A/N: In case the couple of awesome people who are following this got more than one update, that's because I fixed things in the previous two chapters, like dialogue I was unhappy with, some sentences, and a couple of mistakes. I've added new paragraphs in a couple of places. I'll also do that for this chapter too when I next update, such as deleting this author's note if nothing else.

Also, WARNING: A bit more swearing than in the last chapter. That's why it's rated T.


Chapter Three:

Max soared with the free, fresh wind in her hair, the sun sparkling off of her wings. The Colorado mountains were stunning, hawks performing aerial acrobats with her flock. Her kids were happy, unafraid of being seen or attacked, the shadows gone from her faces.

"Max! Come and eat!"

Max looked down – oh, there was Arizona. Mom stood with one hand shading her eyes as she smiled up at her family, the other hand perched on a round hip. Ella was next to her, squinting and grinning as the wind bundled up her her long, straight hair and blew it behind her. Standing between them and waving with both hands was little Ari, all young and cute and windswept.

Behind them was a veritable feast spread out on a large table with ten places set out. Max looked at it with a mixture of longing and reluctance. The food really did look delicious, but Max didn't want to come down. She was having such a wonderful time flying...

Still smiling, Mom and Ella exchanged a look, shrugged in a 'what can ya do?' sort of manner, then produced bows and arrows from somewhere. They speared roast beef sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies on the arrows and shot them up to the flock.

Laughing jubilantly, the flock flipped and dived and whorled around, eating the food from the arrows like shish kabobs.

Max was right. They were delicious.

"Hey, save some for me, sis!" yelled Ari. Dark mahogany wings slid smoothly out of the slits in his shirt, and the seven-year-old flew up to them, his large wings beating powerfully. Her brother's young face glowed with joy as he morphed with ease from a sweet little boy with brown hair and pale skin to a clumsy, furry kid in a grown-up's body, his brown fur soft and smooth and clear of scars. He was finally free of pain. Unlike before, he didn't grow a muzzle; his face remained young and human but with more hair, like a fluffy bird kid. Just like he'd always wanted.

Soon, the flock was going about their day. Mom kissed each of her many children goodbye and went off to the job she loved, taking care of animals. Nudge and Ella linked arms and left for school, their plaid uniform skirts swishing behind them. Angel went off with a small crowd of little girls, all of them vying for her attention. Just before leaving, Max's baby gave her a swift hug and a kiss on the cheek. The boys left next, Fang smiling at one of the Gasman's jokes as they all hopped into Iggy's convertible. It was sleek and bright red, his favorite. Iggy looked both ways with seeing eyes, then pulled out of the driveway.

Max stared after them, peaceful contentment washing over her. Behind her, bats fluttered inside their E-shaped house on the edge of the cliff, their scent carrying on the wind and their wings making leathery sounds as they brushed together. Max was taking online classes at home because being surrounded by teenagers was a bit much after being on the run for so long... although she did have a date with Sam later that night, which she was looking forward to. Maybe she'd bake some cookies for them to share...

A hand tugged on her belt loop, and Max looked down to discover Ari. His resemblance to their dad was unmistakable.

"Shouldn't you be at school?" said Max mock-sternly, putting her hands on her hips.

"Nope. Don't tell Mom, but –" Ari leaned in, lowering his voice conspiratorially, "– I'm playing hooky!"

"You rebel you," said Max, cuffing him lightly on the head. Ari ducked his head, giggling. "What are we going to do when you're a defiant, angst-ridden teenager?"

"You'll take care of me like always," said Ari matter-of-factly. Suddenly turning solemn, he hugged her, growing tall enough that he had to lean down to do so. His green eyes poked out of his furry face. "Max... Thank you."

Pleased by the hug but still confused, Max asked, "What for, kiddo?"

"For saving my life. For not letting me expire. I'm so glad you're my sister..."

Smiling, Max rested her head against her little brother's shoulder. "Love you too."

