NOTE: This would have taken place before the "Wide Awake" epilogue, and cannot stand alone. Sorry, you'll have to read "Wide Awake" before you understand it.
Show Me Love
I tried to contain it but it wouldn't disappear
Slowly, it sinks back to the bottom of the lake.
Trying for both, but obtaining neither
Tiring of contradictions, my heart becomes a little heavy
They say running away only makes you more afraid
I thought I knew…
- Show Me Love, Utada Hikaru
Red X had been a hero for three weeks and he thought his stomach might shrivel up and die from the weight of the morals. Jewels glittered in museum cases, beautiful women whistled and called out to him, companies called for his "extraction" services. Everything was a temptation, dangling in his face, taunting him. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he wandered down the cobblestone sidewalk next to the Thames, listening to the sloshing noise it made as its smooth body slid against the stone.
It was nearing the end of February, still too cold to be outside, but Red X had spent too much time inside. He needed to be out, moving around, looking for trouble he could apprehend. Grunting, he collapsed on a bench, the weathered wood giving a little under his weight. A barge floated past, filling the air with a peculiar, noxious scent. Red X both hated and loved London. There were layers and layers of history piled up on one another, until everything sort of melded together in a strange, historical sandwich. Red X hated sandwiches.
"Bit lonely, are we?"
Cockney accent. Pass. He smiled politely at the blonde behind him, a cigarette in her hand. Fag. Cigarette. Whatever these people called it. "Nope, just taking in the Thames."
"American." She offered a soft smile and moved a little closer. Ugh. The stench from that thing was awful. Red X coughed, but the woman kept inching closer, offering a soft, awkward smile. "Visiting from across the pond then?"
"Moved here. I'm… trying a new way of life." That was one way of putting it, or he could call it for what it really was: running away from what Raven caused, from what she made him feel. He coughed again and stood up, kicking at the stones under his feet. The woman was almost pretty, with high cheekbones and a delicate nose, but that accent would have killed him. "And you, miss?"
"Lived here my whole life. Lovely place, London is. Gots all kinds of things to do." She flicked her cigarette butt into the river and smiled again. "Would you like to go to the pub down the road?" Red X tried not to snort, which one? There was a pub every ten steps.
"I'm about ready to turn in for the night, miss… but I appreciate the hospitality. Have a lovely evening." He offered her a smile and started down the street, headed for Knightsbridge. He should have taken the Tube, it would have been faster, but he wanted to be outside tonight. He wanted to be cold and aching, it reminded him that he still felt things.
"I don't want this."
Red X shook his head and sighed. That memory still burned at the forefront of his mind, along with those few, passionate kisses they shared. She admitted that she wanted to be with Red X, admitted that there were parts of her that liked him, but she still pushed all of that to the side. And for what? So she could be a hero? So she could save the world from all of its problems? Ugh. What good did that do? Nothing. Evil still roamed the streets, looking for someone to take advantage of. Nothing changed.
But here he was, pretending to be the one thing she needed. A hero. He turned down a side street, enjoying the dark press of buildings around him. A stray cat passed his path, hissing. Stupid animals. Stupid February. Stupid job. Stupid London. Red X kicked the lowest step of a stoop and snarled. Why? What was he trying to prove by this? That he could be a hero? Or that he could live up to her standards? Did it even matter? Hadn't she already made her decision? Her caped crusader, who couldn't even be man enough to hold her hand in her time of need.
Somewhere in the distance he heard an alarm go off, piercing the cool night with a blaring shriek. Sighing, Red X pulled a mask from his pocket and shed his leather jacket for his familiar Kevlar suit. He could do this, he could be the hero. He just needed to find the drive somewhere inside him.
Taking off down the back streets and alleyways, he ran into the ornate façade of Harrods, alarm screeching painfully. Glass littered the sidewalk, glittering in the pale, dingy lights. A sapphire necklace had been stolen, ripped right out of the display case. Red X felt his stomach drop with disappointment, it was just a burglary. Simple and easy. Not even a slightly more exciting heist. Probably some drug addicted floozy desperate for cash. He sighed and pulled off his mask, kicking at the glass around his feet. There was no point in trying to find it now, he'd rather leave it for the Bobbies, they'd take care… of…
Red X's thoughts trailed off as he saw something on the display mannequin. A small slip of paper, with ornate, even handwriting. "Horribly Obvious Clue" was written on it, staring back at Red X like lettering on a tombstone.
"I should have known this wasn't going to work."
"It was worth a try anyway." Red X, as if sensing her emotions, reached over and grabbed her hand."So, should we try Plan B?"
Raven snorted and looked back at him. "Do we even have a Plan B?"
"Well, we can start to become serial thieves… you know, leave horribly obvious clues everywhere we go…I'm just saying, Sunshine, it could be an option if nothing else comes up."
