Ah, sweet internet access...how I've missed you! Back in business :) Here's the promised epilogue...I just want to say how heartily sorry I am to everyone who was hoping I would somehow save Richie. I felt bad writing it, but honestly, that was the only way the story would go. :( If you can stand a little more angsting...I had to finish the journey for Virgil. Hopefully, you won't be too disappointed with the ending.
Virgil was numb.
He knew he should be doing something…he should be calling his father and Sharon, who were spending the holiday with Adam's parents here in New York. His father had promised to swing by the hospital when the kids were in bed. No need to, now. He should be trying to get in touch with the Foleys before the hospital could—they didn't deserve to hear that their son had finally died from a stranger. He could at least assure Richie's mother that he had been there, had held Richie's hand at the end. It had been their worst fear…that Richie would someday slip away from them in the night, with no one by his side. At least he had been able to do that much.
He couldn't bring himself to move for the phone, though. He couldn't bring himself to move, period. He had made it back to his apartment, half an hour by cab as he hadn't trusted himself to fly, stumbled through the door, and made it five steps towards his bedroom before his legs simply refused to work anymore. He sat where he had fallen, nearly an hour before, staring blankly into space and wondering how things would ever be okay again.
He should get in touch with the Watchtower…tell them that he'd be out of action for at least a week. There'd be things to take care of—people to contact, services to be held. He'd have to talk to the Foleys about funeral arrangements. He'd be one of the pallbearers, of course.
He'd have to go to Richie's funeral.
Suddenly, his legs worked again.
Virgil bolted across the length of his apartment, skidding to his knees in front of the toilet scant seconds before his stomach emptied itself of everything he had eaten that day. He retched violently until there was nothing more to come up. Even then, the spasms wouldn't cease. He tasted bile in his mouth and then there was nothing but dry heaves. How long he stayed like that, he didn't know, but when it was over he felt as weak as a kitten, completely drained.
He didn't even have the energy to cry, anymore.
He hitched himself to his feet and flushed the mess in the toilet, then made his way shakily to the bedroom. In a daze, he kicked his shoes off and collapsed on the bed, drawing the patchwork quilt Sharon and Adam had purchased for him when he went away to college tightly around his body. He was so cold.
Dimly, some part of him recognized that he was in shock, but he couldn't bring himself to care. It wouldn't kill him. And if it did, what did it matter?
He'd let Richie die.
He'd had the chance to save his beloved friend, and he had passed it up in order to save a bunch of strangers. What else could he have done, though? It was something he and Richie had realized shortly after their sophomore year, when Static had really begun to make a name for himself…their lives were no longer their own. It was the price they paid for their powers, for the opportunity to help people—the needs of those they served would forever outweigh their own. He couldn't trade the lives of those countless people for Richie's, no matter how much he might have wanted to. That wasn't what being a hero was about. That wasn't something Richie would have stood for.
It didn't make things any easier. It didn't change the fact that Richie had sacrificed himself for Virgil; it didn't make Virgil feel any less like he had Richie's blood on his hands.
It didn't change the fact that it should have been him.
"I'm sorry," he whispered brokenly, praying that wherever his friend was now, he would somehow hear. "I'm so sorry."
Faith watched Virgil slowly fall apart, never more than a foot or two away from him and yet not revealing herself. Silently, she argued with herself about whether or not to materialize. She had left Virgil alone with Richie for Richie's final moments, but had reappeared in the hospital room as soon as the clock began to chime twelve.
Virgil's expression had frightened her.
There had been tear tracks streaking down his face, but as the final alarms had sounded in Richie's room, he had been dry eyed. He had stood like a stone as the night shift doctors had swarmed Richie's room, refusing to be moved from his friend's side no matter who tried to make him step back. In the end, the doctors had been forced to work around him, struggling to get Richie's heart to beat again, to make him draw breath.
Through it all Virgil had been silent, clutching one of Richie's hands to his chest, and just staring at his friend's pale face. It was over within a few short minutes. Virgil hadn't so much as blinked as the doctor on call had pronounced Richie dead. Then, he had raised Richie's fingers to his lips for a brief instant, and gently laid the hand across a now still chest.
