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Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic.
Once again, Bruce found himself running over Gotham's rooftops, long after the sun had sunk beyond the horizon. He was more careful than his usual run, holding back the pain of his wound and trying not to tear the stitches out again. His hood was pulled up and he bounded over the alleys, giving small oomph with each landing before continuing on. As in the nights before, the cries of the city drifted up to him and by the time he turned to chase down the broken shouts and calls, they had already fallen silent. For a moment, he would stand at a ledge, looking out across the pinpricks of light, standouts against the pervading darkness of his home. A frown reached across his face before he heard a soft footfall and turned to see a lithe figure with a fur-lined hood and amber goggles about her neck. Her full lips pulled into a smile and the girl he had met on his first night back in Gotham purred, "Well, if it isn't Mr. Prim-and-Proper. You got a thing for only coming out during the night?"
"'Do you have a thing,'" he corrected but gave a slight smile.
"I will push you off this roof," Selina, he recalled the name her sister had called, threatened as she swung herself down, sitting on the ledge and swing her legs over the side. "You know, most people are smart enough to stay inside at night."
"What exactly does that make you?"
"Somebody who knows how to handle whatever these streets got," she answered before glancing up at him. "What about you?"
"I have seen the horrors these streets produce," he answered, gazing out across the cityscape. "There are worse things that haunt this world."
She was silent for a moment before glancing away and giving a low whistle, "Man, anybody ever tell you that you're all sorts of depressing?"
"Sorry," he shrugged before glancing down at her. "What brings you out here anyway?"
"Please. Anybody who's ever seen a slasher film knows jogging in the park is never a good idea. But when have you ever seen the chick racing across rooftops get chopped up?" she smirked as she extended a comely leg that her jeans hugged. Slender fingers traced along the toned limb as she said, "And a body this perfect doesn't just maintain itself. What about you, mystery boy?"
"Mmm-hm. Our last little chat got interrupted. So how about them secrets?" she smiled, her blue eyes brightening.
"You still haven't given up on that?"
"Curiosity may have killed the cat, but satisfaction brought her back," she grinned playfully.
Before he could answer, a spray of gunfire roared from an alley across the street and Bruce sprang forward, diving for a fire escape and swinging to the ground below. He was racing across the street as Selina stood and called after him, "What are you doing?! That's towards the gunfire!"
Her words reached no further than his ears as he leapt into the dark, bounding atop a dumpster before driving his elbow into the masked man with the assault rifle. A grunt escaped through the rubber monster mask as the man slammed into the ground and Bruce rolled out of the way as the man's partner turned from the doorway, spraying at the dark figure. Shooting forward, Bruce smashed the man's arms into the doorframe before throwing him over his shoulder. As the shooter stood, the young man leapt from the top of the steps and smashed his elbow atop the masked man's head, sentencing him to unconsciousness. Standing, he dove out of the way as a blocky man emerged in the doorway, pistol in hand as he opened fire.
"False Face freaks!" he snarled as Bruce dove behind a dumpster, counting the shots until the clip was emptied. Then he emerged, darting forward as the man reloaded, and smashed his palm into his jawline before delivering another blow to knock him out. Pulling his hood down over his face, he glanced into the room, a cramped poker room that had sustained a number of bullet wounds though its occupants were seemingly unharmed. Ducking out of the doorframe, he raced away from the scene before the distant sounds of shots rang through the air again, the stitches free of his skin and blood staining his undershirt.
He could feel the stitches threatening to pull loose again as he reached into his locker, the work on them shoddy as he had attempted to tend to himself the night before. After his first encounter, he had encountered three more groups of heavily armed men with Halloween masks, and had been fortunate that despite their armaments, they were poor shots. The weapons leapt in their hands, spitting bullets into the brick and concrete of the city as they tried to reclaim control. By then, he had been on them and even with the hindrance of his opened gash, he had only earned several bruises that were still tender but not serious. Many of the targets of the masked men readily returned fire though not with the same level of weaponry, producing only handguns in response. Bruce had handled them in the same manner as their assailants, leaving them unconscious as he set off to stop other potential shootouts before fatigue threatened his body, dangerously slowing his reflexes and bearing responsibility for many of the tender, purpling marks along his body.
