The Bottom Line
There are certain understood normalcies in the world of heroes and villains. How one was expected to act in the grand struggle between justice and evil.
Deviations from that pattern always stood out, both in good and bad ways.
One such case practically falls at Reginald’s feet, a strange hero who defies all expectations.
He was never one to pass up such an opportunity.
The first superhero/supervillain au fic I’ve written for this fandom. I have many more planned, both from this storyline and a couple others.
In this particular au, superpowers are referred to as variations, and the people who have them are variants.
As always, let me know what you think!
Fic is below the cut.
“Quite the predicament you’ve found yourself in. Isn’t it, hero?”
Reginald stalks up to the metal chair. The titanium bands on it are wrapped around its occupant like a snare. He can’t struggle more than a few twitches of his muscles.
The trapped hero is silent but glares at him venomously.
On his uniform is a small patch of embroidery in the same color as the fabric that marks him as a sanctioned superhero. Under it, another nearly-invisible pattern of stitching that denotes his affiliation.
Reginald’s grin widens. This one’s a military hero.
There’s a third line of stitching he’s never seen before, another carefully-hidden message the Hero Control Council thinks is unreadable to anyone else.
How arrogant they are, to send heroes who are supposed to be nameless, faceless upholders of justice into the field with something akin to an ID on their uniforms. They thought they were safe with their indecipherable code.
They didn’t expect anyone to be able to unravel it.
But Reginald did, and now he could look at any hero and tell just who they worked for.
It gave him quite the advantage, and not one that he would ever share or give up. It was too valuable to leave them thinking their secret identifiers hadn’t been cracked wide open by one of their most-wanted villains.
This hero must be new, because Reginald doesn’t recognize him. He’s clashed with most of the active military heroes and at least encountered the rest. They were a rather boring bunch to fight, all soldiery pride and demeanor with no flare, no flavor.
His captive doesn’t look like your typical soldier, though, not like Aerocopter or LockUp. He’s thin and wiry, quiet and shifty instead of big and bold like the others.
It’s quite the contrast, one that makes him pause.
He doesn’t know what that third line means. Decoding it could tell him why this one was different.
And Reginald did so love a puzzle.
“I’m surprised they sent new blood after me. So, hero, what do they call you?”
No response. He just sits there, occasionally struggling against the bonds.
Strange. Most heroes jumped at the chance to blurt out their chosen alias. It was almost cute, how proud they were of their little codenames.
“A silent one, hm? Not often do I get one of those. Most who darken my door can’t stay quiet.”
Still no answer.
“If you won’t give me a name, I guess I’ll have to come up with one.”
He looks the hero over, searching for something to pin a nickname on, preferably something random and minute so the hero corrects him.
The hero cuts him off before he can even find one.
It’s little more than a mumble, nearly silent and garbled.
“You’ll have to say that a little louder.”
The hero huffs.
“Clover. My alias is Clover.”
Reginald smirks. Clover, huh? That explained the green.
“Why Clover? Are you lucky or do you just like plants?”
The hero’s gone silent again. It was clear that getting any more of a response would be like pulling teeth.
Oh well. It’s not like he needs answers from the hero. It was just entertaining to push their buttons, to get at the human buried under the mask and cape and secret identity. It was part of what made being a supervillain so rewarding.
But it wasn’t required for this scheme. All he needed was the hero’s body.
That…didn’t come out right.
He ignores the double entendre and moves on.
“So, Clover, are you ready to begin? By the time this is over, you will be responsible for the destruction of your employers and likely a good potion of your fellow heroes.”
Ah, the villainous monologue, one of his favorite parts of the job.
He opens the black suitcase with a flourish and makes a show of browsing the interior.
“Ah, this one will do.”
He lifts the second-to-last vial out of the case, holding it up to the light.
The red liquid in it glows unnaturally.
It’s all for the dramatics, of course.
Except for the glowing. That was because of the otherworldliness of the compound contained within.