They stood there in companionable silence, their arms draped around each other. Max closed her eyes, basking in the knowledge that her family was safe. She began to notice a surprisingly high level of heat radiating from Ari. Max supposed it was the fur of his doggy form. She took a deep breath through her nose, then wrinkled it – ugh, what a horrible smell!

"Oh geez, when was the last time you bathed –" complained Max, pulling away and opening her eyes.

Max stared in confusion at the dark inside of a giant iron bell, beyond which was a shadowy ceiling with bats scuttling about. What the heck? How did she get there? She'd been home a second ago...

Bolting upright from where she laid on the floor, Max looked wildly around at her sleeping flock scattered around the tower. She pursed her lips together. Of course. None of it was real. Just a dream. Itchiness wracked her wings, a reminder of the bleakness of the real world, and Max pressed her palms into her eyes to suppress the burning there. Damn her subconscious. Damn it.

Gathering her feet under her, Max stood, feeling wooden. Even at night, the summer heat made sweat bead on her face, and she could feel her shirt sticking to her skin underneath the horrible insulation of both the hoodie and her wings, which collected heat like a boss even without feathers.

The source of the nauseating smell that had awakened her became apparent when another fart came from the Gasman.

Iggy, who was keeping 'watch,' shuffled toward the window opposite Gazzy. Max was glad it was him and not someone else awake; he wouldn't be able to see her moist eyelashes or the obviously distressed expression decorating her face. She felt raw, like a scab had been ripped off of the wound of Ari's death. It was a harsh reminder of Max's failure, and the fact that none of them were safe. Could never be safe.

Max shook her head in denial at her own thoughts. No. They had a plan. Someday, they could be free.

(If the words felt hollow, Max ignored it and clung to the possibility of a safe future with all of the desperation she could muster.)

Turning abruptly, Max pulled on her backpack and braced her foot on a windowsill, peering out at the dark city. The tower loomed above all the other buildings in the area. It might have been a dizzying height, if she weren't used to flying above airplanes. Max judged the distance between her perch and the nearest roof. It was pretty far, but she could make it.

"Goin' somewhere?" asked Iggy quietly.

"Just on a walk," whispered Max, "I'll be back in an hour or two."

"I thought we weren't supposed to go places alone," said Iggy peevishly. Max felt an irrational surge of anger, her fingers tightening on the sides of the window.

"I'll be fine," she gritted out. Max glanced suspiciously at Fang, who was definitely awake by now, even if he hadn't moved or opened his eyes. He wasn't fooling her. "And don't follow me."

Not giving herself time to think, Max launched herself from the tower, whipping out her horrible, naked wings to help guide her descent. Two more primary feathers detached, tumbling away. The physical pain was negligible – a bit like loose teeth, she had known they were going to fall out soon, but she still had to take a deep breath past the sudden emotional pain of the loss. Her braided hair blew back as she fell, soothing fingers of wind slipping over her sensitive wings. The mockery of flight made her heart crack a little more. She landed on the flat concrete roof on her hands and the balls of her feet, the landing jarring and solid, making her feel a bit more rooted to reality.

Quickly, Max hid her wings under her clothes. It had felt shameful to reveal them, like she was streaking or something.

Flipping up her hood, Max located a fire escape and made her way to the ground. In the distance, the cacophony of traffic, sirens, and helicopters were a consistent background music to her misery. She wandered aimlessly through alleys and small streets with her head down and her hands stuffed in her pockets, the decaying city passing by unnoticed.

That dream had felt so real. For the first time since Jeb had abandoned the flock years ago, Max had felt happy and whole.

'Which should have been the first clue that something was wrong,' thought Max wryly.

But more importantly, her flock had been happy. Joyful, even. Not a trace of fear or misery in sight. The grim knowledge that she would likely only ever see them like that in her dreams made her ache. Max brushed her fingers over the blood red bracelet. Ari's face had been so clear, as if he'd never been transformed into a hulking, wolfish man-child.

Except even when they were at the School and Ari was just a regular little boy keeping the caged bird kid company, Max had never seen him that happy.

