BIG DAMN AUTHOR'S NOTE: This takes place a month after my previous fic, Impact. In other words, if you don't read Impact, you're not going to know why Red X is limping all over the place or why he feels indebted enough to do what he does here.
Disclaimer: Teen Titans is © Warner Bros. Animation. I am making no profit from this work.
The Teen Titans, Red X, and some guy who has issues with copyright infringement.
"I AM THOR!"
Some days, Robin reflected, it really wasn't worth it to get out of bed.
"ALL SHALL HEAR MY THUNDER AND COWER IN TERROR!"
"Yeah, yeah," Cyborg muttered, his arm shifting to its cannon form. "Man, Robin, now we're getting villains who're impersonating comic book characters. Not cool."
Robin momentarily took his eyes off the criminal who was currently smashing up cars in a parking lot in order to raise an eyebrow at his friend.
"I thought comics were Beast Boy's forte, not yours."
"Trust me, I had to listen to the whole spiel when he heard the distress call. I know more than I ever wanted to know about good ol' Thor, including his possibly delusional self in another universe. I hung up when he started ranting about some civil war or something." Cyborg rubbed the back of his head. "Man, I almost feel bad that Raven has to deal with him. I swear, he was foaming at the mouth."
"Perhaps we need to once again conceal Beast Boy's collection of picture stories before he and Raven return from their own mission," Starfire chimed in. She floated a few inches above the ground, enough to put her at eye-level with Cyborg.
"I'd rather not deal with his withdrawal phase again," Robin said dryly. He nodded at the self-proclaimed Thor, who was approximately six and a half feet tall, well-muscled, and appeared to enjoy swinging around a massive electrified hammer. About five more cars had been reduced to so much scrap metal during the Titans' short conversation, and a few broken power lines were lying dangerously across the pavement. "Shall we?"
"Fine by me. Hey, your godliness!" Cyborg yelled, taking aim with his laser cannon. Thor turned to look at the three heroes. "This is my boomstick!"
He fired. The laser slammed straight into the villain's torso, forcing the huge man back a few feet.
Thor roared with laughter, and Cyborg stopped his assault in aggravation when it become clear that the rubberized black suit Thor was not only shielding him from his own electric hammer, but protecting him from lasers as well.
"Okay, new strategy," Robin said. Cyborg was glaring at the villain, looking quite miffed that his laser cannon had been ineffectual.
"We repeatedly place the 'smack down' upon him until he yields?" Starfire suggested, pleased at the opportunity to try out the new slang Beast Boy had taught her. Cyborg grinned, mood immediately improved.
"Works for me, Star."
They rushed him, fanning out to attack from three angles. It was all very dramatic and heroic, and it would have worked, had it not been for the fact that Thor's hammer was capable of sending a wave of electricity outward whenever he slammed it down.
Thus, their attack and the resulting counterattack when something like this:
Starfire, who had been flying toward Thor, was the only one of the three who didn't end up on the ground, muscles seizing up and bionic parts overloading.
"Robin! Cyborg!" She likely would have been able to dodge the blow had she not been distracted by her teammates' pain. "You are a very bad ma—oof!"
He swung his hammer sideways, swatting her out of the air like an insect and sending her flying. She slammed into the ground near Cyborg, leaving a furrow of broken pavement in her wake before she finally stopped.
"Star!" Robin forced himself up, and though he'd seen her take worse hits without sustaining more than a slight bruise, he couldn't help but worry.
"I am fi—"
All three of them cried out in unison as Thor slammed the hammer down again.
"Damnit, stop doing that!" Cyborg snarled out in frustration, his bionic parts sparking dangerously. Robin, collapsed on the ground once more (and he was really getting tired of looking at asphalt), glanced over at his teammates. Starfire appeared to have managed to crawl over to Cyborg, and... was she hovering? No, she couldn't—
Robin's teeth clenched involuntarily as an even stronger current raced painfully through his body, seizing his muscles and momentarily halting his breathing. A shadow fell across him, and he looked up to see the villain standing over him.
