Disclaimer: I own nothing and do not claim to be making money off of this. Please don't sue me. I'm very new to the series and so any mistakes are my own...please feel free to correct me.
Virgil Hawkins had a tradition.
This was not a particularly startling revelation, as this time of year was rife with them. He had many of the usual ones as well—he gathered 'round the tree with friends and family to exchange presents, he went to morning services, and lit the Kwanzaa candles with Pop and Sharon. He drank eggnog and spent way too much money, and generally got his Christmas on in a serious way. This though, this particular tradition was special.
He strode down the hallway, smiling at faces he recognized and nodding politely to those he didn't. His usual plastic grocery bag of goodies swung by his side, occasionally bumping his thigh. The glasses inside clinked musically with each bump. Some people might have found the long, gleaming hallway confusing but he had walked it so many times, it was second nature.
After only a few minutes, he reached his destination, and slipped through the door without knocking. He set the plastic bag down on a handy chair and removed his black leather jacket and bright red scarf, a gift from Sharon this year. A soft smile graced his features as he turned toward the main part of the room, and the only other occupant.
"Hey man, sorry I'm late this year. Flash was at some Christmas party, and he was late relieving me." He peeled his gloves off and dropped them on top of the jacket, then scooped his bag up and crossed the room. Still smiling, he dropped a kiss on the other occupant's forehead. "Don't worry…I'm off Christmas rotation next year, Batman promised. Even if I wasn't, I wouldn't miss this."
As he spoke, Virgil began unpacking the bag. The glasses came out first, followed by a carton of store-bought eggnog. Beneath that were two Tupperware plates of food, the fragrance of which was already making his mouth water. Finally, a slightly crushed bouquet of fresh flowers and a few brightly wrapped packages were placed with loving care next to the eggnog, for later.
"Sharon's on some kind of 'made from scratch' kick this year. Damned if it isn't good stuff, too. She said to tell you she's sorry she couldn't make it this year. The baby came down with an awful cold, so she and Adam are staying in. Pops said he'd drop by later, after the kids are in bed. Man, you wouldn't believe how crazy he gets…like being 'Gramps' is the best thing that ever happened to him. We sure never got that many presents when we were kids."
Virgil prattled on about various things as he set up their traditional Christmas dinner on the small table. When the eggnog had been poured, he sat down in his traditional extremely uncomfortable chair, and spent his traditional few seconds just drinking in the sight of his companion.
There were not a great many constants in his life. His family, his role as Static, and later his standing in the Justice League…all were immeasurably important. There had been one other constant though, one other person that touched his life and his heart in a deeper way than he had words to express. He had sat at this very table more times than he could count, and shared the secrets of his soul with the person opposite of him—his elation at becoming a full fledged member of the League, the joys and frustrations and fears that being a superhero heaped on him, his heartbreak and regret as his marriage failed before it had even really begun, and his sorrow and relief that no children had come from that short union to share his grief. He knew that here was the only place where he would ever feel total acceptance, total peace.
Gently, he lifted warm fingers in his own hand and squeezed, wishing to convey with that small pressure all the love he felt. "Merry Christmas, Rich," he whispered softly.
The beeping of the heart monitor was his only answer.
Virgil set the lax hand of his dearest friend back down on the stark white blankets of his hospital bed and leaned back in the too hard chair. The dinner Sharon had packed sat on the small table beside the chair, no longer appetizing in the least. It would sit, congealing on the plates, as it always did, until Virgil got up to leave, when he would throw the whole mess away. He never actually ate any of it…he wasn't even sure why he brought it every year. Maybe it made him feel better, to see some evidence of family and caring in the cold, sterile hospital room. Maybe it made him feel a little more like he was visiting a sick friend, rather than holding what was essentially a death watch. Maybe there was still some part of him that hoped that this time, Richie would miraculously wake up to share it with him.
Stupid of him, he knew, but he couldn't help it.
Richie had spent seven of the ten years since…since he got hurt in this private hospital in upstate New York. The best doctors in the country made their rounds on the floors, and there was no better care available. All of it gave the same prognosis, though. Advanced vegetative state. Brain dead. It boiled down to one thing: his beloved friend was never going to wake up.
Those ten years had seen his once vibrant friend waste away to a mere shadow of a human being—a living skeleton kept alive by dozens of machines that forced his body to work. His eyes were grotesquely sunken into his skull, his hair was thinning and baby-fine, and all of his muscle tone had withered so that he looked more like a child than a man. He hovered in a shadow world between life and death, and as much as Virgil dreaded the day when Richie's body finally gave out for good, he couldn't help but think that they all should have let him go long ago. Richie's parents had refused to sign a DNR order, though, allowing their son to be kept alive through artificial means. A constant war raged in Virgil's heart over that, and he didn't envy the Foleys the choice they had been faced with.
Virgil was a near constant fixture in Richie's room, known by nearly all of the staff. He came whenever his schedule would allow (and sometimes when it wouldn't) and stayed for hours at a time. He talked to Richie about everything, read to him, played music for him, and each second was sheer torture. Sometimes he wondered how many times a heart could break before it couldn't mend itself again. He couldn't leave Richie alone, there, though, cut off from the world. The doctors told him that there was no chance Richie could hear him, or understand what was going on around him, but Virgil couldn't take that chance. If there was even the smallest part of Richie still residing in that shattered shell, Virgil had to let him know that he wasn't alone, he wasn't forgotten.
Christmas visits were always the hardest, though.
