Turning The Corner

December 23, 2016:

The Dark Devil wakes in the Batcave after suffering an injury at the hands of The Winter Soldier, and Batman confronts her with the truth of her situation.

The Batcave

A cave, with Bats. And one really big one.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: The Winter Soldier, Zatanna Zatara

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

BANG!

She didn't really hear the sound until after she reacted, after she had read The Soldier like a book. The creature inside her was rarely in synch with her, a bubbling mass of base urges that let her live and breath pain and turn it into inhuman fuel.

Today was different. Today they fought as one.

The Soldier's arm shook in an electric dance, but at the last moment his tension set his aim true, and The Dark Devil moved in anticipation. It had saved her life, and the bullet shattered the lead pipe and mostly flattened in her free arm's steel guard. Alone, neither item would have stopped it from killing her, and still the round fragmented and sent small bits of shrapnel into her arm and side.

None of these injuries were as threatening as the tumble she took over the hood of the nearby car, landing head first, she lost consciousness immediately and would have been crushed by that car if not for the almost superhuman reflexes and strength of The Batman.

She can almost remember it. Looking up at him. 'Dad?' She'd asked, remembering a time when she was younger, when she had fallen and he'd hoisted her up.

She rockets from that memory with a sharp intake of breath, sitting up straight with a sudden flail. The dark recesses of the cave would press in on her, but she'd barely understand her surroundings, eyes glazes over as adrenaline pumps through her veins and rips apart the pain of her injuries, replacing it with a raw ire.

"You're awake," comes an electronic voice, booming from every direction. "You are in a secure location. You have several contusions, lacerations, and a mild concussion. And a few broken ribs."

It sounds like Batman— gravelly, demanding.

"I would not recommend trying to move," he adds, a beat later. "It'll be painful." True to his word, she's bound up heavily with tape, gauze, and adhesive sutures. A bit crude, but effective field medical work. Drugs course through her system, heavy narcotic painkillers that are no doubt slowing her down but taking the edge off the worst of the pain.

The garbled, gritting, teeth-grinding groan that echoes from her throat will signal a clear disregard for that advice to sit still, one hand moving to her side, while another moves up to her head. Sitting up, perched on the edge of the medical table, she sucks in a breath.

It feels like fire, but she expected it, and with a sudden sharp slam of her fist she sends even more pain plowing through her system to overwhelm the drugs and force her into a cold sweat.

Her pupils grow large, and then she slides from that table, unsteady, but somehow standing. The Devil Inside does not abide her resting, and as she corals it in her mind she lets out slow breaths. "What happened? Did we get him? F-fuck. /Fuck/. I thought I was getting to him. Thought I could make him remember."

She was wrong. But she's new at this. She is, of course, lucky to be alive. Without resources, without fear, she barreled headlong against a very dangerous man - for the second time. Only by Batman's good graces is she here, despite all her dollar store vigilante gear and abstract hope that inside The Winter Soldier a human being still existed.

Batman shakes his cowl minutely. They always move. No one ever just sits there.

From a location unseen by the girl, he speaks into his comm device again, watching as she starts a staggering loop around the perimeter of the table. "No. You were over-aggressive. He shot you. I had to make the choice between saving your life or letting him escape," Batman informs the girl, his voice grim with deliberate allocation of blame. "He used the chaos to depart the scene."

Her gear is gone. Her clothing gone. She's wearing a thin cotton surgical apron, but absent the presence of the warming lamps over the surgical bed, the cave is cold and on the dank and musty side. And it's a large limestone cave, likely cut out of the living earth millions of years ago by some fast-moving underground river. A human touch has put down floors, and an impressive array of medical equipment is near by. Around one corner can be seen a sophisticated set of computers and industrial equipment, easily the equal of any police forensics laboratory. Distantly, the sound of lapping water can be heard— she must not be terribly far from the coast.

