am I buying into the races, and what if I lose?"
"Prizefighter. Kids go pro all the time."
"No money to train," And if he were that good at martial arts, he would have already tried that path.
"Not enough money to be worth it."
"True, true," Selina thought stroking her chin as she had started making a game out of it. Anything but a thief, and anyone but her as the one he'd go to for advice. She wasn't some sort of mentor looking for a sidekick, and he'd wind up becoming nothing but competition otherwise, "Have you considered doing something… I don't know, legal?"
"Sure," Max replied, "But everything legal I can do or might be able to do to fix this takes time," As in months, or years, "I don't have any. I've got like 60 days."
And he'd already said in so many words just what would happen at the end of that time span. Either he'd be getting kicked out of somewhere or something else along those lines would happen. Aside from that, the kid had a point. There wasn't anything legal he could do that would solve his problem fast enough.
She could relate. Things hadn't always been so smooth for her either.
Putting her file aside, Selina stood up and gestured for Max to do the same, "Hands up," Immediately, Max did as he was told and slid his body into a ready position for a fight. Not bad posture for a kid, especially something on the spot, "You're trained?"
"Rec kickboxing classes when you're a little kid don't really count do they?" Max asked before finding himself knocked off of his feet and onto his back from behind, "Hey!"
"As a base, yes. Practically, no," Selina said, moving away to a more open place in the penthouse living room, "Watch out for that coffee table by the way. It's worth more than you are. Now come and hit me."
Max got up to one knee, but felt a pit in his stomach at having to hit a woman. It wasn't really his thing, "Uh…"
The look on her face seemed as if this would be more amusing than any sort of threat against her, "Hit me one time or grab a hold of me somehow, and I will teach you everything I possibly can in four weeks."
His reluctance to break a social taboo gave him pause for a moment. Selina gave him no time to think it over before pushing the issue, knowing exactly which point to press to spur him into action.
"It's up to you. You can either suck it up and hit a girl, or you can go and see if whatever's left of the Falcone Family needs any couriers. I'm sure that's an entry-level spot that'll help you break into gooning-," She was almost impressed with the certainty behind the punch he flew at her with. It missed miserably, but there was no hesitance whatsoever, "That was good try," She damn near purred in interest.
Max kept his hands up and slowly shuffled his feet in her direction, having taken his shoes off immediately upon entering her house to keep from besmirching her floors, "You're gonna start hitting me back aren't you?"
(Forty Minutes Later)
She didn't start hitting him back, but that didn't mean she'd let him take lunges at her and refrain from punishing him in some manner. Her bare nails were wickedly sharp, and she had no problems with using him like a kitty-cat's scratching post. Aside from that, tripping him face-first into walls and counters, flipping him upside-down and inside-out, forcing him to bump his head on end tables, everything was fair game to deter him.
Selina figured he'd endure as much abuse as one boy could, and then he would quit, but he took more and more.
Max was exhausted and covered in bloody scratches all over his face and arms, including a particularly ugly one going down his face over and under his eye, but in his hand he held Selina's wrist, "Does that count?" He asked between heavy breaths.
"I didn't think you'd let me gouge your eye out just to grab me," Selina admitted, a small measure of surprise in her voice. Then again, she also thought he'd quit ten minutes into it.
"I didn't want to gouge your eye out! You're just a kid!" She snapped back at him before realizing that he'd fulfilled her condition, "Well, I guess that's what I get for wanting to let you dangle and have a little fun. I didn't think you had much in you."
She could have knocked him unconscious whenever she wanted, but for some reason she didn't. If she could do that so easily, one of Batman's kids would massacre him. Even if she let him alone, he'd still give the criminal thing a try, and he'd wind up in jail before he ever got close to anything he wanted.
Max weakly let her go and Selina looked down at her arm to see a red mark on her wrist from his grip. She was getting so soft.
"Four weeks," The woman eventually said, holding up four fingers, "Give me four weeks, listen to everything I say, and keep your trap shut. If you ever get caught, you learned all of this from no one. Don't come back here again," She got a serious nod from Max and waved him off, "Now go home and clean yourself up. I don't know about you, but I could use a nice long bath."
(The Next Day)
"Max, what happened to your face?"
Max had been getting that question all day long, but he winced especially hard when he'd heard it from Barbara of all people. She seemed to be the only one that cared enough to be particularly startled at his appearance.
Seeing as how she had to sit directly next to him for one hour every day, it was probably the reason behind any sort of concerned interest she had. If she was going to be front and center to look at his scratched up mug every day, it was better to get the question out of the way sooner rather than later.
