The Next Step

February 15, 2017:

The Dark Devil asks Batman for help.

Gazette Tower

A tower. High in the air.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, Red Robin, Nightwing


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The top of the Gazette might be an odd place to meet, but it was close to something The Dark Devil had been working on. Something she'd been following a lead on. Something she had to solve. When she'd sent Batman the message, she didn't know if she should expect a reply, but tonight wasn't about fists and some criminal's face - it was about watching and waiting. Binoculars are held to her eyes as she stares towards the direction of the Asylum, watching for something that is, simply not there.

Not yet.

She's dressed in her usual garb, the grey body suit that serves as the basis of her makeshift crime fighting uniform appears mostly as a top, with a pair of black cargo pants covering the lower portion. Armguard gloves, boots, and a domino mask. That's the extent of it, along with the shoulder-sling bag currently at her feet.

No matter how attentive she's grown in the last few weeks, if Batman does not want her to hear him coming, she'll be as oblivious as ever.

Batman isn't one for idle indulgences— but by the same token, it's clear that Azalea's working on 'something' that requires a little bit of guidance. Even perspective. So there are times he shows up, and times that he makes it clear Azalea's on her own.

Whatever rubric he uses is a mystery, even to the more well-experienced Batlings.

"I'm here," Batman remarks, from about ten feet away. Appearing silently in the intermin between raising and lowering binoculars, crouched on the edge of a roof with a fearless disregard for the terrifying plummet a misstep would create. His cloak drapes heavy around him, the ragged edges tugged fitfully back and forth by the weak zephys that skim along the rooflines of Gotham's cityscape. He turns those all-white eyes to Azalea, that chilling attention focused entirely on the newest member of the entourage.

It's crystal blues that return to him, through the mask that is, unfortunately, not quite as advanced as Batman's. Still, she searches, and the way she looks at him is very much how she's always looked at him since they fought Muller, like a creature that's deconstructing with the mind. Ever since she's been far more effective, far less scattered in style and form.

It had been good for her job.

Bad for everything else.

The binoculars find a big pocket on her leg, and she steps closer, nostrils flaring to pull in the cool night air. The night seems to pause as she tries to figure out here best to begin.

"I'm working on something. I don't want your help, not directly. I want to do it myself. Well, with Red Robin. He and I.. it's about the Skullduggers Gang, and some dumb shit they're into. Magic I think."


Because /that/ has been so good for Gotham lately.

"Anyway, I'm sorry to drag you out here, but I'm running into a wall. I watched Red Robin pull out a cutting laser and take a piece of the street with him. Spoiler ran plates like she owned the DMV. You have resources. Computers. Technology. I've never been about that stuff, but I'm starting to see how useful it is. I don't know how to beg, and I barely know how to ask, so, I'm telling you I'm ready for more. I used to think this whole thing was about fear. About making the worst people down there understand there are bigger fish in the pond who will absolutely fuck them up for picking on the guppies. But it's so much more."

Her gaze hardens, as if finding some truth. "It's justice. I need to know how you do all this. /All/ of it. How you can be a crime lab and a judge and a jury when needed. How you can know all you know when you need to know it. I can't just be a hard punch anymore."

"Ten thousand hours."

Batman lets those words hang in the cool, slightly saline Gotham air. "It takes ten thousand hours to master a subject. I've devoted myself to this task for most of two decades now," he gravels. "Endless schooling. Studying. Reading new journals. Interviewing other professionals. I write for trade papers under a dozen pseudonyms," he explains, shifting to look at Azalea. Mercifully, the white lenses snap aside, revealing startlingly cold blue eyes. "But these are only tools that make me more efficient. Not replacements for deduction, observation, and reasoning."

"Robin taught himself deductive reasoning when he was a boy and used it to great effect. Nightwing followed my footsteps for years before he began applying forensic theories habitually."

"You don't need tools or machines to do this job. You need a logical, focused mind, and allies who can aid you. I don't work in a vacuum. I outsource. Subcontract, sometimes. If I need to know the radioactive half-life of a rare isomer, I establish a relationship with a research professional and convince them to do it for me."

There's a lean to her, and arms cross as she listens, using part of the tower as a brace. She watches him like he's the closing abyss, because he tells her all the things she isn't, in all the ways they make the job. There's a hard swallow, and her head inclines while she tries to find some way out of the maze of her life.

Eventually she shakes her head and looks back out across the way, at the Asylum. "All that shit sounds great. I don't even have a fucking car. I literally can't out pace the criminals I'm chasing right now. I have to set up and wait for them and hope. But hey, at least my deductive reasoning got me there, right?" She reaches down to snatch up her bag then, and when she shoulders it, she fixes him with a hard look. "I appreciate what you've done for me, and honestly believe every word you've just said. I also think you're full of shit if you think you can do this job all night, work nine to five, put yourself through college, and shmooze the local research professionals into doing your work for you. Something's got to give, Batman. I'm trying to solve a case and save some lives, and I know I have my shortcomings, that's why I am asking for help. I'm not trying to remove logic from the equation, I'm trying to make sure I don't spend ten hours doing something I could do in two and then arrive ten minutes too late to stop the bad guys from killing someone. And if I'm wrong about that, if there's a missing element that you, and Nightguy, and Red Robin have that I'm missing, please clue me in."

