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Blood and thicker visceral matter coated Ty's face and dripped from his chin, a long string dangling to his chest, but he paid little mind to that. His focus was now wholly dedicated to the pale girl with obsidian hair and porcelain pale skin fidgeting before him. Silvery studs pierced her brow and a ring in a nostril was connected to the one in her ear by a chain. She was attired in a fuzzy, blue sweatshirt that proclaimed, in yellow letters, 'WORLD'S BEST GRANDDAUGHTER,' and black jeans. Hiking boots adorned her feet for her trek through the woods, but she carried no other equipment to suggest she was taking an extended jaunt through the woods. Her eyes were a soft blue, almost like the sky, and she was, in a subdued sort of way, pretty. And familiar.
"What? No, wait - I mean, I am, but - gah!"
She ducked behind a tree as he bounded forward, his form uncoiling into the of an immense saber-tooth tiger that sent tremors through the earth at his landing. His feline form easily circled the tree, trapping the disguised demon to its trunk as his warm breath washed over her, ruffling her hair as she quivered.
"What do you want?" he demanded, voice rumbling like thunder.
"To talk, you racist, hypocritical prick!" she snapped before clapping her hands over her mouth. "Oh, man. Please don't eat me."
His red eyes narrowed as he said, "I know you."
"You - you and that Robin kid saved me from the knife nut a few weeks ago, your highness," she confessed.
"That's right. I thought I smelled something then. And please don't call me that," he requested.
"Whatever you say, your highness - I mean, um . . ."
"Wyld. You're serious?"
"It's preferable to any title of demonic aristocracy," he shrugged as he moved away from the tree, permitting her the opportunity to relax. He sat upon his haunches, short tail twitching behind him as he watched her. "And you are?"
"Oh, uh, I never got a name before I ditched Hell. I've been getting the people here to call me Dee. Y'know, for 'demon.' Though I guess that it'd be 'Demon Damsel' to you," she chuckled weakly.
"Why did you even allow yourself to be taken hostage? Even imps are not so easily subdued if they are not bound," he said again. "On that matter, who conjured you?"
"Hey, I brought myself up here on my own, thank you very much," she said sharply, eyes flashing before going wide in terror at her outburst. With a gulp, she continued, "And I'm kinda trying to stay on the down-low here. Butchering that freak would not have helped."
"You brought yourself up here?" he asked, his great brow furrowing.
She shrugged, "Don't know how often Lady Raven brings you down, but Hell is not a nice place - not for the souls trapped there, not for the demons living there. Most of the latter just resort to torturing the former to make it through, but I-I just - I couldn't do it. It . . . So, I split. And for all the griping and complaining you folks do, let me tell you, you got it good up here."
Memories of his mother's domain flashed through his mind on the rare instances he had visited, usually due to some accident than any willful act on either of their parts, and he knew that she kept her own demesne ordered and with as little wanton cruelty as possible. Even then, it had been a scene of horror that made all mortal sights pale in comparison, and had effectively obliterated any morbid curiosity he held in the other realms. From what he had witnessed, most demons had resolved themselves to their places in the Pit, but all were eager to be summoned, to find some flaw in the wizard's circle and run amuck before they were forced back to their plane. He had never heard of a demon, barring the lords and ladies of Hell, trespass on the material realm without assistance.
"How did you get out?"
She folded her arms over her bosom and arched a brow. "Right. Because I'm going to tell a member of the royalty Hell's backdoors. Somebody would hear, and then I'd get dragged back down and they'd brick it up."
"If there are other ways out, other demons can get out," he growled, rising to his powerful legs. "Demons who are not as benign as you seem to be."
Finding the back pressing against the tree once again, Dee licked her lips and offered a shaky smile, "H-hey, I'll keep an eye on it. If anybody else comes out, you can go ahead and seal it right up. Now, any chance I could get you to turn into something that can't eat me in one bite?"
At his hesitation, she rushed, "Only if you want to, that is. No pressure."
His form twisted, bones cracking and muscles tearing before he settled into the form of a shaggy wolf. He tilted his head to regard her, "Is this better?"
"Much," she beamed.
"You said that you wanted to talk. About what?"
"Oh, that's . . . It's . . . I don't know," she admitted. "It's . . . It's kind of lonely up here and I guess I just kinda wanted to talk to somebody that had at least an inkling of what-what I am. I don't know. I've been working up all this nerve to come speak with you, and I have absolutely no idea what to say."
