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With Friends Like These

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There are moments in Tim’s life where he wonders why he ever bothers getting out of his Red X suit. He knows it’s healthier in the long run to keep his personal and work life separate, but that gets harder to remember when things happen.

Things like girls who go by the name Rose Wilson.

Fresh out of the shower and stepping into his bedroom with a towel draped over his head, Tim spots long, white spiky hair from the corner of his room and tries to backpedal into the safety of the bathroom. A knife soaring past his shoulder keeps him in place.

“Hi, Rose,” Tim says, defeated and willing his oversized pajamas to eat him.

“Hello, Ein,” Rose replies, followed by a sharp popping sound. It’s definitely from the mint-flavored, sugar-free gum she’s chewing on, which he avoids like the plague thanks to trauma-flavored experience.

“No, I haven’t seen your dad,” Tim begins, eyeing the swords on Rose’s back warily, “and I don’t have his new number yet.”

“Not here about that. I’ve got a job for you.” Rose spins the bandanna that normally hides her face idly on a finger. Tim’s aware that the action speaks of unfathomable trust between them, just as he’s aware that Rose showing up in her orange and black suit equals possible jail time.

“Do I get a choice?” He asks.

“’Fraid not, Ein.”

Rose Wilson’s identity as the loose cannon, Ravager, means that absolutely no one is surprised that she partners up with the infamous Red X to take down the Teen Titans' enemy of the week. What her tentative allies don’t understand is why Red X is sitting inside the Titan’s Tower streaming cat videos on their theater-size tv.

“You can’t just invite him in!” Wonder Girl uses both arms to gesture to the Titans' greatest nemesis lounging on their couch. “You’re not even cleared to be here!”

“Doesn’t he sneak in here for fun?” Ravager crunches on a taco stolen from a whimpering Impulse.

“He keeps stealing my shirts!” Superboy crosses his arms with a scowl.

“Get a real costume, and I won’t have to,” Red X says while scrolling through his burner phone.

“I keep telling him he’d totally rock a jumpsuit, but he keeps saying it’d look bad, but I don’t think it would. Maybe if he had a jacket? Something to break up the normal look—” "A leather one?” Red X suggests. “—yeah! A leather one would be cool, but maybe with some spikes or chains,” Impulse chatters while giving Ravager the biggest, saddest eyes he’s capable of through his mask.

In response, Ravager chews slower and louder on the taco like the sadist she is.

“Stop diverting us from the issue here. Why shouldn’t I haul him to jail right now? Or you for collaborating with him?” Wonder Girl demands, hands are on her hips.

Rose throws the rest of the taco over her shoulder to move closer to Wonder Girl. Her hands curl into fists loosely by her sides, and there isn’t a single tell in her body language. Red X flinches at the sight.

Rose is much scarier than Ravager. The vigilante identity is brutal but quick in her efficiency. Rose likes to make it hurt.

“Look, if this guy is who R thinks he is, you’re going to want all the backup you can get,” Red X says, playing cute baby animal videos in an attempt to diffuse the situation. “Trust me, you do not want to tangle with the original Ravager: ghost, zombie, clone, multiverse copy, or otherwise.”

The man had been so nasty, only Batman faulted Rose for killing the original Ravager and taking his name in vengeance.

“You figured out anything, Ein?” Rose asks. Her fingers move towards her swords, and the Teen Titans go from merely tense and wary to standing side by side in preparation for a fight.

A beep from Red X’s burner phone startles all of them, cutting the tension immediately. He looks at the notifications lighting up his screen with a frown.

“Do the words, ‘Oh shit, it’s a robot clone’ mean anything to you?”

“Who thought uploading an AI copied from a dead assassin’s brain into a murder bot was a good idea?” Superboy asks rhetorically as he holds up a metal sheet to cover them from the laser blasts raining down.

“The same people who didn’t think it would copy itself to the other robots,” Red X says, yanking off a vent cover by Superboy’s feet.

