The Reluctant Babysitter
(Or: The Titan Drool Machine)
She crossed her arms over her chest and looked away from his masked face, embarrassment lining her eyes. "Is there any particular reason I now own a giant, stuffed rabbit… in a bow-tie?"
Red-X laughed and leaned back on his heels. "You were dead-set on that damn thing. I was just told to make you happy."
"A stuffed animal does not make me happy."
"No," he agreed with a shrug. "But it certainly shuts you up."
Raven's little fist clung tightly to Red-X's tattered cape as they walked through the dark streets of the city. Her other hand was hanging from her mouth, and her eyes darted around the shops and storefronts, looking at the displayed goods with wonder and excitement. Televisions showed the news, and mannequins displayed attractive clothing that was sure to catch a small child's attention.
After a few blocks, Red-X began to notice that anything blue or sparkly caught her eye and she stared… for eternity. She wouldn't look away until he practically hog-tied her and drug her down the sidewalk. The girl had the unabashed staring powers of a statue and it was freaky as hell. Apparently that was just an innate, natural skill in her.
He tugged on his cape, trying to get her attention as she looked up at a long, blue evening dress being displayed under soft lights in a storefront. The salesman looked through the window at him, making a face of fear and shock as his gaze connected with Red-X's mask. Dropping the straight pins in his hands, the salesman held up his hands and mouthed "I'm unarmed".
Red-X rolled his eyes and pulled Raven along, ignoring the unintentional jibe that he might be out there to steal from a paltry, cheap dress shop. At least give him a little credit. The unlikely pair walked down the sidewalk, avoiding more of the shocked and confused stares of some of the city's population. Not that he really blamed any them for looking, after all, he would have been one of the many spectators if he saw a dude in a mask and cape dragging a toddler along the sidewalk at eight o'clock at night. He was a freakin' circus show at this point, all he needed was the music and a few clowns to complete the look.
"Are you going to keep up?" Red-X stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and looked down at her, still unsteady on her feet. "Because I won't be able to handle it if you decide to just quit on me. I've got a really nice reward to cash in on, and I don't need you mucking that up for me, okay?"
She blinked for a moment before grinning and lifting her arms above her head. "Up."
"No." Red-X rolled his eyes behind his mask. "No, I will not. Now, keep up or I'm going to sell you to the monster under your bed."
Raven, if possible, looked just as unamused with his antics as a toddler as she did when she was an adult. She pursed her lips and glared up at him through squinted eyes. "Up!" Her eyebrows knitted together and she kept her arms above her. "Up! Up!"
"I said, no, Raven." Sigh. "Jeez. Get your shit together, kid. I can't be coddling you all the way back to the tower, I'm not your nanny." He paused. "I don't think anyone could ever be your nanny, you're so damn demanding." He sighed again and started walking forward, trying to keep his temper in check. It really wasn't Raven's fault or anything that this happened to her, but then again, it really wasn't the best decision to agree to this nonsense either. Ugh. He really was an idiot for letting Robin tempt him.
"No." He tugged his cape out of her hands. "Now come on, Raven. Let's get going so I can be done with-"
Stars flashed behind his eyes as he stared into the gray cement he suddenly found underneath his face. Mumbling out a curse, he rubbed the growing knot at the back of his head and sat up. Next to him sat a bundled stack of newspapers, which was undoubtedly the instrument used to attack him. He heard the giggles and laughter of the people watching him, the hushed whispers at the silly fool who let a small child get the better of him. Feeling red creep up into his face, he crawled up to his feet and started to dust himself off.
"That wasn't very nice, Raven. You shouldn't hit people." He pretended not to hear the names someone was calling him. "Are you going to apologize?"
"No." She giggled up at him, putting more fingers into her mouth, smiling as if she had done nothing wrong.
"Do you want me to spank you?" He shook off his cape and adjusted his gloves. "Isn't that what I'm supposed to do to naughty children?"
Her eyes grew wide and her fingers fell out of her mouth. She shook her head violently, tendrils of her dark hair curling around her face with the movement. "No. No." Her little fists grabbed the folds of her dress and Red-X could see the single tear drip down her face as splotches of redness stained her cheeks. "No."
