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when you've been fighting for it all your life

Chapter Text

Shrill laughter and bubbly giggles followed the sound of scuffling feet as children ran around the padded playground. The carefree noise of second grade recess rang through the field as the last ten minutes of break time counted down.

Away from all the noise and screams and dirt sticking to cartoon printed clothing was the heavy little bubble of seven year old angst. Hidden inside a dusty, dented little tunnel were two little girls, a blond pouting near the entrance with her chubby little arms crossed over her overalls and the other huddled in the corner.

 “No!” the slightly toned, pale little seven year old yelled defiantly, hands pushing the headphones over her ears even closer. She couldn’t concentrate on keeping the noise away if her best friend kept yelling at her. Cold blue hardened into a glare as the brunette frowned at the dirt by her feet, trying to block out all the noise as best as she could.

“Beca!” the pouting girl whined, voice tiny and shaky as the blond choked on her words. She just wanted her best friend. Why was she being so difficult? Honey brown eyes stung as the little girl tried to keep her lips from trembling.

The rebellious brunette shook her head, grip tightening around the big black sound-proofers on her head as she stayed resolute. “No! I don’t like Alexis Dean!”

“But Alexis Dean is so cool!”

“I don’t care!” Beca shot up to her feet, grimacing at the noise but pushing through as she grabbed the blond by her shoulders and shook her lightly (but the blond still winced and yelled). “Stacie Conrad is the bestest friend I have and I don’t want to play with anyone else but her!”

The blond burst into tears, grabbing the brunette by surprise as she pulled her in for a hug (it was awkward and gross and little Beca didn’t move an inch as she let her friend cry. She’d only known the girl for two years and she’d never had to deal with her crying (because she avoided it like the plague)), careful not to move or tug on Beca’s headphones. “Do you really mean it?”

The brunette grunted in response, letting the blond cry her eyes out before pulling away as fast as she could and pulling the damp part of her shirt away from her shoulder. Beca grimaced as the blond hastily wiped her tears away with a shaky smile.

“You really want to play with me?” the blond sniffed, Beca nodding firmly in reply.

“Of course, Stace,” Beca shrugged, making the blond brighten with a grin before honey brown orbs darkened into an earthy tone and strawberry blond curls straightened into warm brown. It only took two blinks before Stacie stood before the girl, long skinny legs and scrawny arms dangling at her sides as her once chubby features turned sharp and smooth. Beca smiled at the sight of the girl she practically saw as her sister. “Alexis Dean is dumb, anyways.”

“Beca!” the taller, skinny brunette chastised half-heartedly, grin growing as she looped their arms together.

Beca shrugged with her free arm as she let Stacie pull her out the tunnel and back towards the playground, happy to have her best friend back. Cold blue squinted into a glare as they moved towards the playground, the shorter brunette cupping her headphone closer with her free hand. “She thinks you can get a donut tree if you plant a Cheerio.”

“Would the donuts be flavored if you plant Fruit Loops?” Stacie’s smile turned mischievous as Beca rolled her eyes in reply.

Shrill laughter and bubbly giggles surrounded the pair as they neared the sound of scuffling feet as children ran around the padded playground. The carefree noise of second grade recess rang through the field as the last few minutes of break time counted down.

Stacie squeezed Beca’s arm just as the bell rang. The smaller brunette turned to the girl with a raised brow, and Stacie replied with a grateful smile before bringing her free hand to her lips and letting it drop forward, palm up, facing her friend.

Beca smirked and shrugged in reply. She meant it. Stacie Conrad was the bestest friend she had.

Chapter Text

The Phantom’s whole façade was not an easy attire to copy. Even the most skilled cosplayers could never hold a candle to the advanced and detailed technology that covered the masked brunette’s tiny form.

Which was why Chloe knew it was the supervillain jumping into the room as the children squealed and the little girl in her lap started to squirm.

The redhead’s grip instinctively tightened around the girl’s as her muscles tensed and the hero got ready to fight back. There were too many civilians in the room and the fact that they were children was weighing heavily on the Bella’s calculations until—

“Who dares defeat the mighty Phantom?” the woman boomed, exaggeratedly posing as the children’s squeals turned into giggles and cheers.

The nurses overseeing the children shared a knowing look as a majority of the kids bounced to their feet and started forming an orderly line, obviously accustomed to—fighting a supervillain?

The redhead had been visiting Barden’s Children’s Hospital for months now, ever since one of her students had been admitted and had asked her to visit every now and then. She’d only ever visited on the weekends or early in the morning before she had to get to class, but it was finally spring break and the teacher had found herself visiting at the more normal hours of the hospital. It was the first time she’d ever been in the common-area-mixed-playroom and she sat in awe as the woman she was sure was Barden’s notorious Phantom act like each and every feeble kick and punch was bringing her down.

What amazed the redhead more was that with very child that stepped up, the Phantom managed to name and hold a conversation with each and every one. (“Oh no! It’s Magic Malcolm!” the masked brunette would shake before letting a little boy punch her thigh. “Come on Trish, you can kick stronger than that,” the villain would encourage a frail looking girl before exaggeratedly taking a kick. “Don’t tell the other heroes, but you’re my favorite, Justice Jess,” the black mask would wrinkle into a smirk before the villain would throw herself back at the punch (that actually missed by a mile but the kids weren’t complaining and neither was the supervillain).)