The plan is for him to sneak into the main terminal room to see if there is a shut off command while the others play distraction for the rest of the murder bots roaming the secret lab. Said secret lab is repurposed from a previous mad scientist, so getting the floor plans for the vents is easy enough.

Superboy shifts the metal sheet to hide their activity, and Red X squeezes through the small hole. He grunts as his shoulders are squished into his sides painfully.

“I swear the vents are getting smaller,” Red X complains.

“I think it’s because you’re getting bigger,” Impulse points out helpfully over the communication lines.

“Are you calling me fat?”

“Dude, you are like the opposite of fat. Even Impulse is bulkier than you,” Superboy's voice comes out flat in his ear.

“Yeah, you should really eat more! Are you eating okay? You’re not, are you? That’s not good. I know this place that makes the heaviest foods, great for calories! It’s in England though. Oh, but I can totally set you up!” Impulse says.

“Normally, I would say something like, ‘Cut the chatter’ or ‘Nobody cares,’ but they’re right, you know. You should go see a nutritionist,” Wonder Girl speaks up next.

“Psh, you’re all just jealous of my slim figure.” Which he won’t have for long because it seems Jason has teamed up with Bruce and Alfred to make sure he gets to a healthy weight. He doesn’t actually mind it—he can’t fight growing taller, so he needs to adapt anyway—but he wishes Jason would stop forcing him to eat greasy foods at gunpoint.

A voice comes over the communication line, one that's been silent so far.

“Hey, Ein,” Ein, not X which means this is Rose not Ravager, “what’s the word that means killing your uncle?”

“Avunculicide,” he answers immediately.

“Avunculicide,” Rose repeats softly before letting out a hair-raising cackle. “I’m going to enjoy doing it again. Each robot clone I kill is another of him dead. DO YOU HEAR ME, UNCLE? YOU CAN’T RUN FROM ME!”

The insane laughter fades out oddly before a loud pop in his ear makes him wince. He’d hazard a guess to say that Rose threw her communicator over her shoulder.

“Do I want to know?” Wonder Girl asks hesitantly.

“No, you really don’t.”

There’s a reason Deathstroke runs the other way whenever his daughter tracks him down. Tim’s just the unlucky kid that lacks common sense to flee.

It’s not shocking in the least that Rose manages to defeat most of the robots before he can figure out how to shut them down remotely. It’s more surprising that she leaves them in good enough condition to salvage.

“I’m keeping this,” Red X states, clutching a robot head to his chest.

“And what do you plan to do with the rest of this stuff?” Superboy eyes the laser weaponry lying around them.

“What else? Sell it.” He's going to strip out the more important tech parts and replace them with cheap junk that will break quickly. Saves both money and lives.

“Of course,” Superboy scoffs.

“The proceeds will go to charity. I’m thinking victims of robot attacks in this case,” Red X says.

There are a surprising amount of organizations dedicated solely to recovering from superhero fights. The relief for supernatural casualties is a bit more lacking compared to the robot disasters, but it’s harder to tell demonic possession apart from bionic enslavement.

“But you’re a villain!” Superboy blinks down at him, unconsciously hovering off the floor.

“Pft, Ein’s not a villain. Hell, he’s barely a thief.” Rose approaches them with a knife twirling dangerously between her fingers. Anyone attempting to jump her post-battle will meet a messy end.

“He keeps breaking into the tower!” Superboy cries in disbelief.

“And he updates your security each time he does,” Rose shoots back.

“Your security sucks,” he says, still offended by what he found when first visiting the new Teen Titans setup.

“The Justice League has him listed as a villain,” Wonder Girl speaks up from where she's digging through robot parts across the room.

The Teen Titans' mode of clean-up is to destroy anything dangerous, crush the remaining junk into pieces, and leave it for some other sucker to stumble upon and clean up. Red X would approve if he wasn’t the sucker in question scouring the scene for anything missed.

“Did you know he turned down being Lady Shiva’s apprentice because she wouldn’t let him save a kitten stuck in a tree?” Rose leans against a wall with a smirk.

