Real Men Wear Tights

High school can be tough for everyone. This is especially true when you're hiding a secret that can never be told.


10. In Which Partners Are Made Part 2

John wondered briefly how they were secured and where Hemogoblin could possibly have hidden something so noticeable when he wore a costume that left very little to the imagination, when what he was actually seeing clicked. The sickle blades weren’t strapped to his wrists; they were coming out of them. John would have never guessed that when Hemogoblin had said that he had his own tricks up his sleeve that he was talking about retractable knives under his skin. That explained at least part of the strange modification to his gloves, John thought.

As Hemogoblin knocked down the very last of his opponent by opening up a long, bloody gash on the man’s torso, John turned to face the commander of the failed firing squad. Boxcars was occupying himself with casually surveying the battlefield, his eyes glancing over his fallen men with little interest, a look of mild disgust pulling at his features rather than any kind of concern for their or his own safety. The lower rungs of the Midnight Crew were disposable to him, apparently, as his disregard for what he was seeing showed clearly in his icy eyes. Without a care in the world, he turned his back on John completely, taking a few long strides before he bent down to retrieve his hat, which he dusted off slightly before standing and placing it back upon his bald head.

Keeping himself alert to the last opponent still left standing, John cautiously walked over to where Casey lay. Boxcars followed John with his eyes but otherwise didn’t make a move, not even making an attempt to prevent John from retrieving his hammer. John was glad for the distraction that Boxcars was providing, as keeping his eyes glued on the man meant that he didn’t have to look at the victim of Casey’s earlier flight, who, he noted out of his peripheral vision, had not budged an inch since his body had stopped convulsing. John pulled Casey up from the ground and hefted her back into her sling, angling it so that he could draw her at a moment’s notice. Stealing a glance at the body, John noted a dent in the man’s chest and a ring of bloody froth around his mouth, remnants of his earlier convulsions. He turned his gaze back on Boxcars after only a second, but that brief glance had been long enough to reaffirm that he never wanted to use Casey against a living opponent again unless absolutely necessary.

As he squared himself against the last remaining mobster, Hemogoblin silently slipped into place next to him, his presence reassuring as they both edged closer to the criminal. Boxcars’s eyes never left John’s own as he allowed them to draw nearer unimpeded, his hands balled into fists at his sides. When the pair was less than ten feet away, his voice rumbled through the air, causing them both to stop and tense.

“Hadn’t heard there were two of you heroes in this city.” Though menacing, there was also a bit of resignation in his tone, which set John on edge far more effectively than having the man rail at him could. If there was one thing to never underestimate, it was a criminal at his wit’s end. “Looks like I’m the only one left, huh?”

Boxcars sighed, his eyes flashing a hint of resignation, before the man rolled one of his massive shoulders, the action causing both heroes to tense further. As they looked on, Boxcars slid off his outer jacket to reveal a white button-up and red suspenders. As the man folded his jacket and placed it carefully on one of the smaller crates next to him, John caught a glimpse of something metallic hanging from a clip on his lower back. When Boxcars’s reached a hand behind his back and grabbed for the obvious weapon, John instinctively pulled the wind tight in a barrier around himself before spreading its influence to cover Hemogoblin. The troll obviously noticed something, because John saw him out of the corner of his eye turning slightly to offer him an incredulous glance. That only lasted for a second before both of their attentions were brought to the fore as Boxcars withdrew his hands from his back.

John felt his eyes widening and his control over the barriers slipping a little bit as what he expected to be a gun of some sort turned out to be a pair of simple knuckle dusters, absolutely plain except for the raised bumps on each knuckle that John soon realized were hearts. That was definitely not the kind of weapon John was expecting the man to use against two opponents, but he’d learned by now not to underestimate anyone. The weapons that Boxcars was now sliding onto his hands were meant to maim.




“You know the police will be here any minute, right?” John asked, hoping to dissuade the mobster from forcing them into an unnecessary brawl. It was plain to see that the Midnight Crew was defeated, so there was really no point in the man fighting. Boxcars, however, didn’t seem to see it that way.

“Have to make this quick, then.”

John sighed softly, steeling himself. It looked like this was going to have to happen the hard way. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to try and stall for a bit. Contrary to what the situation had been several minutes earlier, now that the rest of the Crew was down and there was only one opponent, the addition of officers with guns could only help.

“This would be easier for everyone if you just gave up. You don’t have any chance of winning against the both of us, you know. You’re not getting out of this, no matter what you do.”

