Written by Ravager4 and Joygirl
"Aww man, I liked 'Fab Five' a lot. Are y'sure we need one more?" Harley moaned, sitting cross-legged on the couch with a pout.
"You know we'd never get away with that," Rose retorted. "Have to keep the gender status quo intact. Without at least an equal share of guys to girls, we'll become a chick team. I hate chick teams.'“
"Don't think Ragdoll counts as male anyway," Scandal interjected.
"Well chick teams are cool!" the resident clown insisted. "I was on a chick team for a while and it was aweso--"
"I do not believe our opinion is of great importance," Bane stated simply as the meeting room's large, dark screen flickered to life. A dark silhouette of a mockingbird against a white background. A heavy, blank voice that everyone knew belonged to their employer.
"That is correct, Bane.” The members of the Secret Six turned suddenly to the sound of Mockingbird's voice. He waited a moment for their full attention before continuing. “Regardless of what you think, we need another member, and as I told you before, I found a suitable replacement.”
“So who is it, huh?” Rose asked, lounging back in her seat with her hands held behind her head. She was missing out on her daily workout at the moment, and wanted these introductions to be over with quickly.
“See for yourself."
A short moment later, the door at the other end of the room opened, revealing a red haired man in some kind of red and black leather outfit and domino mask. He stepped into the room standing stiff and saying nothing. He looked... angry.
“I give you your new teammate,” Mockingbird stated. “Arsenal.”
There was a long moment of silence, before the room's most jarring voice spat out a harmlessly insulting, "Well he doesn't look all that tough."
"I believe you will feel differently when you see him work, Ms. Quinn," Mockingbird's voice buzzed out deeply. "Mr. Harper is an experienced and intelligent combatant, trained by one of Star City's best. He may look like a simple man, but I chose him as a replacement for both Mr. Blake and Mr. Cash. I make decisions very carefully."
Arsenal slowly scanned the room. He knew some of the people gathered here: Bane, the man who broke Batman's back, and Harley Quinn, former sidekick to the Joker. The others he didn't recognize, but he was sure that they were the same type. Criminals. Villains. If he didn't need this Mockingbird and his team to get Lian back, he'd be trying to bring these guys down and turn them over to the authorities, not working with them. As it stood, however... he was one of them.
Scandal was the first to step forward, offering an accepting hand to the man. "Welcome to the team, Arsenal. I'm sure you'll be a valuable and respected member." The smile she offered was genuine but not particularly sincere -- she was reserved about any new member, especially ones she knew nothing about.
Arsenal merely stared at Scandal's extended hand. He could bring himself to work with these criminals because he needed to, but that didn't mean he had to like it. "I'm not here to make friends," he said plainly, taking a few steps past the woman without returning the handshake. "Let's keep this strictly business."
Any comfort Scandal Savage may have extended, however, was quickly shattered when Peter Merkel, Jr. found his elastic, twisted limbs curling around one of Roy's legs, his hollow eyes gazing adoringly up at the man. "Have you ever tried wearing a baseball cap? I feel you would look positively lovely in a baseball cap. Maybe with some tattoos."
"Let go," Arsenal stated, glaring down at the flexible, bandage-faced individual. He shook his leg a couple of times to force Ragdoll away. "Don't make me force you."
Arsenal shook his leg a few more times, but when it became clear that Ragdoll was not going to let go, he reached into one of the small pouches on his belt and pulled out a device that could only be described as what it would look like if a medical injector and a pistol had a baby. He then promptly pointed it at the man, or rather thing, attached to his leg and fired a small dart into his neck.
"Just a sedative," he said, promptly removing the contortionist from his person. "He'll be woozy for a couple hours, but otherwise fine."
"Tastes like bliss and cream cheese," Ragdoll said swimmingly, his eyes crossing before his entire body idly flopped down onto the floor beside Roy Harper.
"Ooh, I'ma have to borrow some of that. S'not too expensive is it?" Harley tilted her head, somersaulting forward and inspecting the little... syringe-gun-thingy. "It's pretty too."