He had a feeling times would come when he would have to throw out quite a few excuses to keep people off of his back in the first place, so it was better to get into the habit before it became a big issue.
"Work is probably gonna be a little rougher for me at night," Max told her, touching one of the raised scratches on his face, still feeling the soreness on his entire body. Selina had made mincemeat out of him, "I'll probably be looking something like this for a while."
"What do you even do?"
"Whatever I need to I guess."
(Later That Night)
Max didn't call in to work. The day before he'd left a message that he wasn't coming back. It was all or nothing here and he was going to make sure he gave it his best. If it failed, no one would ever be able to say that he didn't dedicate himself to anything completely. Either this worked out, or nothing would.
If he couldn't even dedicate himself to what he himself had even considered the easy route, what good was he to the world at all? He was nothing as it was. To give up and quit at what he had already considered his last resort, that would make him even worse than a loser. It would make him less than a zero.
Sleep was the most important first and foremost. He didn't know when he'd be coming back, or if he would at all, so it was best to make sure that he was actually rested and prepared to give his best effort once it all began.
It came easier than he had anticipated.
Max figured he would have been a bundle of jittery nerves, unable to close his eyes and relax, but there was a stark sobriety to resigning oneself to a task. Figuring that something had to be done was oftentimes a method of coping with just how big or how real a situation was. Once he started, he wouldn't be able to stop. Not until he'd gotten enough money to guarantee he could try and have a real life.
A relatively peaceful sleep was disturbed by the sound of his front door opening and closing. Strange, because he knew he'd locked it.
Sitting up bleary-eyed he was presented with the sight of the woman meant to instruct him, or at least it was who he figured to be. It was a shapely woman for certain, but her identity was obscured by her choice of attire.
Selina wore knee-high boots and a black, skin-tight, zip-up suit with a goggled cowl on her head, pointed like a pair of cat-ears. The gloves that covered her hands seemed to have built in claws on them. Judging from what she could do with her bare nails, Max wasn't eager to see what she could do with those.
He opened his mouth to speak, but she beat him to it, "First thing's first. No names. If you have to, find something else to call yourself. Catwoman for example," Easy enough to remember and it made sense, "Purrrfect, right?"
"Original. Did you give yourself that one?" Max dryly quipped before leaning back as far as he could, Selina's claws having extended, gently touching the underside of his chin, "Err… I get it though."
"I'd love to see you come up with something better Maxie," Catwoman said before guiding him to his feet and pointing for his back rooms, "Go get ready. We're wasting time. I've got four weeks to make something serviceable out of you."
Not necessarily wanting to get scratched so early in the night, Max hastily went into the bedroom and went for the case containing the special suit. He still hadn't learned how it worked, but he knew what it did and how to use it by now. It was simple enough. Put it on, get enhanced.
If Selina thought he'd been a pushover before, wait until she got a load of him in the suit. And that sort of thinking made him pause in his actions.
'No,' Max thought to himself right before he started to change into the suit, 'She's expecting what she got yesterday. Any training she's got ready for me is taking what she already knows into account,' It was the only reason aside from deterring him altogether that Catwoman would have had for fighting with him.
If he came out of the gates blowing her expectations away, it would screw up anything Catwoman had planned for him. Besides, he had a feeling that the suit would enhance whatever he was capable of once he put it on. Wouldn't it be better to let his body suffer through whatever she had set now without the suit only to reap the benefits twice as much afterwards?
It would make everything so much easier, but would easier be better? That was the idea that had started all of this, but the easy way here definitely wasn't the better way. He'd take whatever she had on his feet and stay standing. If he could do that, only then would he wear the suit.
"Are you getting cold feet Maxie?"
Replacing the case where he found it, Max quickly threw on some expendable clothes that he could move around in and a stocking cap to at least try and hide the trait of his hair, just in case. He hustled back to cat burglar lazing on his couch, looking at a stray note left by his parents, bored with waiting, "Ready."
Having gotten her attention, he watched her smirk and get back up, giving him a once-over, much like she had in her penthouse the day they'd met, "No you're not. But you will be."
First and foremost she'd guided him to the roof and on the way challenged him to keep up with her making as little sound as he could. Sneaking through the halls of an apartment building was simple, and if he couldn't do that he didn't have a chance of ever being a decent thief that didn't take the smash and grab approach. She wasn't going to put any effort into teaching a brute whose first option would be to tear the door off of a safe or kick in a locked door.
