Actions

Work Header

A Flag That Bears the Name

Work Text:

Moses used to think about saving the world, when he was a kid. He figures everyone did. Sometimes he'd be like Harry Potter, some chosen one shit, sometimes he'd get superpowers, sometimes he'd be at a bank that was getting robbed and he'd save the day. Sometimes he even saved the world from an alien invasion. What he did didn't matter much for his fantasies. Most of the time, he just thought about what would happen after, fame and fortune and all that.

When it does happen, it's not anything like he thought it would be.

The best he can say for it is that they don't keep him in custody for long. No one tells him exactly why not; no one seems to care that much about him. Not that that's new. But something must convince them that something bad really did go down, and he really wasn't the problem this time, because he and Pest are back out after a couple days with a slap on the wrist.

They saved the block--maybe not the whole world, but definitely their whole world--from aliens, and he has to be thankful he's not been arrested.

It's shit, is what it is.

"So," says Pest, hands stuffed into his pockets outside the police station. It's bright and cold and the whole world feels changed. "What now?"

*

It doesn't feel right, going back to the stuff they were doing before. He can remember the person he was when he decided to mug Sam, but now he knows Sam, and he saved everyone here. He might have saved everyone.

When he closes his eyes, he hears them chanting his name, and he can't go back. They know him now. People say hello to him when they see him. They thank him.

This is his block.

*

"What, like--motherfucking Superman, is it?" asks Pest.

"Can't be Superman," says Biggz. "Cuz Superman can fly and punch cars and shit. Be like Batman. Dark Knight, yeah?"

Moses doesn't answer; he's working on the mask. He's using the same bandanna he wore when they mugged Sam. He'll use it right this time.

"No way," says Pest. "Batman's rich! Had that bigass mansion. That motherfucking butler! Moses ain't never gonna be no Batman."

"You should cover the rest of your face too," Biggz says, watching Moses's hands as he works. "Nobody wants to get saved by a black dude. They'll arrest you, and you won't get out this time."

"Gotta catch me first," Moses says. He picks up Dennis's sword, watches it glint in the light. "I'm not gonna let them catch me again."

"Just gonna run around the block, looking for trouble?" asks Pest.

Moses frowns. That was what they did before, and if they couldn't find any trouble, they made it. "That's not how it is anymore."

"It is," says Biggz. "Just doing it for the side of good now, yeah?"

He pulls the mask over his eyes, checks his face in the mirror. He still looks like himself, but it's a start.

"Needs more spandex," says Pest.

He slides the mask off again. "Just getting started."

*

The first time he goes out, he's just wearing all black and the mask. Pest says he looks like a robber from an old movie; he's not wrong. But Moses feels free, different from the other times he's gone out looking for a fight. He's got a purpose he never had before.

He likes protecting people. Protecting his home.

That first night, all he finds is Probs and Mayhem, picking a fight with some much older kids.

"Break it up," he says, making his voice deep and scratchy, like Christian Bale does.

Probs looks him up and down and snorts. "What are you supposed to be?"

"Thinks he's Batman or some shit," says Mayhem.

"Just go home, alright?" he tells them.

"What, you think you're my dad?" asks Mayhem. "Fuck you!"

Probs kicks him in the shin and they run away. The older kids snicker at him. But at least they're not fighting each other anymore.

*

The second night goes a little better. He finds some guys harassing a woman walking home and stops them without much trouble, and he can't stop smiling for the rest of the night. It's a good thing his mask covers his mouth.

The third night, he gets beaten up, but they don't see his face, so he counts it as a victory.

He goes to Sam after, and she frowns as she stitches up his arm.

"What happened?" He shrugs, and she glares at him. "Don't move," she says, gesturing with her needle. "I'll stab you." They're quiet for a minute, and then she says, "I heard you were some kind of vigilante."

He jerks a little, and she glares again. "Who said that?" he asks.

"Pest."

"He should keep his mouth shut."

"Then it's true?" He stops himself shrugging and has to nod instead. She sighs. "And that's how you got hurt?"

"Yeah."

She bites the thread off and cleans the scrape again. "How old are you now?"

"Sixteen. Birthday last week." Pest and Biggs got him pads for his legs and arms, to wear under his sweats when he goes out. He's getting fewer bruises when Probs kicks him.

"Happy birthday." She stands and looks down at him, considering. "Let's see it then." He must look alarmed, because she rolls her eyes and says, "Your vigilante costume. I want to see it." He's about to refuse, but she adds, "I won't patch you up again if you don't."

It's nice, having easy access to a nurse. So he goes to her bathroom and changes and stands still as she looks him over critically.

"Is this what you want it to look like?" she asks.

"I guess."

"If you could have a costume that looked like anything, what would it look like? Did you have a drawing or something?"

He does. It's upstairs, hidden in a drawer. He tried to make the real one look like his picture, but he had to throw that one away because it looked so stupid. Like some shit a kid made.

Sam makes him get the drawing for her; the costume 's all black, with a blue circle on the chest and three red gashes like claw marks on each arm, Dennis's sword strapped to his back.

"Give me a week," she says. At his look, she just shrugs, almost defiant. "I did textiles in school, you know."

"Me too," he says, but she was probably better at everything in school than he is. "Why?" he asks.

She looks down at the paper. "I didn't get you anything. For your birthday."

She has it done a week later, and it looks just like he pictured. Pest is jealous.

"You never make me anything," he tells Sam.

"Did you want one?" she asks. "Are you going to be Robin?"

