This story is part of the DC Mayhem continuity.
(note that these events take place in 2011, one year before current events in the timeline, such as in Secret Six)
The screaming wasn't something that Rose had been prepared for. She never thought that someone who couldn't speak a word could exclaim such pure terror so loudly, but Cassandra proved her wrong on their very first night together away from the fortress. Then again, perhaps she shouldn't have been surprised. From what Lady Shiva had told her, Cassandra's vocal cords functioned perfectly... she had just never been allowed to learn how to communicate through speech, rendering her essentially mute except in certain circumstances.
Like right now, with the screaming.
“Cass?” Rose uttered, lurching straight upright in bed.
She looked around the dark inn room, enhanced eyes quickly adjusting to the lack of light. A panic began to surge through her, as the girl's screams grew louder, more frantic – had the guards from the fortress found them somehow? Were they here now?
Scrambling out of bed, Rose tripped her way across the room to find the light switch, flicking it on. When the ceiling light illuminated the room, her vision found Cassandra thrashing around the other small bed, fingers tightly gripping the sheets and eyes squinted shut. The poor girl's lips parted wide, inhuman screeches of terror erupting from her throat.
“Cassandra!” she called, arriving at the girl's side and gently taking hold of her shoulders. “Cassandra, wake up!”
Suddenly, the screaming stopped. Cassandra's eyes flew open and she bolted upright, chest heaving. For a brief moment, everything was calm, but soon she broke down into tears, slouching forward and whimpering.
“Hey, hey,” Rose said, pulling the girl closely into her arms. Cassandra hugged back tightly, her grip like iron. “Shhh, shhh... it's okay. It was just a nightmare.”
Just a nightmare? she thought. No, whatever that was... it was much worse.
It took twenty minutes before Cassandra finally settled down and stopped crying. As the sobbing gradually softened, Rose absently took to brushing her hands through the girl's hair, trying desperately to comfort her. She wasn't really qualified for this, looking after someone like Cassandra... They were only a year apart, and yet Cassandra was like a child in many ways.
Whereas Rose had seen so much in her short fourteen years of life, matured well beyond what someone her age should have, Cassandra had been... sheltered, taught only how to fight and how to kill. Cassandra really didn't know anything about the world, and now it was Rose's duty to introduce her to it, to help her grow and to protect her. All they had was each other now, each the other's only friend. She'd be damned if she was going to fail at that.
“You okay?” Rose asked, giving the girl a concerned look.
Cassandra looked back up at her, eyes carefully studying Rose's expression, posture, tone, everything. She couldn't actually understand most of the words, but she understood the body language, and thus the message. Slowly, she nodded.
Rose paused a moment, still holding her arms tightly around her friend. “Do you... have nightmares a lot?”
“I see...” she said, shifting her gaze to the side. What the hell had Cain done to this girl? “I'm... I'm sorry, Cass. I wish I knew how to help you.”
Then, Cassandra gently tugged on Rose's arm and pointed back at the bed.
Rose furrowed her brow a moment, trying to understand what the girl was telling her. “You want... to...?”
Again, Cassandra tugged her arm and pointed down at the bed. This time, however, she pressed her palms together and tilted her head to the side, bringing her hands up against her chin.
“...to stay with you?” Rose glanced back at the bed and nodded slowly. “Right, you want me to sleep with you. Is that it? Here?”
She pointed at the mattress and gave the girl a questioning look. Cassandra quickly nodded.
Breathing out a small sigh, Rose shrugged and started to move off the bed. “Alright, I guess, if that's-”
As she went to get up, Cassandra's hand suddenly flew forward and grabbed onto Rose's wrist with a surprisingly powerful grip. The look on her face was one of absolute terror.
“Oh, hey, no, I'm not leaving,” Rose replied, holding up a hand to reassure the girl. “I'm just getting the light, alright? I'm coming right back.”
When Rose pointed across the room at the light switch, Cassandra visibly relaxed and loosened her grip. When the light finally flicked off, Rose returned to the bed and curled beneath the covers. Almost instantly, Cassandra reached out to hug her, pulling herself close and not letting go. Within a short few minutes, she was asleep again.
Rose sighed lightly, holding her own arm around Cassandra and shutting her eyes. “Night, Cass.”