Upon reaching the roof, Catwoman looked around at the late night sky with a smile on her lips, "Okay, first and foremost, learn how to move. You're in decent shape, but you need to be better. So here's what you're going to do. You follow me and keep up. That's all you have to do."
Max's eyes went wide when he realized that she was going to make him run and jump rooftops with her. Without another word she started, and Max lagged behind, trying to keep up and watch what she did.
"To keep from outright getting you killed, I won't distances I need my whip to cover," Catwoman said, right before vaulting over an alleyway with a nimble flip, landing on the other side as smooth as silk, "This is all me."
Gritting his teeth, Max reached the edge and threw his body forward with everything he had. To his relief he landed on the other side, only to be met with a shake of the head from Catwoman, "What's wrong? I made it," He didn't want to see how his body would handle a ten-story fall after all.
"By three feet," Catwoman pointed out, "You put everything you had into one jump. That's wasted effort. You do that while you're being chased, whoever's after you will clobber you while you're recovering from the landing," She turned his head back to the gap, "Gauge distance and elevation when you clear a gap to save time and energy when you do it. Trust me. Your body instinctually knows what it's capable of."
Max nodded and they continued on. Most of the first night was spent simply learning how to move along rooftops and traverse obstacles. Simple enough in theory, but he looked and felt a mess every single night after they had gone over it.
(Two Weeks Later)
"Run. Get high up and run."
"Good. The Penguin," Catwoman continued, watching Max slowly make his way through her laser alarm course, "…With a handful of henchmen."
"Negotiate, or fight," Max answered, sweat covering his face as he put the flexibility of his body to the test. He wasn't anywhere close to Catwoman, but he was athletic enough to do what he needed to within the realm of reasonability. He wasn't some contortionist, and he had learned tricks otherwise to beat lasers if and when they came up.
"Beat the shit out of him."
Week two dipped into practical burglary, and lessons on what to do if everything failed and he wound up having to face off with some of Gotham City's most notable visitors and residents. Catwoman had set up a share of obstacle courses in a warehouse where no one would bother the two of them while she educated him.
All of the answers fell into four categories. Either you could outright run, fight as much as you needed to in order to get away, suggest a team-up, or surrender. Catwoman didn't surrender, but she suggested to Max that he was better off keeping the option open. He was brand new and it wouldn't do to get him maimed or killed by telling him to never be taken without a fight.
"Fucking run and hope he didn't see my face."
A smile tugged at Selina's lips upon hearing that. The idea of getting involved with the meta-human criminals and superheroes that looked to be multiplying seemed to be the absolute last thing that Max wanted in the world, "Let's switch it up. Superman."
Max paused in the middle of his movement over a red laser and turned his head far enough to give her an incredulous look, "That's a trick question! No Metropolis! You said never go to Metropolis! It's not worth it."
"-Because you won't be able to get away from Superman no matter what you try, and whatever you steal will most likely be LexCorp's to begin with, which has a whole new set of problems. You're listening," Catwoman said, stroking a black cat that had come along with her to keep her company while she taught, "Now let's go over capes that you'll realistically end up facing, shall we?"
(One Week Later)
Catwoman observed Max's movements as he hit a human-shaped dummy with everything she'd been able to unload on him combat-wise in regards to technique. Pursing her lips she looked over his handiwork as he struck. Everything he took aim at was meant to debilitate and slow down an enemy. She wasn't expecting him to outright beat anyone down. There was only so much she could do with a handful of weeks to get him up to speed.
In close, Max shot his lead hand forward, feigning a jab but smacking his forearm off of the windpipe of the dummy, hooking his hand on the shoulder or collarbone of the dummy and pulling it in for a knee to the groin and an elbow to the head and neck.
"Nice," Catwoman said, "Don't be gentle about it. If you think a blow will give you an opening to get away, go for it. If you think you can put someone down you'd better do it. Heroes won't kill you, but they won't mess around with you either. They'll hurt you."
Standing behind him, a mischievous grin found its way to her face.
Continuing his practice onslaught, Max felt a hand on his shoulder and a quick pull along with a foot tripping up his back leg. Being sent backwards onto his head, he placed his hands on the ground and backflipped into a crouch for a leg sweep that Catwoman flipped away from herself, a grin still on her face.
"Let's see if you're still such a cream puff Maxie," Catwoman said, beckoning him forth with a crook of her finger, "Hopefully it doesn't take you forty-five minutes to so much as touch me this time."