His movements were short and affected by the pain that shot through each of them, which did not go unnoticed by his peers.
"Hey, Bruce. You feeling all right?"
Pulling a textbook from his locker and dropping it in his backpack, which he had settled for simply carrying in his hands, he turned to face Silver, offering a somewhat strained smile.
"Mostly. I just started a new workout regimen and it's kind of kicking my butt."
"Ooh, sounds fun," she smiled as she fell into step alongside him. "So, how've you been liking Gotham Academy?"
"It certainly has some . . . interesting characters," he conceded, drawing a bright laugh from her.
"It definitely does."
"Roman decided to talk to me the other day."
"Man, you're just having tons of fun, aren't you?"
"Oodles. He's a bit off-putting, isn't he?"
"On his good days. And did you just use the word 'oodles?'" she smiled.
"I'll deny it if you bring it up again."
"What did the young Master Sionis want to talk to you about?"
"Honestly? I'm not even sure. He introduced himself and then he was talking about how I've got an odd taste in friends," Bruce shrugged.
There was a rattling sound as a body slammed into the lockers across the hall and the pair glanced over to see Oswald shoved against a locker, pressed there by the pair who had been harassing him the other day. The leaner of the pair was the aggressor, his fist raised as he snapped, in obvious benefit for the gathering audience, "What'd you say about me, waddles?"
"Urrggghh. I didn't say anything, you oafish nincompoop," grunted the portly youth.
Stallion snorted in amusement as Crock laughed derisively, "'Nincompoop?' Seriously? What'chu think this is, kindergarten?"
"I was trying to speak on your reading level," returned his defiant captive.
Crock's eyes darkened and he ground his teeth together as he cocked his fist back further, and Oswald instinctively shut his eyes. Before the blow could fall, a steely grip captured Crock's arm and he snarled before turning to hard, blue eyes. Bruce instructed coldly, "Let my friend go."
"You gonna make me?" returned the brunette confidently, his eyes making contact with Stallion who lumbered forward.
"You really want me to humiliate you again?" Bruce asked.
"Girls, girls. You're all pretty. Now why don't we move out of the way of my locker?" Roman interjected suddenly, flanked by Shackley, Armand, and Kelly. The dull-eyed boy slouched with hands in his pockets and a scowl on his face as he continued, "I had a helluva night, and you really don't want me to take that out on you, do you?"
As the crowd quickly dispersed, Crock grumbled before tearing from Bruce's hand and releasing Oswald. He shouldered pass the former and grumbled, "Don't think this is over, pretty boy."
"Any time, any place," he returned before the boy stormed away, accompanied by his blonde companion who continued to cast dirty glances back at the remaining students. Shackley stepped forward, growling at Bruce and the now-petrified Oswald who trembled before the cruel-eyed boy.
"You heard the man. Get the fuck outta the way."
Bruce met the gaze evenly and Shackley faltered before the shorter boy departed, dragging Oswald along with him to join with the waiting Silver. Roman watched them leave before moving to his now deserted locker and spinning the combination dial.
Oswald looked back over his shoulder worriedly before leaning in and whispering, "Did you know that before Shackley was born, he ate his twin in the womb?"
"Oh, don't tell me that you seriously believe those rumors," Silver rolled her eyes.
"I don't know," Bruce finally smiled. "That's a rumor I might believe. He looks like he could do it."
"Okay, you know what? I'm leaving before you guys start anymore ridiculous stories. Catch you later, Bruce. Ozzy," she nodded before striding down the hall while they turned into their homeroom.
"How did Gunther make it into this school? I trust it wasn't on a scholarship," Bruce asked.
"Yeah, see, I try to stay as far away from him as I can. But I think his dad's got a company that makes boats or something. If I'm right about that, they've got a couple defense contracts going on with the military," Oswald offered as they settled into their desks. "It's actually kind of funny. Volper's parents own an airline and Fisk's mom makes cars or something like that. So, they're like land, air, and sea."