He came on Christmas Eve every year without fail to share his lonely tradition with his friend. Richie's parents would be there the next day, but no one ever interrupted Virgil's visits. At least, not usually… Virgil turned his head towards the door to Richie's room as it creaked open, and a young nurse slipped through. She was wheeling a cart in, singing softly to herself.
"Merry Christmas, darling. We're apart, that's true. But I can dream, and in my dreams, I'm Christmas-ing with you—oh! Gracious, I didn't know there was anyone here!" The nurse jumped as she turned around and realized Virgil was sitting in the chair. One slim hand went to her chest, and her eyes widened comically. Virgil didn't recognize her from any of his previous visits—she was only a few years older than him, a very pretty Asian-American woman. The nametag on her uniform identified her as Faith Ng, RN. "It's a bit late for visiting hours, isn't it?" she asked, wheeling her laundry cart further into the room.
"I've got an arrangement," Virgil murmured as politely as possible. The regular staff knew to leave him alone when he came, recognizing how much he cherished his time with their patient. "You can page Dr. Kelley if you want to check."
"Oh wait, you must be Mr. Hawkins. I apologize. Linda told me all about you—I traded shifts with her so she could be home with her husband for Christmas. First time in five years he's managed to get the holiday off. I'm Faith." The nurse smiled serenely at him and offered her hand.
"Virgil." He shook her hand briefly and went back to staring at Richie's face while she bustled around the room, checking the chart at the foot of Richie's bed and adjusting the IV drips.
"Holidays are joyful, always something new. But every day's a holiday, when I am with you. Oh the lights on my tree, I wish you could see. I wish it every day." She started singing again as she worked, and the slow, melancholy song sounded even sadder in the surroundings. Virgil suddenly reached out and took Richie's hand again, not caring what the nurse thought of the gesture. "It's good that you care so much," Nurse Faith said suddenly, interrupting her carol.
"It's good that you care enough for him to be here. I don't care what these doctors say; I think they know when someone cares for them. Sometimes it can help them fight their way back." She smiled brightly and went around to the opposite side of Richie's bed, where she set about fluffing the pillow behind his head a bit, and smoothing the blankets down.
"He's not going to wake up," Virgil said flatly. "Everyone says there's no hope."
"Then why are you here?"
"If there's no hope, why do you keep coming?" The nurse stared hard at him over Richie's insensate body; and there was something in her gaze that suddenly made Virgil uncomfortable.
"He's…he's my best friend," he muttered defensively, not at all sure why he was feeling defensive.
"Best friend? True enough, but that's not the whole of it. There was always something more, wasn't there?" Faith's tone was still light and cheerful, at odds with the intense words. Virgil squirmed under her dark gaze, clutching Richie's hand a bit tighter.
"I think you need to leave," he said firmly, glaring up at her defiantly. Her words were striking too close to home, too close to the truth that had lurked inside of him for almost half his life…too close to the truth he had been trying to speak the night Richie had been so badly injured.
"I think I need to stay. You need to hear this, Static. You loved him, didn't you? You loved him and you never had the nerve to tell him, and now you've lost your chance forever. That's why you keep coming here…your own guilt and regret. It has nothing to do with Richie." The nurse planted her hands on her hips, her dark eyes flashing in the harsh light over Richie's bed.
For a split second, Virgil could only stare at her, struck to the core. Then, her words registered on his conscious mind. First and foremost was the fact that she had called him by his other name.
In a flash he had leapt over the bed, crashing into the nurse and pinning her against the opposite wall. There was no thought other than to get himself between her and Richie. He shoved his arm across her neck, pushing her back roughly and raising his free fist, already crackling with blue light above his head.
"Who are you?" he growled. She didn't look like any villain he had fought recently, but she could have been a lackey. "What do you want?"
Despite being closer to death than she had ever been, in Static's estimation, the soft, serene smile remained fixed on her face.
"I told you; I'm Faith. As for what I want, I just want you to see the truth."
"Girl, you don't know anything about me and him. Yeah, I'll never stop regretting what happened to him, yeah I feel guilty as hell for never saying anything to him…but you are dead wrong about why I come here. Richie's my best friend…he's family! He was always there for me, and I'm going to be there for him. I don't care how much it hurts, I'm sticking this through with him. He's not gonna be alone; he's never gonna be alone."
Oddly enough, the smile widened. She seemed the very picture of joy, despite being pinned to the wall by a very pissed off superhero.
"You do love him. Truly and purely. I'm so glad, Virgil." In the time between one heartbeat and the next, he was back in his chair. He didn't let go of the woman to sit down, he wasn't thrown back…he simply found himself in the same position he had been in when the nurse started speaking—still clutching Richie's limp hand and staring at the grinning nurse.
He wasn't so sure she was a nurse, anymore.
"What do you want?" he asked again, warily. Whatever she was, it was obvious he was dealing with a very powerful being.
"Want? Dear boy, I want to give you a Christmas present."
"A Christmas present," Virgil repeated doubtfully. "Why would you want to give me a Christmas present?"
"You really have to ask? All the good you've done and continue to do, all the sacrifices you've made…do you think it goes unnoticed?"
"I don't expect a reward. It's the right thing to do."
"And that, precisely, is why you deserve a reward. True heroes are a rare thing these days, Mr. Hawkins. We don't take them lightly. So, I've come to give you a gift. The rarest and most precious of all gifts. It's a tradition."
"Yeah, and what's that?"
The smile dimmed slightly, becoming sweeter and more mysterious. A soft, golden light began to emanate around her, bathing the room in a warm glow.
"A second chance."