A thought nudged at her then, a recollection just beyond her grasp, like a word on the tip of her tongue. That statement wasn't quite right. Then Max was remembering his expression when she had been teaching him to read; when she'd shown him how to use his primary feathers to turn sharply mid-air, and how to identify edible plants; when they had gone to Disney; when they flew in formation together and he was able to keep up; when he'd bashfully presented her with her red bracelet the week before he'd died; the blatant admiration and love in his green eyes, which were the only parts of himself he had kept from when he was a normal kid.

Grief stabbed Max in the heart, her eyes moistening with unshed tears. No, she had seen him that happy.

If it only meant Ari could have lived, she would be perfectly fine – well, maybe not perfectly, but she'd be okay, with never flying again.

Max stopped walking, surprised by the thought. She evaluated it, turning it over in her mind.

Yes. It was true.

Max would have given anything for him, just like for the rest of her flock.

She'd almost expected the lump of pain in her chest to hurt even more at the thought, but she just felt sad.

Max trudged over to an abandoned, derelict gas station and plonked down on a bench by the entrance next to some creepy clown graffiti. The whole place was still drenched in the stench of gasoline, but Max could deal with it. It wasn't like she was going there to be happy, anyway. Bracing her elbows on her knees, she folded her hands as if in prayer, and pressed her lips against them. Quiet tears rolled down her cheeks for an indeterminable about of time, her hood low over her face.

There was once a time when Max could have counted on one hand the number of times she had cried, and still have had fingers left over. Yet in the last few weeks, she'd been such a pathetic, weepy wimp that she was going to have to start using her toes.

Eventually (sometime around five in the morning, if Max's internal clock was up to snuff), the tears stopped, leaving Max strangely hollow, as if everything that made her Maximum Ride had been scraped out and poured out of her eyeballs. It also left her wondering, a little vaguely, where her rock-hard, butt-kicking, crying-is-for-babies-and-losers attitude went.

Max snorted in self-disgust, which unfortunately sent a fat glob of snot down her face. How elegant. Truly, Max was the future ideal of the human race (or whatever the hell it was Jeb had called her). Wiping it off with the cuff of her hoodie, Max sat back on her filthy clown-bench and, sniffling, watched the occasional car or person go by.

It wasn't very interesting. The cars were dull (though she did see an old Ford with an impressive amount of bullet dents in it), and the people were small and sad and shifty, as anyone stupid enough to wander around Gotham that late had to be.

Yes, Max realized that said something about herself. No, she didn't want to think about it.

Down the street, a pack of people turned the corner, heading toward Max. There were five scruffy-looking men, far too ungraceful and out of shape compared to lupin-human hybrids to possibly be Erasers. Just regular humans. Yet despite this, her instincts were pulling at her to leave, something about them setting her teeth on edge.

Max watched them soullessly, unable to muster up the gumption to move. It wasn't like it mattered anyway. If they wanted to start something she could deal with normal humans, easy. Some even had beer bottles in their hands. If they were drunk a fight would be a laugh.

Besides, maybe Max wanted a fight. Just a little one.

The group had approached the edge of the abandoned gas station property. They were looking at her, and from under her hood, Max stared right back. Daring them silently.

"Hey babe, you havin' a good night?" one of them called. His buddies laughed raucously, leering at her. "Why don'tcha come on over here? We'll show you a good time!"

Suddenly, Max remembered another group of guys, much younger but standing in just the same way, a shotgun making them feel powerful. She inhaled sharply, mentally kicking herself. The man in front with a loose, unbuttoned flannel shirt over his white tank top had the same look in his eyes as that kid. Whether it was the booze or because he was packing, Max couldn't tell – but she was betting it was the latter. She should have learned her lesson when it came to underestimating regular humans after those stupid teenage boys in Arizona had shot her.

Not only that, but hadn't the whole point of laying low been to not draw attention to herself due to her crippling inability to up-and-away from threats just like this?

Clearly, being depressed made Max stupid.

