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.

http://archiveofourown.org/works/469179/chapters/811056

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19. In Which Players Fold Part 3

The troll dropped to the ground like a ridiculously proportioned puppet with its strings cut, his body shaking with tremors as his muscles spasmed.

John had the presence of mind to float the cable off to the side and tie it in a knot so that it couldn’t cause any more problems before he rolled off of the bench and onto the floor. It took him several long, tense moments of gathering his willpower before he was able to push himself off the ground, his head now much clearer but still more than a bit fuzzy. By the time he was standing again, flames were licking up the side of the wooden table he’d crashed off of moments before, threatening to catch the whole thing ablaze. He had more important things to be worried about at the moment, however. Like whether or not he’d just killed Droog.

The teen took several shambling steps to reach the troll before he unceremoniously dropped to one knee, his gloved hand reaching out feel for a pulse at the troll’s neck. After searching in vain for a pulse for almost half a minute, panic rising from deep inside his gut, John cursed his stupidity and tore off his glove. With the barrier removed, his fingers found the troll’s pulse almost instantly, its beat strong and vivacious.

Too strong.

“Holy shit, there’s no way,” he groaned, as Droog’s eyes slowly opened. There was a lack of awareness in the mobster’s jade orbs, but he was sure that that was only temporary.

“No, no, no,” John spat, crawling on top of Droog’s chest. “You do not,” he started, raising his right fist up and bringing it down hard on the troll’s forehead. “Get,” another punch was delivered, this one with his left, “to do,” he sang, his voice rising in intensity as he brought his right fist down again, all semblance of the care he’d normally take to mask his regular speaking voice forgotten in his near-panic, “THAT!” he yelled, rearing back and winding up for a final, violent swinging of his fist.

It was to the designer of the drug’s credit that Droog’s skull didn’t split like a ripe melon under John’s relentless, superhuman barrage. As it was, the troll was very clearly out for the count and likely suffering from some type of brain contusion. John couldn’t find it in himself to really give a shit, at the moment.

Bringing his right hand to his face, John noted with no small amount of detachment that the bare knuckles of his exposed hand had cracked and split, leaving patches of bright crimson standing out against his pale skin. When his hand let out the barest of tremors, he gave the appendage a quick squeeze before sliding his glove back on, ignoring how his blood immediately seeped through the fabric to stand in stark contrast to his regular color scheme.

The teen sighed as he bonelessly stood from the defeated troll’s body, his legs struggling to find purchase against the ground as his muscles screamed their exhaustion and weariness began to set in, sagging down his shoulders as if he were Atlas trying to carry the weight of the world on his back. God damn was he ever glad that was over. He just hoped he wouldn’t need to help Hemogoblin in his own fight, because honestly he didn’t feel like he had much left in him. Thoughts of his partner galvanized the hero enough to bring his objectives back into focus. Just because he was tired didn’t mean he could rest, not when Hemogoblin might need him.

But first, he decided, he had to do something about the spreading flames that were just now starting to lick across the table’s surface, already threatening to jump to the surrounding tables and turn the whole place into an out of control conflagration. This all would be for naught if all of the evidence burned before it found its way to the police, after all. Especially the Red Miles.

Heaving another sigh, John set upon the arduous task of commanding the wind to suffocate every pocket of flame that he could find.

 

////

The first half dozen slashes were achieved in a blindingly fast flurry that lasted barely a second, the gangster’s movements with the curved blade almost obscenely quick. It was all Hemogoblin could do to avoid taking any serious damage as he leaned backwards at the waist to avoid a swipe at his carotid, his balance tipping over naturally and allowing him to get in a few kicks at the Midnight Crew boss’s chest as he somersaulted over. He earned several shallow gashes across the backs of his calves for the effort, while Slick earned a few new bruises.

Slick pressed his attack with a growl, swiping forward and forcing the troll to block with his arm, trading a gash to his left forearm for an open palm strike to the man’s solar plexus that sent him stumbling back. The fire that arose in Slick’s eyes at having been struck twice in a row momentarily halted the troll’s advance, the gaze promising certain retribution should the hero dare to strike him again.