"Let us see how well the Teen Titans do without their puny leader!" Thor sneered, lifting the massive hammer above his head to deliver the final, fatal blow. Electricity crackled around the hulking thing ominously, sparking violently.
His first instinct was to close his eyes, but Robin forced himself to keep them open. He wasn't going to die with his eyes squeezed shut.
Fortunately for Robin, today wasn't meant to be his day of reckoning anyway.
As Thor's hammer was swinging down, someone else's foot was swinging up — slamming into Thor's arms and sending the hulking villain off-balance and stumbling, his hammer smashing into the ground just beside Robin's head. Robin winced, his teeth clenching involuntarily again as electricity from the hammer's proximity alone vibrated through his body for the second time in so many moments. This really couldn't be good for his nervous system, he mused.
Above him, the newcomer's arm shot out, landing a hard punch on Thor's cheek that jerked the man's head to the side. Thor swung his hammer around, but the other simply ducked under the intended blow and leaped to the side, taking the battle away from Robin.
Though he could barely move, Robin managed to crane his head around enough to stare at the stranger in shock. Although whoever it was was obviously more than just the average civilian, they were dressed like one — loose jeans, slightly worn running shoes, and a gray hoodie. The hood was pulled up, and the drawstrings were yanked tight to cover as much of the person's face as possible.
The stranger delivered two more whipcrack-quick kicks straight into Thor's face, driving the now-howling villain back and clutching at his broken nose. Robin's impromptu saviour danced backward gracefully when Thor lashed out, easily dodging the blows aimed at him with a skill that rivaled Robin's.
And suddenly, Robin knew.
"Red X," he breathed. This was him. Red X. The enigma. The unknown. Robin's head reeled with the surreality of it, not truly believing his own conclusion even as the person in question dodged and attacked with a style that was all too familiar.
"If I wanted you to know that, would I be wearing a mask?"
And yet, here he was, of his own free will, his identity veiled only by the dubious protection of an oversized hoodie and the way he carefully kept his back to the Titans. It was unbelievable, but how could it be anyone else? Everything fit: body type, fighting style, the ease and familiarity of the movements.
There was a hitch to those otherwise flawless motions, however. It didn't escape Robin's notice the way Red X's hand kept drifting toward his left side, or the faint limp that accompanied that compulsion. Of course; there was no way Red X could have healed that quickly. It had only been a month since he'd escaped the hospital, after all.
Robin's breath caught in his throat as Thor, blood streaming from his shattered nose and half-blinded by pain, raised his hammer again and slammed it down in an arc of crackling electricity. This was a concentrated blow intended to kill rather than a wave of electricity, however; a bolt of white-hot lightning scorched its way toward Red X, but it was badly aimed. Red X rolled out of the way without much trouble, but there was a definite stiffness to his movements now.
Strangely, Red X seemed more interested in a point behind Thor than Thor himself. Tearing his attention from the thief, Robin glanced past Thor's shoulder.
Cyborg. Robin bit back a grin at the sight of his friend back on his feet; the hero was moving as quietly as possible toward the fallen power lines, the laser cannon on his arm already out and ready.
Meanwhile, Red X was keeping Thor effectively occupied. Taunts were flowing from X's lips like water from a stream, though Thor was almost drowning him out with his infuriated bellows of rage. He wasn't even bothering to use his hammer's electricity anymore, instead simply swinging it through the air in desperate, jerky attempts to hit the thief.
Red X had thus far managed to avoid the deadly hammer, but his limp was extremely pronounced now, and his right hand was clutched white-knuckled against his side. He obviously wouldn't be able to keep jumping around for much longer, and Thor showed no signs of tiring — it was only a broken nose and a few bruises, after all.
Robin was well aware that the only reason Red X had even managed to land the hits he had was because Thor had been preoccupied with trying to kill Robin, and it was pure luck Thor hadn't used his electric wave assault again — Red X would have been just as incapacitated as Robin. Soon enough, however, he'd likely be even worse off.