Without a word, he had turned and left the room.
Faith had stuck by his side, terrified to leave him alone and yet unsure whether or not her presence would be welcome. So, she hovered near him, invisible to his eyes, and kept a silent watch. Eventually, the events of the past hours caught up with him, and Virgil slipped into a troubled sleep, tossing and turning every few moments…and reaching out towards the other side of the bed, as if trying to catch hold of someone.
"Are you going to stay here all night?"
Faith deliberately took a deep, calming breath and counted to ten before she turned to face Gideon. Her mentor had appeared in the corner farthest from Faith's position by Virgil's bed. Wise of him…at this particular time she wasn't sure she trusted herself not to slug him, and damn the consequences of such un-angel-like behavior.
"What do you care?" she asked bitterly, unable to keep the hurt in her voice from showing. Gideon had never spoken to her the way he had at the industrial park…and what he had done to Virgil—it was wrong. It was just wrong. Gideon sighed heavily.
"You're angry with me."
"No shit." It had been decades since she had used such language. If Gideon was surprised, he gave no sign.
"You have a right to be," the older angel conceded.
"Thanks so much for your permission," Faith retorted sarcastically.
"How could you do that to him, Gideon? How could you offer him that, knowing he would never be able to accept it? I thought…I thought they had finally seen that Virgil and Richie deserved a miracle. What kind of game was that? That wasn't a miracle; that was torture!"
"I didn't know."
Gideon shrugged implacably. "I didn't know that he would refuse. There are many who wouldn't have."
"I could have told you," Faith muttered. Gideon nodded, once, acknowledging the fact although he didn't apologize for not asking her opinion. The two angels were silent for a moment, and then Gideon spoke again.
"You didn't fail, Faith."
"Then why did it happen like this? Look at him, Gideon! How can you tell me I didn't fail him?"
"That's the funny thing about Fate, child. Sometimes it simply can't be stopped." Gideon crossed the distance between them and placed his hand on Faith's shoulder. "There's nothing more you can do, right now. Come…we've got another assignment before dawn."
"What assignment?" She didn't want to leave Virgil like this. She wasn't sure she wanted to leave with Gideon at all. She was still so angry with him she couldn't see straight. The older angel was unperturbed by her ire, though, and merely produced a small scroll from the front pocket of his suit. Faith grit her teeth as she took it and unraveled it. She really didn't want to leave. She read the scroll quickly, and her grip on the edges got tighter and tighter with each word. When she was done, she glared up at Gideon, murder dancing in her dark gaze.
"You are a rat bastard," she hissed. "How could you do this?"
"Orders, Faith. I don't make them, I just follow them."
She threw the scroll back at him, not caring if he caught it or not, and went to kneel by Virgil's bedside. Gently, she reached out and brushed one finger along his cheek, the ache in her heart growing as she saw the lines of pain on his face even in sleep. "I'm so sorry, Virgil," she whispered softly. "So, so sorry."
Then, they were gone.
Virgil didn't want to wake up. He knew something terrible was waiting for him if he woke up, though he couldn't remember exactly what. It was better to stay here in the twilight world between dreaming and awake, though…that much he knew. Unfortunately, the ringing telephone beside his bed didn't know Virgil didn't want to wake up.
He cracked one eye open and squinted at the caller ID display on the face. It was his father's cell number. What was Pops calling him at—Virgil checked the clock beside the phone—six in the morning on Christmas for? Virgil had already told them he would be at Adam's parents' house for dinner that night.
Then, the memory hit.
Virgil felt as though someone had punched him in the stomach. Richie was dead. He had died last night. Richie was dead. Without thinking, Virgil grabbed the phone and flung it as hard as he could against the opposite wall. It shattered into pieces on impact and the ringing died away. Virgil froze for a moment, just breathing heavily, before he flung himself back down on the bed and pulled the quilt over his head, as if the cover could block out the awful truth.
Richie was dead.
Richie, who had loved him back. Richie, who had sacrificed himself to save Virgil. Richie, who Virgil had been unable to save in return. Richie was dead.