"Awe come on man, she's just a little kid."
"Yeah, don't be mean to her."
Red-X rolled his eyes. The spectators were still here. Great. They didn't know that they had an emotionally ticking time-bomb standing in front of them, ready to go off at any minute. No, they just saw some poor girl about to start spilling her tears all over the sidewalk.
The stack of newspapers next to him exploded in a shower of flaming print, and before Red-X could question his own actions, he scooped the toddler up into his arms and propped her up on his hip. The last thing he needed was dead civilians and rampant destruction through the city. Robin would never forgive him for that, and he could kiss his beautiful reward good-bye. Raven caught her last sob, obviously a little shocked that she had gotten her way, and stared into his mask with a hiccup.
"Don't cry, Raven. Please."
"'Kay." She nodded and wiped at her eyes, sniffling. "'ank ooo."
He sighed and rolled his eyes. "You're welcome… weirdo."
She giggled at the name and rested her head on his shoulder.
He adjusted her on his hip and started down the sidewalk again. A few of the spectators followed him, but most had dispersed, obviously not wanting to see where Red-X was taking a small, dangerous toddler. Raven cooed against his shoulder, eyes watching all the shop displays as they walked by. A block passed by in relative silence, and then:
"BUNNY!" Raven wiggled in his arms, flopping around like a fish until he managed to put her on the pavement. Ignoring his calls, she ran right up to a window display and pressed her nose against the glass, staring at a white, stuffed rabbit that was almost as big as she was. A silk pink bowtie was wrapped around its neck as its glassy, black eyes stared back at Raven from the other side of the window. "Bunny!"
She turned around and looked up at him, clasping her hands in front of her. "Want."
Red-X ran a hand over his face, feeling his stomach drop a few feet at her request. This girl was going to be the death of him. He stood there, silently weighing his options as she pressed her hands to the glass. If he tried to ignore her or walk away, she could easily throw a temper tantrum, which would almost certainly bring down every building within a hundred foot radius. But he didn't want to buy her something that would go to waste as soon as the spell was broken. It wasn't like adultl Raven had a penchant for stuffed animals.
"Ecksch?" Her mouth could never quite get his name right. "Want."
He sighed, his shoulders drooping with the movement. There was no way around it. he was going to have to give in, like the spoiled child she was. "Alright, kid. Come on, let's get you the stupid rabbit."
Her eyes lit up with excitement, and the lightbulb in the streetlight above them burst with her powers. "Yaaaay!" She toddled to the door and tried to pull it open, but she wasn't quite tall or strong enough, so Red-X had to pull the glass door open and usher her inside.
"Take what you want!" An elderly man behind the counter threw up his hands, his eyes wide with shock and surprise at the visitors. "I promise, I'm not armed… I just don't want any trouble. I… I can give you the cash in the drawer."
Red-X sighed dropped his head into his hands. He really needed to drop the mask at some point tonight, or all of Jump was going to think he was going to steal their money and kidnap a child. "Look, dude. No offense, but I'm not really into knocking off a toy store. I just want the stupid rabbit in the window display." He pulled out a wad of cash from a pouch on his belt. "I only have hundreds though."
"Oh… um…" The elderly man rubbed the back of his head and looked away, watching as Raven stood by the display, looking up at the back of the stuffed rabbit with wide, anxious eyes. She turned back to the two of them and giggled as she pointed to the toy.
"Mehstar Bun Bun."
The elderly man looked shocked as he turned back to Red-X. "Is she… yours?"
"Hell. No." Red-X groaned. "Just the stupid rabbit, please, and then we'll get going."
"Oh… sure…" The elderly man went to the display and picked the rabbit from the window, dropping it down into Raven's outstretched hands. She giggled again and held the rabbit to her chest, stomping her feet in that strange way children do when they are excited. The lights in the ceiling flickered for a moment, and a display of pinwheels began to move as if there was a gentle breeze weaving through the small space. The elderly man looked around in wonder and then back to the girl with a small smile.
"You're special, aren't you?"
