I've been meaning to post this here on , but it keeps slipping my mind. In any case, this is a continuation of Grimm Mother in snippet form.
In which Riley loses an uncle and gains an aunt.
"Don't worry, your Uncle Jack is here," Jack Slash said with a wide grin. The young girl's heartbroken and teary eyed look had given way to a tired and exhausted expression. He had run her around in circles for hours as she tried to save his family. He had to admit, being able to kill the same person over and over again was amusing. He wondered if this was why Grey Boy had been so fond of throwing people into time loops. The expression of horror as they died again and again certainly had its appeal.
The others laughed and smirked at the blonde's misfortune, but none of them really understood. They didn't see what he saw. She would be his masterpiece, his ultimate creation. He would mold her into the greatest murderer in the world. A monster that would dwarf any other.
Short of himself, of course.
He had to admit that he was just as surprised as the girl when she triggered. Oh, people had triggered during his visits before, but they were always boring, always trying to smash their way out of the situation. But dear Riley? She was a Tinker.
And not just any Tinker, but one that could resurrect dead people with household appliances. He could only begin to imagine the horrors that she would be able to inflict once she got a proper lab up and running. It would be a little difficult since they had to move around so much, especially since that Cadmus started coming after them. But she was valuable enough to deal with the cost. How much more would they be able to kill and murder with a medic to heal them up?
No more squatting in hospitals and coercing doctors to perform surgery. Nice Guy had made it easy to convince them, but it was still irritating to have to put his body into the hands of a few normals. Of course, they would kill them all after, but it was the principle of the thing! But now?
If she was half as good healing people as she was resurrecting them, then that would cut down on the time they had to spend to ground. That was less time hiding and more time murdering people.
"Ready to be a good girl?" Jack asked with what he was sure was an unhinged grin. His smile only stretched out even wider as Riley looked up at him with those big broken eyes of hers. Jack had to admit that he had outdone himself on this one. Killing children was one thing, but turning them into killer's themselves? That was horror gold. It was stuff like this that cemented the Nine's reputation as the boogeyman of the cape community.
Riley's eyes flicked to the side, focusing on something behind him.
Jack turned around to see what she was looking at that could possibly be more captivating than him when he came face to face with the snout of one of Cadmus' Fenrir. Jack didn't even have time to shout an expletive as he practically threw himself backwards to escape the creature. He was able to avoid the bone crushing jaws as they snapped around air, but he wasn't quite able to get out of the way of the beast's claws.
"AUG!" the psychopath screamed as the dark furred creature's claws cleaved across his face. Blood splashed into his eyes and mouth as he fell back on the floor hissing in pain. Jack sputtered as the metallic tasting fluids drenched his taste buds and stung his eyes. But even through the haze of agony he still had enough of his wits to fight back.
His first attack did virtually nothing, bouncing off the Fenrir's bone plate without so much as a dent. The second attack did better, enticing a yelp from the creature as it tore into its exposed throat. Not enough to kill it, but enough to make it stumble and give Jack some breathing room.
The beast shook off the attack quicker than he expected though and moved in for the kill with a murderous howl, only to be cut short by Crimson's fist crushing its skull. Jack hide a small sigh of relief as he plastered an unhinged grin on his face. No reason to let them know how close to death he had been.
"That was fun," he said as he pulled himself up. His face wound still burned in agony, but one didn't become a member of the 9 by shying away from a little pain. Crimson was hardly his massively monstrous self, but he still stood a good head taller than Jack. His reddish skin pulsated as the blood of their host coursed through his veins.
"Winter says she spotted a van. She thinks they're on to us," Crimson said, his voice as if two boulders were being ground together. Jack honestly couldn't tell why Winter wanted him to whisper sweet nothings into her ears. She might as well have been asking to have her ears shredded with sandpaper.
He supposed that was love.
"Then I guess our fun's over," Jack said with a grimace. He had hoped that they could have had more time to put some distance between themselves and the heroes, but he had gotten too caught up in breaking dear Riley…
Jack's head whipped around to the open door that the Fenrir had squeezed through. He caught a flash of blonde hair as it rushed out into the darkness. Fury curled in his gut at the realization that not only had he been wounded by a mutt, but he had lost his prize.
"Tell the others it's time to leave," Jack growled out. Crimson nodded and moved to go warn the others as Jack contemplated his options. He could go out and chase her, but were one of Cadmus' creatures was, more wouldn't be far behind. The woman had proven to be a thorn in the Nine's side for far too long. He had dealt with heroes, and villains, who had wanted to end the Nine, but none of them had been as irritating as Cadmus.
They had lost Nice Guy to her a few months ago and learned that his power didn't have much of an effect on creatures that didn't care about things like friends. It was almost amusing to watch as the normally calm and suave Nice Guy fall into an utter panic as the monsters tore him to shreds. Jack supposed that it was a blessing in disguise given how irritating his smug attitude had been to deal with, but he had also been the reason that their hosts rarely ratted them out. After all, if Nice Guy asked a few people if the Slaughterhouse 9 could stay in their house for a while, well why should they say no?