"Have yourself a merry little Christmas; let your heart be light. From now on, your troubles will be out of sight." Virgil threw the quilt off of his face and sat upright as the sound of soft singing intruded on his senses. The familiar voice was wafting out of the kitchen, along with the scent of freshly brewed coffee.
"Have yourself a merry little Christmas; make the yuletide gay. From now on, your troubles will be miles away." Virgil snorted and shook his head, bitterness and regret welling up inside of him. No—his troubles were just beginning. Richie was dead.
Why was he still so numb?
"Virgil? I…I know you're awake." Faith's singing stopped abruptly. The tentative sound of her voice stirred something vaguely like guilt in Virgil, but the feeling died a quick death under the weight of that terrible numbness. Faith appeared in his bedroom doorway, holding a steaming mug in her hand. "I, uh, thought you might like something hot." She crossed over to his bed and held out the mug with a smile as tentative as her voice had been. Virgil took the mug with neither gratitude nor censure, and set it aside…he was beyond feeling. Richie was dead. "Virgil…about last night—"
"Don't. I don't want to talk about it. You said it would take a miracle to save him. I couldn't take that kind of miracle. End of story." His voice was flat and even, no hint of emotion in it.
"Just tell me I did the right thing." Slight waver to his words, now. A quiver of something skipped across the numbness, causing the faintest of ripples in the unnatural calm. "Tell me I made the right choice."
Faith fell to her knees beside his bed, taking both his hands in hers. "You did, Virgil. You made the right choice. It was the hardest choice you'll ever have to make, but you did it. You did the right thing."
"Richie died last night." Strange, no matter how many times he said it, to himself or aloud, it didn't seem true. "I failed him."
"Virgil, no! No…you didn't. You were offered a chance to save the person you loved most, and you chose the lives of others. You put their fates and your responsibilities ahead of the one thing that mattered most to you. Do you have any idea how few people there are that can be that unselfish, Virgil? That…was the most heroic thing you have ever done."
"Faith, I feel like I killed him, myself!"
Faith smiled. She actually looked him in the eye and smiled. "No, Virgil. You didn't kill Richie…you saved him."
"You're a hero, Virgil…any hero can lay down their life for another. You, though, you were willing to live, to go on and do the things you were meant to do even if it cost you the thing you loved most. That, Virgil, was exceptional." With that, she rose, gently disentangling her hands from his. "Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore. Friends who are dear to us gather near to us, once more. Through the years, we all will be together; if the Fates allow. Hang a shining star up on the highest bough! And have yourself a merry little Christmas Day." Her voice rose in song again as she turned and sauntered back towards the kitchen. At the door, she turned and winked at him. "I started breakfast," she said brightly. "I'd get out of bed if I were you."
"Let's just say Gideon and I need to have a little chat about what 'need-to-know basis' actually constitutes."
She giggled. "Funny thing about miracles, Virgil…they always seem to happen when you need them the most."
With that, she vanished. A rush of warm wind swirled through the room and suddenly Virgil felt his stomach drop—as though he had just hit the top of a roller coaster and was now plunging over that first hill. His vision blurred as a wave of dizziness hit him, and it was all he could do to remain upright. The feeling passed quickly, though, and Virgil was left breathless.
Seconds later, a key rattled in the lock on the front door.
Virgil sat paralyzed on the bed. From this vantage point, he could see straight out into the living room to the front door. He watched the knob turn, unable to even breathe.
"JeSUS it's cold out there! Remind me again why we moved to New York? Yeesh…next time Mr. 'Crime doesn't take a holiday, and neither do we' wants the Watchtower's sensors recalibrated he can damn well do it himself! Greatest detective in the world, my ass. If he's such a great detective, why can't he ever find the instruction manual I left specifically so someone could recalibrate the Watchtower sensors without having to call me? Huh?"
Virgil was still dreaming. He had to be.
"Oooh, hey, waffles! I didn't even know we had a waffle iron."