She didn't respond, her face rubbing into the chenille-soft fur of the rabbit.
He laughed and patted her on the head. "You better take care of Mister Bun Bun. He's been my friend for quite a while. I might miss him if he's not around… you promise to love him forever and ever?"
Raven finally looked up at him and nodded, her face suddenly serious with the responsibility of having to take care of Mr. Bun Bun forever. She gave a definitive nod, tiny fingers wrapping around Mr. Bun Bun's shoulders. "Pwomise."
"Good. If I hear you haven't been nice…"
"Good! Be good!" She held the rabbit tighter, calming down as she held him.
Red-X stared there, slack-jawed at the sight. "How in the world do you do that?"
The elderly man returned to his spot behind the counter, chuckling as Red-X and Raven followed him. "I sell toys for a living… I think I might know a thing or two about calming down a small child."
"Any tips you can offer? Because if I don't keep her calm… things can happen."
He raised a bushy eyebrow and glanced at the lights in the ceiling. "I gather that." Looking down at Raven, he shook his head. "Just keep contact with her, and listen to what she says. And know when to fight your battles with a child. That's the best advice I can give you." He pulled change from the register for the hundred-dollar bill that Red-X had offered him.
"I promise, children aren't complicated."
"But they are annoying."
He chuckled. "They can be."
The door to the shop swung open and two older kids walked in, looking around through the aisles as if they bored and looking for something to do. Their fingers flicked through small toys, before slipping into their pockets with something hidden in their palms. The shopkeeper's back stiffened, but he didn't say a word or protest to Red-X. He continued counting change and dropped it onto the counter in front of him.
"I assume she's going to carry Mister Bun Bun out?" He laughed again, but this time it sounded stretched and strained, and Red-X felt his eyes dart to the two kids in the corner, now playing with Slinkys. Something felt off with them.
"Yeah." Red-X dropped down on his haunches, so he could look Raven in the eye. "Raven, do you want something else?" She shook her head, clinging to the rabbit for dear life. Red-X groaned, trying to figure out how to get her out of the way while he dealt with what were probably a couple of punks looking to rob a poor shopkeeper. The last thing he needed was for her to get hurt, that would certainly void out his reward.
Sighing, he decided he had to sink to the ultimate low:
"How about something for Robin?" He cringed under the mask, feeling the urge to throw up at his name. "Do you want to pick out something for Robin to take back to the tower?"
He felt the elderly man's confused stare as the pieces clicked into place at the mention of Robin and the tower. "She isn't…"
"Mumbo. I'm sure you show that shit-show a few hours ago." Red-X glanced over his shoulder at him. "Apparently she had a run-in with him, and now I'm stuck taking her back to the tower so they can fix… this."
"Yeah. Don't tangle with super villains is the lesson learned here."
"Aren't you...?" He trailed off, not quite saying what he was suggesting.
Red-X shrugged. "I play the gray field."
"Wobin." Raven gave an affirmative nod finally, and walked over to a display of toy swords, picking through them to find the perfect gift for her martial artist friend. She hummed to herself, oblivious to the fact that Red-X was walking back to the shopkeeper.
"I thought you hated him?"
"Don't get me wrong." Red-X waved him off, his eyes still following the two other kids through the store. "There's a prize waiting for me at the end of all of this, so it's not like I don't have my own stake in her safety. Robin laid down strict ground rules, and I intend to follow them to the letter to get what I want."
The shopkeeper chuckled. "And here I thought you were noble."
One of the kids started to come closer, fidgeting with his pockets.
"Don't get me wrong, sir…" Red-X rested his hand on his belt, feeling his adrenaline rise with their approach. "I'm not entirely without morals."
One of the kids approached the counter, pushing Red-X out of the way and brandishing a gun from his oversized coat. "Money. Now." He shook the barrel at the elderly man, holding it sideways as if he wanted to pretend he was stronger than he looked. "All of your cash in the drawer."
"What you looking at? Freak." The other one sauntered up to him, holding a baseball bat he had found at the back of the shop. "It's not halloween. Whataya supposed to be? Skelle-Dude."
