Written by Ravager4 and Joygirl
“Remember,” Roy said, as he grabbed his jacket on his way out the door, “make sure that Lian does her homework. And bedtime is at nine. Not nine thirty, not ten, nine. She might try to convince you otherwise, but don't fall for it—trust me, she knows she's adorable, she'll use it to her advantage. She's crafty like that.”
Behind him, Mia Dearden huffed out a small breath and placed her hands firmly on her hips. “Jeez, would you relax? Not my first time babysitting. Not even my first time babysitting Lian. I know how to handle her. Well, provided you don't leave her to me hopped up on sugar again. That was a fun time.”
“Hey, that was once,” Roy insisted. He shifted his weight slightly, though, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment. “And it wasn't on purpose. I mean, who knew Gummy Bears could pack such a punch?”
“Riiiight,” Mia replied, with lifted eyebrows. She then proceeded to practically push him out the door of the house. “Now go on, stop the bad guys already. I got this.”
Roy looked back over his shoulder, almost tripping over his own two feet through the doorway. “There's a twenty on the counter, so order a pizza for dinner. But put some vegetables on it at least!”
“Roy. Seriously. Go.” Mia promptly swung the door shut behind him and shook her head. “Honestly, it's like he thinks those mobsters are going to turn themselves in.” Clapping her hands together once, she turned around and marched back through the house. “Okay, Lian! Let's get that homework out of the way. When you're done, I got a Thundercats DVD with your name on it.”
It was a seemingly ordinary afternoon in the House of Secrets when Rose walked casually into the kitchen, many days now after she and Cass and officially joined the Secret Six. Aside from Rose's brief encounter with Harley, the Savage girl showing up the other night, and Rose's rivalry with Bane, the two newcomers had not really become acquainted with the other members of the group. Though, since they seemed to be dropping like flies, the only one left to be acquainted with was the doll-thing... which was not a meeting she relished.
As it was, the white-haired girl swaggered into the kitchen, her single eye still somewhat moist and bleary from the tap-water of the House's shower. Cass had already awoken and now sat at the kitchen table, legs swinging idly beneath her as she chewed at a pop-tart. The rest of the team—sans the harlequin, who was "sleeping in"—sat around the table in a semi-circle, staring at the small Asian girl with only about fifteen words in her vocabulary. It was as though they were afraid of her, or studying her, or something. Knowing Cass, the poor girl was either incredibly uncomfortable or studying them right back, depending on what mood she was in.
Rose, on the other hand, had no real reservations about the group. She could probably beat them all with one arm tied behind her back if she wanted to (perhaps a slight exaggeration, considering the fight she had already been in with Harley), and to be honest, none of them scared her that much. Without so much as a passing glance, she marched straight by the group and opened the refrigerator in search of something to drink. straight through the kitchen to the refrigerator, she moved directly in front of them on the way by and offered no words as she searched for something to drink.
"You're out of towels," she said, briefly adjusting the blanket wrapped around her in a toga-style fashion. She instead opened the refrigerator and leaned inside.
"That is an issue," Bane stated simply, only looking up momentarily from his eggs benedict. "Our bendy friend here has a bad habit of monopolizing our cloth resources. He refers to them as 'changes of clothes'."
"I don't use that many towels..." Ragdoll chattered idly. "Only when my wrappings get covered with blood... or when my imaginary friends are in the mood for bondage. Or when our first aid kits are out of bandages... or when my blankets say that they are afraid of me and they want me to be cold."
"I will endeavor to stock up on them sometime soon, if you desire," the big man continued.
"Would be nice," Rose said, ignoring the critter of gray flesh, wrappings, and stitches. She took a long drink of her glass of orange juice, seemingly caught unawares by a small burp. "I just hate spending ten minutes air-drying."
"And honestly, that thing looks like it's about to fall apart any second," Scandal Savage said with a small smirk, reaching across the table with her fork to grab a bite of Bane's breakfast. The man growled, but allowed it... for now.
"Hmr, maybe," she replied, glancing down at the makeshift toga."In hindsight, I suppose I should have just dressed normally..."
"Rose?" There was a pause, before a small voice finally continued. "Good... mmmorning." Cass Cain, the Ravager's ward, glanced over at her companion, chirping idly and extending her hand, which still held half a pop-tart. Offering. The girl was still dressed for bed, pink pajama pants and a Batman t-shirt replacing her more mobile attire.
Rose turned towards the quiet, tentative call. Instantly, she softened her demeanor and took a step over towards the girl, reaching up to gently brush her hand through the girl's hair. "Hey there, Cass, sleep well?" The white-haired teen then paused and plucked the sugary snack from Cass's hand, arching a brow. "Hey, who gave you this? These aren't good for you, kiddo."
"The small one looks thin, is she receiving proper nutrition?" Bane clucked with a concerned voice. "Perhaps heavy starches would be fitting for her diet."
Rose smiled, holding the girl close and breathing out a long sigh. If she could be thankful for anything from the time of her capture with the Syndicate, it was meeting this girl. At Bane's question, she glanced over at the massive man and shifted her weight, pulling back from the girl a bit.