Well, Hemogoblin wasn’t one to disappoint his fans.

They rejoined again in a whirl of blows, the teenaged troll throwing a right elbow inside the gangster’s guard, landing a hit on the man’s shoulder. He was too late in realizing that the opening had been purposeful as a straight blade seemingly materialized from nowhere in the human’s free hand, stabbing down immediately into Hemogoblin’s own left shoulder.

The troll pushed through the starburst of pain and took a swing at the man’s face with his left, the Crew boss dodging the swing deftly by moving his head to the side. He’d forgotten about the blade of blood attached to the side of the hero’s wrist, however.

The blade caught on his cheek and sliced upwards through Slick’s left eye, immediately causing the man to scream and peddle backwards in a flailing of elbows, his hands going up to cling at his face.

 

 

 

“You fucking bitch!” Slick screeched shrilly, his fingers digging into the skin of his cheeks as he continued to flail in pain, backing up until he hit the backs of his legs against his desk.

Hemogoblin ignored the pained howls as he grabbed the hilt of the knife embedded in his shoulder and gave it a strong pull, the knife taking with it an arc of blood that caught in midair and returned to the wound, sealing it instantly. Which did nothing to heal the deep, biting pain or the numbness in his fingers.

“I’m going to fucking slice you to ribbons, then I’m going to rip that windy asshole’s throat out, and then I’m going to burn this pissant city to the fucking ground!” the gangster railed, yanking his hands away to reveal what was left of his face. There was a long gash running from the middle of his left cheek all the way up until almost his hairline, thick, oozing blood rolling down his face in a macabre facsimile of teardrops. He was squeezing his eye shut tight, which Hemogoblin was thankful for. That was not an injury he wanted to stare at.

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Hemogoblin chuffed, moving forward to finish off his wounded opponent. But the gangster wasn’t done yet.

The mafioso grabbed his karambit and lunged forward with a wild slash, his movements completely lacking his earlier finesse but more than making up for it with animalistic ferocity. The troll was caught unawares by the mad dash, the karambit biting deeply into the flesh of the left side of his chest and slicing all the way through to the opposite shoulder as Slick dragged the blade horizontally with sick glee, tearing sinew and veins as easy as cutting filet mignon.

Deeply wounded and lacking any other respite, Hemogoblin leapt backwards into a low crouch and raised his left hand to the wound and focused all of his energy on healing, his neon eyes flushing with a cold suffusion of pain as he stared at his opponent in mild shock. The laceration was deep and would require an extended amount of concentrated healing as the troll concluded that, had he been anyone else on the planet, that would have been a fatal blow and he’d be bleeding out on the floor. As it stood, it was taking everything he had to not wobble as he pushed himself to his feet, intent on at least meeting the enraged gangster head-on.

When Slick came at him again, there was a second knife in his free hand yet again, this one held in a firm stabbing position. Hemogoblin eyed it warily, though the bulk of his attention was still riveted on the karambit. That was not a weapon he wanted to feel for a second time.

His priorities shifting to disarming the man, Hemogoblin frowned. That was a task which would be much easier said than done; the karambit was a weapon specifically designed to resist disarmament, the ring on its end meant to be clutched tightly by whatever finger was nearest the grip. It would be easier to remove than a pair of brass knuckles, however.

Slick’s first stab with the straight knife was deftly evaded by a twist of the troll’s hips bringing his body out of the blade’s path. The follow up slash with the curved karambit was halted mid-swipe with a block against the mobster’s forearm. The hero went for the disarm then and there, his hand lashing out and twirling around the man’s hand and prying his hand open.

Slick had been watching the fight with Boxcars, however, and as soon as the blade had left his hand, he was bringing his other hand up to knock the weapon from Hemogoblin’s grasp. The troll was surprised by the move and thus was unable to prevent the blade from being returned to its owner, his wound slowing him down just enough so that Slick was able to catch him unawares.

Hemogoblin wasn’t going to let his efforts be stymied, though, as he took a step further into the human’s guard and enveloped his arm in a tight hold underneath his armpit, his free hand flashing forth and punching the man in the wrist and causing him to drop the karambit once again, this time letting it fall to the floor where it was promptly kicked by the troll to rest underneath the desk behind them.