Without Nice Guy keeping a low profile had become harder and harder. And now he had lost his prize because of one of her mutts? Jack could feel his grip tighten around his switchblade as he made his way to the back door. He was going to make sure that dear Cadmus suffered for all the inconveniences she had caused him. Here he was, a wandering murderer trying to make his mark on the world, and she just couldn't respect that.
Perhaps it was time to give Brockton Bay a visit.
Annette gently rubbed the poor girl's back as she clung to her like a limpet. Siren's wailed in the background as police and PRT alike cordoned off the area and evacuated the surrounding houses. They didn't think that the Nine would try to come back, but it was better to be safe than sorry. A mousy looking paramedic had wrapped a shock blanket around Riley. Annette wasn't sure how much it helped with the hollow look in the girl's eyes, but it certainly warded off the biting chill of the night breeze.
It had been sheer luck that they had found the girl running down the street as if the devil himself was one her heels. And given the situation that they had found when they entered her house that wouldn't have been too far off.
The decaying corpse of one of her Fenrir had only confirmed the girl's story even more. They had missed Jack and his band by a minute at best. The doors had been thrown open without care and blood was tracked all along the carpet, detailing a rush to the back door. If they had been there a few seconds sooner…
Annette shook off that line of thinking. She had learned that what-ifs and could-have-beens didn't help. She had to deal with what she had, and what she had was a new triggered and deeply traumatized parahuman girl who had just lost her entire family to a group of monsters wearing human skin. The parallels between her and Riley were obvious, but she had yet to voice them. She still didn't like talking about what had happened in Ellisburg after all this time, for such a fresh experience to be thrown back into the girl's face would be even worse.
Her thoughts darkened at the knowledge of quite a few people who would gladly subject a six-year-old girl to such memories in order to gain the slightest advantage against the Nine. And that wasn't even getting into the fact that the girl was a Tinker. They still weren't sure what she might have accomplished with the haphazardly thrown together equipment they had found in the house, but the fact that the Nine didn't just outright kill her was telling enough.
Annette hummed a lullaby as the girl's exhaustion started to catch up with her. Her near vice like grip started to slacken as she slumped against Annette's form like a ragdoll. It brought back heart aching memories of when Taylor used to sleep in her grip. Annette allowed her hand to softly stroke the girl's hair as she snoozed against her side.
She only moved her crimson eyes away from the girl to look towards her approaching teammate. She was tempted to ask if they had caught them, but from the grim and angry expression on Narwhal's face, the answer to that question was obvious.
"They got away?" Annette asked, a faint trace of anger worming its way into her voice. The Nine were quite skilled at slipping away like rats abandoning a ship. For all their boasting about being masters of murder, when faced with stiff resistance they tended to fold like a deck of cards and scatter off into the night. If Narwhal didn't find them within the first hour then it was unlikely that they would find them at all.
"I've ordered the choppers to circle the area. If we're lucky we'll catch sight of them when they try to sneak out of town," Narwhal said. The fact that they were never that lucky was left unsaid. The taller woman's gaze softened as she watched the girl snooze against her teammate's form. "How is she?"
"She just watched her entire family get killed, how do you think she is?" Annette snapped. Narwhal flinched a bit and she immediately regretted her choice of tone. They were dealing with the Nine, tragedies were something to expect. "Sorry, I'm just…"
"I understand," Narwhal said as Annette trailed off, unable to voice her thoughts. Feelings of heartache and loss weren't ones that could be articulated very easily or willingly.
"What will happen to her?" Annette asked as the silence trailed on.
Narwhal pursed her lips as she considered the question. "The PRT will probably want to supervise her given her status as a parahuman."
Annette could feel her expression darken at the thought of some faceless bureaucrat deciding that using a traumatized girl to build Tinker tech devices would be more valuable than getting her therapy. She knew of course that there were good people in the PRT and Protectorate, but they were the shiny symbol of justice they liked to paint themselves to be.
Annette knew that all too well.
"It would be for her protection," Narwhal added at her teammate's darkening expression. Young and unsupervised parahumans tended to be coerced into gangs rather quickly, and a Tinker, no matter what specialty, would be worth their weight in platinum. The girl would never be able to live a normal life, she would have to watch her back every day for the rest of her existence.
The fact that she didn't have any living family left only complicated matters. A rather quick search with the Guild analysts had revealed that her grandparents were dead and neither of her parents had any brothers or sisters. The girl had literally lost her entire family in one night. Unless the Protectorate took responsibility for her there would be nobody to raise a fuss if she just happened to disappear.
"I know, I know," Annette conceded. But even with her acceptance of Narwhal's words she still couldn't worry for the girl's future. She hadn't asked for this, no more than Annette had asked for Nilbog. And now, even if all the Slaughterhouse members dropped dead right this second, she was still going to have to live with the scars that this night had caused. It would be a black shadow casting over her life, a weight pressing down on her shoulders. She didn't want to add to that weight, no matter what the Protectorate and PRT wanted.