Giving the clown a narrow look, Arsenal replaced the injector gun back into its pouch. “Not for sale. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to set up things.”
"Yeah, this has been great and all, but I have better things to do," Rose said, sharing the same sentiments as Arsenal. Their new team member had been revealed, so that was good enough for her. No need for further introductions. Shifting off her seat, she marched out of the room, with Cassandra following closely behind her. "I'll be finishing my workout if anyone needs me."
"I'm afraid I won't be able to join you today, Ms. Wilson," Bane said, offering Arsenal only a very brief, acknowledging nod. "Scandal and I have plans later, in the 'War Room'. I hope you do not mind."
The War Room was new, and was so understocked nobody could quite mention it with a straight face. A small section of the O.R. containing a monitor that, as far as Scandal could tell, had not been plugged into Mockingbird.
"Whatever you say, big man," Rose replied, with a flippant wave as she disappeared through the doorway. "More than capable by myself."
Harley Quinn laid on her own little bed, her head draped across the footboard and her feet perched up against the wall. In each hand, held above her face, was a small doll -- handstitched and designed by Harley herself, and well-worn from use. One was red and black, with a white face. A simple design. The other was purple, with a little green cap and similarly white face.
"Oh yeah, puddin'? What about when you tossed me out of a helicopter into an alligator pit?" the clown whispered to herself, her voice squeaky but normal. "Did ya love me then?"
Suddenly, the harlequin's voice grew a little deeper, and far more raspy, though still soft. Despite her lack of general inhibitions, certain things she... didn't need other people to hear. "Of course I did, punkinpie, that was just for kicks is all. You forgive me, doncha?" One subtle finger flicked a small switch built into the purple doll's back, causing a small metal sliver to shoot out of his 'glove'.
"I... of course I do, puddin'... but... how can I...."
"You really miss him, don't you?"
Harley scrambled from the bed, tumbling onto the floor and barely catching her feet, tossing the dolls under the bed. Perched on her sofa, in the door-side corner of her bedroom, his limbs coiled pleasantly around himself, was Peter Merkel, Jr -- Ragdoll.
"Get out! Shuttup! You don't know nothin', ya nasty little bendy creep!" Harley squawked, quickly grabbing a plastic McDonald's toy and throwing it forcefully in Ragdoll's direction. The bandaged creature took the hit, not seeming to notice.
"Deepest apologies. I did not mean to offend," Peter chittered, tilting his head to the side very slightly, staring at the clowngirl. "But normally people don't act out the forgiveness of people they've already killed. Except me. But I am supposed to be unique."
The pajama-clad jester girl inhaled deeply, looking down at her own feet. Her crouched position mirrored that of Peter's, on the other side of the room. "Just because I sometimes wonder how things coulda been different don't mean I regret what I did. He needed what he got, and he deserved to get it from me." She paused for a moment, blinking her eyes shut before exhaling fully. "Still don't mean I don't get sad sometimes."
A small smile crinkled Peter's bandages, the expression barely visible. "You know, a carnival opened up a few days ago. Scandal gave me the two tickets she won online, but I honestly am not sure who to take with me... unless you're interested."
Harley sniffed. "They got fresh peanuts? With the little salt packets?"
"They do. And you're allowed to feed all of the animals."
"...all the animals?"
"ALL the animals."
Rose wound up her leg and delivered a solid kick to the gym's heavy bag, bending it almost completely in half from the force of the blow. After ruining the first couple bags by hitting them too hard, she had learned to hold back enough to keep from breaking them. It was too much of a pain to take the time and replace the busted bags with a new one.
As she continued her workout, Cassandra sat nearby on one of the benches, flipping over flashcards with two-syllable words on them. Her vocabulary was increasing by the day, and thus far she had almost mastered one-syllable words, if she put enough thought into them. She was still a long way away from talking in complete sentences, but her ability to communicate with others had grown leaps and bounds since they first met three years ago in Tibet, when the girl couldn't say anything.