Slick lashed out with the remaining blade in his hands in an attempt to skewer the troll’s shoulder from the side, forcing him to release the gangster and separate.

Hemogoblin smirked triumphantly as he looked at the man with a hint of gloating, his canines baring in an amused rictus. Now that Slick was back down to just one blade, the troll’s earlier plan could be executed with much less risk. Well, he amended, much less than the guaranteed stupidity the plan he was about to commit called for, at least. But there was little to be gained without sacrifice, so it was worth a shot.

“What’s say we end this, eh, buddy?” the troll queried, reaching up his right hand to touch the wound on his chest and gathering a bit of unseen blood into his palm.

Slick merely grunted in response, his eyes still glaring at his opponent with all the ferociousness of a wild beast. And then the man charged.

Seeing the events that were about to play out unfolding in his mind’s eye, the troll allowed himself to open up his normally impeccable guard just a bit, not enough so that it was obvious, but enough that someone as experienced as Slick would be remiss to not see.

The mobster took the bait, flashing forward in a stab that took the troll in the left side of his rib cage, the knife managing to slip between his ribs unopposed.

At the same time, Hemogoblin’s right hand lashed forward, the blood in his palm solidifying into a spike that penetrated deeply into the gangster’s arm just below his left shoulder, causing the man to cry out sharply in pain. He wasn’t the only one, though.

“Ow ow ow ow, you fuck!” the troll hissed, “I think you nicked my spleen! What is it with you and stabbing my abdomen?!”

“Fuck you,” Slick growled, his words spat through pain-gritted teeth with enough venom to kill a snake.

Hemogoblin didn’t allow him the opportunity to say anything more as he brought his elbow up and smashed the man in his forehead, sending him into unconsciousness immediately. The gangster dropped to the ground in a heap, the troll’s blade sliding from his shoulder with a wet schlock.

The hero flicked his hand sharply to rid it of Slick’s blood before he slowly began allowing it to be reabsorbed back into his skin from the base up, concentrating hard on straining his blood from any contaminants. He trusted in his body’s supranatural immuno defenses to protect him from any illnesses or diseases the man might have had swimming around in his bloodstream, but with a lowlife like Slick, you couldn’t be too careful.

It was only after the blade had been completely reabsorbed into his skin that Hemogoblin noticed that the puddle of blood surrounding Slick’s wound was only growing larger and larger as he watched, and he realized the man was in trouble. “I hit your brachial artery, didn’t I? Fucking perfect,” he sighed, drawing himself closer to the downed man. “Even when unconscious, you’re giving me shit. You better be thankful that the cops would appreciate you more alive than dead, because you seriously aren’t worth the effort of saving.”

As he knelt down, he was given a very painful reminder that Slick’s knife was still embedded in his abdomen. Deciding that it wasn’t hurting anything to leave it in for a few more moments and that the mobster’s life took precedence, the troll’s hands went down to the man’s belt buckle as he started undoing his pants.

“Don’t get too excited, Slick; this is strictly professional,” he muttered in amusement, yanking hard on the belt once it was undone and pulling it from around the man’s waist in one go. He then quickly set about tying the belt tightly in a makeshift tourniquet around the shoulder above which he’d stabbed, the blood seeping from the wound dropping sharply as soon as pressure was applied. “You’re incredibly lucky that I only nicked it and didn’t sever it, you know, because I’m no surgeon and there is no way in hell I’d put that much effort into stopping it, even if it meant you died.”

Seeing as how the mob leader was now in no immediate danger of exsanguinating, Hemogoblin looked down at his own wound and brought a hand to the hilt of the knife, gripping it with no small amount of trepidation. Steeling himself, he tugged sharply.

“Ow! Fuck, goddamnit,” he moaned, pulling the blade out in one go. His body had acted automatically in his defense, sealing tightly around the wound to prevent deeper penetration and possible infection, but that hadn’t meant that the stab had hurt any less. And he hadn’t been kidding about his spleen, either.

