So...I wanted to take a break from Glass, just to recharge my batteries, so to speak, and Cypher shoves this lovely plot bunny at me...and here it is. Don't strain yourselves looking for a plot, and have a shot of insulin handy...cause the sugar runs thick here!
Disclaimer: sigh They're still not mine. I wish they were! However, there is still no money exchainging hands and I still don't want anyone to sue. Thanks!
He had never said the words.
He couldn't believe it…surely in ten years he had managed to at least utter them a few times. He was coming up blank, though. Hundreds of thousands of memories and moments flashed through his head…and nary had a one featured the words. He'd never said it.
And now it was going to cost him the person he loved more than almost anything else in the world.
Virgil Hawkins sat on the floor of the apartment he had shared with his best friend, partner, and lover for the past ten years, his mind reeling with shock. In the space of a single hour he had gone from being sure all was right with his world to feeling as though the very foundations of it had been put asunder. He had found something out that had shaken him to the core of his soul, had literally left him gasping for breath.
Richie wanted to leave him.
How could he have not seen it? How could he have missed the signs? He knew he could be a little dense when it came to personal things—case in point, the fact that it had taken him until after college to see that everything he had ever wanted had been in front of him for most of his life, waiting for him to catch a clue—but surely he should have noticed something before now.
Richie wanted to leave him.
It had all started so innocently—he had found himself with an unexpectedly long lunch when a client had canceled on him and headed down to the university to surprise his 'better half,' the way he used to before his law practice took off and his free time had become nearly non-existent during the week. He'd even stopped at their favorite takeout joint, planning a picnic on the floor of Richie's office.
He arrived at Gotham University, where Richie had had a research and development fellowship in the physics department for the past five years, and waltzed right into the building that housed his boy's office, never suspecting that his world was about to be tilted on its axis. He was whistling as he walked down the polished hallways, inordinately pleased with himself for being able to surprise the other man.
As he approached though, he noticed that Richie's office door was already open, and voices were drifting out. He slowed to a stop just outside the door, not wanting to interrupt if Richie was with a student or a colleague. Just as he was about to turn and go talk to one of the secretaries while Richie finished whatever he was doing, he heard something that stopped him cold.
"I'm telling you, Foley…you should take Aaron up on his offer. You two would be perfect together." Virgil frowned as he recognized the raspy, gruff voice of Dr. Granger, an older colleague of Richie's that had taken the younger man under his wing, so to speak. Richie always spoke highly of him, and Virgil knew Richie considered him a close friend.
"Bill!" Richie's voice sounded torn between shock and irritation…not an easy combination to manage. "I'm not going out to dinner with Dr. Richards. Quit trying to set me up with him—all you're doing is stringing him along and making me wonder why I hang out with you. You're worse than a teenage girl."
"I know, I know, you want me to butt out…it's just…I think you could use someone like Aaron in your life." Virgil was shocked. He knew that Granger knew he and Richie were together. It had been one thing Richie was adamant about when he accepted the position at Gotham and started making friends among his colleagues—he was not going to hide who he was from the people he worked with. What the hell was the old man doing trying to push Richie to someone else?
"Bill." There was no laughter in Richie's voice now, only a tired sort of determination. "I'm not having this conversation with you. Not today."
"Richie, Aaron brings up some good points. That man you're with doesn't treat you right. He doesn't appreciate you. All I'm saying is you deserve someone who at least tells you they love you every once in a while!"
"Bill, stop it! We've been over this before and I don't want to do it again right before I have to go listen to thesis defenses. You're a good friend, but I can't deal with this right now."
There was silence in the room. Outside, Virgil was silent as well. How…how dare that man suggest he didn't treat Richie well?! Richie was the most important thing in his life! What did Granger know about their relationship? And it sounded like this was not the first time Granger had tried to spout this bullshit off at Richie. For a moment, he debated on whether or not to storm into the office and demand the old professor say those things to his face. In the end, though, he knew that Richie wouldn't thank him for such an unprofessional display, or the suggestion that he couldn't fight his own battles. Still, the words stung mightily.