Her fist hits the medical table in a thunk, and the sudden bow of her head signals that she accepts that blame. There's a long moment there, where she says nothing, heat coiling off her strong shoulders in a miasmic dance just as she leaves the area of the heat lamps.

"Carter. What happened with Carter?"

When Batman first engaged her about this business with the Winter Soldier it seemed like a mission of vengeance, but it's clear now she wants more than anything to help him - and keep him from killing anyone else. "We have to find him again. Before he kills anyone else. Maybe we can get more help. I …Zatanna gave me all she had. Every last ounce of control she could spare, and I still couldn't take him down."

The name she drops rings out in an echo, adding yet another complication to the mix, and she scans the darkness to look for the source of that gravel-laden voice. "Are you.. uh.. here?" The possibility that he might be very far away and watching her on camera had occurred to her, but for now she's letting the cloud of pain and drugs ebb, eyes adjusting to the dim light beyond the medical table to take in the dark contours of the vast, beautiful cave she's in.

"Wow."

"Worry about yourself," Batman remarks. He frowns minutely. Carter, Zatanna, Winter— for a young street hoodlum, she's gotten wrapped up with some powerful movers and shakers in remarkably short order.

"I'm tracking Winter," he tells her. His voice resounds from everywhere, the castigation of God Himself handling what she obviously cannot. "Twice you've tried to fight him on guts and instincts. Twice he's kicked you to the curb. He's way beyond you. You're an amateur trying to play pro ball with salvaged Wal-mart gear." Much like a certain blonde vigilante who's not too uncommonly seen around the Bat Cave.

"You should quit. Give up. Leave him to the professionals to manage."

It should be rage that propels her against the door that Batman is trying to shut, but instead it is what remains of her focus, fingers curling into fists as she normalizes her ragged, pain laced breath. "I should quit."

She looks up and around. For a camera, or else some way to look right at the disembodied voice. Maybe she'd find it. maybe she won't, but the fire in her eyes is familiar - it is the anger and rage of someone consumed with The Mission. What began as a retributive pissing contest has become something much more. She found purpose in his salvation, and in saving those who have crossed The Soldier's path.

"But I won't quit. I can't quit. I've seen the inside of his head, a graveyard on spin cycle. They make him, Batman. They make him do it. They send the voltage up his spine, they say words.. gibberish, but he knows what they mean. Then there's only his mission. I can't just turn away from him. No one else understands what he's going through like I do."

Others mind understand the sentiment. Azalea is in a unique position to know what it's like to be controlled by your demons. Her hands curl against her flimsy garb, and she glances around for some hint of what happened to her clothes. "If you don't want to help me, I understand, but I can't promise I won't get in the way. And if that grinds you the wrong way, at least give me my clothes back before you try to lock me up."

It implies she'd fight him, even knowing how /that/ turned out both times she's tangled with The Bat.

"Why do you care?"

The words echo from everywhere. From no where. Like the demons in her own head, given reality, given voice. Is he trying to break her? Deter her? Batman's end goals seem only to be hurting Azrael as he castigates her for every decision with so few words voiced. "You likely cannot fix him. He's a killer. An assassin. At best he's so broken he's beyond redemption. At worst he enjoys what he does and he'll kill you the moment you let your guard down."

"You're fighting him so you don't have to fight yourself," the voice accuses, the words ringing in time with the vertigo of the drugs. "So you don't have to confront what you are. You love to fight. You crave violence. You keep thinking that if you defeat him, you'll prove that you're better than he is, that you're not the monster in your own head."

Batman's voice comes closer, gaining a more material echo, but there's no direction, a master ventriloquist throwing his voice into the space between her ears. "You don't want to help him. You just want to fight someone and make it meaningful. What'll happen when you run out of villains?" he taunts her. Closer. Closer, even as she whirls and turns. Does it suddenly take on a direction? Did that shadow behind a pillar of rock grow, looming a little, a monster getting closer?

