Phoenix looked at herself in the mirror. She was unrecognizable. Perhaps the same person was reflected back, with the same red hair, the same golden eyes, and the same body, but something had happened while in her coma. Her hair was more fiery, her eyes seemed to glow with untamedness, her body was stronger, even if her physique had not changed. Her muscles were more powerful; she was able to work out twice as hard and twice as long despite the doctors telling her to take it easy. Her body begged to get out, to not stop, to do something. Whenever she sat down, her mind refused to sit still. When she ran, she found herself unable to stop even after running for hours straight. And when she went to bed every night, she was restless. She ached to continue keep going. If sleep finally fell upon her, it was brief and dreamless, only lasting a few hours. She often felt like she only slept in order to have a sense of normalcy in her life, though deep inside her, she knew she was no longer normal. During her coma, her parasites had changed her body in a way she could not comprehend.
Communicating with the parasites inside her was different as well. Before, it had been by feel, by emotions, by an inexplicable force. Now, coherent thoughts and words could be exchanged. It was not a blind connection anymore. It was a definite conversation. And though she had pried them about what had happened to her body during her pointless attempts to sleep, they only responded with "You are what you are meant to be."
She hated what was happening to her. But...
She loved what was happening to her.
A knock at the door brought Sophia out of her thoughts. She glanced over her shoulder at the door, debating the importance of answering. She sighed, knowing she couldn't hide in her room forever without human contact. Sure, Jasper came by enough so she was not completely isolated and give her sense of connection with the outside world, and she had returned to her home with her parents, but she still felt alienated by human contact.
In a fit of spite trying to defy her parasites and what they had done to her, she answered the door, determined to find joy in being with her friends and teammates. Jasper was standing there, smiling goofily seeing her open the door. The Phoenix smiled back. Waking up from her coma had been a bit of a blur, but she distinctly remembered his presence there. He had been acting different since she woke up, but maybe she was just imagining his happiness. Jasper was the one to enjoy playing life, but never find enjoyment. She shook her head slightly; Jasper was the same boy she met earlier. He had not changed since meeting her. He hadn't changed since she had kissed him.
"Batman's calling a meeting. We're all to meet in the briefing room," he smiled at her broadly, revealing his white smile with his chipped canine, something that Sophia continued to notice despite seeing it many times.
She nodded, following closely behind him , watching him. His old jeans that he wore even after everyone had offered to buy him new ones were neither too long, not too short. He often wore a simple black and red t-shirt which he seemed to have several of. His black hair curled behind his ears and stopped just at the nape of his neck. He walked with confidence that nothing could shake him, a gait that girls always seemed to fawn over as he passed them in the streets. She would be lying if she denied that she didn't enjoy his backside.
Entering the briefing room made the Phoenix take a deep breath. Inside of her, she was keenly aware of how out of place she felt. Her teammates saw her and smiled brightly. Alice came over, giving her a hug along with Natasha and Iris. Jasper just took a step back, making room for her, allowing her to breath slightly more. Not that she really needed it. Sometimes, it felt like she could breath through her skin.
"Alright, team, you have a mission. How many of you are familiar with CADMUS?"
Everyone shook their heads, except the Phoenix. She had heard of it briefly from her mother who had joined the team shortly afterwards. "It was a lab founded by Lex Luthor to counter Superman. It created Superboy and Red Arrow, along with a new species known as genomorphs now living in an underground city. It was you, Aqualad, and Kid Flash that first discovered the subterfuge, also creating the team and rescuing Superboy."
"Right, Sophia. The worked with the Light when we first discovered the lab. We've been keeping a close eye on it since. Until three years ago when we eased up on our regulations. It was a decision by the League, since it was wasting valuable resources at it had been nearly twenty years since it changed leadership. That was a mistake." Batman walked over to the computer and pulled up a picture of the face of a man with black hair and black eyes.
"This man, Riley Griff, was placed in charge of CADMUS shortly after the laxing of our rules. Since then, CADMUS everyone knows disappeared. We suspect a small avian animal clinic/laboratory in Littleton, Pennsylvania has taken over in a less obvious way. They take care of several birds, often creating revolutionary cures there. It's impossible for that to happen with the resources they receive. Unless there was something more happening underground. It It is your job to investigate."
"What are we looking for?" the Phoenix asked, her mind focusing sharply.