There is a beat of silence, and Superboy face breaks out into a wide grin as Wonder Girl snickers quietly. He can practically feel the respect as the Teen Titans’ adversary fading away.

“That's kind of aww in a ‘you are adorable’ kind of way,” Impulse zips up to say before streaking away to scrub through a hallway.

Yeah, his respect is totally gone.

“R, you are ruining my reputation.” Red X knocks his head against the robot one in his arms.

He never intended to be Lady Shiva’s anything to begin with—Deathstroke only wanted him to train under her for a few months—but his exile for disobeying orders to rescue a cat seems to haunt him forever.

“The fact that you’re a loser would have come out eventually,” Rose says unsympathetically.

“So, he’s only a bad guy because everyone else disagrees with him instead of actually being a bad guy?” Superboy asks, considering Red X with furrowed brows.

“More like because he disagrees with everyone else out of spite, but, yeah, you got it.” Rose shrugs.

“Huh, okay. Hey,” Superboy touches down and shoves his hands into the pocket of his jeans, “wanna get pizza?”

The scene of the Teen Titans eating outside a pizzeria is a normal one. Both Wonder Girl and Superboy leave their faces bare and names public, and Bart’s outfit isn’t really designed with a secret identity in mind. Oddly enough, it makes the paparazzi consider them too boring to bother with.

Tim just never thought he'd be joining them with his mask pulled off. Of course, he keeps a domino mask on, but it's the principle of the thing.

“If you don’t do anything but rob from the bad and give to the poor, why does the Justice League have you listed as a bad guy? Do they just hate you or? Wait.” Bart gasps. “Do they hate the poor?”

“Nah,” Rose leans back until her chair is balancing on two legs, “it’s ‘cause no one knows what this dumbass is doing except the crazies in Gotham. He has no real friends because he’s convinced they need to sign his stupid Best Friend contract.”

“Best Friend contract?” Kon echoes dubiously.

“Your dad taught me that contract! He knows everything!” Tim waves a slice of pizza at Rose, fully offended at it being called stupid.

“I’m pretty sure he taught you the Partner contract. Which is completely different,” Rose snorts.

Tim decides to take a page out of Bart’s book and stuff his mouth full of pizza. Arguing the point even if he’s right is pointless when it comes to Rose.

“You two must have had some interesting training under the Terminator.” Cassie looks at them with scrutiny. She doesn’t appear to realize there’s a mushroom stuck to her chin.

“Oh no, I’ve only met my dad a handful of times.” Rose jabs her thumb towards Tim, “he was the one raised by him.”

The table goes silent as they absorb this new piece of information. Cassie and Kon’s eyes flicker from Rose’s costume and swords to Tim’s skull mask lying in front of him.

“But X donates to charity and avoids harming others, and you’re a murderous mini-Deathstroke with questionable morals?” Bart tilts his head.


“That makes sense.” The Teen Titans all nod.

Red X isn't officially invited to hang out at the Titan's Tower, but he finds himself watching a black and white horror movie in Superboy's room all the same. The two of them take turns mocking the old film from where they lie on the bed together.

The bed is big enough for both of them, but not so much to avoid getting elbowed in the face repeatedly. The sheets smell funky, and Kon has the only pillow available, leaving him to rest his chin on his arms until they grow numb. Tim thinks this is the best thing ever.

“So why Ein? That can’t be your name,” Kon asks once the credits roll.

“It’s not. It’s short for Einstein which R used to call me. Like it was an insult or something,” Tim says.

“Pretty sure that’s another word for nerd.”

“You’re a nerd,” Tim automatically says.

“No, you,” Kon replies on reflex.

They grin at each other.

Like lightning, Tim is struck by the realization that this is the first time he has ever conversed without carefully considering his words. There isn’t a need to evaluate someone’s mental wellbeing while ignoring his own.

With Kon, and maybe even the others, he can simply hang out and say what’s on his mind.