And then, abruptly, he's behind her, looming, wrapped in his cowl, and his only features that cruel slash of mouth and empty, blank white eyes, lacking pupil or iris. Inhuman. A gargoyle that can explode into motion.

"What will you do when there's no one left to fight, except turn on your allies?"

It's in her hunch that she returns to instinct as Something Comes. A tension, goosebumps that race. It's not just his words, taunting, dismantling, but the way he circles and evades her. Whatever rests in her soul, it stirs for a fight in that moment, but thanks to Zatanna Zatara, it douses itself in an inner light and somehow does not become the driving force behind her response to him.

When she turns she still looks very much like a creature. What will she do when she runs out of villains to hunt? Thugs to beat up? Her whirl stops on a point, and she stares up and up at the pillar of mythological darkness that surrounds her with it's contempt. The creature inside her allows her paranoia to well, allows anxiety to show at the corners of her eyes, but she does not panic or flee.

A breath escapes her. A beat. It might be the first time that she's ever looked so thoughtful in his presence. Her fists never rise, and finally her gaze turns down from the challenge, hanging her head as she considers her trajectory through existence.

"I don't know."

It might be shocking to hear her be so very honest, when previously she was nothing but raw emotion and outrage. Blind justification. Might makes right. Not anymore. Whatever it is Zatanna does for her, whatever help she might get, she's coming to grips with how dire the situation is: It won't last. She needs something more.

When her gaze lifts again, cold blue steel against white, pupil-less glare, she searches for the man behind the lenses none the less. "What do you do?"

The implication is that any man who does what Batman does must have faced his demons, and while they might not be so literal as what inhabits Azalea Kingston, they are no less dangerous.

"I will end," Batman says, grimly, and with utter determination.

"If you live only to fight, you will find any excuse you can to survive. If you fight only to survive, then you will never learn to find peace. I will eventually be un-necessary. I will pass into shadow and be a forgotten relic of a darker age. I will never live in the world I want to create. That world has no room for monsters," Batman admonishes Azalea. "And I made myself a monster to hunt the things that live in the shadows."

"You are looking for violence to give you answers. It'll only lead to more questions. If you go down that road, you'll end up becoming the sort of thing I'd hunt and throw in Arkham. So mindlessly consumed with seeking a convenient truth that you will hurt people instead of a sincere one."

"What will you do, then, if you can't redeem him?" Batman says, clearly anticipating the line of her thinking.

"Well, I'm already a monster. Already one of those things you'd throw in Arkham. Pretty sure if this fucking thing inside me had found someone with a pair of balls and half a notion for violence it'd be kicking your add all the way there. But it /didn't/. It found /me/. I took this up to put it to rest, to satisfy it, and you know what? You're right. It's a holding pattern. A fucking game. This is me trying to do better."

She might look defiant, standing there so close, looking up and into those soulless lenses again. Instead she just looks small, a physical reminder that this creature - if the Batman is to believe her - landed in absolutely the wrong kind of vessel. "I already figured out I can't punch my way to some truth, and after almost force-fucking a good friend of mine, I figured out I can't whine about how it isn't my fault. Just like he can't. They make him. They force him. But he's going to have to be held accountable, either through redemption…"

The Dark Devil swallows as she looks for the next word, and she reaches up, a hand pressing to Batman's chest. It might seem odd at first, but it's clear she's trying to steady herself as she finishes her thought, but it provides a physical representation of her conclusion. "…or justice."

That is what the Batman means to her, and as she has tries to emulate some of his work, poorly, dismally, she's at least had one eye on the ball. "I'll bring him in. Bring him to justice. That's what good people with power do."

The Devil Inside snarls at her assertion, and she grits her teeth, but does not back down.

Batman stares at her. Stares pointedly until the hand lifts away, and the snarling curl to his lip reduces itself somewhat. Some predators can do that— like the way a cat lashes their tail to indicate anger, or how a dog might bristle subvocally and ward off over-familiar strangers.