The next several days were... taxing, to say the least. Rose would have been perfectly at home fighting her way through murderous goons trying to kill her, but spending endless hours sitting around the U.S. Consulate in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, awaiting them to sort out a way to send her and Cass back to the States without passports... it was, quite possibly, the most boring and mind numbing thing she'd ever been through.
At the very least, the consulate appeared to believe Rose's story that she and Cassandra were sisters visiting Tibet with their parents, when their parents were suddenly killed and they kidnapped. Through sheer luck, they were able to escape and find their way back here. The next several days had been spent arranging their flight home to stay with other relatives, while opening an investigation to search for the missing dead parents who didn't even exist. Of course, by the time the consulate discovered that the story was a fake, Rose and Cassandra would hopefully be long gone.
Now, the two sat front row on a large jumbo jet getting ready to take off down the runway. The engines rumbled as the plane picked up speed, and poor Cassandra held onto the arm rests with a death grip, pushing herself back against her seat with wide eyes.
“There's nothing to worry about,” Rose assured, leaning close to her. “I've been on a plane dozens of times before. They're perfectly safe.”
Cassandra slowly turned, eying Rose's relaxed body language. Several moments later, she, too, began to relax somewhat, although her fingers never left the arm rest. Once the jet lifted up off the runway into the air, however, Cassandra squinted her eyes shut, face contorting with fright. This lasted for roughly ten minutes, until finally the plane reached its cruising altitude and leveled out. Finally, she opened her eyes again and breathed out a heavy sigh.
“See?” Rose said, holding a hand to the girl's shoulder. “Nothing to worry about.”
Cassandra glanced back at her momentarily, then quickly turned her attention to the window. Almost instantly, she brought her face close and gazed outside with her eyes and mouth wide, just watching the almost surreal world of clouds in the sky below them.
“Yeah, I remember my first time flying,” Rose said. “I was pretty amazed, too. I won't say I was afraid, because I totally wasn't... but it was definitely strange.”
Several minutes later, Cassandra leaned back in her seat and sat up straight, hands on her legs. She gently swung her feet below her, breathing outwardly.
“So... bored already?” Rose leaned forward, pulling out her small carry on bag from below the seat and rummaging through it. “I figured you'd need something to do for the next twelve hours, so... damn it, where are they? Oh, here we go.”
A second later, she sat straight up and placed a stack of index cards on the foldout tray in front of her. Cassandra idly tilted her head to the side, staring with subtle intrigue.
“I just figured since, you know, your dad never taught you how to talk – or read and write – I might, you know... teach you,” Rose said, writing down the letters of the alphabet with a pen, one per card. “These are called flashcards. They... well, they're a pretty simple way to help learn stuff. In this case, the alphabet. We'll start with this.”
Rose lifted the the first card, with a large letter 'A' written on it, and placed it down on Cassandra's tray table. Then, she placed a blank card next to it, along with the pen. Cassandra stared at it a while, then tentatively took the pen into her hand.
“This is the letter A,” Rose explained. “It makes the sound – here, hold the pen like this – it makes the sound aaaah, or ay, or ahhhh. Go on, give a try.”
Cassandra blinked a couple times in confusion, staring down at the letter. Eventually, she forced out a quiet “aahhhh”, uttering the sound a few times.
“That's good,” Rose said, curling her lips into a slight smile. “Now try writing it.” She briefly lifted her hand, pretending to hold a pen and writing across the air.
Scratching her head briefly, Cassandra brought the pen down to the paper and squiggled a very shaky, wavy letter 'A'. Actually, it barely looked like the letter 'A' at all, but hey, it was better than nothing.
Rose held a hand to her chin, watching the girl work. “Not bad, not bad... give it a few more tries and we'll move on to B.”
“Aaah,” Cassandra said, scratching out a few more letters on the card. “Ahhhh.”
Suddenly, Rose noticed something out of the corner of her eye. Turning towards the aisle, she noticed a couple people staring at them with odd expressions, as if somehow annoyed by Cassandra's lessons.
“Problem?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at them. When their stares only grew more bewildered, Rose turned fully towards them, rising out of her seat slightly. “I said, you got a problem? No? Then mind your own damn business!”