"No way! I'm not some sidekick. I'll be a hero too. I can be Spider-Man."

"Spider-Man is Marvel," says Biggz. "Can't be Spider-Man if Moses is Batman."

"I'm not Batman," says Moses, tracing the red gashes on his arms.

"Do you have a name?" asks Sam.

"He doesn't need a name, he doesn't have a rep yet," says Pest. He turns back to Sam. "So if I give you some drawings, can you--"

But Moses is opening the window and going out into the night, almost giddy with how he feels.

Like a real hero.

*

It turns out, he's pretty obvious. Not even two weeks, and Tia says, "So, you're Batman now?"

"Pest," he mutters.

She rolls her eyes. "No one said anything. It's obvious, Moses. I saw you out the other night, skulking around in some spandex or something. What, you got a hero complex now? You're gonna get yourself killed. Or arrested."

"I'm not gonna let them catch me again," he says, and there's a long moment where neither of them says anything.

"Better than robbing people," she says, at last. "So, let's see your costume, then. Didn't get a good look before."

*

Biggz finds the first blog post a month in. "Wannabe Superhero Stops Cops Roughing Up Local Thugs."

"Those kids?" asks Pest, looking at the picture. "Local thugs?"

"Probs and Mayhem," Biggz corrects. "Yeah."

"You should get a name," Pest tells Moses. "Before they make one up for you."

He remembers the crowd, chanting. Moses, Moses.

"I already have a name," he says.

Pest and Biggz exchange a look. "So what's the point of the mask, then?" asks Biggz. "If you're just telling everyone your name."

"Cuz it looks cool, isn't it?" says Pest. "Sam's making me one, and then we'll both go out. And you can hang out in your dumpster with your laptop. You're Alfred."

"If I'm Alfred, you're Robin."

"I'm not Robin! Come on, Moses," he wheedles. "Tell him I'm not Robin."

"Might be better than Pest," he points out, and pulls down his mask.

*

He introduces himself for the first time to a guy getting harassed by a couple of cops. He gets in between them, sword out, more like a shield than a weapon.

"Heard about you," says one of the policeman. "The new vigilante. Seen too many of those superhero films?"

"He's not doing anything," Moses growls. "Leave him alone."

"Gonna stab us, then?" asks the other policeman.

"Just go," Moses tells the man behind him, over his shoulder.

"What are you supposed to be?" asks the man. He looks equally confused and relieved.

"Moses," he says, and it feels powerful when he says it, like something more than himself. Maybe it's his name, but it's his superhero name too. It means something more than just him.

"Gonna bring a plague of frogs? Or planning to start with locusts?" asks the second policeman. The other one snorts at his joke, but the man behind Moses ignores them.

"Thanks, mate," he says, with a nod, and scarpers off.

"What's going to stop us arresting you now?" asks the first cop. "Interfering with the police."

"Me," says someone, and Moses and the cops turn to see him at the same time. He's dressed in the exact same costume as Moses, and there's a sword on his back too. Moses can't see Pest's smile, but he knows he must be smiling when he says, "Moses."

"This a new gang?" asks the cop. "The Moseses? Shouldn't you be the Spartacuses or something?" He should have been a comedian.

Moses takes advantage of their distraction and slides away himself, moving out of the alley where the cops had the man cornered and standing next to Pest instead.

"When you start an awesome team of superheroes, you can come up with your own name, right?" says Pest. "Til then, piss off. This one's ours."

*

"This way it won't be so obvious, isn't it?" Pest says, when they're changed and back in the block. "You can be somewhere else and I'll be out in costume. And it makes sense, everyone knows you're the one who saved us from those alien motherfuckers, so now there's, like, this gang, the Moses, protecting the block in your name."

Moses checks his arms, making sure he doesn't have anything Sam needs to sew up. Pest is a little bruised, but fine.

"Probably get more people starting to do it," Pest goes on. "Sam's making one for Biggz too. Neighborhood watch! Whole army of Moseses. Ain't nobody messing with our block."

Pest offers his fist, and Moses bumps it. He doesn't think it'll happen, but it's cool to think about.

*

He goes on thinking it won't happen for months, even as people write more blog posts and there's something in the real newspaper--not the front page, yeah, but someone got paid to write that shit--because it's still just the three of them (Pest keeps trying to get Sam to join, but she doesn't want any of it) and he thinks everyone knows it's the three of them they don't give a shit. Anyone who knows isn't talking, because the paper just calls them a "gang of concerned citizens," no name, and the blogs have all kinds of different ideas. They think there's a whole army, not just three teenagers.

It's cool, but he doesn't think, not really, that anyone's really fooled. He doesn't think it's a big deal to anyone but the three of them. Four or five, if he counts Sam and Tia.

And then, when they're going out on an off night, he sees Probs and Mayhem. They're wearing black jackets with three red gashes on each arm and black caps.

"What you doing?" asks Biggz.

Probs shrugs, defiant. "They're kinda cool," he says. "Watching out for the block."

"We got the jackets online," Mayhem asks. "You want to get some?"

The three of them exchange a look. "They sell jackets online?" asks Pest. "For that gang?"

"Yeah, course," says Probs, like they're stupid. "And once we're tall enough, we're going to start going out too. Protecting the block!"

"Block, block, block!" Mayhem chants, and the two of them run off.

"I told you," Pest tells Moses, but Moses isn't listening. He can hear it again, his name, over and over, Moses, Moses, Moses.

He smiles.