"Are you asking me to stoop to your level?" Raven stared up at him, raising an eyebrow.
Red X cocked his head to the side and put a hand on his chest, faking pain. "Stoop? I'm hurt you call it that. I'd call it more like… bowing down to my level."
Red X shook his head and took a step back, pocketing the slip of paper. He hadn't thought about that night in months. The night that Raven had proven herself a rather skilled thief. The night that they both began to question whether or not she could live on his side of the law, and he on hers. Red X pressed a hand to his forehead and stumbled down the street, feeling like he was in a haze. Was it really her? How did she find him? Did she really steal a necklace? Was she taunting him? Teasing him? Or just trying to break his heart all over again? What was she doing? His heart stilled for a moment as his mind finally put the pieces together.
She was looking for him.
But why? She'd made it perfectly clear that there was no way she could see him again, not with the way things ended between them. They stayed on their separate sides of black and white, there were no gray areas, and Red X would be an idiot if he tried to believe that was possible. Nonetheless, Raven was here, searching for him, and if he was a gentleman he would let himself be found.
Red X ran across the street, entering Hyde Park. The night was unusually still here, thick, as if something were simply sucking all the sound from the world around him. Pausing, he closed his eyes and listened, grasping at shreds of sound caught in the distance. Thirty paces in front of him he heard light footsteps moving toward the Serpentine. Jogging, not running. His eyes flew open and he smiled, she was offering a chase. It had been a long time since he got to chase. Red X took off in the direction of the sound, feeling the pain of cold air clawing at his lungs. She was so close, and he could smell the soft scent of lavender and plums.
The footsteps stopped. Shuffling. Turning around.
Red X smiled and moved behind a tree, hiding himself. His heart slammed painfully against his ribs, reminding him he was alive, and this was not a dream. "You've come a long way after what you did to me. You've got some nerve… exactly what did you hope to find?"
She gave a delicate snort, as if not hearing the question quite right. "I heard you were playing the other side of the law. That you'd become the masked hero of London." Her voice was still husky and deep, and the sound of it made his body harden painfully. He groaned under the sudden onslaught of emotions as images of their first, passionate kiss ran through his mind. He could still feel the brush of her satin skin against his own, and the taste of plums filled his mouth. "I thought I would see for myself whether or not it was true. If it's a crime, you'd be the one to know."
"True. But that depends on what you consider proper behavior for meeting me. I wouldn't assume that stealing is acceptable."
She laughed, slow and soft, and Red X had to dig his fingers into the bark of the tree to keep himself from running towards her. What was she doing to him? Not just a few months ago she broke his heart, and here she was acting as if nothing had happened. And he was enjoying it, what a freaking masochist. "Are we playing a game, Raven?"
"I don't know, Red X… you seemed to enjoy the games we played before. Although I seem to remember the roles were reversed." The necklace caught the dim light inside the park and reflected it in rainbows at his feet. Red X glanced at her, dressed in her cat-suit and bathed in shadows. She looked every bit the part of a thief. "Do you want the necklace returned?"
Red X barked out a shred of pained laughter. Did it really matter at this point? Not really. "You know, right now, I just don't give a damn."
"That makes things easier for me. I'd really hate it if I have to fight you." Raven took a few steps into the light, banishing the shadows around her. "Why don't you come here and we can… talk."
Red X grunted. "Talking is not exactly what I had in mind."
"Exactly what else would you have expected out of me?"
His body hardened again at the images racing through his head. He could have expected a lot more out of with all the hell she put him through. His breathing was labored, and he knew she could hear him. He moved slightly, turning to look around the edge of the tree again. "I could think of a few things… but none of them are appropriate." He could feel, rather than see, Raven roll her eyes.
"Now you're just being ridiculous." He heard her shift her weight as if uncomfortable in the cloud of raw emotions.
"You look lovely."
"Stop trying to butter me up, it won't work." But, in spite of her usual self, she tossed him the necklace. He caught it deftly and pocketed the gems. The weight of the necklace in his hand felt good and known, and it brought back memories of more interesting times. There was something comforting in that. "Are we at a truce?"
"I suppose. For the time being." Red X came from around the tree and smiled at her.
She took a few, cautious steps toward him and shook her head. Plum eyes bore into his own and she offered him a rare smirk. "It's been so long since I've seen you, I'm not sure exactly how to act. Especially now that you're some fancy hero."
"You're doing just fine so far." He motioned to a bench next to the water and they both sat down. Silence engulfed them for a few minutes, and neither one knew how to break it. Red X squirmed under the pressure before he wasforced to break it. He couldn't stand that space between them. "And how are you enjoying playing the thief?"
"It's new. Different, I guess." Raven gave a nonchalant shrug. "It's definitely not something I enjoy doing,"
He didn't expect much more than that. "That's sad to hear, you'd make a wonderful thief."