Huffing out a heavy breath, Rose took a few steps back and wiped sweat from her brow, then brought her hands to her hips, breathing heavily. She had been at it now for a good couple hours straight, never letting up. First weights, then cardio, then skill practice, repeated several times. She could have stopped ages ago, could have done the bare minimum, but to her that wasn't an option. She didn't train to be adequate, she trained to be the best. She would have to be the best when she found her father again... she wouldn't have a chance against him otherwise.
“Break?” Cassandra asked, looking up from her flashcards.
“Just a quick one,” she replied, grabbing a nearby towel and wiping herself down. She'd really need a shower once her workout was done.
Sitting up straighter, Cass shifted her weight a little and rubbed her elbow. Looking off to the side, she hesitated a moment before saying, “Prac...tice. With me?”
Rose lifted a confused eyebrow. “What? You want to train with me?”
The young girl have an earnest nod.
“If... you want to, I suppose. But Cass... I thought we talked about this. With how you were used before, by your dad, by the Syndicate... don't you want to be normal?” Taking a seat on the bench, she leaned back on her hands and gave the girl a consoling look. “Well, I mean as normal as you can be around these people.”
Cassandra swung her legs back and forth beneath her, looking at the floor. “For pr... protec... um...”
Another nod. “My... choice. Not used by... them.”
Rose breathed outwardly, nodding slowly in understanding. “I get it... you want to keep your skills sharp, to protect yourself if I'm not around, right?”
“Hrm... guess that makes sense,” Rose said, tapping her fingers gently against the bench. “Alright, let's see what you got, then.”
The two girls got into position on the floor mat, squaring off against each other. Cassandra might only be fourteen years old, and she might have looked like just any other girl, but Rose knew well that she was much more than that. Trained since she could stand to be the perfect fighter by reading body movements... she could make a grown man cry with a single punch.
Rose wasted no time, attacking swiftly, fiercely. She didn't hold back too much, though; it wouldn't do Cassandra any good to fight an opponent who wasn't trying as hard as they could, after all. Still, she wasn't actually trying to hurt the girl, either, instead focusing on placing her attacks in places that, if she hit, wouldn't cause too much damage.
She didn't need to worry, though. Cassandra could see most of the attacks coming before they even started, eying every little muscle twitch and shift in weight with expert clarity. She ducked, blocked, spun, and otherwise perfectly defended herself. It was when the less experienced girl tried to switch to the offensive, however, that she faltered. Attacking was a little different than defending. You weren't sitting back and reacting, you were the one making the first move. If your opponent was as skilled or more skilled than you, you opened yourself up to counters if your attack failed.
That was exactly what happened shortly into Cassandra's assault. She came in fast, fierce, forcing Rose on the defensive for several moments. Then, she made the mistake of overextending with one of her kicks. Rose blocked, pushed the kick away, and spun in low with a sweeping kick that flipped the girl off her feet onto her back, an action that took mere fractions of a second to complete.
“Impressive,” a voice interrupted, as Rose helped Cassandra back to her feet.
Rose looked over to the gym entrance to see their newest member, Arsenal, walking in and setting a duffel bag down next to the weight bench. “What are you doing here?”
“Working out,” he replied. “That is what you do in a gym, right?”
“Hrmph...” she muttered, folding her arms. “So you're the special new teammate, huh?”
Arsenal shrugged. “Wouldn't use the word special... but I am your teammate, for the time being at least.”
“Uh huh. You know, you don't really look the type to roll with this kind of crowd. You give off a major... 'hero' vibe.”
“I'm here because I have to be,” he said, as he unzipped his bag. He pulled out a towel and water bottle, setting them next to the bench. “Not because I want to. And what about you? Little young to be throwing your life away, aren't you?”
Rose narrowed her eyes. “Throwing my life away?”
“Just being here,” he explained. “With these people... I know some of them, and they're not exactly stand-up citizens. I don't know what you're doing with them, but if you don't get out soon, you'll dig yourself into a hole you can't get out of. I've seen it too many times, young kids like yourself falling into the wrong crowd, thinking they have no other options. That doesn't have to be you.”