The men were moving toward her. There was a confident swagger in their step, and she could smell their adrenaline, their excitement. She'd most likely lost her chance to escape a fight, but maybe she could still get out of this. Max stood, shoulders stooped and her hands in her pockets, and began strolling away. They were like dogs – if she ran, they would chase her.

"Aw, look, you scared her off –" laughed one of the guys.

"Me? Musta' been your ugly mug that did it!"

"Where're ya going? A pretty lady like you shouldn't be walking around alone!" yelled a different one. Max almost snorted again – 'pretty lady'? The boys would have busted their guts if they'd heard that.

"Was it somethin' I said?" said the first guy. "Come on, don't be like that. We're gentle, I promise!"

More laughter. Jogging footsteps approaching. Not wanting to encourage them by turning around, Max tried to keep track of them using her hearing, but that had always been Iggy's forte. She wished Angel was there – she'd be able to read these guys' minds and find out if any of them really, truly had a gun. It would be so much easier to beat them up if she knew where a shot might come from, but for all she knew she could attack the wrong one end up with a bullet lodged in her chest.

"Don'tcha wann' spend time wiff'us?" slurred a new voice behind her, obviously a bit more than buzzed. He sounded close.

Max turned around. Her back was to the open mouth of the alley she had taken to this road, and before her were the five men crowding around. Herding her into the alley. She let them, walking backward steadily – she would prefer random passersby not seeing this. One of them was palming his crotch over his jeans as he looked her up and down. Max's lip curled in revulsion, suddenly very glad that Angel wasn't there to hear these guys' thoughts.

Max shrugged off her backpack and tossed it aside. They barely glanced at it. If it wasn't obvious before, these scumbags clearly weren't there to steal her belongings.

"You know," said the flannel-shirt guy, stalking forward. He subtly pulled back his shirt, revealing a black handgun tucked into the waistband of his pants. Ha. Max knew it. "It's rude to ignore people. You wouldn't want to be impolite to your new friends, would you?"

Max grinned viciously, "You're right, I would hate to be rude –" On the last word, she snapped a kick into Flannel-shirt's gut, her foot sinking into his stomach. He fell backwards with an exclamation of pain, his guffawing friends barely catching him in time.

"Damn!"

"She just ninja kicked him!"

"Lucky shotdammit –" wheezed Flannel-shirt, struggling to his feet with a hand clutching his stomach.

One guy on the left licked his lips, pulling out an unnecessarily large switchblade. Max figured he was compensating for something. "That's all right, I like it when they fight –"

"Then you'll love this!" said Max, lunging, because she really couldn't have asked for a better opening. It was like it was made just for her. She chopped the wrist that held the knife, and felt the bone cave under her hand with a loud crunch, which was followed instantly by a tortured scream. The knife clattered to the ground, the thug falling to his knees beside it, clutching his arm. A quick punch to the side of the man's head, and he was out cold.

"Sheesh," muttered Max. It was shocking how fragile regular humans could be. They were like eggshells. Even six-year-old Angel could have taken those hits.

"You fucking whore!" snarled Flannel-shirt (very uncreatively, his insults were as pathetic as himself), shoving his buddies off of him and drawing his gun.

"Don't forget the silencer!" said one of them quickly, the 'pretty lady' guy, "We don't want to get the Batman on our case –"

But Flannel-shirt wasn't listening. "Bitch, you're gonna be real hospitable in just a second!" he snarled, flicking off the safety and raising his gun.

Max darted forward with supernatural speed (there wasn't anywhere to hide, if he shot that gun she was a goner), grabbed the hand wielding the gun, and shoved it up above their heads.

The gun fired with an earsplitting BANG that echoed in the alley, the bullet whizzing into the sky. Max felt the recoil, and hot gunpowder speckled her hand. Red-faced and furious (but his eyes were wide, was he scared? If so, then good), Flannel-shirt bared his teeth, which were surprisingly white, and lifted his arm to punch her. With her free hand, Max grabbed Flannel-shirt by the throat, yanking him forward and head-butting him in the face before he could. He fell heavily to the ground, unconscious.

Swearing, the three remaining guys turned to run, the drunk one tripping.