"I believe you've told me that before." She chuckled and leaned back into the bench. "Well, I guess I just wasn't cut out for this kind of work." There was a pause before she asked that dreaded question. "And how are you enjoying playing the hero?"
"It's not as much fun as being a thief, and definitely not as lucrative. I miss my Armani suits." He looked out across the Serpentine, watching the still, murky waters and listening to her slow intake of breath. It was comforting, strangely enough. "But… I could get used to it. There's something… rewarding in it."
"Is that so?" Raven smirked and he looked over at her. "Well, that's surprising… given our conversation three months ago."
He shrugged and shoved his hands in his pockets, fingering the gems on the necklace. "Well, things change… you meet people, they fuck with your head, and suddenly the world isn't exactly what it was three months ago, now is it?" Silence was his response, and he looked over at Raven. Her hands were folded in her lap, and her face didn't quite meet his. That was a stupid response. Every chance he got with her he managed to mess up in some atomic bomb kind of way. What was his problem? Why couldn't he just be happy with her next to him?
"I'm sorry, you know…" Raven pushed her feet out in front of her, tapping her toes together. Red X stared at her hands, fingers threading and unthreading each other. She glanced up at him before returning to her hands. "I never meant for all of that to happen. It was kind of a mess."
"Kind of?" He snorted. There was silence again, and he looked over to see Raven's lips tugging down in a frown. Damnit, why did she have to do that? He always hated to see her upset, and he hated it even more that he was usually the main source of contention. Red X sighed and looked up into the purple dome that covered the sky and blocked the stars. "Well, I didn't exactly help the situation either."
"No, you didn't." She offered a small, broken smile. It was a truce, and not one to do with the necklace. Red X breathed a sigh of relief, he was safe for a few minutes longer. They were surrounded with more silence and staring at the Serpentine. Why did she always do that to him? Raven knew how he felt about silence. And yet it seemed to be her only joy to bathe him in it.
Red X turned and stared at her, feeling a moment of lucidity in the middle of this rather awkward flirting. "So… why did you come here, Raven?"
"I'm on sabbatical." She turned and looked at him, cocking her head to the side.
Red X raised an eyebrow. "Sabbatical? Why?"
"It was… my choice. I…" She paused for a moment, her words teetering on the edge of her lips. Her dark eyes looked away and Red X had to fight to keep his hands away from her face. He needed her to look at him, to solidify all these crazy emotions swarming around them like fog. She finally turned back toward him, her lips frowning again. "I wasn't the same after… our excursion."
Red X snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. "Is that what you call it?" Raven's eyes narrowed and he held up his hands in defense. "I'm just saying that… that…" What was he trying to say? That he was angry with her? Harbored some kind of grudge? Or was he just trying to fuck everything up so he didn't have to sit here and be reminded of the things he didn't have. Or the things he couldn't have.
"You have every right to be angry with me."
Red X nearly choked on his own breath before he remembered that Raven could read his emotions. Damnit, he needed to remember to be more guarded around her or he would seriously get into trouble. He sighed and leaned back into the bench, brooding. "I don't want to be."
"No, you don't." Pause. "But that doesn't take away your right to be angry. It's my fault you are where you are. It's my fault that I 'fucked with your head.' It's my fault that I chose not to reciprocate the feelings you offered. You may not want to be angry, but I wouldn't judge you if you were."
Red X glanced down at her. She was staring blankly at the Serpentine, still as the water in front of her. Why did every breath feel so much colder now? "It was stupid of me to say those things to you the day I left."
"You needed to." Raven finally turned and looked at him. Her face was stoic, her eyes were dark, but she still looked tormented. As if she were holding onto some secret of her own. Something she couldn't let go. "Those were things you needed to say to me. And I don't fault you for it."
Something in him snapped, and Red X bit back a growl and stood up. She was always playing this game with him. This "I understand you, and it's not your fault" game. It was bullshit. He wanted something raw out of her, something that reflected her emotions. Not this calm, cool, collected woman who simply "understood." Red X kicked at the dirt beneath his feet and cursed. "I wish you would. I wish you would yell and scream and say something. You let me walk all over you three months ago, and you're letting me do it again. Damnit, Raven… what do you want from me?"
There was silence as his response, and Red X turned to look at her. Raven stood up, frowning again. "I don't know."
Red X cursed again and threw his hands in the air. She was trying to push him into an early grave, that had to be the only explanation for this. "God, Raven. Yes you do. You tracked me down half way across the world, in a city you've never been to, looking for me under a false hero name, blatantly steal to get my attention, claim you want to truce with me, and yet you suddenly have no idea what it is you want from me. Are you serious?"
Raven's eyes narrowed. "I see there's no point in me being here if all you're going to do is fight with me."