Dropping the blade to the ground in a clatter, the troll sighed heavily, his abused nerves already singing in relief as he allowed his healing factor to do its thing. He then looked over at the Midnight Crew boss with weary eyes, the adrenaline withdrawal and the excitement of the night starting to take its toll on him.

“It no longer sounds like Heir and your butt-buddy lackey are trying to destroy the entire building, so if it’s all the same to you, I’m going to just lie here and try to focus on healing the damage you did. That okay with you, Slick?” Hemogoblin groused, rolling over and plopping his back on the floor next to the prone gangster, sending all of his conscious will to his injuries to make sure there were no complications.

Slick, of course, was far too unconscious to respond.

 

////

By the time John was finished with his impromptu firefighter duties, the exhaustion was really starting to be a problem. It took him almost five minutes to make sure Droog was properly restrained, all of the fires were out, and that nothing in the lab was in danger of spontaneously combusting and proving all of his effort to be for naught.

The sight that awaited him when he floated up to the hole from whence he and Droog had had their earlier falling out made his heart skip a beat and his blood run cold.

Slick appeared to have been defeated, as he was lying motionlessly on the ground in a large puddle of blood. That wasn’t what was causing surges of anxiety to shoot through his system, however. It was what was lying next to Slick which had his heart leaping into his throat. Or who, rather.

John didn’t move for several long, tense moments, thoughts flitting around his head about what it would mean if his partner was...was…

His mind wouldn’t let him finish that thought. It didn’t need to, though, because his body chose that moment to take over for him, as one moment he was floating outside of the hole in the ruined wall, and the next he was kneeling next to Hemogoblin, his hands on the troll’s shoulders as he examined every inch of him for injuries.

He didn’t get much of a chance, as the troll’s eyes shot open with startling speed and zeroed in on John’s with an intensity that once again paralyzed his lungs. The following “Heir…?” whispered in confusion took whatever air was left in those lungs and stole it, his entire body deflating as he sagged down against the troll’s body, a sob of relief escaping his mouth.

“Oh my god, Hemogoblin, don’t do that to me ever again. I thought for a moment that you were...that I’d have to...just. Just don’t do that again, please,” he huffed, breathing in the coppery scent of his partner.

He was a bit alarmed when he felt a pair of arms wrap themselves around his waist and pull him into a hug, which made it painfully obvious just how compromising a position he’d put himself in when he’d collapsed on top of the other hero. The warmth that radiated off of the troll’s body made him forget the awkwardness, however, and he savored the moment while it lasted.

 

 

 

It ended up lasting longer than John thought was probably ‘appropriate’ for just friends, but he definitely wasn’t complaining. He was just happy he wasn’t going to be leaving the strip club carrying his partner’s body.

“This is romantic and all,” the troll chimed in after pulling away a full minute later, his grin unable to hide his genuine affection and amusement, “but I am kind of hurt, and you are kind of heavy, Heir.”

John could tell that his face was probably completely scarlet by the way he felt his ears heating up, but he was still too relieved that his earlier fears had been unfounded to feel any true embarrassment, at least consciously. He’d take embarrassing himself in front of a guy he—kind of, sort of, definitely—was attracted to over having his partner be hurt—or worse—any day of the week.

The teen sat up slowly, offering the troll a hand as he pulled them both to their feet.

“You look like shit,” John exclaimed, regretting the words as soon as they left his mouth. It was true that the troll’s outfit was absolutely ruined, with holes and tears popping up all across his body, but the hero himself decidedly did not look like shit. He looked extremely attractive, as always, and the large swaths of grey skin behind the tears looked absolutely flawless, except for a small bit of discolored bruising along the gash on his chest and in the hole on his abdomen. He looked a great deal better than John felt, in any case.

Hemogoblin snorted, offering John a fond smile. “Thanks. You look like you lost a fight with a semi-truck, or something.”

“Or something,” John agreed. He took a moment to study the various cuts and rents in the troll’s outfit, his eyebrow raising with each new tear that he found. “Was Slick really that good? He was a middle-aged guy in a suit, and you’re…” he raised his hand, gesturing up and down at the troll’s body with an open palm. “You know. You’re you.”

