Nothing is True.
He'd gotten out while the getting was good. He'd been trapped, less than a slave, but he'd escaped. They couldn't touch him any more, and that was good enough for him. Revenge hadn't been on the agenda- there were enough people fighting that war, he'd figured. All he wanted from life now was liberty of movement, the occasional adrenaline kick his job gave him, perhaps a nice girl that wouldn't mind him sneaking back in the middle of the night, and the opportunity to do the breast stroke through an enormous vault full of money. And a half-decent margarita every now and again. Not so much to ask, in the grand scheme of things. The whole Abstergo thing was a closed book.
So why was it he still woke up sick and sweating, blinking away the false memory of bleeding faces on the floor? Why was it every time he saw some kid in a white hoodie he felt the hammered-in urge to nod respectfully? Why, if he really didn't care, had he never taken anything from Abstergo's overflowing coffers?
He'd told himself it was over. That whatever Abstergo had meant for the boy he'd been, all they had managed to do was make him. He'd told himself over and over, in spite of everything, that it didn't matter. That no matter what they'd done, he could just shrug it off.
He'd been a god-damn moron. To think he could just walk away from that.
He'd been scouting out a heist. Sure, it had been a little close to the looming block of concrete and steel that marked Abstergo's base of operations, but that just showed how much of a non-issue it was to him. He'd been squatting on the corner of a rooftop, cape draped around him to protect him from the spattering of rain, peering at a jeweller's through a miniature spyglass. He'd been fairly bored.
Until he heard the van. And, from his vantage point on the roof, saw the logo painted discreetly on the side. Shifting, he pulled the small telescope towards it, and peered intently as the vehicle pulled into a small car park opposite the Abstergo building. Two uniformed men- armed, judging form the way their shell suits bulged, but not anticipating trouble- slouched out, and opened the back of the van. One leapt into the darkness, and the other stayed outside, to help guide out a box, as the other pushed from inside the vehicle.
A box, about five feet long. More a crate, actually. Wooden. Pretty unremarkable, except...
A twitch of his thumb on the telescope, and suddenly the scene was painted in shades of blue and glowing orange. The two men flared orange and white, clear as day.
So did the crate.
He stood on the rooftop, and watched. As the two men were joined by two others, emerging from what had appeared to be nothing more exiting than an out-of-order public toilet. As the four of them hefted the crate and carried it into the building.
He watched until he was absolutely, completely certain that none of them just needed to use the bathroom.
It was a grey and drizzly evening, and Starfire was on patrol.
Under the circumstances, it was strange she noticed him at all. He was a black, hunched figure, squatting on the corner of a rooftop, peering over the edge like some kind of bizarre gargoyle. From the air, he almost looked more like a bin liner that had gotten caught on the edge of the building.
And even once she had seen him, she wasn't sure she believed it. They had never, ever caught Red X at anything other than the scene of the crime. It was unusual in the extreme to find him in so... mundane circumstances. She instantly suspected a trap, and landed carefully, starbolt readied around a clenched fist.
She was under no illusions. It would be foolish to assume that he had somehow failed to notice her. She should signal for backup, and then endeavour to prevent him from leaving. But how to... yes, she would activate her communicator, and engage the foe in combat. She was certain that Robin would be able to extrapolate from there.
Unhooking the yellow device from her belt, she took a cautious step forward.
And blinked, as she suddenly stopped to listen. Red X was talking. To himself, apparently.
"...and where are they, huh? 'Do not compromise the Brotherhood', my ass. Doesn't this count? They don't care, so why should I? Not like it's my fault here, I was just... watching..." he trailed off, shaking his head violently.
Another step, and he span, a small red shuriken knocking the communicator from her hands in one smooth movement.
And normally, that would have been enough. She would have attacked, then and there. Except this situation was strange in so many ways, and she could see something in his shoulders, in the way he was standing, back pressed up against yawning space, something of the prey chased to ground. She remembered what that felt like. She remembered, too, what a mistake it had been to attack the first person she saw.
So she snuffed out the starbolt, with a flex of her fingers, and dropped her hand to her side.
"It's not right," he said. "They shouldn't get away with it. Nobody's fucking stopping them. Not the police, not the Brotherhood of fucking Assassins, not you, not me-" he shook his head, jerkily, and Starfire heard his breath hitching fitfully.
Starfire blinked, slowly.
"My apologies, but I do not understand what you- let go of me."
Red X glared with eyes unseeing, and Starfire fought the urge to attack as grey-gloved hands clamped down on her shoulders.
His tone was the only thing preventing further combat. The wild, desperate, utterly lost voice, straining through the mask, clear even through the voice scrambler.
"No, you don't understand," he implored.
"You are correct. I believe I just said as much."