Reginald turns back to his captive, grabbing a sterile needle from the tray.
Oh, this will be fun. A bit cliché, but it was always interesting to see how long a hero could last against the serum before they succumbed. And most of the time the other heroes never caught wind of the transformation until it was too late.
“All that’s left is to inject you with this and wait for your little teammates to show up. I wonder what they’ll think of you after the serum takes hold.”
He expects defiance or cockiness in response, maybe even fear. Many heroes believed themselves to be a kind of invincible, and having that threatened messed with their view of reality. There’s none of that on Clover’s face, though. He’s showing no reaction, only blankness.
Curiouser and curiouser. Who was this strange hero? Why was he so different from the others?
He’s slotting the vial into the syringe when he hears Clover’s voice again.
“If you’re planning to use me as bait to draw in the others, don’t bother. They’re not coming.”
Reginald pauses mid-movement. Then a smirk spreads across his face.
“Oh? Did the rookie run off on his own and bite off more than he could chew?”
It’s a mocking response, meant to rile him up and make him spill more. The new heroes were always the easiest to make talk with a few carefully-placed insults, so prideful their mouths worked before their brains.
But Clover just sighs. It’s a resigned and hopeless sound.
“No. They’re not coming because I’m not worth the rescue effort, so save your serum for a hero they actually care about.”
Reginald blinks, shocked still in a rare occurrence.
That wasn’t the response he was expecting. It wasn’t even in the same universe as what he had thought the hero was going to say.
Clover looks at him with a rueful smile on his lips. It’s offset by the weariness around his eyes.
He snaps out of his stunned silence, regaining his ability to speak but not being able to voice all of the many, many questions he now has.
“And what could you mean by that? Those saps always pull out all the stops to keep their precious heroes safe. I find it hard to believe they’d just abandon one.”
A humorless chuckle, “I’m not a real hero, not to them.”
Another baffling statement. The mystery was deepening, and Reginald was wildly intrigued.
“You certainly have all the earmarks of one. Any other bystander would assume you were the real deal. So tell me, why wouldn’t you be?”
He motions down across the right side of his body with his head, the only thing he can move, “you’ve seen the identifications. You were eyeing them earlier. My guess is that you’ve cracked the code.”
He doesn’t wait for Reginald to answer.
“If you know that, then you’ll know I’m employed by the military, but I wasn’t recruited and didn’t enlist.”
He pauses to breathe, and it gives Reginald time to speak.
“I’m assuming it has to do with that third line of embroidery. I’ve never seen that pattern on any other hero, only you.”
“It’s a new pattern, one they hope to make much more common in the future. I was just their first trial run.”
Reginald stares at the pattern as he speaks, “trial run, like an experiment?”
Clover nods as much as he can in his bonds.
“You want to know what it means?”
Normally he would want to tease out the information on his own, but if he was just going to offer…
“It means that I’m one of their "second chance” heroes. Officially, I’m a reformed criminal with a variation that they’re rehabilitating. In reality, they abducted me and told me to follow orders or they’d lock me up in an omega-rank prison for the rest of my life.“
The blankness is back, covering the way that his voice had risen as he spoke.
"Omega-rank? The kinds of prisons they lock world-ending villains and apocalypse-level beings in?”
That couldn’t be right. Clover was clearly neither of those things. He wouldn’t have been stopped by a couple metal restraints then, no matter how thick.
They wouldn’t even lock him in there, and he nearly levelled a city once.
“Twisted, isn’t it?” the hero(?) says with a dead laugh, “I was just a thief, only stole gemstones and other valuable objects, and they would’ve thrown me in there if I didn’t comply. I didn’t have a choice.”
He doesn’t know how to respond to that. Sure, he was a supervillain who caused havoc and mayhem with little care for who got hurt, but that-
Clover’s voice interrupts his thoughts.
“You’ll only be wasting your serum because no one is coming for me. I’m nothing more than an expendable pawn to them, so it’s probably in your best interest to just shoot me and go find someone they’ll actually give a damn about. Hell, it will be doing them a favor by getting rid of me.”