"I wouldn't have guessed," he muttered. Despite his eyes lacking anything resembling pupils, she suspected that, for a second, his glance slid to the side.
"Sorry that you're only allotted so many words per day, gabby," she hissed before her eyes widened once again. With a shriek that wasn't entirely human, she buried her face in her hands only to look up a few seconds later and shout, "Stop making me say things that I could get put on the spits for!"
"Right. My bad," he murmured.
He tried to suppress a chuckle, but it bubbled from his throat, refusing to heed his will, and she seemed to relax, giving a small smile.
"Oh, look at that. You do have a sense of humor."
"I'm not sure you've known me long enough to be able to judge my humor."
"Eh," she shrugged. "I'm a demon. Judgmental is the least of my problems."
"I suppose," he muttered as he spotted a crimson blot staining the fur of his paw and remembered the gristle staining his maw. Darting his gaze upward, he took a step forward and a growl leaked into his voice. "That wolf . . . the one over-"
"Hey, don't sweat it. I'm not going to tattle on you for your table manners. You know, long as I don't get ratted out," she said and he hesitated before nodding.
"If you harm anyone, I will take you down."
"Okay, see, saying stuff like that makes it really hard for us to be friends," she set her hands upon her hips as she clucked at him. "Hey, not that I don't mind, but you got something against being humanoid or something?"
"I'm . . . at ease in these forms," he said, glancing towards the sinking sun.
"I'm not keeping you or anything, am I?" she asked, noticing his distraction. He jerked his head back towards her and was silent for a moment as he considered her, finally shaking his head. There was no work back at the Tower that demanded sudden completion, and he doubted the team would mind his absence. Any alarms that reached the Tower would also activate upon his Communicator, which Lyta had enchanted to alert him regardless of his form.
"No, it's fine. I'm surprised that you want to talk."
"Yeah, I think I've got some sort of demon birth defect. I'm not a fan of lying. It's nice talking to somebody without having to do the whole charade bit."
With a wry chuckle, she settled against the tree, finding a seat upon one of the roots that pushed from the dark earth. She continued, "So, I'm curious. What's up with the whole hero thing? I mean, did you just wake up one day and decide you wanted to run around beating nutjobs in spandex? Or do you got some sorta tragic backstory?"
"Only a tragic future," he muttered before raising his voice. "My parents did it as did most of their friends."
"See, I don't exactly get the allure of following in your folks' footsteps, but mine tried to eat me, so what do I know?" she conceded.
"Probably more than I wish to. But there's more to it than that. You . . . There are people - like the police, soldiers, firefighters - who put their lives on their line to protect and help people. Most of them don't have any powers, any more resistance to the horrors lurking in this world than most. But I do. I have that power. To not use it, to not try to meet their standard, seems . . . wasteful."
He finished, feeling incredibly self-conscious, and looked to find her staring at him, blue eyes wide and unblinking. Beneath his fur, he flushed and ducked his head back down, studying his paws with an intensity that threatened to prompt their combustion as she finally spoke.
"Owch. I think your sincerity just burned me a little. How does your demon heritage survive the rest of you?" she gaped in feigned awe. She broke into a giggle as he gave a very canine whine and his ragged ears pressed against his head, as though trying to cover his eyes. "Seriously though. You got some shining armor back home in your closet?"
"Yes. It matches the blood on my face," he grumbled.
She scoffed and negligently waved a hand at his remark, "Lighten up, man. I'm just playing around."
He grunted sourly and she rolled her eyes before leaping to a new subject, one that might rouse him from the sour mood he had slipped into. Her eyes lit up as she queried, "So, with my whole living as a human thing, I went and got a job and there is definitely one thing up here that everybody got right: music. I mean, I've been working at this music store and listening to a bunch of the stuff and it's pretty much awesome."
"You don't have music in Hell?" he frowned.
"Not like anything compared to here. See, we can play the xylophone on some poor soul's illusory ribcage, but we can't hold a hellfire to the oh-so-ironically named Thelonious Monk."
He grinned, "You ever hear of a group called Scare Tactics?"
"You're not going to stop until I answer, are you?"
"-lincolin - nope - colincolincolincolinc-"
"What's up, Irey?"
The taller boy regarded his fellow redhead with a firm brow, tearing his gaze away from the cabinets that he was taking stock of. They would need to go shopping before the end of the week, and he was preparing a list of the essentials before the others could add their own preferences. Both of them were in civilian attire, Iris's predictably red shirt almost large enough for her to camp, her bare feet sticking out from a short distance from its hem.