The large man adjusted his knuckle dusters more firmly on his hands, a strange, sardonic grin stretching his face as he nodded acquiescence to John’s words. “I know that. But we both know that surrender was never an option for me,” the thug growled, his stance shifting to what John recognized as an orthodox upright boxing stance, his arms held up near eye level with his left arm leading, his brass knuckles looking especially vicious in the low light.

John thought about that for a moment before nodding. Boxcars wasn’t the type to go down quietly, even if he knew his situation was hopeless. And that made him dangerous.

A knee nudged his own. John looked over at Hemogoblin out of the corner of his eye, the troll’s luminescent eyes shining at him out from under his hood.

“I go in from the right; you take the left. Deal?” John turned his head more, taking in the fierce expression on Hemogoblin’s face. Those sharp, aristocratic features looked prepared to do battle. Curiosity getting the better of him, John looked down at the troll’s wrists, seeking to confirm his earlier suspicions about the origins of those blades.

That moment of distraction cost him.

In the time it took John to note their dark, crimson colouring, Boxcars had crossed the distance between them with a speed that was totally belied by his large size. The only indication John had that something was about to happen was the tensing of Hemogoblin’s muscles and the wind’s sharp, insistent tug telling him to move.

John brought his arms up in a cross-guard out of pure instinct before he’d managed to even turn his head towards Boxcars, the action most likely saving him another broken bone as Boxcars’s brass-covered fist slammed into his armguard with enough force to dent the metal plate and send vibrations up and down his arm, culminating in his previously injured shoulder flaring up painfully before going completely numb. His left arm dropped and hung limply by his side as he propelled himself backwards with the aid of the wind, out of Boxcars’s immediate reach.




The moment John stepped back, Hemogoblin rushed forward to pick up his slack, delivering a one-two punch followed by a sweeping roundhouse to the thug’s head via the troll’s right instep. Though the flurry of blows was an almost blur of movement, Boxcars seemed to have no problem blocking each hit, striking out and knocking each of Hemogoblin’s blows aside almost effortlessly. The troll tried for another jab followed by a swift knee strike to the man’s gut, but again he was rebuffed.

As soon as he had batted away Hemogoblin’s blocked kick, Boxcars stepped forward and lashed out with a blindingly fast left jab that grazed Hemogoblin’s cheek. In a move that appeared almost simultaneous to his jab, he managed a right hook that landed firmly in Hemogoblin’s midsection. The troll flowed with the blow to mitigate the damage and pushed back just as it connected, his left arm lashing out and the blade there scoring a gash along the side of Boxcars’s right hand.

As Hemogoblin retreated a few steps and drew even with John, the teen took a short reprieve to examine his fellow hero for injuries. The troll didn’t seem to even be breathing hard, let alone be in any pain, so he guessed that his effort at evading any damage from that body blow must have been successful. As he watched, however, a cut opened up along the grey skin of the troll’s cheek where he’d been grazed by Boxcars’s fist.

A bead of blood slowly oozed from the cut and then slid down his cheek. A bead of bright red blood. If that wasn’t surprising enough, the troll scowled as soon as he felt the blood tracing a path down his skin and raised a hand and touched his cheek.

As John watched, the trail of blood that had just made its way down Hemogoblin’s cheek actually started fighting its way back up again, completely defying gravity and logic. As John looked on, utterly fascinated, the blood crawled its way back into the cut. And then, just like that, the cut was gone, all evidence of it having been there vanished without a trace as smooth, unblemished grey skin stared back at him. If John hadn’t been wearing his mask, he was pretty sure his jaw would be on the floor at that moment, heated battle or not.

If Hemogoblin noticed his shock, he didn’t say anything, his neon eyes never having left Boxcars, who was carefully examining the cut on his own arm.

“His defense is pretty tight,” Hemogoblin said in a low growl, snapping John out of his stupor. “But he’s still just using boxing; that means he should be open to attacks below the waist. If I go in high and challenge his guard, can you come in low and take out his legs with your arm like that?”

John stared at the troll for a moment, still a little dumbfounded as he tried to process his words. He was just about to answer when Boxcars gave an annoyed growl and shot forward again with impressive speed, causing Hemogoblin to tense up next to him.

And then, with a casual flick of his hand, John sent a concentrated tendril of wind at the man’s legs, causing him to trip and fall flat on his face like a sack of heavy potatoes, his head connecting against the concrete with a crunch.

