She had been nervously drumming her fingers on her desktop ever since he left, praying, hoping that the new Dark Knight would come up with his prey. She checked her watch again. He'd been gone for over an hour now. Why hadn't he checked in? Was he chasing Toben down?
Her phone rang and a burst of relief went through her chest. She answered immediately, not caring if she sounded a bit desperate.
"Max, get over to Toben's address right now."
Her blood ran cold. "Bruce? What's going on?"
"We don't have time for questions. Get over there as fast as you can and call me as soon as you do."
She leapt from her seat and threw on her tennis shoes, her hands shaking as she tucked her keys in her pocket and practically rocketed out the door. Thankfully, her sister had left her the car this week so she threw herself in it and drove through downtown, blowing through yellow lights and probably seeming like a complete madwoman to anyone she passed. Bruce had never given her a direct order before. Ever. Something was definitely wrong.
When she turned the corner to Toben's street, she almost cried out in horror. Plumes of smoke billowed upward from the building. Several floors had caught fire and the building was being evacuated of its occupants, none of which were Terry.
She parked across the street and fumbled with her phone, dialing Bruce's number. "I'm here. What do you need me to do?"
"I'm sending the batmobile to the alley on your left side. Go into it and wait."
She raced down the empty alley, her sneakers slapping and squeaking against the concrete, and trained her eyes up at the night sky. Seconds later, the batmobile veered into sight and she stepped back as it came to rest in front of her.
The hood slid back, exposing the bright red lights at the controls. "Get in."
She climbed inside and it immediately shut behind her. "There should be a back up oxygen mask and an earpiece beneath the seat. Put them on."
She reached beneath her feet and felt for them, coming up with a round black mask that clipped in the back and a tiny white receiver. A moment later, the jet roared to life and lifted her into the air, heading towards the burning building.
"The wall was too thick to break open with a blast so you're going in through the roof. Terry should be near the front door but he's unconscious and his arm might be broken. Get to him and get him in jet. Do it as quickly as possible. The mask will only hold for so long."
She rubbed her sweaty palms on the legs of her jeans as the batmobile hovered over the building, allowing her to see the damage. Part of the roof caved in and it was nearly impossible to see well through all the smoke but she spotted the front door. The car hood opened and she climbed onto the side, preparing to jump. She spotted a section of carpet not devoured by the fire yet and leapt, landing hard and rolling.
Heat ate at her skin as she stood up, whipping her head around and squinting in the mayhem to locate her best friend. She saw a huge pile of rubble behind her and then noticed something black. An arm.
"Terry!" she ran to him, falling to her knees and grabbing the nearest slab of concrete. She shoved several of them away until she had unburied his upper torso, but his legs were trapped underneath a larger one. She glanced about until she found a large wooden beam that had once been part of a bookshelf and shoved it underneath the slab. She wedged it and pushed with all her might, ignoring the pain in her arms and the sweat drenching every inch of her body. She pushed harder still and the slab cracked in half, sliding to the floor beside them.
She dropped the beam and wrapped her arms around Terry's broad shoulders, hauling him to her side. She touched the link in her ear.
"I've got him."
"I'm lowering the cable now."
The jet hovered over her head and a grey metal cable with clamps exited the vehicle. She struggled to line his shoulders up with it but soon it took hold of him and she held on tight as it reeled them back into the batmobile. The seat slid back and the cable deposited him on the chair. She squeezed in behind it, ripping off her mask, and Bruce spoke once more.
"It's heading for here. Check his pulse and his vitals in the meantime."
She peeled off his mask and touched his neck. "It's fast and weak, but he's got a pulse. He's breathing on his own but just barely."
"Keep a close eye out. It should only take five minutes to return to the cave so hold on."
The batmobile lurched forward, slicing through the air like a sword. She nearly bowled over, clutching the back of the seat to keep her balance. The city skyline became nothing but a red and black blur on either side of the windows. She kept her eyes on her unmoving friend, fighting back tears as his body swayed limp and lifeless with the vehicle's movements.
"You'd better be alright, you arrogant son of a bitch," she whispered, pressing her forehead to his and gently stroking his cheek.
True to Bruce's word, the jet reached the cave in five minutes exactly. Part of her wanted to feel elated that she had finally reached her version of New Mecca but the circumstances were so grim that she knew she'd never truly appreciate it now. The top opened and she heaved the unconscious hero out of his seat, using every last bit of her strength to lay him out on the stretcher Bruce had wheeled over to the launch pad.
"Have you called a doctor?" she asked as she pushed him towards the medical area of the cave as Bruce led the way.
"No. I called a friend. She'll be here any minute. Get him started on the oxygen machine."
She turned the knob on the oxygen tank next to the computer and carefully lowered the mouthpiece over Terry's face, relieved as she saw the occasional cloud of mist indicating that he was still breathing. Max wrapped her arms around her stomach, hoping the old man wouldn't see how hard her hands were shaking as she stared at her friend.
Footsteps echoed through the dark space and a blonde woman in her late forties appeared with a large brown leather bag clutched in one fist. "Got here as soon as I could. How is he?"
Bruce's jaw clenched. "Bad."
She gave him a brief, clinical look over. "The arm's definitely broken. He's breathed in quite a lot of smoke too but he's not in critical condition. Give me a couple hours and I'll get him sorted out."