The dirty-blond would-be criminal tensed his muscles in his crouch, preparing to leap right at her and begin, "It'll be more than a damn touch!"
(The Next Day)
"Mr. Gabriel, where did you get that black eye from?"
Max turned to his teacher after entering the classroom. For once the man actually noticed when he'd entered the room and picked up on the wicked bruise around his left eye. Certainly, everyone had seen it, but no one picked up on it. They just assumed he'd gotten mugged or something. It was Gotham City after all.
Thus, Max hadn't fashioned a very convincing excuse, "Accident at work?"
God, he needed better explanations. Every time he gave one, they sounded so slapdash and vague… mostly because they were. He really had to start thinking of decent ones to keep saved up, 'Because I'm not sure saying I got hurt groping the lady teaching me how to be a thief would be a good excuse.'
On the plus side, it only took him five minutes to get a hand on her that time, and it was a better spot than her wrist. Good enough to get punched over after the fact.
After all of the work, put in by both Max and Catwoman, the time finally came. Four weeks had passed, and Max wasn't going to ask Catwoman to bother with him any longer. She had her own things to do and he'd put her affairs on hold for long enough.
Also, he couldn't waste any more time. The clock was ticking and he needed to come up with something to keep his apartment.
"Well, you still have zero natural talent," Catwoman said, looking over Max's handiwork on her fake course, "But compared to how bad you were when I first met you, you're leaps and bounds better. I still don't think you should start in Gotham City, but if you've got nowhere else to go you've got nowhere else to go."
"I've been thinking about that," Max said, smiling despite the almost backhanded compliment he'd received. He knew by now that Catwoman was never going to admit that she liked him a bit, and that was fine. He owed her and she could talk to him any way she wanted to, "I've come up with a plan."
"You already know what you want to hit?"
"Well… no. But after I do, and I start taking stuff, I know how I'm gonna handle things."
Ambitious wasn't he, to think he'd already set up how he was going to operate? So he had a set of rules for himself already. Well it was better to get one sooner rather than later. It kept you from getting into too much hot water when you were young and dumb, which in Catwoman's opinion, Max was.
Rule number one, don't kill cops or capes. That was just day one stuff. Using extreme force like that wouldn't solve any problems, it would just make sure that the next one that came after him had a vested interest in making sure he bit the dust.
Rule number two. Never fight when you can run, and never surrender when you can fight. Screw your pride. Money is on the line.
Rule number three. No haul is worth your life or your freedom. Max was stealing to make his life better. Getting thrown into prison trying to get the big score was not part of the plan.
Rule number four. Never stay active enough in a given area to establish a pattern. Justice League members or not, heroes tended to be territorial when the issue wasn't on a world-threatening level. The less heroes that looked his way at any given time, the better. Hopefully by the time he got the money he needed, few heroes would barely know that he'd been active at all. That was the idea at least.
Rule number five, which was really just an extension and an addendum to rule number four.
NO METROPOLIS! EVER!
He wasn't even going to make the assumption that Superman had better things to worry about than dealing with some paltry burglaries when there was Justice League work and big time bad guys out there that could actually hurt him and the city, because the man was damn near omniscient. Superman would probably wind up busting him in passing without even giving it a second thought.
He had to be cautious.
It wasn't like he would be doing this every day either. Just once in a while. Plenty of time to let any heat against his masked side die down. After all, it was Gotham City. If you waited long enough there would be another bad thing to overshadow the last bad thing that had happened.
Catwoman heard him out and figured that his code was pretty threadbare and didn't cover even half of what he would really need to be successful, but as long as he stuck to it religiously it would save him some headaches down the line. That was if he actually managed to last long enough to make any noise out there.
Either way, whether he did or didn't wasn't her problem. She'd done her part, "Well Maxie, it looks like you graduate. Hooray," Sparing him a wave, she prepared to head home and plan her own burglary, "See you around kid," She'd spent enough time babysitting.
He was going to be on his own again. No safety net or security blanket in Selina, as prickly and as fickle as she could be from time to time. It was time to stand on his own or simply fall down.
"Hey Selina," Max said before she could leave him alone on the rooftop. She turned and shot him a baleful look for using her real name, but he didn't care. He just had to know, "Why'd you help me out?"
Selina pulled up her goggles and looked right at Max, getting the exact same feeling that she'd gotten the day they'd met, just before she was about to take a cab and ditch him, "I'm not even sure I know. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a kid willing to try and take on the big, bad city all by his lonesome."