"You really use those names for them?"
"Better that than if it gets back to them that I'm not. Those guys are worse than Lawrence and Randy," the short boy said the last names with pronounced disgust.
"Crock and Stallion. They're steroid-infused assholes, but at least they aren't murderous sociopaths," he muttered.
"They're really that bad?"
"Well, it's not like there's any proof or anything, but it's pretty widely known," he assured Bruce.
The bell clamored over the students as the teacher strode to the front of the class, taking charge of his students, and Bruce sat back as he considered the information his rotund friend had just offered. His mind was still on the subject as the bell rang, sending them to their first class of the day, and he wandered the halls somewhat dazed. He was broken from his reverie by a nasal sing-song.
"Mornin', Brucie!" Harley cheered with enthusiasm unusual for so early in the morning on a school day.
"Harley," he nodded cordially. "What happened to 'Mistah W?'"
"Eh. I decided it didn't suit ya. Brucie, though . . . well, that's gotta ring to it," she answered.
"My lil' PI's runnin' a bit late today. Don't start worryin' your pretty lil' head over it, she's all right. Plus, you getta spend the class sittin' next to me. Whatta treat, right?" she smiled broadly.
"Shall we adjourn to our seats then?" he offered his arm and she eagerly hooked elbows with him.
"That we shall, Brucie."
They strode to their lab table with all the air of regality, attracting the stares of their peers that Harley seemed to revel in. He detached from her momentarily to pull out her chair, sweeping into an elaborate bow as she perched daintily upon it. Settling into the seat beside her, he smiled as she broke the façade to give a whooping laugh, "Oh, Brucie, we are gonna have so much fun together. I can tell."
"You might be on to something, Harley," he returned as the instructor assumed charge of the class. Amongst the notes on molarity and chemical combination, Harley doodled little figures and caricatures in the spaces of her notebook, proudly showing off her mediocre skills to Bruce who presented her with the customary politeness. Every other sentence the teacher uttered seemed to remind the pig-tailed blonde of a dirty limerick and other bawdy joke that she was eager to share. Despite himself, he let a few genuine smiles slip through at her antics, offering soft chuckles that earned him the teacher's glare though she never called him out on it. Harley was equally immune to any admonishments though she seemed rather oblivious to any misconduct on her part to earn any ire. Beneath the heavy accent, rapid prattling broken up only by frequent giggling, and questionable jokes, he noted a keen intellect and surprising insight.
When class ended, he bid her a somewhat reluctant farewell and met up with Harvey who greeted him with the usual enthusiasm before interrogating him on his relationship with Harley. Bruce pushed away his charismatic friend and his inquisition, leaving him stranded on a fire extinguisher amongst the flood of students. Avoiding Roman this time, beyond a number of glances to observe the surly attitude and short temper, Bruce made his way to class without incident. His day passed without any extraordinary occurrence beyond the inevitable splitting of his side as his shoddy stitching came undone. During study hall, he slipped from the classroom to collect supplies from the first aid kit he had hidden in his locker before heading to the bathroom to press a patch to his side held in place by medical tape. He accepted that he would have to turn to Alfred's expertise once again to tend to the injury and then returned to study hall where he found himself discussing the recent emergence of so-called metahumans amongst the populace.
"It's dangerous. People aren't meant for that sort of power. If they have it, they'll abuse it," he argued. "And if they don't, somebody else will."
"Nice to see that you have some faith in humanity," she rolled her eyes.
"That is faith. I have faith that humanity will use whatever power is within their reach to stand on top of the pile," he said bitterly.
"Okay, see, I dare to be a little more hopeful. Think of all the good it could do. People who can control plants and such could encourage crops to grow to feed the hungry. Maybe ice powers could help with global warming."
"Or be used to overrun civilization or freeze anybody who dares to trouble you."
"Well, just about anything can be used for nefarious purposes -"
"Shut up. It's about how you use it."
"Precisely," he nodded. "And given the opportunity, anybody with powers would use them for self-serving goals."
"What about your parents?"