It's her deductive reasoning that got her there, too. After all, Batman's not wearing hockey pads. You can't buy that shit on ebay.

Batman just stares at Azalea. Something in his eyes strongly conveys the notion— quite wordlessly— that he has done /precisely/ that. The long hours and sleepless nights and the lack of sleep.

"The most dangerous mistake you can make in this field is depending on technology," Batman rasps at her, unmoved by her arguments. "Trusting technology to be infalliable is possibly more dangerous than being forced to move deliberately without it."

He slides off the ledge, walking towards Azalea with only the toes of his boots visible. "Do you know the fastest route from her to the intersection of Coventry and Birmingham Boulevard?" he inquires, staring down at her. "I can get there faster on foot than you could with a car."

"Have you taught yourself how to build listening devices yet? Fifteen dollars worth of components can make a serviceable bug, but it's useless if you haven't learned how to plant one. Body armor is not a substitute for avoiding fistfights. Video cameras are sometimes useless compared to being able to read lips."

"There will always be criminals. There will always be cases that need to be cracked 'right now'. There will always be temptations for you to take shortcuts and find the easy path," Batman explains, his voice still a low rasp— but somehow, not remonstrating her, either. Patient. "I am not trying to turn you loose on the streets as another soldier in some war. I'm training you to fight this battle on your own. To take over after Robin— or myself— is done."

"I could arm you with body armor and grapnels and gadgets and toys. But that wouldn't make you one of us. I am choosing to develop your mind, instead of simply arm you to fight."

It's good one of them is patient. The Dark Devil fumes when he mentions how quickly he could get to a cross street from here. Or how much money it would cost to build a bug. Her fists curl. Her posture bristles. She looks like she wants to shatter into a thousand pieces, each one meant to rend through him. But then her face softens, when he speaks about taking over for him.

It is clear in every pained twitch in her face, the way her lip quivers, that no one had ever thought she'd make it that long. No one in the know about what she is, anyway. Her composure recovers, and she looks away from him, one arm wrapped around the strap to her bag. "You're not wrong. I see what you're trying to do. But I also don't even have the fifteen dollars to make the bug. I had to steal the defibrillator I used to try to shock Bucky back to normal. I'm living in the back of a church, due to the good graces of Zatanna Zatara, someone you just highlighted as a security risk. It is not a good situation for me to rely on her."

The Dark Devil steps closer, and when she looks up at him there's none of the Devil's Ire. Just it's resolve. "I am asking you to set me up with some /basic/ things to help me be the best I can be while I learn to be /you/. A bike. A place to train. A computer to do some research. I have a side job, as much as I hate doing anything but /this/, but it isn't going to cover all that. Maybe it's presumptuous of me to assume you can provide those things, but I paid attention in that cave, and long before I ever skulked alleys looking to met out justice, I saw your car on the street and wondered how many low income houses could be built on what it cost for just the tires."

"It's kind of hard to /fill/ low income houses when Joker Gas kills ten thousand Gothamites," Batman growls— and this time, his voice carries a note of irritation as Azalea starts second-guessing his fiscal priorities.

He relents, the hard look easing after a few moments, and considers Azalea's quiet request.

"This is a difficult enough task without having to be worried about feeding yourself," he concedes. "Healthy nutrition should never be overlooked."

"I have some connections in Gotham. Favors I am owed. You'll need to work— for a cover identity, if nothing else. But… I can provide you with some essential tools and components, as well."

Her hand rises, more presumption maybe, and when it presses to him beneath his cloak it's over his heart. The Dark Devil should not feel it beating there, beneath armor, and the harder exterior of his soul. But The Devil Inside feels a lot of things it should not. Sees things it should not. There's a hard swallow, and though she keeps emotion from her voice, it's still there in her eyes.

"My parents disowned me. It's hard to have someone believe in you forever. To never question their love, or their support, and find out that you've let them down in a way that pushes you out of their life. I know that.. their reasons are flawed. I know yours would not be, if I were to let you down."

Her hand falls away, and she takes a step back, searching for the words. But in the end they're pretty simple. "So I won't. I promise."

There's the question of a cover, and she lets out a slow exhale to run emotion from her body. "My side job, it'll do as cover. I promise. It's.. actually, I have a license as a PI now. It can give me some access, a little bit, anyway, to some of what I need. I think it'll be a good fit. I can use what you teach me in the day, and the night."

Azalea leaves out some of the rest of it. It isn't important to her. Just like it isn't important to her who he is behind that mask, or who Red Robin is. Because even behind the masks, she can tell /this/ is who they really are. Good people, doing the hard things to help the people of Gotham.

Batman doesn't shove Azalea away… but it's clear he doesn't approve of the close proximity. Very much a person intent on keeping folks at arm's length. Not letting anyone close. So he holds still as a statue, as if retreating into immobility until Azalea backs away again.

"Do not think my trust is unconditional," Batman rasps, warningly. "You're fighting a good cause. That makes us partners, at least for now. I'm not your parent or a guardian. Just a guide," he tells Azalea. "Everyone has to find their own balance between the dark and the night."

"I will help steady you at times. But if you can't help but fall into the darkness… I'll be there, too." And -that- pronouncement comes with a dire warning, all its own.

Then Batman turns and steps away, and with a flare of his cloak, falls off the edge of the rooftop and glides silently out into the Gotham night.

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