"Any signs that CADMUS is not following city regulations, or the League's. Trust your instinct on this one, team. Instinct is the difference between life and death in our line of work. Suit up."
"Wait," Jasper interrupted. "All of us? Even Sophia?"
"Jasper, I'm fine," the Phoenix tried to calm her friend's worry despite her blood rising at the concern.
"Sophia has recovered enough," Batman said calmly. "I evaluated her yesterday to make sure that she would be ready for this mission."
"She just woke up out of a coma a few days ago!"
"She is fine. Trust my judgement, Jasper." Batman narrowed his eyes. Jasper met them, but eventually looked away. He glanced at Sophia who was already walking away to suit up. He nodded at Batman, before following the team.
The Phoenix understood why Jasper was concerned. She really did. If she had not seen for herself what she could do yesterday during her evaluation, she would not believe she was ready either. But the truth was, she had trained next to Batman nearly all day with no ill side effects. She was thirstier than usual and definitely hungrier, but she still did not need to sleep for more than a few hours to feel rested. It had been easier last night to fall asleep, but it still took ages for sleep to final reach her.
As she slipped on all the pieces of her suit - the fire proof armor, protective padding, utility belt that her mom demanded she had on her at all times after encounter Parasite briefly - she wondered why Jasper's reaction had irked her. She knew that he was being helpful. So why did she feel stifled by him? She shook her head, trying to ignore such lines of questioning. There was a mission to get done. Feeling her mind focusing until there was nothing left except the mission, she walked back out and towards the jet which would take them to Littleton.
Walking up towards the cockpit, Phoenix turned to Whirlwind. "You should come on up. Learn how to pilot the jet and all." Phoenix smiled upon seeing Whirlwind nod and ignored Bloodhound's sound of exasperation as he took a seat not in the cockpit. Phoenix took her place in the pilot's seat as Whirlwind took the one next to her. She began her preflight check, then turned the key into ignition.
"Planes use regular keys?" Whirlwind stared at her incredulously.
"No. Ordinary jets and planes have a flight sequence you type in, but, well, this isn't your typical jet. Actually, it used to be a car at one point."
"Long story short, my mom wanted a jet as an anniversary present, but she hates computers. She wanted a good old fashioned key ignition, so this is what my dad put together. I wish I understood the details, but I kind of space out when my dad starts talking."
Whirlwind shook her head chuckling as Phoenix took off. She opened her mouth once more after the Phoenix turned on the autopilot. "Sophia, what's up with you and Jasper? You seem to have been brushing him off since you woke up."
Phoenix glanced towards her friend before glancing away. "Nothing."
"I thought you two were close. And he's always copilot."
"Well, everyone needs to learn how to pilot the jet in case I can't anymore."
"Sophia, what's up? Something happened since you woke up. Everyone can see it. You keep on brushing Jasper off. You never stop training. What is going on?"
Phoenix continued to stare straight ahead, avoiding her friend's gaze. Inside, her parasites told her that the dreams she experienced were for a reason. They didn't tell her if she should tell her friend, but they didn't say if he shouldn't either. She took a deep, breath, trying to stabilize her thoughts before speaking anything if at all. Sophia sighed. "I don't know what's going on. Honestly, I don't. But lately, I can't focus unless it's about a mission, unless I'm doing the hero thing. It... it's like my body can't stop anymore. When I start training, I don't get tired. I get more energy. When I try to sleep, I feel like I'm turning my back away from something important. I'm sorry I keep on brushing off Jasper. I'm not oblivious to his intentions. Gosh, I wish I was. I wish I had no clue what he felt towards me. It would be so much easier."
A tear escaped from the Sophia's eye. "When I was in my coma, I remembered why I promised myself not to have feelings towards others. I saw by ex-boyfriend."
"Did... did he hurt you? In any way?"
Sophia blushed bright red. "No, nothing like that. He would never have done that. But, he still broke my heart for the first time. I won't deny that I loved him. I have never been in love, so I never said it, but we both knew our feelings for one another. We weren't blind. But after time passed, well..." Sophia didn't even try to hide her tears anymore. They flowed freely now, staining her cheeks, reddening her eyes. "In simplest terms, he became Malice."
Alice stared at her friend. "You mean the same Malice who is apprenticed to Nolan, head of the Hell Squad."