Robin grit his teeth, trying to will his body into action. All he got were faint twitches in his toes and fingers. Not helpful, but at least it was a start. Far from enough to allow him to leap into battle, though. From the corner of his eye, he could see flickers of green as Starfire tried to rally herself into action.
The more he struggled to move, however, the easier it seemed to get. Encouraging. He almost crowed in triumph as he managed to lift one arm a few inches off the ground.
Another yell utterly destroyed his sense of elation, and his eyes widened beneath the mask as Red X's form was sent flying through the air, bouncing against the ground twice before rolling to a stop on the asphalt a scant few feet from Robin.
Red X didn't get up.
With a heroic effort, Robin forced himself to stagger to his feet. Unfortunately, he immediately collapsed into a heap, his muscles trembling. Snarling in frustration, he put his hands to the ground and pushed himself to his hands and knees, crouched awkwardly on the group.
"Stay down!" hissed a soft, insistent voice. Robin froze. A twitch of a leg made him glance over at Red X; the thief's back was to him, but it was Red X's voice. No question. "Idiot. I'm faking."
Eyes flicking to the battlefield, Robin saw what was happening. Cyborg had hooked himself up to the sparking power lines, and with Red X lying on the ground, he had a clear shot straight through Thor. But now Robin would be hit as the electricity passed through the villain.
He promptly collapsed in what he thought was a rather decently-feigned fit of weakness.
"Puny Titans!" Thor bellowed, hefting his hammer over one shoulder and leering down at the fallen three. "Now you know the wrath of the Thunder God, Tho—"
His Mighty Godness jerked as a massive jolt of electricity struck him in the back. Initially, the insulation his suit provided him protected the massive man from the electricity, but even rubber can't hold against a few million volts of electricity. Just as Robin, Starfire, and Cyborg had done, Thor's entire body seized up, muscles locking as thousands and thousands of volts raced through his flesh. Then, with a noise like the thunderclap the true Thor personified, the villain was thrown a good twenty feet.
Like Red X, he didn't get up. Unlike Red X, he wasn't feinting.
Speak of the devil. Robin glanced over at Red X, who had sat up by this point, his back still to the Titans.
"How...?" Robin asked, unable to understand how Red X had managed to take a blow from that vicious hammer without every bone in his body being shattered. Unlike Starfire, Red X was only human.
"Managed to avoid the hammer long enough, then let him punch me a good one." Red X shrugged.
"BOOYAH!" Cyborg yelled triumphantly as he made his way back over to his teammates, surveying the smoking pile of scorched rubber that was the unconscious Thor. Robin turned his attention to his fellow Titan, and felt a grin stretch his face.
"Nice shot, Cyborg!"
"Indeed!" Starfire was already on her feet, and clapping her hands delightedly. "An excellent plan of action!"
"Star..." Robin said slowly. "How did you recover so fast?"
"Cyborg planned this as soon as we were all struck by the lightning, though you were not close enough to tell," she explained, smiling. "I was to distract Thor while Cyborg... ah, 'got himself juiced up' to take him down." She paused. "I still do not understand where the juice was meant to come from."
"So... you were fine," Robin said, his own body aching from the abuse he'd suffered.
"Oh, yes!" Starfire turned her blinding smile on Red X, who, even with his back still turned, seemed very, very tense. "I was about to interfere to keep you from being crushed by the electric hammer, but the wonderful person jumped into battle and stopped him." Starfire turned back to Robin, offering him her hand, which he took gratefully. "I would have assisted, but Thor may have seen Cyborg had I gotten up. You were not in any danger," she said comfortingly, pulling him to his feet.
At her final words, Red X made a strangled sort of noise. They all looked at him.
"Say, Robin..." Cyborg said, frowning, "who is this guy, anyway?"
Robin felt a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"So there was no reason at all for him to save me, huh, Starfire?" he asked conversationally, ignoring Cyborg's question.