Virgil's fists clenched on the bedspread, clutching the material the way a drowning man would clutch a lifeline. He couldn't move, couldn't breathe; he could only stare at the figure standing beside his front door, slowly divesting itself of its heavy winter outerwear. A light dusting of snow clung to the figure's green overcoat, as well as the black stocking cap jammed over the head.
"Holy cow; there's enough here to feed an army! You weren't up all night watching the Food Network again, were you?"
At last the figure threw the last of the winter accessories on the table by the door, and turned towards the bedroom. Something that was half a sob, half a moan escaped Virgil's throat.
"R..Richie?" The man in front of him was a little taller, a little broader and more muscular, but the shock of blond hair was the same. The ready grin that was now playing across his lips was the same. The sparkle in those dark eyes was the same. Virgil was looking at Richie—at the man Richie should have been able to become.
"That's what is says on my driver's license. What did you do…cook all this and go back to bed?" The stranger bearing Richie's face walked into the bedroom as if he owned the place. He stripped out of the black sweatshirt he was wearing and tossed it more or less in the direction of the bathroom.
This wasn't possible. Richie was dead. Virgil had held his hand while he died. It was a dream.
"This isn't real." The words fell heavily from Virgil's lips. "You're dead."
"You're…dead," Virgil repeated, pressing his hand to his forehead. He remembered Richie dying…remembered those last few moments in the hospital.
He also remembered teasing an irate Richie about having to go up to the Watchtower on Christmas Eve to mess with the sensors.
"V…you okay?" The man looked concerned. He moved quickly over to the bed and took Virgil's face in his hands. The gesture was so familiar…as if Virgil knew those hands as well as he knew his own.
He remembered that last horrible battle, and realizing the sacrifice Richie had made for him. He remembered the taste of blood in his mouth after he kissed Richie's lips. He remembered the blood soaking the ripped part of his shirt. He remembered holding Richie in his arms and having to refuse a chance to save his love from his Fate.
He remembered dodging a poorly aimed blast by that unknown bang baby, yelling at Richie to let fly with Big Bertha. He remembered the resulting explosion that had finally stunned the guy long enough for Virgil to lay into him with his powers. He remembered seeing the building begin to collapse and propelling Richie and the bang baby both away from the danger zone with his heart in his throat.
He remembered a hellish night in the emergency room, hearing that his friend would likely never regain consciousness.
He remembered a hellish night in the emergency room, getting chewed out by his partner for accidentally breaking one of Richie's ribs when he threw Richie away from the building.
"V? Virgil?" The man sounded scared now. "Talk to me, buddy. Shit…lie down. I'm gonna call an ambulance. Or do you want J'onn?" Hands tried to press him back down against the mattress, but he refused to go, instead reaching up to clutch at the man's shoulders.
"No! No…you're real?"
"Yeah, I'm real." The worry was growing by leaps and bounds in the man's eyes. "I'm right here, V, I promise I'm not going anywhere."
"Not dead," Virgil mumbled in wonder.
He remembered a decade of loneliness, of watching the love of his life slowly waste away before his eyes. He remembered a disastrous attempt to move on with Carol…a union that ended with more pain for both of them. He remembered joining the League alone, quickly proving himself, but always feeling that his partner should have been at his side.
He remembered a decade of commitment, of discovering new joys and new challenges with the love of his life. He remembered walking his dear friend Carol down the aisle at her wedding, and agreeing to be godfather to her first child. He remembered the day he and Richie were asked to become full fledged members of the League, their partnership quickly proving to be one of the most effective the League had ever seen.
He remembered long nights spent holding Richie's limp hand, wishing things could have been different.
He remembered long nights spent making love, wishing things could always stay this perfect.
"You're not dead." Virgil looked around the room in astonishment. There were pictures covering walls—their trip to Europe last summer, them at Sharon and Adam's wedding. Their graduation pictures and framed diplomas—Richie's from MIT and Virgil's from Harvard Law. Pictures of them at the beach; at friends' parties; decorating a huge Christmas tree. There were pictures of Sharon and Adam's children, and messy finger paints with 'To the Best Uncles Ever, Love Jamie' scrawled with a three-year-old's precision. There was a lifetime of memories on the wall and as Virgil looked at each picture, he found himself living the memory attached to it.