John was offered another amused smirk and the shrugging of the troll’s shoulders. “Yeah, no, I was surprised, too. He was goddamn quick, like a hopbeast on crack. He moved like those blades were extensions of his hands. It was fun.”

It was John’s turn to snort. “Fun. Right.” He gave the troll another cursory examination, noting with interest how the bruises along the largest cuts and stab wounds were shrinking and changing color right before his eyes. “You sure you’re okay?”

Hemogoblin locked his hands above his head and stretched his arms, wincing a bit as the skin of his chest was pulled taut. John did his best to not flat-out stare at the various and sundry muscles made visible through the rips in his suit. “I’m fine, I promise. Or, rather, I’ll be fine. That asshole really did a number on me. I’m good to move and do whatever now, but it’s going to take a long while before I’m back at a hundred percent. He managed to shred a not insignificant amount of muscles, and that shit stings like a motherfucker as it knits back.”

“That’s pretty awesome, though. I’d be in rehab for a month if I had those kinds of injuries,” John said with no small bit of awe. “It’s going to take me at least a week before I’m fully recovered as is.”

The troll laughed awkwardly, bringing a hand up to idly poke at the still discolored skin of his bared stomach. “You never would have had to worry about it if our situations were reversed. With your wind, Slick wouldn’t have even been able to get close, let alone hang on to any of his knives.”

John made a humming noise in the back of his throat. It didn’t really feel very couth to agree with a statement like that. “Maybe.”

“Speaking of, how’d you manage Droog? You two were making enough noise to put a demolitions crew to shame.”

John winced, his right arm rising to rub at his left collarbone. “In the end? Electrocution.”

The troll’s delicate eyebrows both shot upwards in surprise, his mouth opening in a decent imitation of a fish. He stared at John for a few silent moments as if trying to judge whether or not he was speaking the truth, and then gained a speculative look about his face. “Oh. That’s unexpected. Did you manage a snappy one-liner? Like 'I find you guilty as charged,' or 'Don't act so revolting'? Because I'm going to be severely disappointed in your level of superhero professionalism if you didn't send him into unconsciousness with a pun."

John couldn’t help the guffaw that erupted forth from his throat, nor did he want to. It hurt his body to be wracked with the convulsions of his laughter, but it was a pleasant ache that he didn’t really mind too much.

For his part, Hemogoblin was grinning warmly, looking inordinately pleased with himself at having made his partner smile. He waited until John’s chuckles had subsided before he gestured towards the office door with his thumb. “So, not to detract from the mood, or anything, but I feel like we should go call the cops in already. There is an absolute shitload of drugs down there. Also, Slick’s not about to bleed out, but tourniquets aren’t exactly good for you. Not that I really care all that much either way. But, you know, hero morals and all that.”

John nodded, smile still stretching his face. “Right. How about you call the cops while I contact ATF, and we meet on top of the parking garage in five?”

The troll nodded, already pulling out a phone from his thigh pouch. “Got it. See you in five.”

John tried not to stare as his partner sauntered out of the room.

 

////

By the time that John hovered himself up to the top of the car park, there were already half a dozen Seattle PD patrol cars blocking off both the front and the back entrances of the club, doing their best to secure the scene. They were apparently still waiting on back-up before entering the premises, but that wouldn’t take long. He caught sight of his partner sitting on the concrete barrier of the roof’s edge, his long feet dangling over the side. Without a word, John joined him, making sure to sit as close to the troll as possible.

Neither of the two heroes said anything as they sat and observed, the six patrol cars soon being joined by dozens of others, along with several large SWAT vans and a whole cadre of ambulances. Once enough personnel had been gathered, they made their moves. It was all very dramatic-looking, except the two heroes were well aware that there were only unconscious bodies inside. Still, better safe than sorry.

The stretchers were called for almost immediately after the police breached the front door, the EMTs rushing into the club. They started coming out ten minutes later, unmoving Crew members handcuffed to the railings of the stretchers. John noted with no small amount of amusement that the creep who’d grabbed Hemogoblin’s ass was among those who were handcuffed, because wouldn’t that be a fun story to explain to the cops? They were quickly loaded into the ambulances and driven away, several police cars following along as escorts.