Maybe it could have been because she understood someone feeling the desire to take what they wanted to give themselves a better life.
A smile came to Max's face. At least someone cared, if only just a little bit. After his 'trainer' left, he pulled off his hat and raked his hand through his hair before blowing a kiss in her direction. He was going to be a criminal but a deal was a deal. His word had to mean something, otherwise he had nothing at all.
He wouldn't ever bother her again. His problems didn't affect her, and after everything else it would have been grossly unfair to try and offload onto her more than he already had. It was only a month of instruction, but Selina had done more than he could have asked.
The training wheels were off now, and it was time to see if he could actually make a go of it.
When Batman was away, the criminal underbelly of Gotham City didn't sleep. Fortunately there were two more caped crusaders willing and able to step in when the big man was off on world saving business.
Ironically however, since most of Gotham's criminal powerhouses had a pathological grudge against Batman, a lot of them kept a significantly lower profile when he wasn't around to try and take a piece out of. Most of their schemes revolved around somehow getting rid of Batman, so when he wasn't around, the things they stole or the people they went after didn't really have a lot of purpose.
Robin enjoyed it though. It gave him free reign to try his hand and keeping the city safe without having to worry as much about as many of the freaks and baddies coming out to play.
On nights without threats aimed at the very heart of Gotham City itself, keeping an eye out for thieves and other street crimes was the main priority.
And speaking of which, there had been a bit of a security snafu at Gotham Arena. Radio reports said that it was just an alarm error, but there was no such thing when it came to that town. With that in mind, Robin made his way out to check out the scene.
"No way," Robin said after realizing what had been taken, and right from the home locker room to boot, "Aw, I haven't seen that before," And he meant it.
Game jerseys had been taken from the Gotham Knights basketball team. Actual game jerseys used on the court earlier that night in a televised game. He could actually get a good piece of action from selling those. If he could confirm that they were authentic game jerseys, which wasn't hard to do, he could pull down tens of thousands of dollars.
It was definitely the m.o. of the newest pest criminal in the Gotham area.
Wasting no time, Robin activated his communicator and spoke to the person on the other end, "Batgirl, I'm at Gotham Arena looking at a break-in. This is totally that new guy," He said, barely hiding his anticipation, "You want to see him?"
"The new guy? He's small-time isn't he? He never steals anything worth any real money," From the sound of Batgirl's voice, Robin was well aware that she didn't know what he was excited about.
"Yeah, but we've never even seen him before. Most small-time guys we come across, we still know who they are," The new guy, all anyone knew was that he wore a hood. That wasn't much of a description, "Don't you want some new business to bring up to Batman when he gets back? No real noise ever goes off when he's gone doing the Justice League thing anyway."
Silence reigned between them for a moment, and Robin knew that he had her attention, "…I'll be there in a minute."
"I'll try and get on his tail now," Robin said, rushing outside and grappling up to the roof to try and get a bird's eye view of the area. If he were a bad guy, how would he get away without setting off the good guys? Rooftops were meant for traveling fast, not under the radar.
Alleyways it was then.
Figuring that the perp would want to get himself lost heading downtown where things got clustered before trying to make his return to wherever he was based out of, Robin started combing the backstreets and eventually spotted a quick figure darting across a road out of range of the glowing streetlights, 'There's my man.'
Making sure his grappling hook was anchored, Robin swung down into the alley, set to get the drop on his adversary with a kick to the back of the head. He didn't expect his quarry to roll at the last second and avoid the attack altogether.
Robin landed on the ground in a short slide and watched a hooded figure literally crawl up a wall, with slight hints of blue electricity stemming from his fingers and feet. Well that was fine. He'd normally prefer a quick resolution, but that really would have been disappointing after having the guy duck him for almost two months.
A second shot of the grapple gun sent Robin up and onto the rooftop, landing in front of his target and bringing him to a stop amid building ventilation pipes and systems, "Wait, that's not a hood. That's like a scarf or something."
"Or something," The figure said. Wrapped around his head was a loose looking, thick dark wrap that went around his neck over his shoulders, upper chest, and upper back. It covered his head as if it actually were a loose hood, keeping his eyes and most of his upper face shadowed in the dark. He wore gloves on his hands and black boots on his feet that went up to his shins. At his waist he wore a pair of brown straps forming an 'x' around his hips with a few utility holsters attached on both his left and right sides.
The porous green suit that most of his outfit consisted of seemed to provide protection that rivaled the suits that Batman and his wards wore, at least as far as blunt damage went. There didn't seem to be any kind of plating or armor to it otherwise.