Those other memories faded away, the life he had lived before disappearing like a wisp of fog in the end.
"Virgil…no, I'm not dead. C'mon, talk to me…you're scaring me." At last, Virgil turned to face his lover. He'd rarely seen Richie look so worried
"A miracle," he breathed. "They gave me a miracle." With that he threw his arms around Richie and pulled him close, kissing him deeply. He sat back only when the need for oxygen became too pressing, and even then he refused to let go of the other man.
"Virg…what is it? What's wrong?" Virgil responded by tumbling back down onto the bed, bringing Richie down with him to lie on top of him.
"Nothing!" Virgil crowed happily. "Nothing's wrong. It was just a bad dream. Everything's perfect!"
"If you say so," Richie said doubtfully. He stretched into a more comfortable position, sprawled across Virgil's chest. Virgil knew that curious, calculating look. He also knew that if he didn't distract his lover quickly, Richie would worry at the problem until he had figured everything out, his brain refusing to let it lie.
Best of all, he found he knew the very best way to distract Richie from a puzzle.
They would just have to see if Faith's waffles tasted good when they were re-heated.
Faith waited until she was absolutely sure things would be all right (and judging by the sounds coming from the bedroom, things were going to be more than all right very soon) before she left Virgil for the final time. She rematerialized in her favorite spot in New York—the crown of the Statue of Liberty—and took a moment to enjoy the sight of the sun rising over the harbor. At this moment, so full of joy for her young heroes, everything looked beautiful beyond words to her.
"That was very impressive work, my dear. Altering an entire decade in one night? I'm not sure I could have done that at your age." Gideon appeared beside her and joined her in her contemplation of the sunrise.
"Flattery will get you nowhere. I'm still not speaking to you."
"You just did." There was something like fond amusement in Gideon's voice. Faith snorted derisively. "Oh for pity's sake, I said I was sorry! The boy had to be tested…we can't just hand out miracles of that magnitude to just anyone."
Faith remained silent.
"Fine. I admit it, I should have told you beforehand. It was unconscionable of me to leave you in the dark, and I promise I'll never do it again."
She was still unmoved. Gideon sighed in exasperation. Children these days.
"You know, I am the one who insisted the case be reconsidered for miraculous intervention. You could give me a little credit for that."
She waited a little longer. At last, Gideon cracked.
"What do you want? An engraved apology read before the Heavenly Chorus?"
"Nothing so grand, though that is an interesting idea. I want you to admit that I was right about Virgil's worth all along and I finally knew something you didn't!" Faith said triumphantly. Gideon gaped at her for a few seconds before shutting his mouth with a fond smile.
"Very well, my dear. You were right about Mr. Hawkins. You knew better than me, and you were right all along. Faith, I have always thought you have an unusually keen eye for worth in others….and I couldn't be prouder of you. Satisfied?"
This time, Faith was simply speechless. She'd never known Gideon had that kind of faith in her. Then she grinned and threw her arms around her mentor's neck, smacking a sound kiss on his cheek. "Yes! Thank you, Gideon," she said. Gideon chuckled and hugged her back tightly.
Then, the older angel stepped back and disappeared, leaving Faith alone once more. She turned back to the sunrise and let her attention drift, following the whirls and eddies of Time itself. She focused on two particular lifelines, intertwined at a young age and inseparable now—bound by friendship and love and duty.
She smiled as she saw the lifetime her two heroes would share—there would be pain and ugliness sometimes, as there always was in life. More often, though, there would be love and beauty and light…years of happiness that she had known should have been theirs all along.
"Merry Christmas, Virgil," she murmured into the dawning day. "Welcome to your future."
Phew, wow…65 pages. That turned out to be a little longer than I thought it would be! Oh well, it was a great ride. Guess the only thing left to say is: Hahahaha! Gotcha! C'mon, you didn't really think I'd break up our heroes, did you? /Ducks a hail of rotten vegetables hurled from the audience./ Okay, okay, it was mean…but I fixed it! See, they get a happy ending!