It was real simple to take them out. Max had made sure to break bones, and hit more than one crotch. They wouldn't be hurting anyone else after that beating. They had probably deserved to die – they definitely hadn't seemed like they were new to this whole... thing (the thought of what they must have done to some poor other girls made her sick) – but that wasn't Max's call. Or at least that's what she told herself, because the thought of killing them left a bad taste in her mouth.

Even still, a part of her wondered... She had killed to protect of her flock before, and although these guys weren't threatening her flock, they were a danger to others. What was the difference? Where was the line? Why shouldn't she kill them? Their injuries might keep them down for a couple of months, but not forever. Max was sure the police wouldn't do anything, at least not until it was too late. Wouldn't killing them be the right thing to do?

It didn't feel like it.

And that, Max supposed, was all she needed. She had always made a point of following her instincts.

"If I was a boy, I would totally be peeing on you pathetic, sleazy piles of horse shit right now," Max informed the unconscious thugs conversationally. She felt much more content with herself than she had since waking up. Who needed hugs or grief counseling when there were dudes to beat up? "And that was a proper insult, you sad ignoramus," she added to Flannel-shirt specifically. Walking casually over to him, she ground the barrel of his gun under her heel, damaging it beyond repair.

If there was one thing Max hated, it was guns. They were a nasty, dangerous invention for cowards.

Max was considering whether searching the guys for cash was worth having to touch them (probably not, but they did need money...) when the hairs on the back of her neck prickled in alarm. There was an infinitesimal scraping sound on the roof of a building above her – that sounded like feet – too heavy to be a bird kid, too few to be any animal – someone was right behind her –

In one smooth motion, Max dropped into a crouch while spinning around and scooping up the switchblade that was on the ground, and flung it at the person.

As if they were made of shadows, the figure shifted and distantly, Max heard the knife strike a taller building far away. In a blur of motion, the dark figure leaped (smoothly, wraith-like) to another roof, and another. They were easily big enough to be an Eraser, but much quieter. It was all Max could do to keep track of the person, they blended in so well – then she lost them anyway, her eyes slipping from the dark figure to the blackness beyond almost without her recognizing it – and that was with her enhanced hearing and vision!

But no one could beat Max's sense of smell. She took a deep whiff – pollution, garbage, alcohol, blood – the last two were from the guys she beat up, probably – leather, sweat, adrenaline, something else – kevlar? She thought so, she'd smelled it before, but she wasn't sure – testosterone, the figure was definitely male – something that reminded her of gunpowder, but wasn't quite it – an animal smell – bats, that was it, they were everywhere in Gotham – a hint of... cologne? Weird – but most importantly, he smelled one-hundred percent human, and there was a distinct lack of School in his aroma.

Her nose said he was on the opposite side of the alley from where he'd started, probably on the boarded up brick building to her right, but as she scanned the rooftop she could see nothing. For all appearances, he wasn't there.

Then he was.

He moved, and Max could see a large, hunched figure like a crouching animal, his outline barely visible in the darkness. There were two vertically pointed ears, and what might have been eyes glinting eerily, demonically. Despite herself, Max felt icy fear clutch her, something instinctive making her heart stutter in terror as he stared down at her. Which was ridiculous – she had faced so much worse than a human (if that really was what he was) in a scary costume, like Erasers and puberty and living for ten years in a cage

Max shoved away those thoughts and glared into the darkness. (Her wings began itching with a vengeance, as if to remind her that there was no escape. It was only because she had epic control over her body that her hands didn't tremble.)

Suddenly, there wasn't anything to glare at. He'd left, vanishing into the shadows – her nose confirmed this – and Max blinked at the unchanged line of the rooftop, unsure if what she'd seen had been a figment of her imagination or not. The whole thing had only lasted for a few seconds.