After a moment, Granger started talking again.
"All right, all right, I'll stop pushing Aaron at you. Have you at least given some thought to what we were talking about last week?" His voice dropped low, as if he didn't want to be overheard. Virgil heard Richie sigh heavily, and could imagine his boy reaching up under his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose.
"I haven't been thinking about anything else," Richie replied, just as quietly. Virgil frowned, and leaned a little further forward. "It's just…I don't know how I'm going to tell him." What? Tell who what?
"Richie, I've been telling you…if you're really that unhappy you need to get out, now. Before you waste any more time."
Virgil felt his breath catch in his throat and sudden fear seized him. No way…Richie couldn't be talking about—
"I know! I know. And you're right, Bill, I'm not happy. I haven't been for a while. I just…I can't take it anymore. You're right; I've got to get out." Richie sounded even more exhausted, and there was a hint of sadness in his voice, too. Virgil felt his jaw drop.
Holy shit. Holy shit. Surely he had heard wrong…surely Richie wasn't talking about--them. He found himself backing away from the open door, his mind reeling with what he had heard. He had to be wrong…and yet—Richie had sounded so tired, so upset. Virgil hadn't had any idea anything was bothering the other man. They'd never kept secrets from each other—not when they had been simply the best of friends, and especially not since they had taken that friendship to the next level.
He couldn't hear any more. He felt suddenly lightheaded, and for the first time since they had known each other, practically, the idea of seeing Richie right now made Virgil queasy. He ducked out of the science building, dumped the food in the nearest trash bin, and jogged all the way back to his car. From there, he simply drove around aimlessly, no real destination in mind. Eventually, he wound up back at their apartment and just sank down on the couch, staring blankly at the wall over the fireplace.
Richie wanted out.
After nearly thirty years as best friends and ten as lovers, Richie couldn't take it anymore. He wanted to end what they had…had actually gone to someone else to talk about how unhappy he was. How could that be? How could Virgil have missed that? He'd thought their lives were great. Sure, they fought sometimes—about money, and chores, and what color to paint the living room, but didn't every couple? They always worked it out. Their partnership as Gear and Static had never been stronger—they had become as recognizable as Batman and Robin here in Gotham. Their sex life had been a little lackluster lately, but between their "day" jobs, and the superhero gig there had been dry spells before. It wasn't like they ever stopped wanting each other. They worked through it. What was different about this time?
Unbidden, he heard Granger's words in his head again. "He doesn't appreciate you. All I'm saying is you deserve someone who at least tells you they love you every once in a while!" That was bullshit. Richie knew how much Virgil loved him.
Virgil knew he must have told Richie at some point what the other man meant to him. For the life of him, though, he couldn't remember ever actually saying the words, 'Richie, I love you.' He'd been trying to for nearly an hour now, but was reluctantly coming to the conclusion that on that point, maybe Granger had been right. It couldn't be that big of a deal, though, could it? They were just words. Richie knew that when it came to the big, personal stuff, Virgil's tongue always got tied. And maybe he wasn't all that demonstrative outside of their apartment, but again, so what? There were lots of couples who weren't all that into PDA. He ignored the little voice inside of him that said Richie had never had a problem with it, just him.
All right then. So he wasn't the world's best communicator when it came to his feelings. So what? Richie…Richie knew; he had to know.
Except, if he was really as unhappy as his conversation with Granger had suggested, he must not know. And it was important enough that he was willing to leave Virgil over it.
Virgil had no words for how much that thought scared him.
The next week was torture.
Things were going smoothly at his practice, his duties with the League were fairly light, and Virgil found himself with nothing to do but watch his boy start to withdraw from their relationship. It was little things, really…a few nights Richie didn't come home until late, a bit more distraction in his voice when they spoke, an appearance of the faint creases in his forehead he got when he was worried about something. Whenever Virgil tried to talk to Richie, he got put off with vague platitudes or protestations of the other being too tired to talk.