He hangs his head as he finishes. He’s heaving in deep breaths and shaking, an almost picture-perfect representation of despair and emotional distress.
Reginald puts the syringe down, almost having forgotten he was holding it.
He has no use for it, not against him.
There was no lie in what Clover said. He was completely truthful the entire time. Not a single detail was fabricated in an attempt to trick him.
It was all true. Everything that the military had done to him was true.
Reginald was used to being labeled as the depths of human depravity and cruelty. As a supervillain, he reveled in the chaos and suffering, in the great orchestra of an evil scheme coming to fruition.
But it seemed like the very people that were said to be the “good guys” were trying to take his title. Out-eviling the supervillain was quite the accomplishment.
Just looking at Clover told him they had achieved it.
Now that just wouldn’t do.
Reginald closes the case of vials and locks it. He can always use them another day. A new plan was already forming in his mind.
He walks up to the chair, snagging something from an open box on the way over. Clover has calmed considerably but tremors still occasionally rocked him.
There’s a click as he turns the lock with his free hand, then many more clicks as the internal mechanism buckles.
The metal restraints fall away. Clover startles and then looks up at him in shock.
Reginald regards him coolly. He holds his gaze for a moment then looks away, shoulders slumping.
“I appreciate the gesture, but it won’t help. They’ll just find me again if I try to run.”
“Nowhere to go?”
Clover shakes his head. It’s just as he suspected: a lone thief with no connections. The combination is a familiar one.
“Well if you don’t have anything better to do, perhaps a little payback is in order.”
He holds out the object he grabbed on the way over.
Clover flinches away. When no blow comes, he looks at Reginald, at what he is holding.
It’s a simple black top hat, and Clover nearly gasps in shock.
“You can’t be serious,” he says in almost a whisper.
“I am completely serious,” Reginald replies.
A hysterical giggle escapes Clover, “but why? Why me?”
“Because above all, I am an opportunist, and I see an opportunity to bring a little well-deserved punishment to those hypocrites in the military who claim to help people.”
Reginald crooks his fingers under Clover’s chin and forces his head up. He looks him in the eyes, or where his eyes were under the mask.
“And I know a kindred spirit when I see one. So, Clover, are you with me?”
A shaky smile pulls at Clover’s lips as he leans into his hand.
“Yes, I’m with you.”
Reginald lets him go. He doesn’t drop his head.
The smile doesn’t fade either as he gently takes the top hat. He doesn’t put it on, just looks at it as if expecting it to vanish if he turns away.
There’s a moment of deliberation as he considers the hat. He seems conflicted, almost hesitant.
Then, carefully, he reaches up and removes his mask.
The green fabric comes away in one piece, and the one-way lenses gleam in the light as he pulls it off. Clover holds it in a vice grip, his hand shaking.
Reginald steps forward and covers the hand with his own. He moves their hands together until the mask is in Clover’s upturned palm.
“This is not who you are, is it?”
“No. I never wanted this,” he says, sounding tired and worn.
In one smooth motion, Reginald takes the mask and closes his hand around it.
The memory fabric bends, compressing into a tight ball. The lenses crack and shatter under the pressure.
“It’s not who you are. It never was, and it never will be again.”
He drops the wad of fabric on the floor. Clover follows it with his eyes.
Then he looks up, and their eyes meet.
Clover’s eyes are blue, deep like the ocean and gleaming with gratitude.
He finally puts the hat on. It fits perfectly.
The thief holds his gaze for a beat, all the heavy darkness chased from his eyes until they shone. Then he looks away, a blush covering his cheeks.
Reginald holds out a hand to him.
“Now I don’t believe I got your name.”
The former hero looks up, a shy smile on his lips. He takes the outstretched hand.
“Henry. It’s Henry Stickmin.”
Reginald lets himself smile in return.
“Welcome to the Toppat Clan, Henry.”