He paused and his voice grew cold as he growled, "Excuse me?"
"Your parents used all the wealth and resources they could to help the people of Gotham. Are you saying that if they had had powers, they'd use them for their own selfish desires?" she pressed.
"My parents were good people," he grumbled.
"Exactly. But they weren't – and aren't – the only ones in the world. Face it, Bruce. There are good people out there, even if you don't believe in them," she said.
He let her win the argument with the final few moments before the bell rang, spending the time packing away the homework he had been working through. As the clamor released the students, he bid his farewells to Silver and quickly exited, trying to avoid the crowd that would only agitate the pain throbbing in his side. Stepping off to the side, he ensured that Oswald would not be suffering at the hands of his tormentors, watching the portly boy clamber into one of the many dark cars, before heading to the vehicle waiting for him.
"Good afternoon, Master Bruce. Did you have a good day at school?" Alfred asked.
"It was . . . interesting," he winced as a spasm of pain lanced from his gash. "But I'm afraid I tore the stitches out."
"Doing what?" the elder man queried knowlingly.
"Exercise," he answered with a straight face.
After arriving back at the manor and revealing the sloppily patched wound, Alfred arched a brow at the small scrapes and mottled bruises. With a sigh, he peeled away the bandage as he grumbled, "I think it's time that you consider a new exercise regimen, Master Bruce. This one seems to be doing more harm than good."
"Just because you can't always see the good doesn't mean it isn't there."
"Well, see if you can do a bit more good without leaving your body an absolute wreck by the time you're twenty-five, sir," he advised.
"I'll give it a shot, Alfred," he smiled.
"Twelve!" the black masked youth roared as he threw one of the chairs in the abandoned break room at the window. "There was over a hundred targets, and all these losers could manage, even with all those nice, pretty guns I gave them, was TWELVE FUCKIN' HITS?!"
"The majority of our targets were armed to begin with, sir, and provided resistance. The police also interfered," Fox reported. She did not flinch at her boss's rage, calmly regarding the data she had collected on her pad as Shark, Vulture, and Red Hood warily watched the savage youth.
"There was somebody else running around taking out our squads," added the latter of the three. "The boys were talking about this guy all dressed up in black and a hoodie. Apparently, he pretty much kicked their asses."
"With what?" demanded Roman.
"Nothing," Red Hood shrugged, leaning against the wall. "He quite literally kicked their asses. Or handed it to them in a variety of other ways that didn't involve his feet."
"And how many did this Good Samaritan stop?"
"So why are you bothering me with this shit?" he growled and Red Hood unfolded his arms to hold up his, warding off his boss's wrath. Dull eyes snapped towards Fox, "What do we still have?"
"Thirty-one of our False Face members are dead, either by their own targets or the police. Another twenty-seven are in police custody though likely eight of those cases will fall apart due to general incompetence or corruption. We have enough funds stored up to secure the freedom of five more, but our money is limited," Fox calculated.
"Leave 'em," he ordered before dropping into a chair at a table. He rested an elbow on it as he put a hand to the forehead of his mask and groaned, "Can we recover the guns at least?"
"That should be considerably cheaper though Officer Fiasco has been increasing his prices lately. I shall get in touch with him," she promised.
"Yeah, look into that. Let me know before you make any final decisions," he directed. Fox bowed her head and retreated from the room as her boss dropped his masked face into his palm for a moment before looking up towards Red Hood. "You got any idea how we can fix this?"
"No offense, boss, but your boys couldn't shoot the ground if they were aiming at it. They don't know these weapons aside from the barrel and the trigger. They need some training," Red Hood suggested.
"And you can provide them with that?"
"I can make sure they at least know how to hit something ten feet in front of them."
"You got an idea where exactly you can get them to practice?"
"It's going to be a tad suspicious if we all start piling in at that shooting ranges, but I got a few other places I might be able to set up. I'll have to check it out -"
"Go. Take care of it," he dismissed him before turning to Shark and Vulture. "We need some revenue. Those guns cost us and with the utter disaster that was last night, I'm restraining myself from using the remaining bullets on these fuckers. I don't care how you do it – Hell, I don't care if you set the boys to mugging poor saps on the streets for five dollars a time – but you two are going to recoup my losses. Is that clear?"