Batman barely even makes a noise, but it's obvious how distasteful he finds the presumption of physical contact.

"Then you need to find a better way," Batman says. "You can't carry a fight on blind enthusiasm and grit. You'll get killed the first time you run up against someone who's been in more than a few bar brawls. If you want to do good, then you have to make your body a temple. You must aspire towards perfection. Discipline. Self-control. Your default speeds cannot be 'all or nothing'. You'll win a few fights, but you'll lose the battle, and if you don't have your ego under control, you'll find you start lashing out again to prove your own strength."

The Dark Devil drops her hand once she's steady again, the wave of.. whatever it was, passing. Drugs. Pain. Who knows. The Batman tells her the secret, or at least The Plan, and she stares at him in sullen silence. When she speaks again, it's moments later, after she's digested his advice. "I don't know how to do any of that. I can't afford a teacher. I have one friend left in the world and she's done all she can, and with her help I saw what I could be - razor focused. Perfection just out of my grasp, but that still wasn't enough. What should I do?"

It isn't rhetorical. She's asking in earnest, and the strain of her gaze, the pinch of her mouth, shows it. She's begging for help from someone she is sure doesn't want to help her. He's made it clear that he thinks she's not cut out, no matter what glimpses of promise she's shown.

And still she asks him, for he knows this road better than Zatanna or anyone else who's traveled it.

Batman grimaces at Dark Devil. He knew this conversation might go this way. All the signs. The possibilities, the myriad roadmaps he'd laid out. She could be violent, deranged. Weak and weeping. But there was a slim chance, the slimmest, that she might be what she proved to be— broken, injured, an animal with a broken leg slashing at anyone who draws near.

Behind the lenses of his mask, Batman considers ending her. Not killing her. But a broken back would take the fire out of her as well as anything. Put her into intensive care. Leave her a quadrapalegic— leave the spirit trapped inside of her, raging and unable to do battle.

But the demon inside is more literal than most. And he dismisses the notion as soon as it occurs to him, face never betraying a moment of that internal debate.

"You must be willing to learn," he says, finally. "I do not mean mastering knowledge for the sake of power. I mean mastering humility for the sake of survival. You are not the only violent person in the world. You're a rank amateur."

"But you don't want to hurt people. That's a rarer confluence— a willingness to avoid harm. And you want to help people as well."

"I can teach you. But you might not be grateful to me when it's done. You will not like what it turns you into, what it demands of you," he tells her. "But you won't end up in Arkham— or dead."

As Batman spills forth the path to salvation and all it's pittraps and potholes, she swallows down whatever anger the Devil Inside feels. How might this meeting have gone without Zatanna's help, and forgiveness? Her expression changes, softens, and she takes a step back at his offer.

It's that moment when the animal realizes there's food in that hand, and not the lash.

If only she could see his eyes, she'd know for sure. Instead she sees only the outline of his cowl and cape, and the dark shape he cuts against the backdrop of the cave behind him. A blink, then another, and she gives a nod. Firm, resolved.

She accepts his terms, without question, and though there is moisture in her eyes it is not from the pain in her side or her strained stitches, stricken by the nature of what he offers: It is no small thing to take responsibility for someone's education, especially in a subject so very dire. But she understands, and as her gaze comes to the set, striking lines of his jaw, her head tilts, as if she can somehow read his intentions in only that small, exposed part of him.

An illusion, maybe, but she goes with it. "Show me the way."

"Go sleep. You need to heal. A garden in upset grows poor crops."

Batman turns and walks away. "One more night in the medical bay. Then you'll need to leave. I will train you but you do not live here. This is my home," he tells Azaela. "When it is time to train, I will summon you. Then you will go into the world and you will apply what I teach, or you will fail. Fail enough— use my lessons for self-gain, or to harm the innocent— and we're done forever."

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