Robin squared off with him, but noticed that he looked closer to a teenager than to an adult. He didn't look any older than he did to be honest, "You're the new bad guy in town? I'd say you look a little young, but that'd make me a hypocrite wouldn't it?"
"Dude, I don't want to hear that out of you," Max said, gesturing at Robin, offended at what he was implying when it came to surprise at his age, "I know there are definitely people out there younger than me that'd make me piss my pants."
Robin opened his mouth to respond his new enemy but shut his mouth, because he was more correct than he probably even knew. So if he was that self-aware, why was he out there doing what he was doing? "Who are you supposed to be anyway?"
Whatever Batman's chief apprentice had been expecting, what he wound up getting wasn't it.
Max actually took a moment to think about it, "I… never really came up with anything," He said more to himself than to Robin, "…I didn't plan on introducing myself to anybody. But I guess seven weeks is a good enough streak without running into one of you."
Without another second of pleasantries, Max turned and ran but Robin quickly hurled a Bird-a-rang at his retreating back.
Max turned his head just long enough to see it coming and dove through the thin opening between two pipes to avoid it, "Yeah! That was awesome! How about that?" He gloated, impressed by his own move.
Clicking his tongue, Robin went straight over with a single flip, landing just after Max safety rolled through his straight dive. Max's eyes went wide and tried to lean his head out of the way of a punch thrown at him. Grabbing the offending limb by the forearm at his shoulder, Max turned in the direction of the punch and tried to back elbow Robin only to find it blocked.
Robin kicked at the back of Max's knee, bringing him down to one foot on the ground. Max leaned forward and took all of Robin's body weight with him, throwing him forward in an improvised leverage toss. Both of them quickly scrambled back to their feet and faced off again, "Give up or start crying. The choice is yours."
Robin's punch hadn't missed at all. Max's lip was split and bleeding. Fortunately the suit had heightened his reaction so well he'd been able to turn his head with the punch and somewhat turn the tide to a neutral tilt.
'He hit me in the suit. He hit me good too,' Max thought to himself, thinking that maybe stopping to fight wasn't such a great idea. A touch of fear began to creep up his throat. Without the suit he'd have been a goner already, 'No wonder Selina thought he'd tear me apart even with the training.'
As he thought about what rotten luck it must have taken to finally get one of Batman's partners on his case, he saw a smirk form on Robin's face, and for the life of him, Max couldn't comprehend why. Robin hadn't beaten him up that badly yet, had he?
A small nagging feeling at the back of his neck for some reason told Max that it was in his vested best interest to move as hard and as fast as he could by any means necessary. He jumped as high as he could in the air and tried to gracefully backflip and land back on his feet but failed, almost taking a spill onto his face had he not caught himself with his arms.
He managed to salvage the landing onto all-fours and narrowly jump over a bola that had been thrown at him from a blind spot. With a quick turn of his head, he cursed his luck. When it rained it poured.
Batgirl. The yellow bat symbol on the chest of the dark, skin-tight protective outfit was a dead giveaway as to who she aligned herself with if it hadn't been obvious at first. Her gloves, utility belt, and boots were yellow and long red hair trailed down her back from underneath her cowl.
The dark princess of the night spared Max a glance and looked up at Robin, "Is this the guy?" She asked her fellow sidekick, getting a nod out of him, "You didn't beat him yet?"
"He's got funky moves," Robin defended, "If it makes up for it, he hasn't really hit me once."
"Give me a few more tries buddy. I'm just getting warmed up," Max stood back up and tried to position himself in a triangle formation with the two instead of an ill-advised pincer setup that would have spelled disaster for him, "What? You called for backup?"
"He called me before he even found you," Batgirl corrected him, hands on her hips as she tried to size him up. He was obviously their age, "I didn't think I'd get here before he beat you though, whoever you are."
Well that was fair. After tangling with the likes of say, Solomon Grundy, putting the boots to a rookie thief probably should have seemed like child's play on the surface.
But again, the name thing came up, and if he didn't name himself they'd come up with one for him, and those tended to be quite awful. Max was pretty sure the Penguin didn't name himself, and at this rate someone was going to saddle him with a terrible moniker. With the poor way he was fighting tonight though, he might as well have been called a zero.
"You know what," Max finally said acerbically, "Just call me 'Null'. As in, everything I've tried tonight to stay the hell away from you two has been totally worthless."
…If he was going to have a name that reflected how much he sucked, he was at least going to be the one to give it to himself.