The pair waited in a comfortable silence for fifteen more minutes before Droog and Slick were wheeled out, at least three technicians hovering around Slick at all times. Bags of saline were being fed into the gangster’s body as they loaded him into the back of a waiting ambulance. John wasn’t sorry to see him go. Droog followed soon after, an oxygen mask attached to his face. His body had deflated to its normal proportions, his skin looking stretched and unhealthy. The doctors would have fun working out the myriad of complications they were sure to find, John was sure.

Seeing the two mobsters carted off filled the teen with an incredibly large amount of satisfaction, something like a sense of closure, and he couldn’t help the grin that split his face. It was true that there were still things to do, like have a little heart-to-heart with ATF and unload all that they had learned about Red Miles, but the police were clearly going to be busy for the next few hours, if not well into the next afternoon securing and documenting the scene to make sure they captured everything they needed to build their cases. The two heroes had more than an ample amount of time to just sit and take in the fruits of their efforts before bothering with the police scurrying below. Hemogoblin looked over, caught sight of his expression, and nudged John’s thigh playfully with his own.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

“Mm,” John sighed, leaning his head back to look up at the star-filled night, the brightly burning stellar furnaces of nuclear fusion somehow cutting through the ambient lights and pollution of the city to shine down on them. All things told, it was shaping up to be a fairly gorgeous night, a bit of an oddity for this time of the year. “I feel like I could take on anything right about now, even though my body is telling me it wants to sleep for a month straight.”

Hemogoblin followed his partner’s gaze towards the stars, his expression gaining a bit of distance as he pondered the sight. John wouldn’t have been ashamed to admit that at that moment, his eyes were far more drawn to the glowing hue of the troll’s orbs in his peripheral vision. They stayed like that for what felt like several minutes before the troll responded.

“It’s not over, you know. Not really. Slick was right when he said that we were only delaying things. The Midnight Crew is spread out all across the nation, and all we managed to do was take out a few of their leaders. They’ll probably be back, and that’s not saying anything about all of the low-ranking thugs that are still skulking about Seattle. There’s no way that the entirety of the Crew presence in this city was made up of the guys at the docks and at the strip club. No way.”

John said nothing as he pondered the troll’s words. He’d had similar thoughts upon hearing Slick’s proclamations, as well, but that didn’t mean anything, not really; they’d already showed that the two of them could stop the Midnight Crew once, after all.

Glancing down, the teen sought out Hemogoblin’s hand. Finding it resting on the concrete between them, John slowly reached his own hand out to cover the troll’s, his mind flashing back to a previous night when they’d held hands and John had been comforted. God, that felt like months ago. Hemogoblin reacted instantly, his hand turning over to embrace John’s as if this were the most natural thing in the world. In a way, it was.

“I’m not worried,” John began, marveling not for the first time how someone could be so warm that he could feel their heat radiating through his glove. “We showed them what we were made of, tonight, and we kicked their asses. They’re going to have to think twice before they try something like that again, going to have to weigh the potential benefits versus the potential losses. And if they try again, we’ll make sure that they learn that it’s not worth it,” he grinned, the light of mischief dancing in his eyes.

Hemogoblin’s smile was almost wistful as he rested their hands on top of his thigh, his eyes never leaving where they were joined. “Yeah. Fuckin’ right, we will.”

John smiled and, as casually as could be, let his thumb brush over the troll’s in a back and forth gesture like the other hero had done for him in the warehouse. “I don’t think I would’ve been able to pull all of that off if I’d been working solo, though. Thank you for being there for me, Hemogoblin.”

If anything, the heat around his hand increased, and John almost started giggling as he wondered whether or not that was the troll’s version of a blush. It took another long minute of comfortable silence before he responded.

“My pleasure, Heir.”

Despite their aches and bruises, the pair stayed that way until the sun rose, their hands clasped firmly together, matching smiles of contentment and satisfaction etched on their faces.

 

 

 

////

 

Part One: End

 

 

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