Sophia nodded. "Now you know why I don't want to get involved with anyone. Jasper's nice and I'm glad he's on the team. But we don't know anything about him. He was a Crossroads fighter. How long do you think he'll honestly stay here? How long before he leaves?"
The Phoenix went back to flying her jet manually, the conversation finished.
Phoenix gazed at the small veterinary office on the road before them. It was nothing special, nothing outstanding. They proudly held a plaque on the sign board claiming to have cured several diseases, all of which the Phoenix had never heard of. She glanced at her team, nodded to them, then dropped off the top of the building on the other side of the street with the team.
Once on the ground, they glanced both ways and all around before crossing the street to the front glass door. Peeking inside, it looked like an ordinary vet office with bird cages filled with all sorts of birds inside. Phoenix nodded and Bloodhound came up and picked the lock. They slowly opened the door, a deep breath of release after no alarm went off. However, an alarm in the Phoenix went off. If this really was the old CADMUS, and if there was a project even greater hidden underneath, why was there no alarm protecting the facility? Even a vet's office should have had a basic alarm designed to call the police in case of break in. So what was going on?
Koshka let out a small shriek. The team turned around as her hand flew to her neck where a small dart lay, its contents spilling rapidly into her bloodstream. Koshka collapsed to the ground. Within seconds, everyone was stuck,including the Phoenix, but for some reason, she didn't go down. Her head felt foggier.
What's going on? she asked her parasites.
You were injected with a sedative. We've isolated and analyzed it. It should not spread any further into your system.
The Phoenix wondered how far the changes inside her had spread as she glanced around to where several men in black were staring at her with night vision goggles. She grinned devilishly as a thousand ideas on how to take down the men ran through her head with one sticking out in particular.
"Didn't your parents ever tell you not to mess with fire?" The Phoenix let out a burst of fire above them all, burning until it turned white. The man screamed, their eyes blinded, probably permanently, as they fell down in agony. Even with her eyes closed and shielded away from the blast, it took seconds until her eyes adjusted. Long enough for something to jab her in back, shoulders, and neck. Her body seized up, paralyzed. She fell to ground ungracefully like a log.
Something turned her over and she saw a shorter young woman with dark hair cut short into a bob like a pixie. She wore a black body suit with a white porcelain doll mask over her face. She whispered to the Phoenix, brushing her face softly, "Such a shame that the sedative didn't work on you. I hate to see a pretty face in pain." She took a gun from its holster on her thigh and hit the Phoenix on the head so that everything went dark.
The Phoenix awoke with a start, instantly regretting it. Her body was sore and ached every time she tried to move. Overhead was Bloodhound who seemed to be fretting over her. He smiled seeing her wake up. Judging by how painful her muscles were, she guessed she had been out for several hours - a thought that felt wrong and refreshing simultaneously. She glanced at Bloodhound and her teammates. All had horrendous bruises on their necks where the darts had stuck. Phoenix winced at the sight, imagining that hers would be the same. With Bloodhound's help, she sat up to see that she was in a rather large cage. She groaned.
"How long was I out?"
"You were out for about four hours after we all woke up," Kid Flash said.
"What happened?" Koshka asked. "Did they shoot you with something stronger? Or did you just react differently that us?"
Phoenix shook her head. "Um, I don't think it worked on me. Then some doll chick came out and knocked me out. I don't really remember much other than that. Sorry, guys."
The Phoenix glanced around at their surrounding beyond the cage. They were underground in an extensive cave structure. The only lights were the dimly red lights overhead, spaced evenly at eight feet. Their cage was hanging several feet in the air, causing tiny Koshka to sit in the very center of the cage to avoid looking down. However, there were also other cages hanging, some with bones, some not.
There were two girls sitting in some cages staring down at them. One was smaller than Koshka even, with straight black hair with bangs and bright green eyes. The other thing surprising Phoenix was the long peacock tail attached to her body. She gazed at the team with a mixture of wonder and fear and confusion. The Phoenix made eye contact, only for the girl to look away. Even when the Phoenix tried to smile at the girl, the girl avoided her sight as much as possible.
The second girl was braver. Well, technically, she was still shaking with anxiety, but her also green eyes met the Phoenix's. They did not look away even if her bottom lip trembled. She looked about the same age as the peacock girl, and only a little bigger. Her auburn hair curled just slightly at the edges with bangs covering her forehead. This girl had large leathery wings such as a bat, but no tail. Comparing the two girls, the Phoenix wondered if they were sisters. Same frame, same facial structure, same attitude.