"Wanna go a few rounds?" she beamed, jerking her thumb towards the television and the attached game console. "I promise that I'll move as slow as I can. Pleeeeeeeeeaaase?"
He rolled his eyes and the clasped hands and pleading but broke eye contact, avoiding the puppy dog gaze coupled with a slightly quivering lip. Focusing on his list, he suggested, "Why don't you try finding Ty? At least you don't beat him every time."
"I did. Can't find him. You seen him?"
He shrugged and turned back to the cabinets, "I think he went out for dinner."
"Wish I knew. With how often he goes for it, it must be some pretty awesome grub."
"Especially if it's enough to make him pass up your cooking. I think you've ruined me for any other food. Ever."
His chest swelled with pride and the smug smirk unfurled across his face before morphing into a suspicious scowl. Sparing a quick glance backwards, he did not miss the glint in Iris's eyes and he rolled his own as he turned back to the list, jotting down the boxes of noodles they needed.
"I'm not playing right now."
"Dangit . . . You seen Robin?"
"He, naturally, is trainin - wait! That's a really-"
His outstretched hand dropped as he saw that she had already disappeared and he sighed before closing the cabinet and opening a new one. In the rush of saving lives and other heroic pursuits, his teammates often failed to tend to the more sundry affairs. They went through food at an alarming rate, even with Ty's absence, but it took bared cupboards to trigger the purchase of new stock. After the third time, Colin had decided to seize control of their fare and enforce some order upon them with a vigilance that would have made Alfred proud.
While his friends had been raised in the tradition of heroics or at least about them, Colin had been raised in an orphanage with more mundane concerns. There had been no combat training, no rudimentary lessons in law, no manuals on high-tech equipment to clutter his mind from the typical tasks of day-to-day living. He had been fascinated by heroes, introduced to them by a friendly janitor, and collected information on them with a fervor that drowned the room he shared with rotating partners as the old ones were adopted. The nuns had treated his interest with graceful smiles and small chuckles while ensuring it did not eclipse his studies.
Then Scarecrow had taken him. The deranged psychiatrist had taken yet another foray into aberrant chemistry and had begun experiments with Venom. Colin didn't remember much of the experiments aside from the sensation of his blood burning through his veins, seething through them. Batman had saved him, rescued him from both his tormentor and his own rage before returning him to the orphanage, oblivious to the lasting effects the injections had left upon him. He had learned to control the changes and managed to keep it hidden from all except his fellow orphans, scared at what impact it would have on, by his estimation, already poor chances at being adopted.
With that fear came a trill of excitement, a delightful shiver at the power he held. When the others turned to sleep, he would rise from his bunk and trace along one of the numerous routes they had devised to escape unnoticed. Then, in the form of Abuse, he would play hero. In retrospect, he hadn't been particularly competent, but he was saved by his habit of going after the small-time crooks and gangsters. He hadn't even been in Batman's peripherals until an investigation into a string of dead children had brought them together, and ultimately lead to his introduction to Damian.
It had been a grudging friendship, one that included the dark-haired boy knocking him out at least once, but when Bruce had discovered that Colin was an orphan, he had been brought into the fold. The Wayne's welcomed him with open arms, and capes he thought with a smirk, and he was soon put through a new education that did not displace the old. Somewhat intimidated by Bruce and even Selina, he had found a more comfortable presence in the aging butler who tended to the day-to-day operations of both the manor and the Bat-family. He had become more of a sidekick to Alfred Pennyworth than any others, regardless of what Damian had originally called him, and the lessons he learned from the stately man remained prominent in his mind.
Closing the final cabinet, he glanced over his list, double-checked it, and then placed it on the fridge for the others to add what they thought were essentials. He turned at the sounds of shouting and struggles and he loped towards the door as it opened as a bundle of limbs and bodies rolled down the stairs and spilled across the floor. Mar'i floated in after them, a small smile pulling at her lips as Iris leapt to her feet and started tugging her quarry, via his white shirt, towards the couch once again.
"Cmoncmoncmon! Just one little game!" she pleaded though her actions suggested she wasn't going to accept any refusal.