"No, you don't get it. They're taking other people."
Starfire was reunited with the feeling that she had just missed the meaning of something very important.
"Who?" she asked, in an attempt to glean context. "Who is doing the taking of other people?" When her questioning was answered with nothing but manic silence, she decided that perhaps this was rather like hunting. She had to put him at ease, first, then bait a trap.
"Friend," she tried, gamely (a falsehood, if a minor one) "I am truly concerned by your warning, and if what you say is true, and people are indeed being kidnapped, then I shall certainly do all within my power to apprehend the evildoers, but you must first tell me who is perpetrating this crime. Will you not explain?"
Perhaps she came on too strong. Perhaps she shouldn't have gone as far as to call him 'friend'. Perhaps he just got a hold of himself. But whatever it was, the moment passed, and he took a controlled step backwards.
"Who?" he said, and Starfire was not a little relieved, in a strange way, to hear the customary smirk in his voice once more- "Heh. Abstergo, that's who."
"Abstergo? The pharmaceutical company? The selfsame Abstergo that manufactures Beast Boy's throat sweets? Surely, you must be mistaken."
But he was long gone.
Shaking her head, Starfire recovered her communicator.
"Robin? I believe you will wish to hear this. I believe Red X has become a conspiracy theorist. …A conspiracy theorist. Do you not recall? Beast Boy was watching a television show about them last week. It claimed that they were responsible for the sinking of the passenger liner Titanic. … Now I come to remember it, I believe you had left the room in a somewhat frustrated mood by that stage of the program. …My apologies, but you appeared unfamiliar with the terminology. No, he did not believe that the Berlin Wall was built by lizard men. He claimed that Abstergo Pharmaceuticals has been kidnapping people."
One week later, and Cyborg was on a rooftop, setting up his latest work of genius. Since Starfire had relayed Red X's cryptic warning, Robin had gone into overdrive, just like he did every time Red X was involved. He'd insisted that at least one person be keeping an eye on the Abstergo building every night, just in case. That had lasted a whole weekend. Robin hadn't liked it because it meant they were effectively wasting a team member every evening, Starfire hadn't liked it because it was inefficient and also very cold, Beast Boy hadn't liked it because it was boring as could be, and he didn't like the throat sweets Abstergo made anyway, and also it had rained when it had been his turn so now he had a cold again and had to take the aforementioned nasty throat sweets again, and Raven hadn't liked it because Beast Boy had complained a lot.
So, Cyborg had come up with an idea. He was setting up a perimeter around the building- crude sensors, built to locate xenothim ore, jury-rigged to transmit directly to the Tower, as well as to Cyborg himself. Hopefully, that should be enough to give them advance warning, if the thief did actually try anything.
They hadn't warned anyone at Abstergo that Red X might be targeting them. Starfire had insisted that Red X's claim be treated with as much seriousness as possible, and Cyborg agreed. After all, Red X had, in fact, yet to actually lie to any of them. Robin hadn't minded- he liked to keep things as in-house as possible, just as a general rule.
Cyborg grunted in approval as the last sensor flared into life. There, that should be enough to- suddenly, his arm began to flash, as the sensor in front of him started to transmit.
Crap, the thing wasn't working properly. He really hoped it was a hardware problem, and not a software glitch-
Unless it was-
Cyborg peered into the night, as a fluttering, black-clad figure charged headlong towards him.
"It's go time."
Red X winced, as a blast of sonic energy punched through the air above his head, and everything went silent for three-tenths of a second.
"Ah, crap. It's the modern man."
The overgrown tin can was going to be a pain, he just knew it. Unless...
He twisted to face the gleaming mechanical abomination, and as Cyborg raised the intricate weapon that had been his arm, Red X leapt, vaulting up and over his adversary's head, slapping a tiny EMP emitter onto his back as he went sailing past.
He landed, gracefully, and turned just in time to see the sparks fly. And do precisely jack squat.
Cyborg smirked. "Nice try. But I'm afraid you ain't ahead of the curve today."
Red X shrugged. "Fine."
Time to go low-tech.
He sprang, the sheer audacity of a head-on attack the only thing that saved him in that moment- and a moment was all he needed. He landed on Cyborg, one foot planted on his chest, one hand gripping Cyborg's left wrist to maintain balance, one knee resting on the metal behemoth's shoulder, pushing up on it to gain height and momentum, and he brought his free fist down on the metal man's one remaining physical weak point.
His human eye.
"Augh!" Cyborg exclaimed, stumbling backwards at the attack (and Red X wondered vaguely when the vigilante had last felt pain at all), and wasted six valuable seconds making uncharitable insinuations about Red X's parentage. Six seconds which the burglar had wisely used to abscond.
