Max slowly awakens to the sound of tapping on her window. For an instant, she’s a child again, burrowing her head under the covers and imagining that Peter Pan has come to spirit her away from her parents’ arguing.
Then she remembers that she is a child of Gotham, and the night holds greater wonders than a mere boy who can fly.
She opens her eyes, and can’t help smiling at the sight that greets her. Even knowing that it’s Terry under the suit, she still gets a teeny-tiny thrill seeing Batman perched on her windowsill, awaiting some scrap of information which only she can provide.
Though given the scowl he’s wearing at the moment, she’s glad her mind’s eye can also replace the figure in front of her with Terry’s less intimidating expressions.
“What’s up?” she asks, opening the window and offering him a hand, which is still extended when she realizes he’s already slipped inside. She pulls it out of the way just in time before he seals them both inside.
“Someone hacked into the Batcave’s central database,” he explains, once he’s convinced the room is secure.
Max takes a deep breath to calm her rising pulse. “And you need me to track them down?”
“Not exactly. As far as we can tell, the only tampering they did was to leave information on the new Jokerz gang that’s been swiping people’s online purchases and the program they’ve been using to trace the packages.”
She raises an eyebrow. “Was it useful?”
“That’s not important,” he snaps. Max takes that as a yes. “What’s important is that the number of suspects who know about or could’ve stumbled on the database in the first place is very, very small. Considering the ‘Cave is still standing, we’ve ruled out any criminals. The Commissioner and Tim Drake disavow all knowledge.” He turns the full force of his gaze on her, and just like that, her comforting image of Terry is gone. Only the Bat remains. “That leaves you.”
Reminding herself that if she wanted to remain hidden, she would have found a way, she keeps her voice light. “Curses. Foiled, I guess.”
He groans, smacking his forehead in a gesture that is pure McGinnis, and she can feel her stomach drop back to its proper place. “Why, Max? What exactly were you trying to prove?”
“Not proof. Not yet. More like…a test.”
His eyes narrow. “For what?”
“Terry.” She whispers the name, but he still reacts as though she’s shouted it in public, calming only when she lays a hand on his cheek. “I have trouble believing it too, but the old man’s not going to be around forever. You’ll need someone in your ear, doing the research you can’t do while you’re out on the streets. Why not me?”
He brushes her off and stalks across the room. “It’s too dangerous. If the wrong people find out, they could use you to get to me.”
“Or vice versa.” She can’t hold back a chuckle as he pauses in his pacing, turning back to glare at her with mild affront. “C’mon. You’ve used that same line how many times now about just being your friend? This way, I see them coming and you keep me nice and secure in my control room instead of braving the line of fire for you.”
Still clearly unpersuaded, he shakes his head. “What if you get caught on the job?”
This time, Max laughs outright. “Trust me, there is no place more secure for this kind of project than a research university. Nine-tenths of the people on campus don’t care to learn how their computers work, and the rest are too wrapped up in seeking respect or funding to pay attention to my unprofitable little search strings. Besides, aren’t you the one who’s been trying to persuade me to come work for Wayne Enterprises since I finished my bachelors?”
“Look.” She walks over, sparing him the physical contact this time, but still forcing him to look her in the eye. “Any argument you can come up with, I’ve already anticipated. You might as well save yourself the trouble and skip to the acceptance stage.”
He stares down at her in silence. Then, just when she expects the conversation to end with a “This isn’t over,” and his abrupt exit out the window, he smiles. “So, Ms. Two-Steps-Ahead. Got a handle for yourself?”
Max grins back. “I was thinking maybe…Oracle.”