"Got it, boss," Shark nodded. "We'll get some people together and get to work."
He thundered from the room, Vulture slinking after him as they began to discuss options, leaving Roman to his own thoughts. For a moment, he just sat in the empty room before slamming his fist against the table and roaring, "Shit!"
Once upon a time, the Monarch Theater had been a regal structure, one of the best cinemas in the entirety of Gotham City that had been frequented even by the gentry of the dark place. In the years since the infamous murder that had taken place not a block away, such popularity had rapidly declined to the point where it had to be shut down. It remained standing, too much of a landmark to be torn down, and it had quickly become infested with reprobates and the homeless. Then new management had moved in, clearing it of the loitering men and women before setting up what was commonly referred to as the Den. It was an illicit club, entirely underground where addicts and junkies paid to enter before being treated to a buffet of drugs of all sorts and sizes. Colorful pills were collected in bowls like candy, and consumed just as readily, and cocaine was finely ground and passed about in small bowls. Needles were carefully collected and kept sanitized until they were used after which they are discarded in rather obvious trash cans. Blunts were rolled and set alongside booklets of matches to light them, and their smoke coiled through the music filled air as the men and women of the Den partook of the carefully stocked iniquities.
Many of the chairs in the theaters had been removed, replaced with old and stained mattresses that the attendees collapsed on. Obscene scrawls and brilliantly colored tags decorated the screens, save for a few that still ran movies provided by the proprietors of the Den. Occasionally, some would seek out privacy in the film booths that weren't in use, but most just milled through the halls and the screen rooms, partaking of the different joys in their rooms.
Worn and battered combat boots marched through the dimly lit halls and peered into the rooms, checking for signs of life before moving on. The figure stood shoulders above the next tallest occupant of the Den, and he was as impressively broad, forcing those who passed him in the hallway to press against the wall to avoid being trod underfoot. Somehow, he had managed to find a ratty orange hoodie that fit his frame and its hood remained constantly drawn up, its shadows hiding his face in conjunction with a stained dust mask. Orange eyes peered out from the thin stripe between the mask and the top of the hood, glaring at the junkies that wandered into his path that he did not hesitate to remove with annoyed blows strong enough to crack ribs. Rough jeans that, in a similar miracle to his sweatshirt, contained his tree trunk legs reached to his boots while yellow rubber gloves that did nothing to hinder the dexterity of his digits were pulled upon his hands.
He moved from room to room, ensuring that each was freshly stocked while checking on the occupants, ensuring signs of vitality and occasionally delivering vicious kicks to their guts to rouse them when such evidence was too meager for his care. After ensuring that the clients were alive, albeit bruised, he would move on again. Occasionally, he would intercede upon outbreaks of violence, rarely needing to do anything more than threaten to step in, but some were foolish enough to offer to take him on. Such occasions were quickly handled and he would deposit the unconscious addicts in Park Row, tucking them behind the dumpster where he could move them later.
Entering a smoke-filled room, he cringed at the smell and glanced about. It was a room he was not usually required to check out, its particular feature being plant-based narcotics and 'party favors' that were not considered as likely to produce an overdose. The music was softer in the room, interspersed with giggling from its occupants and he wandered through, ensuring that everybody was breathing before pausing at one of the mattresses. He crouched down, observing the tiny girl curled comfortably upon it, whispering softly to herself. For a moment, he simply watched her, studying the play of freckles across pale skin that contrasted sharply with the crimson tresses that cascaded from her head. She shifted and he flinched away, fearing she would catch his observation, but she mumbled incoherently and settled back into her restfulness.
Watching her for another moment to ensure that she wasn't about to wake up, he reached towards the end of the mattress for one of the blankets piled there and inspected it, ensuring that it wasn't too infested with vermin before spreading it across the sleeping girl. Giving a snort and a nod, he stormed from the room while the redhead released a contented breath and pulled the blanket tighter about her.
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