A/N: I just watched Rabble, and you gotta admit, Rex being the leader of dangerous street kids in Hong Kong? That's pretty awesome fanfic fodder.
MoA owns all, I own what I made up.
In case y'all spot this on dA, that's not a thief, it's my dA account. xD
"You're here for Quarry?"
Rex forced himself to look at the EVO speaking to him, a heavily built man with skin covered in black scales and a forked tongue lashing between his razorblade teeth. He'd practised in front of trashcans and faded posters whenever he had the chance to get away from his friends-hell no, punk, just happened to be passing by, what did you think I was here for?-but now he could only nod dumbly.
"Good choice, kid. You know what happens if you go against Quarry."
Beaten up, tortured, killed and body dumped in the alleys. He knew. They all knew. Whenever Quarry killed someone, it usually made the frontpage of every major newspaper in Hong Kong, complete with graphic photos and descriptions from local police. Rex wasn't scared of Quarry's men in the least. He could send every one of his personnel and all of the city's hired guns, and Rex would have gladly relished the exercise. He was more worried for his friends. Squid didn't say anything, but his leg had taken a pretty bad beating a few days ago, and he couldn't walk without leaning on something. Cricket and Tuck would slow down to help their comrade, and that would be the end of them.
The lizard-man guided Rex into the building, past dimly lit corridors where screams and growls echoed behind closed doors and eyes gleamed as he walked past them. Rex narrowed his eyes, sticking his chin out in a false display of defiance. Quarry appreciated all the talent he could lay his hands on, and it showed. Walking into Quarry's headquarters felt like stepping into the world's greatest freak show (and in the left corner, the amazing wolfman with eight arms, and to your right, ladies and gentlemen, the bearded lady with teeth growing on her arms... move along folks, move along...) Rex chuckled at that thought, earning him a sharp look from the lizard-man.
"Here ya go. Quarry's room."
There were no stars in the skies above their city, but the fireworks made up for it. Sometimes.
Hong Kong celebrated Chinese New Year in a grand fashion-performances, sparklers, parties, and, of course, fireworks. None of them saw it as much of a cause to celebrate, other than the fact that most people were too drunk to notice someone had taken their belongings for a spin. That year was different: it was how the three of them met the fourth member of their group.
Rex dropped an unconscious girl on his bed, relieved to have the weight taken from his arms.
"Where are you going to sleep?" Squid asked their leader.
He shrugged. "The floor."
"Are we gonna keep her?" Tuck said incredulously, as though she was a particularly flea-ridden puppy they'd found off the street.
Rex shrugged again. "I dunno. We'll see when she wakes up."
As they liked to put it, their group hadn't been formed by seeking each other out. They just tended to walk into each others' lives and stayed there. In her case, they had been returning home when a disheveled girl appeared in front of them, clearly tired from running, managed to gasp "Help me," and promptly collapsed. After a lot of arguing, they decided to bring her back to their hideout on one condition: Rex would have to carry her there, because he was the one who suggested bringing her back in the first place. Rex agreed, but immediately regretted it as soon as he picked her up.
It was several hours before she woke up. Rex had volunteered to be the one who stayed at home in case she woke up, while the others went foraging for food. Well. He didn't so much volunteer as the other two using the same excuse against him multiple times, and, sensing a losing battle, Rex gave in.
Most people in her situation would ask "Where am I?". Instead, she asked, "Are you a friend?"
"Yeah. You're safe here. Don't worry." Rex kept his voice as low as he could. He'd been subject to the same waking-up-in-a-strange-hovel experience after a particularly distressing memory blackout. It hadn't gone well. Not if the first things you see are two extras from a homemade horror movie. "What's your name? And where did you come from?"
As soon as he finished his sentence, a look of sheer pain and grief crossed her face, and she bit her lower lip in a bid not to cry.
"Whoa. It's okay. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to..."
Tuck and Squid came home to find Rex trying his best to extricate a crying girl from his shoulder and comfort her at the same time.
"You said you could get me out of here."
"And I can," The office was dark, lit only by the lights of Hong Kong's busy nightlife streaming in from the windows. The reflections of neon signboards and paper lanterns bounced off the triad lord's face, making his eyes glint with malevolence. "You have skills, kid. We could use an EVO like you around here."
"You're asking me to join you?"
"What's your answer, Rex?" Quarry said, unfittingly calm despite the circumstances. Rex would have preferred him to be loud and threatening; at least he would have an excuse to kick him in the teeth. "If you must, you can go home and think about it if you-"
"I'll do it. I promise you, I will." Rex announced, with more certainty than he really felt. There was a quaver in his voice as he spoke, and he instantly felt furious. It made his statement sound ridiculously childish.
Silence filled the air, broken only by the sound of Quarry's feet shuffling in the darkness. Then he spoke again, still in that maddeningly calm, peaceable tone of voice. "Very good, but that's not enough for me, Rex." As the boy felt his heart sink, the crime lord suddenly spoke up. "You have a diary, don't you? Your PDA? Take it out."
Quarry's stone face betrayed no emotion, but the malevolent grin inside him widened as Rex grudgingly pulled out the black, rectangular object and laid it on his table with a clatter. The familiar weight gone from his pocket, Rex felt more vulnerable than ever. Quarry examined the recorder for a few seconds, then glanced up at Rex, whose tough expression looked like it was fading at the edges. "Your friend mentioned you have memory blackouts. This is what reminds you of everything you missed, isn't it?" Rex said nothing, but Quarry continued to speak anyway. "Swear on it. Go on. The next time you black out, you'll know what you did: sold out your friends for a one-way ticket to being a hero."
Rex flicked a button on its interface, watching it flood the room with artificial light, and selected 'Record'.