"You're not fighting!" Red X snorted and shook his head. "There can be no 'with' if you're not fighting back, Raven. You're letting me walk on you, and I hate it when you take abuse from me, because you don't deserve it."
"I hate that you do this to me."
Red X's heart stopped beating for a few moments as he stared at her. Her hands were balled into fists, shaking at her sides. She looked like she was ready to deck him straight into the Serpentine, but that was okay by him. It was an indication that there were emotions in her, and they were trying to get out.
"I hate that you know and understand me, and yet we were only together for a week. I hate that I stole for you. Hate that I needed to find you. Hate that I can't stop thinking about you. And I hate that I left the Titans for you." Raven snarled at him, and suddenly Red X began to finally understand what had happened. It wasn't a sabbatical. It had been a resignation.
He reached out to touch her, to comfort her, and to find a little piece of himself in her. "Raven…"
"Forget it." Raven pushed his outstretched arm away. "Forget I even said anything. Because now you're going to give me some pitying speech, and I don't want to hear it. I don't need to hear it." She started off for the road, moving slowly away from the dim lights. "Just forget I came and everything will be fine. Have a great time in London, Red X, and I hope you don't revert to your old ways."
Red X felt his lips form the word before he had a chance to stop himself. "Nikolai."
Her footsteps paused and there was a long, waiting silence before she turned at looked at him. Red X groaned and held a hand to his head. "My name is Nikolai."
Raven's mouth opened and closed several times before she could gather herself together enough to respond. "Why?" And even then, it wasn't exactly eloquent. Red X felt a small bubble of pride at rendering Raven speechless. That was a rare occurrence.
"Because you deserve something out of this. Some element of truth." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "My name is Nikolai, and I haven't been able to forget about you either, Raven. I dream about you almost every night. I think about what I left behind that day, and what I could have been to you. Every image of you and that stupid bird boy just makes me livid. You deserve something more than what he offered."
"And you're that?" Raven's eyebrow peaked as the corner of her mouth turned down. "That by telling me your name you've suddenly gained some kind of magical respect and understanding from me? Because you told me one truth in a sea of falsities?"
"No. I don't deserve any special treatment." Red X took a few steps closer to her, and she didn't back away. He wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not. "But I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are the first person that I have ever told my real name to. The first person that I dream about, and the first person I would turn into a hero for."
Raven snorted. "Not even to save your own mother?"
"Orphan." Red X watching a shadow of pity and empathy cross her face and he held up his hand to stop her from saying any of those stupid, nonsensical, stock phrases. That had nothing to do with the moment they were in. "I can't promise that the truth will always come easy, but I want you to know that it will come."
"You're talking as if I'm going to accept you into my life."
"I want you in mine."
Raven pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. "I left my place with The Titans, Red X… Nikolai… whatever you call yourself. You know, defending the world from evil and protecting people whenever they need us. Whatever you're offering had better replace that tenfold."
"I think I love you." That was even stupider than telling her his name. What was his problem today? Was he just out for brutal, self annihilation? And why was his love even important to her? She had been a Titan, and that had been her soul for so long. What did he have to offer her? Love shouldn't have been the only thing. He watched as Raven's face stayed in the same, annoyed expression.
"The feeling is mutual, so what? That doesn't replace my former form of employment."
The world felt like it lurched to a stop beneath his feet and he stared blankly at her.
"Wait…" Red X held up his hand to stop her from continuing as he tried to sort out the emotions around them. Did she just admit that she might love him too? Or was he just hearing random confessions echoing off the Serpentine? "Did you just… did you just tell me that you might love me?"
"Yes. No… I don't know." Raven threw her hands in the air and growled. "You are, hands down, the most confusing, irritating, frustrating, angering, annoying human being I have ever met in my life. And yet I can't imagine what the world would be like without your stupid face in it."
Red X shook his head and laughed. "I'm not sure if I should take that as a compliment, a confession, or an insult."
"All three will probably do the trick." Raven closed the last remaining space between them, and the scent of lavender and plums surrounded Red X again. "I don't know or understand what it is that you make me feel, but… if you're willing to let me be in your life for a little, then I promise to let you in mine."
Red X chuckled. "I think I can handle that… but only for a little."
"Only a little."
So… there it is. Thanks for being patient and waiting. I hope I didn't disappoint. I wanted there to be some deep, sexy kiss, but it just didn't feel right in all of the back-and-forth that Raven and Red X do. I felt like this would have been more their style. A snarky comment and smirk.
And, before ya'll launch into the "Red X's real name is Jason, stupid" speech. I'm going to tell you that I don't care. Don't even bother writing it. Technically, Red X is not a comic character, and since his identity was never discussed in the show, I'm going to make him and name him however I damn well please. Besides, I've spent several years developing Nikolai as Red X and I'm rather attached to him.
That being said, please leave a review. I love to hear your thoughts.