Chapter One: Mask Transparent
I feel him before I he speaks. The strange mix of haughty intelligence and half-buried nobility is unmistakable. How he got up here is something I'll question later.
"Your friends seem to be having fun."
There's is a question in the synthesized voice.
"What are you doing here?"
Fabric whispers softly and I turn in the air to face him. Lean muscles ripple under black spandex as he shrugs.
"So you decided to turn yourself in?"
He laughs softly, amused, I suppose, by the complete lack of emotion in the query.
"You looked lonely."
"I'm never lonely."
There's conviction behind the word and I clench my fists under the sheltering folds of my cloak. For a smart-mouthed, hyperactive thief he's disturbingly perceptive.
"If Robin finds out you were – "
"Robin's a little …"
He pauses, searching for the right word.
"…preoccupied right now."
Great. Guess I'll have to play exterminator. .
I sink into a fighting stance. He bows.
"May I have this dance?"
Hissing through my teeth to keep from cursing him, I reach out with my mind, searching, keeping my eyes on him.
He dodges the crate easily, hurling an X in my direction. I duck as the blade whirls overhead. In the same instant, I throw the crate again, putting all my frustration behind it. It hits X hard enough from behind to knock him onto his knees. He turns the fall into a roll and is back on his feet before I can press the advantage, but the hit winded him. With his reaction time a split second slower than usual, he doesn't have time to respond as the ground beneath his feet becomes a portal.
Sunk up to his thighs, X flickers out of existence. I'm so stupid.
Strong arms slide around my waist as a body molds itself to mine.
"A for effort." X whispers in my ear, his breath warm against my skin.
His hands caress my shoulders. Memories rise from the forgotten corners of my mind. Suddenly those hands belong to someone else. The dry rustle of ancient paper drifts on the ocean breeze.
Moving faster than X can keep up with; I whirl, lashing out with my emotion-charged power. He staggers backward under a rain of dark energy. I feel myself losing control and clamp down, stopping a disaster before it can start. The strain sends my trembling body to its knees.
Concern is evident despite the synthesizer. Under the distortion, something about the way he says my name is frighteningly familiar. And I hate the way he sounds like Robin.
X reaches towards me, his eyes wide behind the mask. His hand flutters uncertainly, the memory of my reaction making him wary. He draws it back.
The words are somewhere between a snarl and a scream.
He recoils. I shore up my flickering shield.
I force myself to my feet to face him. I'm crying, hoping that he can't see through the shadows, tears that I couldn't release when he broke my heart sliding over my skin. Tears that I can't stop. His eyes behind the mask say he knows. He holds up his hands in a gesture of peace, unwilling to fight. I can feel him struggling with his shock.
"Um, do you want me to get Robin?"
This is the first time I've heard Red X at a loss for words. I turn away from him, finally able to control myself. It might have something to do with the fact that his last statement is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Even Beast Boy can't top that one. A thief asking if I wanted him to walk into a roomful of superheroes to find his arch enemy?"
X seems relieved that I've recovered my composure. I face him. He backs up enough to put a safe distance between us.
"How did you get past the others?"
"Please, like any of them could catch me. Besides, they're all so busy snogging they wouldn't notice anything less that the tower blowing up.
It's more than evident that he's rolling his eyes behind his mask.
"I find it hard to believe that Robin could be that oblivious."
"Oh believe me, he's quite capable."
"Do you find it amusing to torment me?"
X's face twists into an expression that says he hasn't forgotten what happened only minutes ago, though I tried to pretend as though it had never happened.
"Not in the least."
His voice is oddly gentle, and I find myself staring at him as though I could see through his mask to the face behind. Perhaps I have. This thief's mask goes far deeper than the skull that hides his true face from the world.
"Irritating you, however, is an entirely different matter."
Laughing, X ducks my reply, flickering out of existence just in time to dodge the second rock right behind the first. He reappears, sitting on the edge of the roof, perfectly relaxed, thin legs dangling into empty space.
"So, you wanna tell me what caused the meltdown?"
Heat flushes my cheeks, and I'm glad my hood is up.
"If I ever tell my secrets you'll be the last to know."
"Aw come on, beautiful, not even a hint?"
"Not even a little one?"
X leans toward me, eyes wide and pleading behind the mask.
"What if I told you my deepest, darkest secret?"
Then you're dumber than I thought."
"I'll give you a hint."
"Don't you ever give up?"
Footsteps sound on the stairs. X flows gracefully to his feet.
"Until next time, beautiful."
He flips backwards off the roof, his slim body arching in a graceful curve, and flickers out of existence in mid air.
The door clicks open and Aqualad comes to stand beside me, his dark eyes searching the empty space where X had been only seconds ago as though he suspects I wasn't alone. Finding nothing, he turns his gaze on me. His expression softens.
"Are you okay?"
I take a moment to register the question and think of a true answer. It's not easy to lie to a telepath, whether they read human minds or not.
"I will be."
He seems satisfied.
"Are you coming down?"
"Who wants to know?"
"Jericho and me."
"I'll be there in a minute."
He nods and leaves. I remain a moment longer, staring into the dark where X's last words hang in the air.