Cyborg was not enjoying his evening. Being beaten was something he always had problems with, and this time he had the added indignity of actually being injured. It had been years since someone had given him a black eye.
It was kind of nostalgic, now he thought about it. This had to be his first bruise since, well, since before the accident.
Still, he had a job to do.
"Robin, listen," he said, into his arm. "The sensors work. I got them set up all around the building. He went in, and I'm gonna know exactly when and where he comes out. You wake everyone and come charging over here with the cavalry, he's gonna know, might get spooked, might try something clever. He knows it's just me out here, and I'm pretty sure he thinks he can get past me. Because he's a cocky little asshole, that's why. Look, we'll try it my way, and if that doesn't work, then you can say 'I told you so', and we'll figure something out."
Cyborg sighed, only half-listening to his superior respond. There was another reason Cyborg was reluctant to pull a full-scale alert on this situation, and it wasn't one Robin would have been pleased to hear. Starfire's account of Red X's cryptic conversation was bothering him.
A sudden crack split the frigid air, and in the time it took Cyborg to register it as a gunshot (9mm calibre, 100m 5 o'clock, Be Careful, the digital readout superimposed over his electronic eye informed him) it was followed by three more, all echoing from the direction his systems had indicated, but he couldn't see anyone... oh. Street level.
Reminding himself for the hundredth time to fix the lack of a height indicator on the readout (Would You Like To Make A Reminder? No, shut the fuck up) he cautiously made his way over to the edge of the building, where a fire escape terminated at the roof. Carefully, he peered over the edge.
A skull-faced mask peered right back up at him, one hand clinging to the fire escape, the other clutching at what looked like... a rolled-up carpet? No, a bundle of sheets, wrapped around-
"Hey, you're pretty much gonna have to hold onto this for a moment for me," the criminal announced, and dropped the bundle in Cyborg's shocked and unprotesting hands.
-a little girl. Maybe ten years old, if Cyborg was any judge. Maybe twelve and just short. Split the difference, call it eleven.
Eyebrow raised in confusion, Cyborg turned to a figure that was no longer there- the black-clad figure had dropped, scuttling back down through the fire escape, vaulting over onto the side of the next building across, leading his pursuers on a wild chase, away from Cyborg and his impromptu charge.
"Yeah, Rob, I think we're just gonna have to see how this one plays out. I'll get back to you."
"Oh hey, you're still here, that's good."
Cyborg had had time to think.
"Okay, I know you've got a good reason to be hauling an unconscious eleven-year-old girl around on rooftops in the middle of the night. 'Cause if you don't, this is gonna get real uncomplicated."
"Twelve, actually. And she's not unconscious, she's just catatonic. I'm pretty sure she needs a detox, like, a week ago."
"Who is she?" Cyborg asked, peering down at the slumbering figure in his arms- little more than a shock of jet-black hair tangled up in sheets, as far as he could see.
"Her name's Beth, apparently. She's Abstergo's latest guest. Well, she was."
"Yeah, I'm gonna have to say you lost me here."
Red X sighed.
"Look. There's no way for me to explain this without me sounding like a crazy person. So I'm not gonna bother. Just... take her back to your big shiny tower, run a medical scan on her. She lives... here, in case she doesn't remember." A slip of white paper was handed over, an address scrawled over it. "She'll probably be experiencing major confusion at least. Possibly paranoia, memory loss, the whole shebang. But hey, apparently your goth friend can read minds or something, so maybe all she's gotta do is flip the right switches. I don't know; I'm a thief, not a psychic head-doctor."
"Look... how do you know all this?"
He got the feeling Red X was rolling his eyes.
"I know you're not the detective, big guy, but I'd have expected you to figure that one out by now."
"Hey, Rob? You remember how I said I was gonna wait and see how this one turned out? I don't know what the hell's going on any more. I'm just gonna come back to the tower now. I'd wait up for us, if I was you. Yeah. Us. I don't know either."
Robin knocked, once. After five seconds without a reply, he knocked again. Another five seconds, and he activated the emergency override, and Raven's door slid open.
A sleepy arm flopped up from the covers, and Robin sighed.
At least he wasn't actually interrupting anything.
"Sorry, Beast Boy. Raven. Wake up. We have a situation."
A second body moved, shifting into a sitting position.
"I'm assuming this is an incredibly important situation that could in no way wait for morning, and definitely merits running the risk of me murdering you and wearing your skin as a cape."
"Name any other kind of situation," Robin replied, ruefully.
Raven shook her head. "Just me? And do I have to go outside?"
"Yes, and no."
"Right. Give me a minute."
"I could come with, if you'z like," Beast Boy offered, drowsily. Robin stepped outside, prepared to give the two a moment's privacy.