"No. But we really do appreciate it!" she called out cheerfully to Red X, who was stiffly getting to his own feet.
"Rob," Cyborg said again, his frown deepening, "There's only two people I've ever seen fight like that before, and one of them happens to be you. In fact, the second person, until recently, was also you."
Red X went so still he may as well have been turned to stone. Robin inexplicably felt his stomach flip-flop as he watched Cyborg piece it all together.
"Cyborg—" he said hesitantly, but Cyborg stepped past him and stopped a few feet from the thief's back.
"Red X," he said lowly. Halfway risen, Red X froze with his back to the Titans, one hand still bracing himself against the ground.
"So," Red X said conversationally, as if he wasn't a thief only half-healed from a bullet wound with three justice-driven heroes at his back. "I guess you've caught me."
Robin blinked. That wasn't right—
"Or not," Red X sneered, spinning abruptly and hurling a small chunk of debris he'd snatched up. It flew toward Cyborg's head; the hero flinched, bringing an arm up to deflect the rock. A small distraction, but it was enough. Red X had whirled and begun running before any of them had even registered what was happening.
"Why, you—!" Cyborg snarled, charging after the fleeing criminal. Robin hesitated the barest moment, then entered the chase as Starfire flew past him.
The chase was over quickly. Red X was limping badly, and it was obvious that the blow from Thor had not helped matters in the least. Robin was almost surprised by how much it shocked him when Red X stumbled as he ran, nearly pitching forward onto the asphalt of the street.
Red X never stumbled.
Starfire ended the run by flying ahead of the slowing thief and landing in front of him, causing him to change direction and head left. But Cyborg had that side covered, and Robin had caught up to them by this point. He was blocked on three sides. The Titans closed in until they were each only a few metres away.
Facing them as best he could, Red X backed away from them, hunched over with one arm covering his face and the other held out, as if to ward them off. His stance was tense and wary, but there was nowhere for him to run. The nearest building had a fire escape, but he'd never make it there before the Titans caught him.
"I helped you," he growled, retreating another step.
"And we'll be sure to add that into the police report, right under the list of things you've stolen in the past year or so," Cyborg replied, smirking as his arm shifted into its laser cannon for the third time that day.
"Cyborg," Starfire said hesitantly, looking from Red X to Robin before laying her hand on Cyborg's shoulder, "Red X is correct. He did aid us, and saved friend Robin from the electric hammer."
"Aw, come on, Star!" Cyborg said incredulously. "He's a thief! Rob, tell her."
Frowning, Robin glanced over at the trapped thief. He didn't owe Red X anything; he'd saved Red X's life, and Red X had saved his. They were even. For a split second, their eyes met. Angry, frustrated, trapped...
Robin's hand moved to his belt.
"Cyborg's right, Starfire," he said regretfully, flipping open a compartment. "He may have helped us now, but that doesn't make up for any of the other crimes he's committed." Robin gave Red X a significant look. "And will continue to commit. We're taking him in."
"Thought you hero-types believed in rehabilitation," Red X snarked, but his frustration was clear. His weight shifted on his feet infinitesimally, and Robin knew that stance. Red X was going to try to run for it again, no matter how low his chances were.
"Depends on the person, X," Robin returned easily, and then, out of sight of his friends, twitched his fingers and tossed a small disc between the Titans and the thief.
The smoke bomb exploded perfectly, blanketing the area in thick, blinding clouds of gray. He could hear the shouts of surprise from Cyborg and Starfire beside him as the smoke enveloped them; even Robin, who'd known it was coming, was momentarily disoriented by the sudden sensory distortion.
A dark silhouette appeared beside him and Red X leaned in close, his mouth next to Robin's ear.
"I'm not so bad, for a villain, kid... and for a hero, you're not so good. Heh. Y'know..."—and Robin could feel the smirk—"I think I like that."
Robin made an indistinct noise of anger, swiping out with his bo-staff and displacing thick clouds of the smoke—but nothing else. Red X had anticipated the blow and vanished into the swirling gray.