How long had this been going on?
Virgil ruthlessly racked his brain, trying to think if things had been like this a week ago, a month ago. Was this a new feeling in Richie, or had it been building? He rather thought that it had. When he thought about it, Richie had started slowly been becoming more distant for weeks now. Over and over again, Virgil berated himself for not noticing, for letting things get this far.
For never telling Richie how much he loved him.
He had never felt so helpless, so frightened. The idea of living life without his partner by his side…it was too much to think about. Richie was a part of him—he'd never met anyone who understood him so completely. He knew he never would again. He couldn't lose Richie…he couldn't.
But how to convince him to stay? How could he stop the cycle they had fallen into, how could he make Richie understand that he was the most important thing in Virgil's life? He wasn't letting Richie go without a fight.
And Virgil Hawkins had yet to lose a fight…he sure as hell wasn't going to start now. Not when the stakes were higher than anything he had ever faced before. He couldn't lose Richie. That was it.
It was on Friday, just before the weekend, after Richie had left him with barely a perfunctory peck on the lips and a distracted wave, that Virgil solidified a plan of action. His first call was to his office, telling them in no uncertain terms that he would not be in until Monday at the earliest and they were only to call him if someone's life was hanging in the balance and he was the only one who could save them.
Even then, they were to leave a message, and he'd get back to them Monday.
His second call was to the Watchtower, where he bargained, cajoled, and finally begged the Flash to take his monitor shifts for him that weekend. He couldn't exactly tell the League not to call him until Monday, but at least he wouldn't have to pull guard duty. He would just pray nothing disastrous happened for the weekend.
And that Sharon would forgive him for promising Flash that she would bake the hyperactive superhero a triple batch of her chocolate chip cookies. Flash adored them. Well, there was no accounting for taste.
His weekend more or less cleared, he set about stage two of his plan. The apartment was abandoned for the day and Virgil spent hours driving around Gotham, getting supplies. So…Granger didn't think he appreciated Richie? The old coot didn't think he loved Richie? He'd show Granger. More importantly…he'd show Richie. He wasn't going to lose his boy.
Dr. Richard Foley, Richie to his friends and loved ones, dragged himself into the apartment nearly an hour after he usually got home. He threw his keys on the table by the door, dropped the messenger bag full of far too many papers that needed grading next to his feet and just leaned back against the door, massaging his temples. He wanted food, a shower, and then bed, not necessarily in that order. He needed to recharge his batteries before he did…what he had to do, tomorrow.
He was done dancing around the subject, done listening to the needling from Bill Granger, and most of all, done trying to grit his teeth and stick it out 'til things got better. They weren't going to get better, and it was time to acknowledge that fact. Every scenario he had played out in his head agreed…it would be hard, at first, but it had to be done, for his sanity. Tiredly, Richie forced his eyes open—and then widened them in shock.
Every light fixture in the apartment was dark, but the room was bathed in golden glow. Richie felt his jaw drop as he took in the sight of every available surface covered in candles. There had to be hundreds of them, and automatically Richie catalogued the fire-hazard, calculating how long they could burn before they were in real danger of setting the apartment ablaze. The larger part of him, though, was just appreciating the lovely glow they created, casting a soft, dreamy atmosphere across his home.
He stepped farther into the apartment, blinking, hardly able to believe his eyes. He took in the sight, and got his second surprise of the night.
He and Virgil had chosen a loft-style apartment when they had moved in together, liking the wide open space and the large windows. The living space was divided into several levels by raised platforms, with the "living room" sunk the lowest, the dining room and kitchen area on a step up, and their bedroom on a level one higher. As such, he could see the entire apartment as soon as he stepped into it.