"Oh, she might look thin and tiny, but you'd be a fool to think she's undernourished," she said, stroking Cass's hair gently a couple more times. "Get on her bad side and she'll snap your arm like a twig. I've seen it."
"Hm. She is still too small for combat. She needs more protein, fat, and whole grains introduced into her diet if she is going to become truly competent. She appears strong but frail, a combination that builds overconfidence." Bane flexed the muscles in his back briefly, as if part of a routine exercise, and took a long swig from his protein shake.
Cass merely tilted her head at the exchange, glancing from the huge man down to her own figure, as if questioning her own body's size.
"Hrm, so you'd have her over-muscle herself like you?" Rose commented, with a small frown. It wasn't one of mockery or contempt, more one of curiosity. "Keep in mind she's still developing, so she'll grow into her skill. I suppose she could use a better diet—actually, we both could; hasn't been great this past year in the food department—but I've seen the way she fights. Agility over power, accuracy over brute force. Still, I'm not going to force her to train either... long story, but she's only ever been fighting. I want her... to be normal. At least, as much as she can, in this kind of company. Leave the fighting to us."
"Respectable," Scandal said, gulping from the mimosa in front of her. "Kids should stay away from the battlefield... I should know. If not for dear old dad's bloodline I'd be dead a hundred times over."
"We have sparred before, Ms. Wilson," Bane grunted. "I have shown you already that strength, and size, need not detract from agility. I admit that she appears fit. But I stand by her also appearing frail. I could snap her in half with one hand—not that I would. You and she are now part of our team, and under my—" Bane paused briefly, and inhaled, glancing towards Scandal. "Under Ms. Savage's leadership."
"And I should have shown you that agility and speed trump strength any day," Rose commented, giving Bane a challenging grin. "Of course, I'm willing to bet I'm stronger than you, too, big man. I might not look it, but I can lift a car, you know."
"Lifting a car is less impressive than most make it seem," Bane scoffed, determined to retain a bit of pride. He knew the girl was enhanced—he had already taken a blow not long ago when the clowngirl got the better of him. One day, one day soon, he would prove his worth to the team. They would understand that there was a reason he was Bane, a reason that he, and none of them, had broken the Bat.
"Hrm, if you say so."
The convict turned his head to face the smaller, nearly-mute teen, tilting slightly. "I suggest you decrease your amount of repetitions, Cassandra, and increase the amount of weight you lift. And we shall discuss diet after my studies." Bane said conversationally, taking another bite of his eggs.
It was quiet that night, in the small suburban town just outside of Star City. The streets were empty, deserted, only a slight breeze breaking the eerie calm of night. Nothing of interest ever happened in this town. Nothing important. This late at night, things were peaceful, barely a soul still awake.
It made the explosion that much more abrupt and horrifying, splitting the peace and quiet of the neighborhood with all the subtly of a train wreck. Giant towers of flames poured out the shattered windows of the house—now missing its entire south wall—and bathed the street in a rippling orange light. Yet, in spite of this, it would still be a couple of minutes before anyone realized what had happened, before the sleeping neighbors awoke enough to look outside and call the fire department.
Those two minutes were all he needed.
“Let me GO!” the shrill voice of Lian Harper shrieked. She fought and twisted and kicked against the grasp of the much stronger man, whose face was hidden behind a dark ski mask. No matter how hard she struggled, however, he easily pulled her along down the driveway towards the black van with tinted windows. “NO! I have to help Mia! She's still in there! Let go!”
“Don't worry about her right now,” the man replied, his voice gruff and deep. “I'd be a little more concerned about yourself if I were you.”
Lian beat her fists against his leg and tugged at his hands, trying to break free, but it was useless. A surprised gasp burst from her lips as the man effortlessly tossed her into the open van, and when she tried to jump out, the man merely shoved her back inside. “No! Mia! Daddy!”
“Quiet,” the man stated, reaching up to grip the meat of her neck. Almost instantly, she seized up and slumped over unconscious. With an annoyed sigh, the man then slid the van door shut and got into the driver's seat. By the time the sirens blared out over the roaring inferno, the van was gone.
At first, Roy thought he had taken a wrong turn. When he saw the firetrucks, the ambulance, the police cars, and the gathering of neighbors all standing around and gawking at the burning remains of the house, he was sure that he had missed his street again. The sign was covered by a low hanging tree branch, making it hard to see, especially at night. Surely he had driven past it again. He did that pretty often, when he was exhausted after a long night of patrolling Star City.
Within moments, however, it hit him. He noticed familiar faces, his neighbors, gathered in the crowd. He saw Mia's car parked in the driveway. The tree out front with the tire swing he had built for Lian... It was his house, his home... and it was in ashes.
Slowing his motorcycle to a halt, he sat atop the seat for a moment and stared with disbelief, jaw slackening and eyes going wide. He then broke himself out of the trance and tore his helmet off, sprinting from his bike. He didn't even bother to set the kickstand, allowing the vehicle to topple over. At least he had already changed into civilian clothes, otherwise he would have blown his secret identity right there and not even cared.