The other kid laughed. "Good one, Jake."
"Jake. Please, put the bat down." Red-X hadn't moved his hand from his belt, and he kept his voice calm. He really didn't want to have to fight if he could avoid it. Guns meant stray bullets, and stray bullets meant Raven was in danger. "Other Kid, why don't you take that gun somewhere else, and I bet my friend here won't press attempted armed robbery charges."
"Attempted." They both snorted, and Jake began tapping the bat into his open hand, snarling into Red-X's mask. "Man, we aren't attempting anything, we are robbing him."
"I tried to reason with you." He shrugged. "Your loss." Red-X moved before Jake could comprehend what was happening, and he hooked his feet under him, knocking the kid to the floor. Red-X immediately grabbed one of the many tacky red Xs that he used for Raven (when she wasn't a drooling child), and wrapped it around his wrists and mouth. By this time, the other kid had pointed the gun at him, shock wide in his eyes. His hands shook with fear and surprise as he suddenly realized who was standing in the shop he was going to rob.
"You're…" He swallowed hard.
"The one and only, kid. Although, I kinda thought the uniform was a dead give away." Without another word, Red-X moved to attack him, but a high-pitched scream erupted from the corner Raven was in. Losing his concentration, he stumbled slightly and turned to stare at the small girl running towards them, a small wooden sword dragging on the floor as she trotted along.
"BAD MAN!" With another ear-shattering scream, she raced forward and threw a blob of her blue-black power at the one kid still standing. He hit the floor with a THUD and the gun skittered from his hand across the floor. Red-X clambered over the kid's body and picked up the gun, emptying the chamber and taking the magazine out.
"BAD MAN!" Raven had now taken to standing on one kid's chest and hitting him with a wooden sword she had picked out for Robin. Red-X stood there and let her wack him and 'Jake' a few times over the head with the sword as punishment for their crimes.
"Don't." Wack. "Huwt." Wack. "Mehstar Bun Bun's." Wack. Wack. "Fwend!" WACK.
"That's enough, Raven. We don't want to give them a concussion." Finally he took the wooden sword from her hands and slid it into his utility belt. Raven crawled off the two, bound bodies, and went to retrieve Mr. Bun Bun from the other side of the store. Red-X looked around at the two groaning kids on the floor, frowning underneath his mask. He really hated it when they fought back so much. It always made such a damn mess.
The elderly may stood there blinking at him in shock. "You saved my life."
Red-X chuckled and placed the empty gun on the counter. "Don't let it get out that I might be a nice guy. My reputation will be ruined." He took out a few more bills and placed them in his hand. "Sorry about the mess. I would stay and help you out for a bit, but I've got to go before the boys in blue show up… I'm not exactly a friend of theirs."
"Oh. Right." The elderly man shook his hand. "Thank you."
"Just be careful. And thanks for the help with Raven… she's kind of a handful." He took Raven's hand as she walked up behind him, one hand on his cape while the other hand was wrapped around Mr. Bun Bun's ears. She grinned up at him before following Red-X out the door.
"Wait!" The shopkeeper plucked a brightly colored lollipop from the side of the register and handed it to Raven with a smile. "This is for being so brave, Raven. Thanks for saving me and Mister Bun Bun."
She giggled with delight and took the candy from him, unwrapping it and putting it in her mouth. Almost instantly, blue drool began to trickle out of her mouth and down her chin. Great. Just what he needed: more drool.
Sorry it's been a hot sec with some of my stories (not really this one). But I've recently had some bad news: I LOST MY JOB! I used to work full-time and now I'm unemployed. So… right now I'm sitting at home trying to decide if pants are necessary, and if I can eat an entire box of 'Nilla Wafers for lunch. Also wine. And writing. Copious amounts of writing. So, be prepared for what will undoubtedly be an onslaught of updated stories while I try to keep myself from being BORED.
Anyway, this was once again inspired by kohng. Please, please check out her tumblr for fun, lovely art.
And if anyone needs to chat… I now watch TV as my job. So, there's that.
Thanks for being awesome and reading. Let me know what you think.