"Hey, guys," Phoenix muttered. "Did you notice the bird girls sitting in the cages?"
Whirlwind glanced up, before nodding. "We've tried talking to them, but they won't speak. It's possible they can't understand us and it's also possible that CADMUS made them. Pure speculation, but-"
"CADMUS didn't make us," the first girl spoke. She raised her head and challenged the team, making eye contact with Whirlwind. Her eyes glittered in the dim light. "They took us. They took me ten years ago from my parents. I was alone for eight of those years until they took Jannet. ALONE!" The girl started to shout, a loud sonic scream emitted from her mouth that deafened the team and Jannet. She was crying, tears falling down her face.
Sophia felt sorry for the girl, and her deep emotions which were suppressed since she woke up, suddenly came forth. She bowed her head with shame. She had lost her feelings when she woke up. She had blamed them on her transformation, but now she knew what had really happened. What had happened was in her coma, she was confronted with all of her fears. Her fear of getting hurt, of trusting the wrong side. Ra's al Ghul's note came to mind and all of the weight that came with it. He had told her what it meant to be a leader, comparing her to him. The thought disgusted her and with her relationship with Steven/Malice, it frightened her to think that it might be true. But suddenly faced with anothers troubles, the agony and despair the peacock girl had gone through had woken Sophia. No longer did she feel like just the Phoenix. Sophia was the Phoenix.
An idea popped into Phoenix's head. She walked over to the bar of the cage, wrapped her hands over it with just enough space for a thin layer of fire to envelop it, opening a link to her parasites. Melt it, please.
As you wish.
She felt the bar heating up, until it was white hot, she took her hands away, the bar slowly falling apart. She did the same thing above, the bar falling off afterwards. She did it a few more times until there was a large enough gap for the team to slide through. Bloodhound was the first to drop to the ground, eager to leave the cage. He dropped down, landing gracefully. He nodded to everyone. Koshka jumped first, caught by Jasper to Koshka's annoyance. Jasper flinched slightly after a hiss from her and a grumbled, "I can do it myself." Kid Flash was next, followed by Whirlwind. Bloodhound looked up expectantly at Phoenix.
Phoenix shook her head. "One sec, Bloodhound." The Phoenix glanced up to the girls hanging in their respective cages. Taking a deep breath, filling her lungs to their maximum capacity, she jumped up, the power form her legs impressing her. She overshot it, barely managing to grab the chain holding the cage. She slid down until she reached the top of the cage. Phoenix smiled at the peacock girl, beginning to melt the bars.
"I'm the Phoenix. What's your name?"
"Well, Mikayla, today's your lucky day. After ten years of being locked up, you're finally free."
The bars fell down, carefully caught by Kid Flash below. She knew the importance of not getting caught by whomever had captured them. The Phoenix helped Mikayla out, carefully dropping her to the floor to be caught by Bloodhound. Walking on the ground was obviously a new experience for the girl. She stepped gingerly everywhere, as if unsure her legs would hold her. Not locked up in a cage, Phoenix saw just how long and gorgeous her peacock tail was. She could only imagine the pain of having those luscious feathers twisted into a single space.
Phoenix jumped over to Jannet's cage, careful not to leap too far this time. She landed right on the bars, shaking the cage quite a bit. Jannet's wings and arms spread out, trying to balance herself, clipping Phoenix in the jaw.
"It's fine. I'm used to worse."
After the Phoenix had melted the bars, dropped Jannet down, and hopped down herself, the team let out a sigh of relief. Kid Flash started to laugh, picking up a contorted bar and declaring it her souvenir much to the enjoyment of others. Phoenix glanced at the girls, both nowhere close to reaching five feet in height. And yet as she seized them up, determining if they would be good candidates for the team, they seized her up as well, determining if she was actually able to help them escape. The Phoenix smiled, knowing that if they agreed and with some training, they could prove useful.
"Alright, let's go."
"Not so fast, beautiful," a voice called out, echoing a thousand times. The doll woman came out, swinging her hips, her suit unzipped a little lower than usual. She came out with other soldiers behind her, all raising their guns towards the team, who immediately dropped down into defensive positions with the two rescues safely behind them. "Aw, come on, precious. Don't you want to stay with me?" The woman continued to slowly walk closer.