“LIAN!” he screamed, trying to push his way past the crowd, past the firefighters, and past the police line. “MIA!”
“Sir!” an officer stated, pushing in front of him. “Sir, you have to stay back, the fire hasn't been put out yet.”
“No, let me go!” Roy retorted, pulling away from the man's grasp and shoving himself forward. “My daughter's in there!”
“Sir, everyone that was in the house has been pulled out,” the officer stated. “You'd just be running into a hazard.”
Roy paused a moment, taking a step back and trying to gather his wits, trying to make sense of things. “You mean she... they... Lian is okay?”
The officer nodded over towards the ambulance. “They're loading her into the ambulance right now.”
Without so much as a second's hesitation, he turned from the officer and bolted towards the ambulance. “Lian! Lian!” When he finally made it there, however, he stopped and felt the air rush out of his lungs. Only a single gurney was being loaded into the ambulance, on which lay an unconscious and burned teenager. “Mia... god, Mia...”
But where was Lian?
“Officer,” Roy said, looking frantically back over his shoulder. “Officer!” When he finally got the man's attention, he stumbled over to him, legs barely functioning. “That's not... That's the babysitter, Mia, she... My daughter, she's ten. She was in there, she... she would have been in her room, she... where is she?”
The officer appeared confused, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. “Uh, there... there wasn't... the babysitter, you said? She... she was the only one they found.”
Roy's legs gave out right there. He collapsed almost completely to the ground, barely holding himself up on his hands. “No... no no no no no... “ He felt sick, dizzy. Tears were already streaking down his face, filling his eyes and blurring his vision. He felt ready to throw up. “Lian... LIAN!”
The steady rhythm of the heart monitor was the only sound that broke the mind numbing silence in the small hospital room. Mia Dearden lay still unconscious in the bed in the center of the room, bandages covering the burned areas of her body. Roy sat in a chair next to the bed, slumped forward with his elbows on his knees and face pointed at the floor. He had remained at the ruins of his home for for as long as he could bare, digging through the charred wreckage, and had since come to stay by Mia's side. If she woke up... someone had to be here, and Ollie was out of town.
He hadn't found a body. No one had found a body. Lian hadn't just died... she was gone. Just gone. Lost in the flames that had taken everything from him, including the brightest gem in his life. He felt cold inside. Hollow. He didn't even feel like he was really there, but rather watching from the outside, almost out of body. It wasn't just the lack of sleep. It was the loss. The pain. The grief. Everything. How... How was someone supposed to keep going after this?
“Lian...” he uttered, bringing his hands up to his face. His eyes had long since run out of tears, leaving behind only dried, sticky remains. He wanted to keep crying, wanted to express his grief... but his body was too exhausted, too wiped.
A faint humming slowly brought him out of his stupor. It took a few moments to realize that it was his phone vibrating in his pocket. He made no rush to answer it, hand moving slowly and fumbling around in his pocket before finally pulling it free. Staring blankly at the Mia in the hospital bed, he flipped the phone open and pressed it to his ear. “...hello?”
“Your daughter is still alive, Mr. Harper,” a deep, distorted voice said.
Roy stiffened, throat going numb. “Who the f**k is this?”
“At the moment, I'm your best possible friend,” was the reply. “Lian is alive; she wasn't in the fire. Rather, she was taken. As far as I know, she is safe.”
“She's...” he started, disbelief pouring over him. Disbelief combined with an overwhelming sense of relief and elation. Soon, however, it all turned to rage. “You son of a b*ch, if you hurt one hair on her head, I swear I'll-!”
“You misunderstand me,” the voice replied. “I don't have your daughter. I'm not the one who took her. However... I know who did.”
Roy grit his teeth, swallowing a knot in his throat. “Why the hell should I believe you?”
“Because I'm the only chance you have of seeing your daughter again, alive.” When no reply came, the voice continued, “That fire was no accident. It was intentional. Fortunately for you, I've been keeping tabs on a certain organization lately, the same organization that has, for some reason, targeted you. I don't know how you made an enemy of them, but they've made a pretty loud statement against you by kidnapping your daughter. I imagine you'll be hearing from them soon with some sort of ultimatum to get her back... after which they'll likely kill her anyway.”
“What are you talking about?” Roy asked, sitting straighter in his chair. “What organization? Who's targeting me?”
“I can't answer that over the phone, but I could provide more details in person—relatively speaking, anyway.” There was a small pause, until finally the voice continued again. “You see, I've made tracking down this organization a personal... hobby of mine, and also find myself currently shorthanded in the task. I could use the assistance of someone with your particular... talents.”
Roy remained silent for a moment, thinking carefully. This man, did he mean...? He had to... somehow, this man knew his secret identity. Those were the only talents he could be talking about. “So you need my help... I want my daughter, and you want to take these guys down. We both win, is that it?”
“That's correct, Mr. Harper. So... what do you say?”