“Or you could do that, I guess,” Hemogoblin sighed, a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth as the tension bled out of his body. As John watched, the crimson sickles on the troll’s wrists seemed to...melt, for lack of a better term, before the now-liquid was sucked back into his wrists, the skin where the blades had vanished revealing itself to be just as smooth and unblemished as every other time he’d seen them. It only took John a second to make the connection with what he was seeing now with what he’d seen a few moments before, and the conclusion he came to was rather startling: somehow, Hemogoblin’s alluded abilities included...making blades out of blood? Okay, that was kind of really cool. Unique, for sure, but cool.

The troll strolled over to the stationary thug, his muscles tensing back up just in case he had to evade some sort of surprise attack, but no attack ever came; Boxcars was not moving. John winced a bit as the first thing Hemogoblin did was to step harshly on each of the man’s hands to keep them pinned as he bent at his knees and wrestled the brass knuckles away from him, before tossing them back to John. Not knowing what to do with them, he let the wind catch them, the pair of weapons floating lazily in front of his face. John crinkled his nose, staring at the vicious implements in disdain. He wasn’t one for such things and neither was he the type to keep trophies, so with a quick toss of his head, the wind chucked them off the side of the dock.

As Hemogoblin withdrew a plastic tie from his thigh holster, cuffed Boscars’s hands behind his back, and turned him around, all of the good humour bled out of John’s mood. He’d been so happy to be rescued by and fight alongside Hemogoblin that he’d almost forgotten what this man had done to get him to this point. He’d terrorized his city and threatened the innocents under his protection.

His gaze darkening, John strode up next to Hemogoblin and dropped to the ground, his knee instantly finding its way to Boxcars’s throat. Boxcars glared up at him through a re-opened gash on his forehead and a bloody, possibly broken nose. When he opened his mouth, it was to show teeth stained with blood.

“That was low, kid. Couldn’a given me a proper fight?”

John silenced him by increasing his pressure on the thug’s throat, denying him the ability to breathe.

“How do we make this end? Where is your boss?” John punctuated his question by easing off on his knee, allowing Boxcars to breathe in sharply through an open mouth. It didn’t look like he was going to be doing much breathing through that nose anytime soon.

Even though he must have been in pain, maybe even concussed, Boxcars managed a laugh. “You end this by dyin’. And the boss ain’t none of yer concern. He’ll find you when he wants to see you. Try not to get too comfortable until then,” he spat, a mocking grin on his face.

Boxcars wasn’t going to talk, regardless of what either hero did to him, that much was obvious. Considering his position in the Midnight Crew, John hadn’t expected him to, really.

John growled in anger and frustration, raising his right fist, and then brought it down against Boxcar’s forehead with just enough force to knock him out cold. He was tempted to hit the man again just for good measure, but more violence wasn’t going to solve anything, no matter how good it might make him feel in that moment. It would probably serve them well if he could give the man brain damage, too, take him out of the game permanently. John didn’t trust the judicial system enough to think that the man would face what justice he was owed, but it wasn’t really his place to do something about it. That’s just the way things worked. If Boxcars came after him again, he’d just have to put him down again. As many times as it took.

For now, though, he’d come out victorious. He was a little worse for wear, bruised and beaten more than he’d ever been before, but he was still breathing. That counted as a win for the good guys, in his book.

John pulled himself off the ground, feeling his anger rapidly giving way to exhaustion now that all immediate threats against his life had disappeared. In a blink, Hemogoblin was at his side, helping to steady him as he stood on suddenly shaky legs. Once John had his footing, the troll pulled away but kept the distance between them short in case John lost his balance, his hand resting loosely around John’s waist while his other hovered near his side, ready to support him at a moment’s notice.

At the moment, John wanted nothing more than to fly home and curl up in bed. He could feel the adrenaline draining from his system like the water from a bathtub that just had its stopper pulled. Add to that the strain from having exerted his powers like never before, and John was one tired hero. But the night was still young, and he still had duties to perform. With a mental sigh and a slight leaning into Hemogoblin’s hand on his back, John began re-cataloging his list of injuries.

Besides the usual bruises and strained muscles, he still had his three main concerns. The hearing in his left ear was still very muffled, which could mean a perforated or ruptured eardrum. That was something that would usually heal on its own but had the potential to progress into deafness if there were any complications. It could even require surgical attention, if it was deemed serious enough. John wasn’t sure if his dad could make the call on that kind of injury, but sometimes the amount of knowledge his dad possessed was surprising. His left shoulder was regaining feeling again, but unfortunately, most of those feelings were pain.