Bruce nodded and then glanced at Max, who hadn't moved an inch since she laid Terry on the stretcher. She chewed her bottom lip over and over again, her dark eyes locked on Terry's pale face as if searching for any signs of life.
"What?" she asked hoarsely.
"There's nothing else we can do right now. Let her work."
She shook her head. "I should be here. I should be here when he wakes up."
"That won't be for hours."
"I don't care."
Bruce sighed. "I'll be upstairs. Don't give her any trouble in the meantime."
The old man turned and shuffled towards the winding staircase leading back up to the mansion. She heard a soft whimpering sound and turned her head, finally noticing the midnight black Great Dane sitting to her right with its eyes also fixed on Terry. She sat down in Bruce's oversized chair and laid one hand on the dog's head, scratching between its ears until the whimpers died down.
It was at least an hour before she realized her cheeks were soaking wet.
"He's exhausted and banged up pretty badly. Are you sure you want to wait?"
Max nodded. The doctor sighed and reached into her bag yet again. To her surprise, Max found herself draped in a soft blue blanket that matched the one pulled over Terry's body. The doctor smiled and rested a hand on her shoulder.
"The cave's awful drafty at night. Take care of yourself. He'll be alright."
She nodded and the doctor left after taking a brief moment to pet Ace. Max huddled in the chair and continued watching Terry like a hawk, looking for any change in his blank facial expression.
Two hours slipped by. Max felt exhaustion setting in but stubbornly refused to go upstairs. Instead, she turned her attention to the mausoleum around her, trying to distract herself from her worried thoughts. She made a game of naming all the infamous villains whose outfits Bruce had collected—the Riddler, Scarface, Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze—and tried to remember the stories attached to them. Though the giant penny had her completely stumped.
Her gaze returned to full front when the Great Dane yawned and laid his large head on her right knee, licking his chops. She almost smiled. She was most certainly a cat person but he seemed to be a good companion so far.
"Guess you're the Bat-dog I've been hearing so much about. Thought you'd be scarier," she mused, continuing to stroke the spot between his ears that he seemed to like.
"You should see him go after a squirrel."
A weak, muffled, voice croaked, alarming her when she realized it was Terry. She leapt to her feet and hurried over to his side. His eyes were half-lidded but definitely open.
"God, Ter, how long have you been awake?"
"Just a minute or so."
"Are you in any pain?"
He gave a faint shake of his head. "Pain killer's working. Can't feel anything."
He tilted his face, glancing the sling on his right arm. "Is it broken?"
"Yeah," she said in a soft tone. "Sorry."
"No, I should be. I gave you that address. This is my fault."
His brow furrowed and he took a deeper breath in order to sound firmer. "Not your fault."
"You know it is."
He reached up and pulled down the mask, frowning. "Did you murder my Dad?"
Her eyes widened. "What? No."
"Did you tell me to act like a jerk before he died?"
"Then this isn't your fault. I decided to become Batman. This kind of stuff comes with the territory. Don't blame yourself or I'll have to do something awful to you once I'm better like make you fail a test or tell everyone at school that I'm in love with you."
She choked on a small laugh. "Jackass."
He smirked. "That's what I thought."
He fell into a short bout of coughs and she helped him pull the mask back on. "You shouldn't be talking. Doc said you need rest for at least a day."
"Not gonna happen. We've only got a day to find out Kobra's target," he said in a weary voice. "A nap's all I can afford right now."
At last, a warm streak of anger swam through her. "You're not serious."
"Yes, I am."
"What are you gonna do, Ter? Hobble your way out there? You can't even stand up."
"Don't have a choice, Max. People are gonna die."
"People die every day. And you're going to be one of them if you keep at it."
"There isn't anyone else. I have to do it."
"That's not true."
He gave her a confused look. She crossed her arms. "Send me instead."
"You need my help. You know it."
"You're not ready."
"I'm not the one lying on a stretcher with a broken arm."
"You haven't been trained. Not letting you do this."
She laid one hand on the stretcher and leaned over him, her brown eyes ablaze. "Letting me? I just saved your sorry ass and you're not going to 'let' me stop Kobra? Are you really that much of a sexist, ungrateful dreg or am I imagining it?"
He glared at her then. "Not sexist. Experienced. This is too much for you to handle."
"Then train me. Get me ready. Because it's going to take a month at the least for that arm to heal and you don't have any other choice."
"—will also bitch and moan but he'll know I'm right too. Would you rather let all those people die? Is it really so hard to believe in me?"
He didn't say anything and it killed her. She wanted to grab his shoulders and shake them until his brains fell out because he was being an irrational, overprotective jackass and she didn't know why. He was supposed to be the one who had faith in her when others didn't. That, to her, was a best friend. Not the stubborn boy lying in front of her.
He closed his eyes again. "We'll talk about this later. Get some rest upstairs."
"No," she said, turning her back on him. "I'm done taking orders from you, McGinnis. Don't call me unless you have something better to say."
He called her name once, twice, but she ignored him, allowing herself to be swallowed in the darkness as she walked away.
Honestly, I'm probably going to write and post most of the beginning tonight because it's all pouring out of my head at once. Hope you don't mind me flooding your inboxes. Hope you're enjoying things so far and please don't forget to review. I could use the support.