“Look pal,” Rose said, taking a few steps forward, hands on her hips. She glared at him, eyebrows crossing low over her eyes. “You don't know a damn thing about me. I've seen more shit by the time I was thirteen than you have in your whole life, I guarantee it. I'm here because I have to be; they're a means to an end, an end that I'm not going to let anything stop me from achieving. Don't fool yourself by thinking I'm like the other kids you know. I'm not a normal kid. I'm a fighter. I'm a survivor. And yeah... a killer.” Breathing out a small sigh, she glanced back at the silent Cassandra, who stood there motionless, watching the two. “But that doesn't mean I'm throwing my life away. Just the opposite. I'm taking control of it for the first time.”
Arsenal was quiet for a moment. He stared at the one-eyed girl for a long while, before finally turning away and setting some weights on the bar. “And what about your friend there? What's her story?”
“Cass? She's my... sister.” Might as well stick with that story; it had been working so far. “We look out for each other... we're all we have.”
“So I take it your lives haven't exactly been sunshine and rainbows, huh?”
Rose snorted out a laugh and rolled her eye. “Yeah... you could say that.”
A silence passed between them for several moments. Arsenal lay down on the bench and began lifting the bar, hoisting it up and down in a steady rhythm. Eventually, he glanced over at them huffed out a slow breath. “So... her name is Cass, huh? What's yours?”
“Rose,” she replied.
“And you're how old?”
“Fifteen. Cass is fourteen.”
“Got a lot of skill for a couple of girls so young.”
“Yeah, just a part of our 'sunshine and rainbows' lives, I suppose.” Rose folded her arms, watching the man bench the weights for a few more moments. “So as long as we're giving away names and ages, what's your story?”
Arsenal didn't answer at first, bringing the bar low to his chest. As he pushed it upward, he replied, “Call me Roy.”
“Okay, Roy... and how old are you? Can't be that embarrassed to give it away.”
“Thirty-three...” he answered, after a brief moment's hesitation. “I know, I'm an old man.”
“Uh huh.” Rose watched the man for a few moments longer, then waved to Cassandra to come back to the mat so they could continue their sparring. “Try not to hurt yourself, old man.”
"I do not like the idea of Mr. Merkel and Ms. Quinn getting along. It causes me great discomfort." Bane clucked, his arms folded across his massive chest as he, and Scandal Savage, went to the War Room. After Arsenal's introduction, everyone had gone their separate ways, aside from Scandal and Bane. Harley and Ragdoll, however, had been seen leaving together. More importantly, leaving the House of Secrets to go to a carnival that had just opened in town.
"Scares me too, Bane. But they're grown-ups, we can't keep them apart... even if Ragdoll is probably going to try to crush her in the gears turning the ferris wheel."
"Indeed. It makes me wonder, at times, exactly what happened to the Mad Hatter, all those years ago."
"Mneh. If I'm bein' honest, he creeped me out anyway. What's Mockingbird waiting for?"
"For your conversation to end," Mockingbird buzzed across the brightened monitor. "I didn't wish to interrupt. I have time."
Scandal grunted idly before turning to the screen. "Well I've got better things to do, so what's the big secret? What's with Arsenal, what's the mission?"
"This mission may be your most difficult yet. Mr. Harper's young daughter has been kidnapped, and his home destroyed. This was the opportunity I needed to enlist him, but if we do not direct our efforts to relocating his daughter, Lian Harper, he will grow more and more ornery until he becomes more a liability than an asset."
"Very well," Bane rumbled gently. "Then do you know who has the girl? Where do we direct our fist?"
"Three of Gotham's most notorious criminals who had recently vanished from their... Bat-protected home turf. They were quiet, and the unusual alliance made them difficult to track down. But the movements of criminal activities and funds from Gotham to Star City allowed me the leads necessary to find them."
"Mhm, you're really smart," Scandal sighed, flopping down onto the couch and resting her legs across the furniture's arm. "So who are we going after?"
Brief, flickering silence over the television's speakers, before Mockingbird spoke once more. "A triad of Gotham's most wanted. Firefly, Mr. Freeze, and Poison Ivy."