"With you?" Phoenix scoffed. "Sorry, I'm straight."
"Everyone gets a little curious now and again. Its alright; I won't take it personally," the woman purred.
"Leave her alone," Bloodhound jumped in the conversation, taking a slight step forward and in front of Phoenix. "She said no. Respect that."
"What's wrong, puppy? Are you jealous that you can't satisfy your girl? Or do you want someone with a little more umph?" The doll began to to unzip her suit a little further, teasingly.
A burst of wind came out from nowhere, knocking the woman to the ground. She lifted her head, growling coming from behind her mask. Whirlwind took a step forward, raising her arms. With a flick of her wrists, another gust of wind knocked over several of the soldiers, letting loose an array of bullets. One hit Whirlwind in the shoulder, shattering her collarbone. She fell down instantly, blood pouring out of her shoulder. The two girls screeched behind them, deafening everyone in the room. The team clutched their ears and the opposite side did as well. Recovering first, Kid Flash ran over to everyone, knocking them out, taking guns before running back towards the team. Bloodhound joined her, but took more liberties. He did not stop after one punch. Phoenix glanced at them, the two covering the men quickly, before glancing back down at Whirlwind.
She was bleeding out quickly. Sophia called out, "Koshka, help me. We need to get her out quickly. Mikayla, Jannet, keep on screaming. Bloodhound and KF! Watch out!"
The girls screamed and Phoenix felt something warm and sticky dripping out of her right ear and saw blood coming out of others' ears. With Koshka's help, Phoenix managed to carry Whirlwind towards the door where the unconscious bodies of many soldiers lay. Bloodhound relieved Koshka, sending her off to cover their tail. Behind the door was an elevator. Phoenix laughed.
"Sublevel 52? How's that for some irony. Come on, let's go."
When they got back to the mountain, Alice was rushed immediately to the hospital wing where Maria was waiting. Sophia wondered if Maria ever wanted to leave the hospital and fight like the rest of them. It would be handy having a healer right on hand, rather than nearly letting a teammate die on every mission. Sophia made a mental note to ask Maria later.
Batman had them debrief him and they told him everything. He said that the woman was called Porcelain, a recent villain and assassin that had been popping up lately. She was trained by the Shadows but recently switched sides to work for the Hell Squad. If she was at the undercover CADMUS facility, it could mean nothing good would happen for the team. Sophia hated how everything seemed to circle back to the Hell Squad and how they could never take them down. When the League went back to CADMUS, they found no one there. Everyone was gone and all of their research as well. The only proof anyone had been there was the elevator and the two girls who had come back.
They had decided to join the team, but Batman said they needed to go to school first and get a proper education first. They would train with the team, and work with Black Canary to control their powers. Mikayla was worried about blending in; Batman told her that she could learn at a special school for children with developing metagenes. Most did not have physical adaptations such as hers, but she wouldn't stick out as much. He offered the same deal to Jannet, but she had the unique ability to retract her wings into her body - a painful process, but worth it. She wanted to go to a normal school, and try to remember her life before CADMUS. Batman agreed, but rather reluctantly. He compromised with sending her to Gotham Academy which she grudgingly agreed.
"Sophia," Batman called to her after the team and girls had been dismissed. "While you were on your mission, a group of teenagers showed up at the mountain. They were waiting for you. One in particular was asking for you. He knew your name and your hero identity."
"Follow me." Batman led her down hallways until they reached a series of containment cells, each one holding a different people. In total: one girl, four boys. They reached the last cell. Sophia felt her heart stop. If this person knew her secret identity, then she was in for a world of hurt. In the last cell was S.I.N.
Author's Note: I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be updating regularly. At the very least, not as often as I want. However, I can promise you that I will update after the New Year. I'm taking a break from fanfic until the end of the year in hopes of finishing my own novel. Kind of like a NaNoWriMo project, but in December. Anyways, I promise this will be the first fic to update after the New Year.
OCs and their owners!
Mikayla Anderson - beachlovr97
Jannet Winston - I.3 Mas y Menos
Porcelain - raindropsfromjupiter
Thanks everyone for the great story! Sorry I'm a horrible updater. OH! Question for the next chapter. I'm thinking confrontation between Steven and Sophia and Jasper. Who do you guys think Sophia should choose? Loyal Steven? Or Mysterious Jasper?