“Mercy!” the woman clutched her stomach (and judging from the way her mask crinkled, it seemed to be more in laughter than in pain). “My powers are no match for the earth’s mightiest heroes!”

The children cheered as the Phantom started limping back, the masked woman careful to keep her gadgets and gear in place. Chloe recognized the tech—whether it be something she’d seen in their security footage around the city or up close in personal in the few and far-in-between skirmishes she’s had to face against and with the woman, she knew those things could risk everyone in the building. But the redhead could see that the woman was being extra careful, gloved fingers moving quickly but surely to double check on straps and zippers and locks.

She watched as the woman scanned over her gear before triple checking on the kids and nodding absentmindedly to herself before nearing the door.

Chloe never knew she could find a supervillain endearing.

“This isn’t over!” the Phantom gasped, falling comically out of the door to the sound of laughter and triumphant roars. “I’ll be back!”

And before the masked woman could disappear, warm blue eyes connected with the villain’s shaded orbs as an amused little smirk lifted under the woman’s black mask.

And then she was gone.

 


 

It was strange to see the familiar black mask all over again, knowing what they did in their free time.

Chloe had asked the nurses in charge if the masked figure was a regular volunteer, and they all explained how the woman had appeared one day, bruised and beaten, almost a whole year ago in full-on costume and asked if a Dr. Knapp was in the building. Security had been called and everything, but a frail little patient had limped their way to the masked figure before delivering a soft punch. The entire hospital had either held their breath, or rushed to the child, but the masked woman had simply fallen overdramatically to the floor and yelled how she was “defeated.”

Dr. Knapp had arrived minutes later to explain that her friend was an actress who was currently vying for a role as a supervillain in a television series and had dressed up as the Phantom in hopes of grabbing the role. The doctor had resigned two months later, and Chloe couldn’t find any address or information on a Dr. Knapp.

Chloe had returned to the hospital almost every day of the break since the discovery but found that the supervillain visited at irregular times and random days. She hadn’t seen the woman since then.

Until today.

“Give it up, Phantom!” Warm blue eyes peeked over her best friend’s shoulder. “We have you surrounded.”

“Dude, I’m not even fucking doing anything,” Chloe could imagine shaded orbs rolling, if the exasperated tone in the garbled voice hinted at anything.

Aubrey scoffed, “Because guarding a container of black market weapons is nothing, of course.”

The black masked face tilted to the shipping container she stood on, muttering something that sounded oddly like, “Seriously, Jess? What the fuck?”

Before the masked villain could say anything else, Aubrey pounced.

The Phantom vaulted off the container with a nimble little side-jump, twisting mid-air to throw a spiked little ball at her best friend.

“Sunshine!” The yelp as Aubrey dodged the crackling ball-spike (it was some sort of electrically charged sticky-ball?) snapped the redhead back into the fight. “Move!”

Chloe flew into the fray, mind going on autopilot as she dodged the Phantom’s tricks and countered with a few fireballs of her own. Aubrey flitted in and out of view as Chloe forced the black masked villain into a corner. The flame user kept one hand lit as the other flickered off to reveal a closed fist ready to strike.

They finally had her cornered after months of chasing the villain around town. Months of trying to figure out which groups she was working for and what gangs she chose to involve herself in. The operations her name was tied to and the crimes she probably headed was a list longer than Aubrey’s monthly itinerary.

Yet the hero’s fist stayed frozen, masked blues staring at the smaller woman’s shaking hands with apprehension.

The same hands that had given a paraplegic child a fist bump. The same boots that had exaggeratedly flown off after she’d taken a completely missed punch. The same belt she’d triple checked and secured to make sure the hospital was safe before she left. The same mask that had smirked at her before she left.

Was this really the same woman who’d visited the children’s hospital all those months ago?

Sunshine!” Chloe snapped back just in time to dodge a torn-out chunk of metal, the twisted parts it’d been torn from nicking her thigh. The flame user hissed as a needle of pain shot through her thigh, climbing slowly to settle in the pit of her stomach. She stumbled back blindly before frantically trying to find the villain again, masked blues stopping at the seemingly pinched expression on the other woman’s mask—empty suited hands raised placatingly towards the hero.

“Sorry! Sorry, that was supposed to be a shield not a—” the villain’s distorted voice hit an ear-piercing shriek as the shorter woman dodged a rope of water. Aubrey appeared dropped to a stop next to Chloe, the water she’d used to lash at the villain turned into a wall of protection for the Bellas.

Chloe could see the Phantom shaking her head behind the wall before backing away and jumping her way out of the shipping yard. The water wall fell as soon as Aubrey was sure the Phantom had left.

“Oh my god, Chlo, are you okay?!” Aubrey fussed and worked on giving the redhead some quick patchwork, but the blonde’s practiced bandaging and grumbled cursing was all background noise to her thoughts.

Was the Phantom really the villain they made her out to be?