It was only a minute or two before the smoke cleared, but by that time, the thief was long gone. Robin would have been disappointed if there had been any trace of Red X; that was sloppy, and Red X was anything but.
"Man, is that guy ever unprepared?" Cyborg complained, waving away lingering traces of the bomb. "Who carries around smoke bombs in their civvies?"
"Red X does," Starfire said helpfully, her voice muffled due to the way she was holding her nose against the smoke.
"We don't have time to look for him," Robin interjected before either of them could say anything further. "We need to take Thor in and make sure that he's probably incarcerated. I don't feel like cleaning up a prison breakout."
"No kidding," Cyborg agreed, "but it just feels wrong let him go like that, man. We had him!"
"Knowing Red X, he probably had a few more tricks up his sleeve," Robin said. "We'll have to see if we can pick up his trail later."
Starfire was unusually quiet as they carted Thor off to the proper authorities, and Robin pretended not to notice the strangely thoughtful glances she kept sending his way.
"Not exactly your part of town, kid. Especially at midnight." The voice was familiar; it was the same one he'd heard every day for weeks in Room 406 at the hospital, barely a month ago. "Streets are uneasy about it."
"I know. But I figured you'd know why I'm here. Looks like I figured right."
Robin stood just outside the illuminating circle of a streetlight on the worst side of town; broken-down buildings with cracked or shattered windows, dirty streets, and petty—or not-so-petty—crime everywhere. It wasn't so bad during the daylight hours, but during the night... it was almost like a mini-Gotham.
Sad that he should feel so at home here.
"Let me guess: you want to know why I stepped in to save the hero." Red X stood on the other side of the circle, also just outside the light. A silhouette, just as Robin would look to him.
"Among other things." It wasn't the main reason Robin had sought Red X out, but it was one of them.
"You're so predictable, kid."
"We didn't even know you were there," Robin said, as if Red X hadn't replied. "No one would have known any different if you hadn't, X."
Red X shifted on the other side of the light; it looked as if he was shoving his hands into his pant's pockets. It was a strangely... normal gesture, and it threw Robin off for a moment.
"I would have. I don't like being indebted to anyone, kid. Especially not a hero."
"You have a strange sense of honour."
"Stop trying to give me qualities I don't have." There was amusement in that voice, and just the slightest bit of exasperation. "It's flattering, kid, but you're just disillusioning yourself. I'm a thief. Thieves take, they don't owe. What's your fascination, anyway? Don't you have someone else to obsess over?"
Robin tried, and completely failed, to stop from snickering at that.
"What?" Red X asked, annoyed; he obviously didn't enjoy being laughed at. Surprise surprise. With effort, Robin bit the inside of his cheek and stopped the mirth.
"Nothing." It was easy to stop the laughter when he reminded himself of the real reason he'd come here. "What do you know about the Brotherhood of Evil?"
Red X seemed surprised by the question. "Besides the fact that you flash-froze most of them? Not much, kid. I didn't stick around for that."
"Before that," Robin clarified.
"Still can't help you out. Not that I would, but I'm going to be a nice guy for once and tell you the truth: I assumed I was officially kicked out after I made scrap heaps out of all their vehicles. I didn't stop by the HQ to ask. Criminals aren't exactly the forgiving sort, kiddo." Red X tilted his head to the side; the most Robin could figure of his body language in the lighting. "Why do you want to know?"
"That's none of your business, X."
He just barely managed to duck a shuriken. It embedded itself into a burnt-out light post behind Robin, vibrating where it stuck. Had it connected, Robin would likely have, at the very least, lost an eye—if not been killed outright.
"Fair's fair, kid," Red X said coldly. With effort, Robin unclenched his fingers from where they gripped a birdarang. "Don't think that just because we've helped each other for some reason or another a few times means that we're friends. Or that I like you." He laughed lowly at that; it was strangely bitter.
Robin let out a breath slowly. Of course Red X was still a criminal. Still a villain. He thanked his lucky stars that Batman wasn't here to see how badly he'd let his guard down just now; it was inexcusable.