"I can pull some strings and try to get her placed under me," Narwhal suggested. While it wasn't the perfect solution, Annette trusted that her teammate would make sure that Riley wouldn't be forced into anything that she didn't want to be part of. For all her gruff attitude towards her Wards, Narwhal was a big softie on the inside when it came to children.
"Thank you," Annette said with as much sincerity as she could muster. This girl already had her past wrecked, she didn't want her future to be taken from her as well.
The woman in question smiled as a blonde torpedo slammed into her legs. The young girl gave the older woman a bright smile that made her heart melt like butter. There should be a law about that level of cuteness.
"Mr. Snuggles and I were going to have a tea party," Riley said as she detached herself from Annette's legs and started pulling her deeper into the room. Annette had to hold back a snicker at the disgruntled expression of Mr. Snuggles. Despite the fact that the Fenrir probably didn't even understand what was going on, it still managed to give a look of sheer loathing every time Riley said its name. The fact that she had tied a pink bonnet around his head certainly didn't help.
Annette allowed herself to be seated with Mr. Snuggles and Riley as the young girl started to babble on about her latest project. It was amusing to hear talk about surgery while seated around a Disney princess table. Though if Annette was honest, she only understood about every other word coming out of the young Tinker's mouth.
As Riley continued to talk about her latest project, something about metabolic reactions, she allowed her crimson eyes to glance around the room. Work benches filled with state of the art equipment and beyond dotted the workshop while blueprints were scattered across workstations haphazardly. A sealed door lead to a refrigerated meat locker where the blonde was allowed to store her supplies. Nothing human of course, but she had quite a few animal carcasses that were being put through scientific rigor.
"…I wanted to add spiked claws, because how cool would that be to have bone claws come out of your knuckles! But Ms. Vanessa told me I couldn't do that because it was against the rules," Riley finished with a positively dejected expression adoring her normally cheerful face. It was as if she had been told that she couldn't go to Disneyland.
"I'm sure that they had a good reason, Riley," Annette said as she took a sip of the tea. It was quite good tea. Even though she didn't need to eat anymore she still enjoyed taking part in events like this. It helped to keep her grounded with the rest of humanity. Something that she desperately needed.
"I know," Riley said with a downtrodden tone. "But it still would have been cool. Cindy agreed with me. Can I see her again soon?"
Annette hummed as she considered the question. She would have liked to have said 'yes', but Vancouver wasn't exactly a short trip. It was on the other side of the continent for goodness' sake. Even with Tinker Tech planes the journey still took a few hours, and she wasn't too keen on hiring Strider every time she wanted to see Riley. As much money as she had made from her salary and bounties the man wasn't cheap.
Still, she did want Cindy and Riley to spend some time together. The older girl was a good stabilizing influence on dear Riley and helped fill the lost sibling role that Riley so desperately craved. The normalcy that the two provided for each other had a positive effect on both of them.
"Her school ends in two weeks, perhaps she could come visit then," Annette suggested as she set her tea cup down. "Speaking of which, who is your school going? Have you been making many friends?"
Some of the infectious cheer that had been present on the blonde's face dimmed a little at the mention of school. "It's okay," she said with a shrug as she fiddled with her teacup. "The science teachers don't like it when I tell them they're wrong. They keep telling me that I'm too young to understand how the digestive system works – but I do! I- I just can't tell them why. And everyone else thinks that I'm weird when I start talking about it."
Annette stood up and scooped the young girl into a hug. "I know it can be frustrating when people don't understand you," she said comfortingly. She should have expected something like this to happen. Riley was feeling isolated in her school structure despite her best efforts. They were trying to give her as normal of an experience as they could, but it was hard to do when the girl wanted to spend every waking minute Tinkering. Annette suspected that the Tinkering was her coping mechanism. Riley had done a good job at not talking about her superhero life in school, but she really didn't have anyone who could understand her situation.
All of the other Wards were older and all went to the same school. They didn't know what it was like to be totally isolated from their peers and not have anyone to talk to about it during school hours. Riley was feeling isolated from her classmates because she didn't have anyone to confide in. The fact that Annette doubted that any of them could even begin to understand what the girl was going through was another division.
"But everyone here understands, alright?" Annette asked as Riley returned her hug with a nod. She really wished that she could have adopted the girl, but she was already getting flak from the Youth Guard with Cindy. Annette tried to limit her time away from her adopted daughter, but there were some cases where she needed to be on the ground. Cindy didn't mind too much as it usually meant that she could stay with the Dallons or Pelhams, but it was still a point of contention between her and the Youth Guard. Annette knew all too well what it was like for a parent to be absent in a child's life, and she didn't want Cindy to go through the same experiences she had as a child.
"How about I call Cindy and get her on video chat?" Annette suggested. The wide tooth grin that Riley gave her was all the confirmation she needed. With a laugh, she pulled herself and Riley up from the table.
While she couldn't erase the scars that the monsters had left on these two girls, she would do everything in her power to make sure that their lives weren't controlled by those scars. They deserved better than what they got. And she would spend every waking minute to make sure that they got what they deserved.
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