"You've got some spunk, ticking off Quarry."
They couldn't have been much older than them. Quarry's assistants grabbed any EVO that still had some semblance of rational thought in their minds off the street to fill the ranks. These two looked like high school dropouts, except with more bulging muscles and deformities than your average teenager. One of them had sickly green skin, webbed fingers and toes and a tongue like a frog's, the other with eyes like a leopard and a set of claws that looked like he'd taped machetes to his fingertips.
Before they could continue delivering their boast, Cricket leaped several feet in the air and kicked Froggy in the head, rendering him nearly unconscious. In the ensuing confusion, Squid covered the air in thick, cloying black smoke, and two streams of bandages arced through the polluted air, suspending the teenage EVOs a few inches off the ground.
Rex walked through the smoke, glaring straight into their eyes. "Yeah? You've got some spunk, ticking off me and my friends."
As he spoke, he laid his hands on their chests and concentrated hard. Beads of sweat rolled down his face as their bodies rapidly changed, mutations disappearing, power receding into their bodies as the nanites stabilised. Tuck dropped them on the ground quickly, as though they were now unworthy of being touched by someone as powerful as they were. If he could have looked scornful with a face made of bandages, he would have.
"Don't kill us," the conscious ex-EVO whimpered, now reduced to being a messy, unshaven teenager who affected the punk style of dressing. "Please don't kill us!"
"We're not killers," Cricket clarified from a corner.
"But Quarry'll do it for us anyway," Rex grinned. "I'd run away if I were you. Or, if you've really got a death wish, you go back to Quarry and tell him we've got a message for him."
The thug's whimpering turned into an unintelligible whine as Rex pressed his face closer.
"We rule this town."
"You're pretty messed up, you know?" Rex was far shorter than everyone crowded in the alleys, nanite-enhanced or no, but everyone stepped back respectfully as he paced. This kid, this filthy little brat, had the power to throw them off the food chain if he wanted to. "I mean, other than the obvious. Using money you got from a heist to buy toys for yourself? That's called looking for trouble."
"I-I don't know what you're talking about!" the man managed to choke. "I swear, I-"
"Shut up." Rex ordered coldly, and at that even the thugs surrounding them were silent. He patted the man on his head like it was a kitten or puppy. "Hmm. Skin like a rhino. That's nice. It oughta hold off what Quarry's got planned for ya. But human skin? I don't think it'll hold up so well, will it?"
"I'm begging you! I don't know what you're talking about!"
"I said, SHUT UP!"
Blue lines ran up the man's face as Rex concentrated, his face removed of any bestial features, but he still kept screaming throughout the process. However, it felt like something was burning up inside of Rex's head, a sensation he'd never had before. At first he thought the man's nanites were resisting, but it hurt a dozen times more than it would have if they were resisting. It was like the mental wall he'd carefully built to seperate his feelings of guilt and grief had come crashing down and everything was rising up inside of him.
"Stop! Please! I'm innocent! I swear to God I'm innocent!"
Rex collapsed along with the man, completely blacked out. If he'd been in control of his senses, he would have seen Providence soldiers flood the area, gunshots firing all around him. As soon as the thugs had made their escape, they stopped, not even going in pursuit. Criminals like them could be handled by the local security enforcement. Their primary objective was the boy.
Agent Six dropped down from a building a few storeys above them, katanas at the ready in case Quarry had sent someone to watch over his greatest weapon. Concealed from above, he'd managed to see Rex's abilities were real and not some wild exaggeration. Quarry had probably forced him into it. Six was practically a master of body language, and he could see the boy was only pretending to be a bold little captain of Quarry's EVO underworld. He'd been scared.
But that wasn't important. Now Providence had the chance to turn Rex into their greatest asset. Being unconscious was a bonus, too. It saved them the trouble of having to explain everything to him.
And in a few weeks, they would find out there was another hidden bonus: Rex had a horrible case of amnesia.
"See? I just came up with it." Rex pushed up his sleeve, and they watched, amazed, as a black symbol appeared on his skin. "Nanite tattoos!"
"Cool," Tuck gave his approval, and the other two followed suit.
The shapeshifter had scared them terribly. One moment, Squid was trying to smash Rex's head in with an iron pipe; the other, Tuck was trying to strangle Cricket to death, and you could never tell who was on your side or who was only pretending to be. Rex managed to end the nightmare when he crept up behind his doppelganger and cured him in an instant. It turned out to be a rather creepy little boy with a rather distorted version of the world, made worse by the nanites.
"We'll always know who we are," Squid smiled.
The sun was setting over the Hong Kong skyline, shading their whole world in sepia tones. Somehow, with Rex gone, their house seemed empty and desolate, as though they'd just moved in here, when they'd been living here as long as any of them could remember. All the colour and emotion had drained from their surroundings, gone with Rex, wherever he was now.
"Did you find him?" Cricket's voice was high, filled with false hope.
Grey bandages materialised in the middle of the room, forming a vaguely humanoid shape that eventually manifested as Tuck. He shook his head, and Cricket's gaze dropped to the floor, disappointed. "But we've been searching all day for him..."
Squid glanced at Tuck, wondering aloud, "Do you think Quarry..."
The possibility seemed more and more real as it took shape in their minds, reinforced by the loud crashes suddenly erupting outside their hideout. The three street rats snapped into action. If Quarry had hold of Rex, maybe he was here to show them the hostage... or the body. They unconsciously clung to that stray thread of hope, that Rex was alive, and they would rescue him, and everything would return to normal, they just had to wait and see...
"Rex would know what to do," Cricket muttered, as the walls began to shake around them.
"Rex isn't here," Squid reminded her softly. "We're on our own now."
Night fell, and swallowed them along with the sun.