"Tt," Damian scoffed as he suddenly twisted about and slid out of his shirt. Iris yelped and toppled over as the lithe boy darted for the doorway only to be intercepted by Mar'i. He grimaced and shot towards one direction before spinning towards the other and dodging under her arms. The golden girl blinked in surprise as her hand closed about empty air, and Iris raced past her.
"Running is futile!" she yelled as she charged through the doors.
Colin watched her disappear before glancing back towards Mar'i who was rising into the air to chase after them. He gave a lopsided grin, "I think she's putting more effort into this than training."
"I know she's putting more effort into this than training," she replied with a matching smirk.
"And I presume you're going after them to take pictures of a shirtless Damian? And see what other clothes Iris can steal from him?" he mused. His smile broadened as she flushed and glanced away from him.
"I'm not going to dignify that with an actual response," she said before floating away, leaving him to his burst of laughter. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he considered following before turning in the opposite direction and making his way towards the elevator. He rode to the hangar, emerging into the large room that was largely empty and had only recently gained its first occupant in years when Nightwing had delivered it.
The Cycle of Abuse, named by Spoiler, was a heavy, three-wheeled motorcycle that had been a gift from Damian during their first team-up after he spent the entirety of it walking around. Heavy tires, arranged with two in the front and the final in the back, were equipped with fat treads that gripped whatever surface they were upon to grant him a few seconds along walls or other vertical surfaces. Speed and a sleek form had been sacrificed for its reddish-brown armor and more than once, the Cycle had battered down the supposedly secure fortresses of criminal kingpins. In the years that it had come under his possession, he had made several modifications to it and kept careful maintenance of his faithful steed.
Retrieving the toolbox that he had found, he returned to the craft and began to test the security of lines and fittings, running rough fingers along their length in search of any tears or holes. He was nearing the completion of the process when his Communicator chimed and he grunted as he dug into his pocket and set it atop the seat of his motorcycle. He opened it and the screen was suddenly populated by a cowled face, soft brown skin surrounding lips that curved into a smile. Her crystal blue eyes sparkled and a curly mass of dark hair emerged from the back of her long-eared mask. His eyes widened in surprise at the sight of her before narrowing.
"How'd you get on this channel?"
"Really? That's what you want to go with? No 'hey, how's it going,' or 'oh my gosh, it's been so long?'" the most recent holder of the title of Batgirl arched a brow and he could tell that she was folding her arms over her chest. With a slight groan, he rolled his eyes and then sighed.
"Sorry about that, Nell. I don't usually get personal calls on this. This is a personal call, right?"
"Absolutely. I've got some downtime before I go out on patrol, and I wanted to call and see him my favorite bruiser's doing," she assured him. "Oh, and Nightwing let me borrow his old Communicator, in answer to your earlier question."
"Well, jeez, with that you're practically a Teen Titan. Now you just need to move out here," he suggested hopefully.
"Trust me, I've tried," she said glumly. "Mom and dad aren't a fan of the idea of me being on the other side of the states. Or living without adult supervision with a bunch of teenagers."
"More like living without adult supervision with me," he grumbled.
"Actually, that's pretty much exactly what dad said. I was just trying to soften the blow."
"Hrrmph," he grunted. "I told him, I was checking to see if you were hurt."
"I've met paramedics who did less thorough searches than you," she chuckled and he frowned.
"Hey, whose side are you on here?"
"Mine," she replied without hesitation.
He shook his head and sighed, "You're a terrible girlfriend."
"Says the boy who left me with Batman and company to go hang out on the other side of the country. Without any warning."
"You had family stuff," he muttered.
"Yeah, totally not a valid excuse."
"I promise I'll make it up to you."
"You better," she menaced before relaxing back into a small smile. "So, how's my favorite source of drama and romance doing?"
He grinned wickedly, "Well, right now, Mar'i is chasing an at least shirtless Damian through the Tower."
". . . That escalated quickly."
"When Irey's involved, most things do."
"Ooh. There's somebody else involved? Drama?"
"No more than usual," he sighed. "She just wants him to play against her in one of the fighting games."
"And that requires him being shirtless?"
"No, it's . . . you kinda had to be there.'
"Wish I was."
"Me too," he gave a soft smile that she returned. Before she could answer, a voice rang out and she looked towards it before nodding and shouting back.
"Got to jet, bruiser," she said. "Talk later?"
"Without a doubt," he nodded before the screen went dark. He watched it for another moment before sighing contentedly and focusing again upon the Cycle.
We figured it was about time that we did some background on Colin.