Once Red X leaves the tower, this easy comradery will disappear. He’ll go back to breaking in to annoy the Titans until they try to punt him through a wall. Maybe they will be gentler towards him, but there will be a clear divide between them.

He doesn’t want that.

He wants to make these guys his friends, and Tim is nothing, if not determined. Crazy, some would say. His mind churns out various strategies to accomplish his goal. He settles on what seems to be the best one.

“I will die for you,” Tim vows.

Kon blinks once, twice.

“Please don’t.”

Tim pulls out a tiny white square from the hidden pocket on his back. A flick of the wrist sees a lengthy paper creased with neat, crisp lines being waved in Kon's face.

“Only if you sign this.” Good thing he thought to fill it out while Kon was busy setting up the movie.

Kon takes the paper like he suspects it to be a shining, green rock in disguise.

“I,   Kon-El ‘Conner’ Kent   , do hereby agree to allow my best friend, Red X, to mix our DNA together to create a clone baby of the two of us in the event of my death. Red X and    Kon-El    are the agreed owners of the clone baby with a 50/50 split in responsibility. All rights to the clone baby are left to the surviving owner—dude, seriously?”

“My life and death are in your hands, clone boy.” Tim stares at Kon with an intensity that only comes from a hostage situation.

There’s not much Kon can say to that.

“Fine. Whatever. I’ll be too dead to care,” he sighs.

“That’s the spirit. Here’s a pen.” Tim flicks a wrist, and Kon stares at the sudden red and black pen appearing in front of his face. There’s a tiny skull and red X printed on the side.

“Where did that—you know what, I don't want to know.”

Taking the pen with the resolve of heading to the gallows, Kon signs on the dotted line. The paper disappears from his hands the moment he’s done.

Kon puts on the next movie and tries to forget about the whole clone baby thing. It’s hard when Tim keeps breaking out into manic giggles throughout the entire film.

With official Best Friends status backing him, Red X claims the largest supply room as his new permanent bedroom. Rose declares the couch as hers for the night and states that she will gut anyone who wakes her up before sunrise. The Titans, too tired to argue by that point, grumble and go to bed without a fuss.

The stares Tim gets when the Titans find him making breakfast in their kitchen has him rethink his ironclad claim. Clearly, no one thought he was serious about being a resident of the tower. He puts Plan B into motion once he’s done setting the table.

“Hey, Impulse, buddy,” Tim slings an arm across Bart's shoulders, “what would you say to having a free, steady supply of food, no questions asked.”

“That’d be awesome!” Bart trembles excitedly at the thought, having already inhaled five plates of hash browns before anyone can even get to the table.

“Well, all you have to do is sign this paper. Kon’s already signed one like it, so it’s nothing bad—”

The rest of them watch Tim lead Bart away, voice lowering into something only Kon and Bart can hear.

“You did not seriously agree to the Best Friend contract,” Cassie says, slumping down in front of a plate of bacon and eggs.

It's a bribe if she ever saw one, but damn if it doesn't work, she thinks as she reaches for the orange juice.

“Joke’s on you, I totally did.” Kon yawns while rubbing his bare arms. His shirt is currently being worn by Tim, which is weird considering he went to sleep with it on.

“Joke’s on you, you’re definitely going to be a dad at some point.” Rose, hair a mess and eyes dark, doesn’t even bother keeping her bandana on properly.

“I’ll be dead,” Kon points out.

“Yeah, for how long?” Rose raises an eyebrow challengingly.

As one, they all twist around to look at the murder bot head still lying on the coffee table behind them. Kon rubs his face thoughtfully in the ensuing silence.

“I will bestow upon him the name,” Kon pauses dramatically, “Super Awesome X.”

Cassie facepalms as Kon crosses two fingers to emphasize the name.

“Eh, it needs some work. Now, if you will just sign this,” Rose reaches into her jacket to fish out a paper. The words ‘Bodyguard Employment’ are bolded at the top. “You will find my babysitting fees are reasonable despite putting up with a kid that’s a quarter Kryptonian and three quarters dumbass genius.”