Batgirl actually laughed at the newly named Null's honesty assessment of his own situation. Well stealth had somehow failed, and he didn't seem very enthused to be there at all, so perhaps reasoning him down was an option, "You could just give up you know. It'd probably be a lot better off for you."
When faced with a rather gentle offer to call it quits, coupled with a gentle smile from a girl he could almost guarantee was pretty behind her mask, Null considered if it was too late to go back.
Yes, it was. The cops might not have known who Null was, but Robin and Batgirl did. If they caught him and pinned even just the theft he'd committed tonight on him, the game was over and his life was ruined. Even if he would only wind up going for a few years, that would be enough to ruin any future he had.
To give up so easily when faced with his first real bit of criminal adversity, he would have been going back on a promise he'd made to himself to give it everything he had to make this work.
The last resort, as it was.
"I'm sorrier about it than you think I am," Null eventually said, putting his hands back up, prepared to fight or flee again, "No excuses though."
He was either getting away or he was going to prison.
This was officially the dumbest idea he'd ever come up with in his sixteen years of life on Earth.
A stutter-step forward put Batgirl and Robin on the defensive, allowing Null to turn tail and take a standing jump, clearing an entire street to land on another rooftop and try to run.
The sound of a gun going off gave way to the end of a grappling line stabbing into a water tower in front of Null as he ran. Turning around to see just how close his pursuers were, it gave him the time to cover up and block a pair of Batgirl's feet from being driven into his body.
Null was knocked to the roof by the kick, but he managed to push Batgirl off of him and roll back to his feet in a single move. Upon standing he had to knock away a punch from Robin before retaliating with a side kick that hit nothing but air.
'Gotta get him down,' Null thought to himself, pursuing Robin in the hopes of landing a strike good enough to take him down. Stopping in his pursuit upon feeling a presence darting at him from out of his sight, he spun around with a wheel kick that Batgirl ducked by the points of the bat ears on her mask.
"Can he sense us move?" Batgirl asked, standing with Robin after avoiding Null's blind kick. She knew she'd been dead silent in her approach. Only Batman himself would have been savvy enough to know that she had been approaching, and the newly christened concealed crook didn't catch her as being that perceptive.
Robin shook his head, not knowing how to answer. Null had done the same thing to him when he'd first found him, and he'd been moving even faster than Batgirl had been at the time, "I don't see how, but otherwise I couldn't tell you what it could be. He knows something we don't."
But he seemed unsure in the way he moved when he fought. Null had a few slick moves, but Robin was a top-level martial artist. Just from dealing with him, he could tell that Null wasn't quite sure if he was using his techniques correctly. Even if he could sense danger, he didn't have the talent to actually do anything about much of it.
Locking eyes with Batgirl, Robin moved in tandem with her right at Null. Whatever chance he had before to make a decent account of himself was quickly dashed.
For every punch or kick he managed to block, three or four landed on him regardless. Even rolling with the blows the way he'd been taught did nothing when he wound up turning his head or body right into the path of a hit from another assailant.
Null had lost count of how many times he'd been hit and wound up reaching out for anything to grab just to keep from falling backwards. What he wound up grabbing was Batgirl's cape over her shoulder immediately after taking a punch from her. Thinking he'd been playing possum to a degree she turned and threw Null as hard as she could, sending him sprawling across the remainder of the roof until he dropped off of the edge.
Batgirl's jaw dropped and was quickly followed by the sound of a crash over the side of the building, "Oh no."
Robin winced at the sound and hoped that they hadn't killed a thief by accident while trying to bring him down. That was way too far for things to have been taken, "…Damn. I guess you got him," Unacceptably far, especially just for a teenager that had been stealing, and not even anything dangerous or important, "We've gotta go check."
Nodding in agreement, Batgirl dropped down to survey the scene.
Only to find nothing.
No trace of anything. No body, dead or otherwise. Nothing.
It didn't make any sense.
"Okay, he might be badder than we thought he was," Robin said, staring at the complete lack of anything resembling Null in the alley, "He's gone?"
Batgirl knew she'd heard metal smash and saw a massive dent in the hood of a nearby abandoned car.
"Wow. He must have landed on his feet and made a run for it," She tried to deduce. From how he'd dodged her bolas, how he'd jumped an entire street just from a standing position while turning around, and other things he'd done he had great athleticism, and from how he'd dodged and reacted to a good number of their moves he had smashing reflexes, "He was pretty fast so he probably got a good jump on us."