"Thanks, Gar, but I think you'd be better staying here. Keep the bed warm. I'll be back soon."
After a moment, Raven strode out into the hallway, hood up and cloak billowing ominously.
"Right. What's the problem."
Raven dropped back onto her chair, the levitation dissipating.
"We're getting nowhere. She doesn't trust me enough to let me in."
Robin blinked. "Let you in? You can't just, you know, take a look anyway?"
Raven rolled her eyes. "Yes, Robin, because the best thing to do to a traumatised child is the psychic equivalent of kicking the door in and making off with the sliverware. Sure, I could crack her head open with a mental ice-pick, but I was under the impression that we wanted to keep her alive."
"It'd kill her?"
"Well, that depends. Do you count turnips as 'alive'?"
"Okay, okay, I get it. Geez, sorry."
"Sorry. It's been a long few hours. And, I hate to bring it up again, but you woke me up in the middle of the night. I'll do anything I can to help, but don't expect my winning personality to come too."
Robin held his hands up in surrender. "I am sorry, but we need to know why Red X thinks this girl is so important, and, more importantly, where exactly he got her from. The sooner we know that, the sooner we can get her back to her family."
Raven nodded, wearily. "I know. I just- wait a second."
"What? Did you think of something?"
"Maybe. Do you think she remembers Red X?"
"Raven? What did you see? Is she going to be okay?"
"I... I'm not sure. No. That's ambiguous. I mean, first off, the girl's going to be fine. She's been drugged, but there shouldn't be any lasting complications. Which, unfortunately, means something decidedly weird is going on."
"Look. The girl isn't a time traveller."
"I'm glad you specified. I would have just assumed, otherwise."
"No. Shut up. Like I was saying, the girl isn't a time traveller, but. Memory-wise, she seems pretty normal, up until a week ago. Stay with me, because this is complicated. A week ago, she gets picked up by a bunch of men in uniform on her way home from school, is knocked out, and then suddenly has six months' worth of memories of being an eleventh-century Mongolian. Then she sees Red X looming over her, passes out, and that's it."
"Good. Glad someone does."
Raven slumped wearily over the counter, staring into a cup of tea. A series of heavy blinks roused her long enough to take a long sip of the liquid, before she slumped forwards again. Suddenly, she felt a familiar weight pressing on her back, and a hand snaking around her waist.
"You didn't come back to bed," a voice murmured in her ear, laced with a kind of mild accusation.
"I'm sorry, Gar," she replied, softly. "It really wasn't my idea."
"I know. But it took ages for me to get back to sleep," he replied.
"You managed, though," she replied, with an almost-smirk.
"Sure. I mean, I suddenly had all the legroom."
"I'm going to go back and find you made a nest out of the blankets, aren't I," Raven said, with mock-grimness.
"Maybe. Don't knock 'till you've tried it, though. It's super comfy."
"I'm sorry. I didn't realise I was dating a field mouse."
"Har har. But seriously, it wasn't fun Robin dragging you into work in the middle of the night. Not cool."
Raven shrugged, dislodging Beast Boy slightly. "I can understand his reasoning. But I'll admit I'd prefer he make some kind of prior arrangement next time."
Beast Boy grinned slightly. "Speaking of Robin, isn't it cool how he's pretending he can't hear us?"
The only response from their leader was a deliberate rustle of the newspaper and a long sip of coffee.
"Incredibly cool," Raven agreed, solemnly.
"I think it's his way of saying 'sorry I woke you dudes up in the middle of the night'."
"Hmm. Very considerate."
Beast Boy's voice was tinged with puckish glee. "D'you think he'd keep it up if we just started making out, like, now?"
Robin coughed, loudly.
"Beast Boy," he intoned. "You'll note that, as of right now, I haven't yet given either of you a speech about maintaining a professional attitude in public. Don't make me enforce fraternization regulations."
Beast Boy scoffed. "Like you would. You and Star can't go five minutes without-"
"I'm the boss, might I remind you," Robin answered, primly. "Flagrant abuse of authority is basically what authority is for."
Raven nudged Beast Boy in the ribs.
"Mutiny?" she suggested.
"Yeah, sure," Beast Boy took a seat at the counter, next to Raven. "Rob? Rae and me here are officially mutinying."
"I can respect your right to strike, sure."
"So. Are you actually going to do anything?"
"Nah. Maybe later. So what's the schedule?"
Robin set his newspaper aside. "Well, Star and Cyborg should be back from dropping the girl at home in a while, and once we're all together, we'll discuss what Raven discovered."
"Ooh! Anything good, Rae?"
Raven shook her head. "I'm not going to steal Robin's thunder. He's been working on the briefing all morning. The slide show alone took him at least an hour."