After Red X's stay in the hospital and the events of today, he'd forgotten, somehow, someway; not that Red X was dangerous—no one who'd ever seen Red X in action could forget that—but that Red X could be dangerous to him.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
"When we questioned Thor, he mentioned something about the Brotherhood of Evil. Impressing them. We couldn't get any further details out of him," Robin said shortly, all business. Red X nodded, and stepped further away from the light until Robin couldn't see him at all. He himself did the same.
They were both invisible to each other.
"Don't come back here, kid." Red X's voice filtered through the darkness, somehow louder in the pitch black. "Not unless you're looking for a fight."
"I'll keep that in mind."
Turning, Robin walked to where he'd parked the R-Cycle. As he went, he hated how he kept waiting for a shuriken to lodge itself in his back.
"Stop trying to give me qualities I don't have."
From now on, he'd remember that.
Red X listened as the R-Cycle started up and roared off; he felt a pang for his own motorcycle, which he was still in the middle of repairing. If nothing else, the time off from thieving to heal gave him a good excuse to spend most of his free time patching up his X-Cycle.
Robin had been getting too close. Taking care of him when he was dying; bringing him to the hospital; spending so much damned time in his room; protecting his identity when he could have so easily exposed Red X's face.
And Red X himself knew he wasn't helping matters. Jumping in to save Robin like that—he'd known it was stupid, but hell, it wasn't as if he'd known what the robot and the alien chick had planned. All he'd seen was Robin in a heap and that electrified moron about to smash his skull in with a hammer.
He shouldn't have interfered, if only for his own sake to keep Robin from throwing little bits of—god forbid—good guy wisdom at him. Robin had helped him escape today, when he hadn't owed X anything. Had sought him out deliberately for information, as if... as if they could do that. As if they were friends.
Red X almost gagged.
Too close. That shuriken was dull and had been aimed at the hard part of Robin's mask, anyway; it would have given him a nasty black eye, but nothing more serious. But he'd known Robin would duck, and known it would make a point:
We're not friends.
His hand on another shuriken, this one sharpened, Red X limped home alone.
In the Tower, Robin couldn't sleep. It was three AM, and he knew he ought to be in bed, but his brain kept working overtime. He'd eventually just accepted the fact that he wasn't going to get any sleep and rolled out of bed, plopped himself into his computer chair, and opened up a document entitled MarksTheSpot.doc.
Methodically, he added the fact that Red X had green eyes to the file.
He read over the other notes he had on Red X; they were pitifully few, compared to the other villains he had on file. At least he had detailed descriptions on their appearances, with the exception of Slade, but even Slade had the very distinctive feature of the lack of one eye. Red X had no such irregularities that Robin was aware of.
Well, Robin knew that he had a new scar just above his hip now. As well as some lighter scars across his chest and arms that mirrored Robin's; from old jobs gone bad, perhaps? The hospital had wanted to do some more profiling, but Robin had refused them.
He really wished he could regret that decision. The temptation had been enormous, but the regret from looking would have overwhelmed that.
All he knew of Red X was that he was roughly Robin's height, weight, and build; he was white, with lightly tanned skin; he had green eyes; and he was scarred.
There were also various theories about Red X's background as well as personality notes, but the theories made less sense every time Robin read them. He really was tired. He wished he could sleep.
Robin sat back and wondered if Red X appreciated the irony of it: a thief with green eyes.
Despite everything that had happened in the last few hours, he couldn't help but smirk.
A note about Robin's thoughts on the irony of Red X's green eyes: If someone accuses you of having green eyes, they're calling you envious. To envy someone is to want something they have. Red X is a thief; therefore, he steals things that belong to other people. ...Yeah.
I really promised myself I'd stop at Impact. But then the plotbunnies bit me. And wouldn't let go. So... two more follow-up fics in the works. One is a one-shot, the other... either chaptered, or a really, really long one-shot.
Oh, and reviews are wonderful things. :D