Activating the lenses in her cowl, they changed to analyzing goggles, but that bore no fruit for her. Not even any footprints to tell them which way he might have gone. No blood, nothing.
Where did that sort of showing come from? He barely seemed like he knew what he was doing at first and then he lost them in a heartbeat.
If Batman found out they lost a bad guy, he was going to kick their asses when he got back.
Hoping to pick up Null's trail as he couldn't have gotten too far, both Robin and Batgirl left the scene to try and see if they could find him in the midst of his fleeing. He'd been heading downtown at first, so maybe they could blanket the possible paths he could take and cut him off.
And they left the still and quiet, cold alleyway, with only the sound of distant vehicles and city noise echoing into the passage.
In the dark, with the soft sound of scratching on the concrete, what looked at first glance to be just a form-fitting parchment of the pavement began to move slowly.
It had taken everything Null had to remain perfectly still and silent. Tears pricked at his eyes the entire time, but he had no other choice. Playing dead and relying on a facet of his parents' suit had been his only choice.
Adaptable camouflage. His suit could change to any color and visual texture he wanted to. Even the temperature of the suit would adapt automatically if he pressed himself against enough of something for long enough. Why his parents had kept this for as long as they had without selling it to someone, Null would never know. The military probably would have paid them enough to keep them set for life if they'd managed to get it to them.
But it wasn't his primary concern at the moment. His main concern was the awful landing he'd just taken courtesy of the Batman Family of superheroes. His entire right side screamed at him to both turn over onto his left side and stay perfectly still at the same time, "Urrgggh…"
Null slowly crawled on the ground after figuring that Robin and Batgirl were gone, but he soon wished he hadn't. Lying motionless on the cold ground had been so comfortable compared to even so much as moving a muscle. He couldn't have hit the hood of that car any harder if Batgirl had actually been trying to throw him off of that roof.
"Yeah, I jumped off of the car and ran for it alright," Null grunted out sarcastically, mocking Batgirl's overestimation of his capabilities, "Give me a break. What do I look like here?"
As bad as it made him feel, he had to stand, had to get up. He couldn't stay on the ground. Gotham City was the absolute last place on the planet anyone wanted to find themselves injured in an alley. He had to at least try and get home and get himself some help. Getting up was slow going, but when he did he found a silver lining; nothing was broken, even if everything hurt.
He'd kept his small haul, and at least for the time being, he was free of caped crusaders.
But it stuck in his head just how close he'd come to losing it all on his very first brush with Gotham's finest. If it had been Batman, no suit camouflage would have saved his ass. He wouldn't have even been able to push the issue far enough to luck into the circumstance to use it.
…Because that was what it had been. Dumb luck. Pure dumb luck had gotten him out of trouble on that night
Null thanked God he was only in this for the short term. If he had to deal with this sort of thing for the rest of his life, it would have been enough to bring him to his knees.
This is just an experiment.
I've thought about doing this for a while, and I finally decided to give it a go.
Every hero or villain has a reason to become and remain a hero or a villain, or at least they try to come up with a concrete one in their own mind. DC Superheroes are pretty straight-up like that. I wanted to try and introduce a character that doesn't want any part of the encompassing good versus evil, superpowered, aliens attacking things that you get with comics.
Null is a thief, or at least that's all he wants to be, but he doesn't want to be some sort of soulless person that won't do something when he knows he can. Granted, there isn't much he can actually do to even protect himself or ensure his own interests at the moment, but that will change. He doesn't have any compulsion to rob or fight for some higher aim. His sense of right and wrong isn't supposed to be above his own sense of self-preservation, and as of now he's very 'me first'. There's no reason for him not to be.
He isn't twisted enough to be a proper villain, and his sense of justice isn't strong enough for him to martyr himself as a hero. He's as close to a normal person as I think I can muster.
His primary delusion and main fatal flaw is that he thinks that when he's had enough, he can get himself out. No matter how deep he gets, just as long as he never gets busted or unmasked. He has to think so. It's the only reason he accepted the idea of becoming a thief in the first place.
Well… that and he barely knows anything about his own suit other than what it does for him… and his bare-bones combat training that he is now painfully aware isn't enough.
It's supposed to be the closest example I think I can give of what a somewhat normal person without great resources or circumstances of origin would do if they were repeatedly forced into the outrageous world of heroes and villains.
Eventually if all goes to plan, it will expand into the greater DC Universe.
Like I said, just an experiment really.
So long for now. Kenchi out.