Though the people across the aisle finally looked away, her outburst drew the attention of almost the entire other plane. She paused briefly, glaring around at everyone. “Nothing to see here... assholes.” Finally, she sat back down and folded her arms, ignoring the stares.
Throughout all of this, Cassandra retained her attention on the index cards in front of her, scribbling away. “Ahhhh. Aaahhhh. Aayyy.”
Breathing out a heavy sigh, Rose lifted a hand to her forehead and closed her eyes. “This is going to be a long flight...”
Sixteen hours and two layovers later, the duo arrived on the streets of quite possibly the most infamous city known to man: Gotham. It certainly wouldn't have been Rose's first place to go when returning to the States, but there were a few specific reasons why she'd settled on it. One, they needed a place to live for the time being, a safe place to call home. Gotham contained one of the many safehouses that her father had set up during his time as Deathstroke. It contained food, clothes, money, weapons, jus about anything they could want right now. While they couldn't actually stay there, they'd need the supplies.
Secondly, her father had done a lot of business for people in Gotham. From the stories had had told her, he took jobs from clients all over the world, yet astoundingly a large majority of them happened to be based in this city, go figure. Rose had only two goals right now. One was to look after and protect Cassandra, but the other... the other was to find Slade, her father. He was the reason that her mother had been killed, the reason why her life fell apart, and not to mention the reason she'd been captured and imprisoned for two years in a foreign country by the Syndicate. She was going to make him pay for that, but she'd have to track him down first. His most frequent clients would be a good place to start in gathering information on where to find him.
“Tttuh,” Cassandra muttered, as they walked down the street. “Tteee. Tttuttuh.” She held the index card with the letter 'T' close to her face, staring at it intently.
“This way,” Rose said, gently tugging the girl's hand. “The safehouse is right around this corner.”
The safehouse was nothing more than an old, fortified apartment in an abandoned building. According to Slade, he'd renovated it and made certain arrangements with some powerful people to make sure no one ever went near it. She just hoped that it was still...
“There,” she uttered, breathing out a relieved sigh as the building came into view.
She led Cassandra through the entrance and up the darkened, musty stairwell. Abandoned was right... it looked like no one had lived here in near a decade. When they reached the top floor, Rose had to stop for a moment to remember exactly which of the old apartments had the safehouse built into it. Was it 3B? 3D? No...
“Three E,” she muttered, heading towards the end of the hall. When she opened the door, she was greeted by a second, this one thick and metallic, with a built in security panel. “Well... should have known that would be too easy. Hold on a second, Cass, gotta think on this for a bit.”
Cassandra barely paid any attention, instead continuing her flashcard study. “Aarrrr... rrrrr... rrruh.” Evidently, she was on 'R'.
“Adeline?” Rose muttered, punching in the letters. The panel blinked back a bright red 'denied' in response. “What about... Grant?” Denied. “Joseph?” Denied. “Lillian?” Denied. “Deathstroke... Terminator... Slade... Rose...” Denied, denied, denied, denied. Then, suddenly, something clicked in her head. “Wait a minute, the hell am I doing? Cass, step back a second.”
Looking up from her flashcards, Cassandra took a step back and watched as Rose squared herself up in front of the metal security door. Breathing in deeply, Rose raised her leg and then exhaled sharply at the same time she thrust her boot forward, smashing it firmly against armored surface. Had she been a normal fourteen year old girl, she likely would have simply bounced off, but given her enhanced attributes, her foot instead dented the face of the door and tore it straight off the wall. With a loud, metallic thud, the door crashed against the floor, allowing them entry inside.
“See? Who the hell needs a password?” Rose said, walking inside. Cassandra quickly followed.
The apartment within more or less resembled a large panic room, with secured, armored walls, floor, and ceiling. The space was meticulously clean for a place that hadn't been used in years, and the furnishings simple and scarce. Moving through the safehouse, she did manage to find exactly what she'd come here for, though: money, clothes, and weapons. Mostly weapons. Grenades, swords, guns, ammunition, you name it, Deathstroke had it. She'd be sure to put all of that to good use in the coming months.
“Here, help me pack,” Rose said, pulling out a few large, heavy duty military style duffel bags. She began filling one of them with stacks of cash and boxes of ammo.
Cassandra looked up from her flashcards, moving closer to the storage container. When she saw the guns inside, however, her eyes instantly went wide. Screaming loudly, she ran towards the corner of the room and curled up into a ball, hands held around her head as if to protect herself.