A shiver crawled up her spine. Max imagined the – Batman? Could it have been him? – prowling over rooftops, creeping unseen through the city of darkness. Even with all of her abilities, she had barely been able to tell where he was. It would have been easy for him to kill her. She wouldn't have even been able to escape, trapped and unable to fly as she was. (Max shoved that thought away with all of the mental willpower of someone who was raising a mind reader, because a dark alley in the middle of seedy Gotham with tall buildings rising above her like the walls of a prison was a very bad place to have a panic attack.)

Max sighed shakily as she slipped her backpack over her shoulders. If the flock ever found out what a disadvantage she'd been at, they'd never let her forget it. That was exactly why it was a bad idea to go places alone.

A sudden thought occurred to Max: with the threat of being followed by someone she could barely detect a very real possibility, should Max even go back to the tower? She could find an empty apartment to squat in, or a nice cardboard box, or – if she became really desperate – slum it out in the subway. The flock would be worried sick, but they would be safe.

Except if she didn't come back they would go out looking for her, Max realized, which would practically drop them into the Batman's (if it was him) lap. That could not happen.

Her decision made, Max began heading for the tower... creatively. She could at least try to shake off her tail (if it was there).

All this second-guessing was seriously getting on her nerves.


By the time Max made it back to the tower, the horizon was tinged pink and her whole flock was awake (not only before noon, but before the sun had completely risen. It was so weird it was frightening, like a sign of the apocalypse) and waiting for her. Outside. Just standing around the courtyard.

Max suddenly got a feeling that today would not be a good day.

"Look who decided to show up," drawled Iggy.

"Max!" cried Nudge, looking relieved.

"Where were you?" demanded Fang, his arms crossed. None of them looked happy – which was kind of adorable in the Gasman's case, since he was standing next to Fang and mimicking him by crossing his arms and trying to look all tough.

"Wow, I get a complete sentence? I sure feel special," said Max, unimpressed. It wasn't like she hadn't told them she was leaving.

"Yeah, special ed," chimed in the Gasman.

Max rolled her eyes – ooh, burn from the eight-year-old.

"You don't get to talk," said Nudge, swatting at Gazzy. The tips of her fingers brushed the top of the eight-year-old's head as he ducked.

Gazzy scowled at her. "I can talk if I want to!"

"I went on a walk," said Max flatly, raising her voice to catch the flock's attention. "Now I'm back. Why are you all outside? And, you know, conscious."

"The Gasman filled the tower with poison gas," said Nudge in a distinctly 'tattle-tale' tone of voice.

"Gazzy!" said Max. Especially with her extreme sense of smell, those gas clouds were awful.

"I didn't mean to!" whined Gazzy, "I was sleeping!"

"That is no excuse," mumbled Total darkly, his voice coming from within Angel's backpack. "I am never going to recover from this. Never."

"It's Fang's fault!" chirped Angel suddenly, and Fang gave her a grumpy look that she ignored. Until then, Angel had been sitting cross-legged on the ground and staring off into space, probably listening to everyone's inner voices rather than paying attention to what was going on in the real world. "He gave Iggy and Gazzy chili dogs for dinner last night."

"Oh my gosh, why?" exclaimed Max, looking at Fang in disbelief, "Why would you do that? What possible reason could you have? It's not like he needs the extra help poisoning the environment!"

Fang shrugged. "Eighty-five cents."

"I don't give a flying crap how cheap they were!" yelled Max. "You know what beans do to him! He could be gassy for days! And like a complete idiot, you give him freakin' chili dogs! This is something that we will all have to live with, you abomination! Not only that, but now we're responsible for fumigating the home of who-knows-how-many innocent bats, and we can't go back to our own flippin' hideout until it airs out!" Max's voice had risen steadily throughout her tirade. His flat stare always bugged the heck out of her whenever she scolded him – it made her feel like she was being condescended to. It didn't help that he was the only one that she wasn't totally confident she could beat up, so that method of discipline was out. "Dang it, you should know better! What if he has a gas attack in public? A visible one? That would be like holding up a neon sign, 'The Flock Is Here!'"

Finally, he looked a little remorseful. (Or maybe he was just getting bored. Max was going to pretend it was the former, because it made her feel better.)