Pressing his fingers to his collarbone for the second time that night, he found the point where the pain was the most intense and was barely able to stifle a hiss as he gently applied pressure. He could feel the skin bulging noticeably outwards, which pointed to a clavicle fracture. That meant wearing a sling for a good four to eight weeks during the daytime if he wanted the bone to heal properly, and limiting his movement of that arm when out at night on patrol. He couldn’t very well wear a sling into a fight, especially not with the rest of the Midnight Crew gunning for his head. The last thing he needed to do was to advertise his vulnerabilities.

He was so lost in thought that it took John a few moments before he realized that Hemogoblin was silently watching him as he continued to press his hand against his collar. John dropped his hand slowly to his side, his gaze meeting those glowing eyes, their expressive depths revealing a mixture of anticipation and concern.

He was waiting for Heir to say something, he realized, though what, he wasn’t sure. John didn’t really know what to say, because at that moment, all he could think about was how the beating of his heart must have been loud enough for the other hero to hear, because it was starting to drum a hasty tempo inside of his own head as he became acutely aware of the slight pressure of the troll’s arm around his waist and just how close their faces were. This was the troll he’d been waiting an entire week to meet again, not having seen so much as a glimpse of him outside of his dreams. Speaking of, he was just as beautiful in reality as he was in his dreams, John thought. And then he thought that maybe he should add minor concussion to his list of injuries, as now was not the time to be evaluating the other hero’s attractiveness.

Pulling back slightly so that he could get a full view in the dim lighting, he scanned over the lithe body before him, and was immensely relieved to see that the tight muscles covered in tighter clothing didn’t indicate any signs of injury that he may have missed in his previous assessment. There wasn’t even a scratch on him. John’s dad had been right about the troll being able to take care of himself, for sure. Which brought to mind the question of those blades, and his little healing trick. That had been...something.

Hemogoblin cleared his throat, swiftly drawing John’s attention away from his unmarred wrists back to his smirking face. “Like what you see?”

“Thanks for saving me,” John blurted out, immediately embarrassed by just how much sincerity he’d let slip. He sounded more like an awed citizen after being rescued than a fellow hero. “How did you know to find me here?”

Hemogoblin nodded to himself, unfastening the buckle on one of his thigh pouches to retrieve a crumbled cue card. He held it out, John immediately recognizing it as the one he’d left on the rooftop earlier in the night. “I saw the explosion, saw the strobe light, found the card. Thought you could use the help.”

John smiled sheepishly behind his mask as Hemogoblin put the note away, fastening the buckle of the pouch once more, a small pit of warmth beginning to form in his stomach. He’d found John not too long into the fight, and John knew from his earlier trip over that the dockyard was a fair distance from the factory. That meant he had to have run as fast as he could the entire way to have gotten there when he had, all for his sake.

“You know, Heir, I’ve been giving this partner thing some thought,” Hemogoblin began rather nonchalantly, his left hand pulling back from John’s side to rest against a cocked hip in a confident pose. He hesitated then, teeth worrying his lower lip for just the briefest of moments before he caught himself, his eyes seeming almost shy when they met John’s again. “Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try?”

Flashing lights were visibly approaching right outside of the docks, now, alternating bursts of red and blue flickering only a few blocks from their position. They had maybe a minute before they’d get there.

John turned away from Hemogoblin so that he couldn’t see him before he pulled down his mask and spat out a mouth full of blood for the second time that night, grimacing at the sight before he raised the cover over his face once more. When he turned back to face Hemogoblin, he could feel himself grinning broadly, so much so that it was hurting his still bleeding gums and causing a muscle in his neck to twitch painfully. But that still didn’t stop him.

He had a partner now. He’d asked the troll to be his partner over a week ago, before this headache with the Midnight Crew had started, back when all he wanted was someone else who understood what it meant to be a hero, someone who would empathize with his woes. But now he understood that a partner was more than that. A partner was someone you could entrust your life to, someone who you could count on to bail your ass out of the fire when the heat got too unbearable.

John reached out his right arm, palm open and expecting. The troll’s eyes flickered uncertainly in the low light, his eyebrows furrowed slightly as if he didn’t know what to make of the human appendage. John grinned at him, and then down at his hand. It took him a moment, but a smile slowly spread across the troll’s face, warm, and happy, and not at all like his usual cocky smirk. Dull but pointy teeth peeked out over plump lips, and John felt his own grin growing despite himself. Despite how monumentally shitty his night had thus far been, in that moment, Hemogoblin looked just as happy as John felt.

Slender, gloved fingers curled around John’s forearm as he mimicked the gesture, unable to keep the warmth out of his voice as he stared into Hemogoblin’s eyes. “Thanks... partner.” All throughout the exchange, John couldn’t get over the feeling of how perfect the embrace felt.





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