“Huh?” Rose said, looking over at the terrified girl. She briefly brought her gaze back to the box full of guns, and then again towards Cassandra. “You... don't like guns.” She said it more to herself than to Cass, and suddenly felt a sinking feeling bubble into her gut. “Well, shit.”
Quickly, Rose packed away everything she needed into the duffel bags and hoisted them around her shoulders. Then, she walked over to Cassandra, who now sat up against the wall with her flashcards in her lap, staring at them.
“Ppuuh,” she muttered, rocking back at forth slightly. “Puuh ppuh pppuh.”
“Hey...” Rose said, softening her eyes. “You ready to go?”
Cassandra stopped rocking, slowly looking back up at her. After staring for several long moments, she picked up her flashcards and stood up, taking Rose's hand.
Rose sighed, bowing her head slightly and leading the girl out into the hallway. “Alright, come on... let's find a real place to stay.”
She hates guns... why does she hate guns? Rose wondered. It's almost like she was afraid of them... like she had some kind of bad experiences with them... Goddamn it, what did her father do to her?
The individual known simply as Mockingbird sat quietly in the sitting room of his home, a fire flickering in the fireplace. He took small sips from his wineglass, as he gazed into the flames, thoughts lost on in the past. Failures, so many of them. The team, his Secret Six... they had proven utterly useless. They had bickered, fought, and torn each other to pieces long before any of their missions had a chance to get off the ground. Perhaps he had put far too much faith in such volatile individuals. He should have known better than to think they could work together.
Still, all was not lost. He could always try putting together a new team, a new Secret Six. He'd just have to be... much more considerate in the team members he selected. Yes, that was it. He merely had to learn from his mistakes. He would improve and come back even better next time. But no right now, no. He'd need time to think on it, to plan... if he was going to try it again, he was going to do it right this time.
A crash of broken glass suddenly pulled his attention away from the fire. He showed no surprise or panic, however, when he turned to look at the shattered window across the room, or the shadowed figure now standing there. Instead, he merely set his wineglass on the end table next to him and uttered a sigh.
“Let me guess... you're here to kill me,” he muttered.
“I'm here for information,” the reply came.
Lifting an eyebrow, Mockingbird sat up straight in his seat. “Information, is that right? And who's asking?”
After a brief hesitation, the figure moved forward into the firelight, revealing an armored costume and two toned mask. “Call me Deathstroke.”
“Deathstroke, you say... yes, I've heard of you,” Mockingbird stated. “Not in a while, mind you, but you were quite well known over a decade ago, weren't you?”
Deathstroke said nothing, merely folding his arms across his chest.
“Not a big talker, I see.” Mockingbird brought a hand to his chin, thinking carefully. “And what exactly do you want to know?”
“The Syndicate,” Deathstroke said. “I've spent the last two years digging up what I can on them, but I still don't have enough to go on. They're bigger than I could have imagined... and I need to know exactly how big.”
Mockingbird scoffed, sinking back in his armchair. “What makes you think I know about the Syndicate?”
“Don't bullshit me. I know all about your Secret Six. You've crossed paths with the Syndicate before.”
“The Secret Six,” Mockingbird said, standing up from his seat, “were a failure.”
Deathstroke narrowed his eye. “Not completely. They got you information about The Syndicate's inner workings, their higher ups, their confidants... I want everything you got on them.”
“What for?” Mockingbird grabbed the fire poker, absently stoking the flames. “You trying to bring them down? That's a losing battle, you know, fighting them off all by yourself. I don't care how good you think you are.”
“What I do is none of your business,” Deathstroke retorted, taking a step forward.
Mockingbird paused a long time, until finally he replaced the fire poker next to the fire and brought his hands behind his back. “Deathstroke the Terminator, trying to bring down the largest criminal organization on the planet all by himself. Hmph. Deathstroke the Fool.”
Reaching back behind his shoulder, Deathstroke grabbed the hilt of his sword, drawing it partway out of its scabbard. “Keep in mind, I don't need you, just the information.”
“Oh, I'm well aware of that,” Mockingbird said, slowly turning towards the mercenary. “But perhaps... we can come to an agreement, hmm?”