Max rubbed her forehead, feeling a headache coming on. "Ugh, I cannot even comprehend your stupidity right now. And Gasman, stop looking so pleased with yourself before I decide you did it on purpose," she snapped.

Gazzy immediately wiped the smirk from his face, replacing it with a carefully contrite expression with hunched shoulders and big, sad blue eyes and everything. Nudge and Angel looked away, as if they hadn't been totally enraptured by the exceedingly rare sight of Max chewing out Fang – Fang, her right-wing man – a second before. Iggy was silently mouthing 'abomination.'

"You're avoiding the problem," said Fang. It was sign of how much Max respected him that she didn't punch him for changing the subject despite how much she wanted to. He must have read her thoughts on her face anyway, and took a precautionary step back. Smart boy. "You said you'd be gone for two hours. You took three."

"Three and a half," corrected Iggy.

Fang jerked his thumb at Iggy, as if to say, 'what he said.'

"Pfft. Oh yeah, I'm the one avoiding the problem here," said Max.

"Max," interjected Angel, her voice small, "We woke up and we didn't know where you were. And then you were gone for a really long time... We didn't know what to do."

Max sighed, her anger draining out of her. Really, using the little girl was cheating. As sneaky as she was, Max was sure Angel knew that, too.

"I got sidetracked," Max partially explained, trying to think of how to tell them what happened without revealing the bad parts. The more she thought back on the incident, the more convinced she became that the figure she had seen had definitely been the Batman.

"You met Batman?" exclaimed Angel squeakily, solving her problem for her.

"What?" gaped Iggy. Fang's eyes bugged out, and Nudge gasped. Total's head popped out of the backpack.

"No way!" shouted Gazzy, running forward and grabbing her belt loops, hopping up and down with excitement. "That is the coolest thing ever! What happened? What's he like? Can we meet him too?"

"The best stuff happens to you!" said Nudge. "How'd you meet him? Did you fight crime together? Did you stop someone famous, like the Joker?"

What, did they think she was a superhero or something?

Max scoffed, "No, we did not fight crime together. Geez. He just showed up after some guys tried to mug me."

The flock laughed – well, Fang snorted, but it was pretty much the same thing.

"Aw man, what'd you do to them?" said Iggy, grinning.

Max shrugged modestly. "They're in an unconscious heap in an alley somewhere, in dire need of a cast or three."

"What about Batman?" asked Gazzy, tugging on her belt loops for attention.

"Yeah! When did he come in? What did he say?" asked Nudge eagerly.

Clearly they had a very different idea in their heads of what really happened.

"That's so scary!" gasped Angel, obviously having read her mind.

"No fair! She gets to hear about it first," complained Gazzy.

"Well, I didn't notice him until after I had already beaten the guys up," said Max, because who knew how long he'd been there, watching from the shadows, "and he didn't say anything. He was just –" scaring the crap out of her, "– there, on the rooftops, in the darkness. It was really weird, 'cause I could barely see or hear him. If I hadn't been able to smell him, I wouldn't have even been able to spot him. And then he left."

"Awesome," breathed Gazzy, looking deeply impressed.

"Human or meta?" asked Fang, his head cocked slightly to the side. The rest of the flock perked up at the question, obviously curious.

"He smelled like a regular human," said Max dubiously. "He didn't seem like it, though. Not that I got a good look at him. But he's definitely dangerous."

"Duh, he's the freakin' Batman," said Iggy, as if that was an explanation in itself. Which, okay, it kind of was.

"I wish he'd said something though," said Nudge wistfully. "That would have been the coolest, wouldn't it?"

"He doesn't seem like the type to," said Angel thoughtfully. Max nodded, completely agreeing – but then, she would, since Angel was most likely basing her opinion on Max's own memories.

"Plus, I kind of threw a knife at him," added Max.

This, of course, brought on a whole new round of questions.


A/N: End of chapter three!

How was the dialogue with the thugs? Everything I wrote seemed horribly cliche and stereotypical, so I finally just went with what I had. And of course, you got a look at Batman. Just a lil' peek.