Everything was spotless, in a way it usually only got when they were expecting company. The curtains had been drawn across the windows, and the table had been set with their good china. More candles littered the surface of the table, in and around the plates and glasses. A bottle of wine was chilling in a bucket, and at last, the smell coming out of the kitchen hit Richie's nose. He sniffed appreciatively and felt his mouth start to water…garlic, rosemary, tomatoes and something savory beneath it. He focused on the step leading up to the dining area, and there was Virgil.
This time, his mouth watering had nothing to do with the smell of food on the air.
Virgil was dressed to the nines, in an outfit that Richie loved on him. Dove gray slacks that hugged his lower body just right and a black, formfitting cashmere turtle neck that Richie knew from experience was sinfully soft against bare skin. He let his eyes rake up and down the other man's body, and suddenly he wasn't nearly as tired as he had been. Virgil smiled at him, and Richie thought there was something a little tentative in the smile…however, he was distracted from the puzzle when he was suddenly hit by a flood of apprehension. The candles, the dinner, the wine, Virgil in his "come unwrap me…please" outfit.
"Oh crap…I forgot our anniversary!" he gasped. Why hadn't Backpack reminded him? He had every possible important date programmed into the little robot. "Oh God, V, I'm so sorry…I didn't mean to…wait, it's May. Our anniversary is in August." Richie blinked and shook his head. "It's not anyone's birthday...we aren't expecting guests, are we? I haven't even had a shower—"
"Rich!" Virgil interrupted suddenly, shaking his head. "No, you didn't forget anything important and we're not expecting anyone tonight."
"Oh." Richie sighed in relief. "Then what's the occasion?" he asked curiously. His confusion deepened when he saw a flash of something that might have been hurt scuttle across his lover's face.
"No…no occasion," Virgil said softly. "I just…I just thought it'd be nice to have a night in, just the two of us."
Richie stared at the other man for a moment, trying to figure out what was going on. This wasn't like Virgil, at all. Seeing that Virgil was expecting a reply, though, Richie pasted a smile across his face. "That does sound nice. Let me just go grab a quick shower and change."
"Uh, yeah…yeah…the pasta won't be done for a few more minutes. I'll just pour the wine."
Richie smiled again and jogged up the platforms to their bedroom and the enclosed bathroom. He showered quickly, listening to the sounds of Virgil clanging around in the kitchen over the running water, and trying to puzzle out what his lover was up to. When he emerged from the bathroom, dressed in his favorite pair of black jeans and a dark blue cotton pullover, Virgil had indeed poured the wine and was dishing up the pasta. The sauce smelled heavenly and Richie was quickly reminded how hungry he really was.
As the night progressed, though, his confusion deepened. Virgil was…different. The laughter and conversation flowed as easily as the wine—more so after several glasses of said wine—but there was an edge to Virgil's behavior that Richie couldn't decipher. His lover was solicitous of his every need, constantly attentive, and focused on him the whole evening. Unusually so. By the time dessert had been served, it was making Richie downright nervous.
Finally, after the last bite of raspberry cheesecake had been consumed and Virgil was just staring at him over the rim of his wineglass, Richie snapped.
"What?" he demanded finally. "You've been acting strange all night, Virg…what's going on?"
"Nothing," Virgil replied evasively, downing the last of the wine in one gulp. Richie wasn't fooled for an instant. Even if he hadn't been a super-genius, Virgil's behavior would have set alarm bells off in his head. Being a super-genius just meant he would b able to figure the puzzle out with fewer bits of information.
"The food, the candles, the clothes…you didn't break something, did you?" Richie's eyes widened in comical horror at the thought of half-a dozen projects he had percolating in the base under the old gas station. Virgil laughed, a little desperately, Richie thought, and shook his head.
"No, no I didn't break anything. I just—can't I do something nice for you?"
"Well there's nice and then there's extravagant. Virg, you gotta admit…you haven't done anything like this since right after we started dating." Oddly enough, Virgil looked as though Richie had just sucker-punched him. What the-- "Virg?"
"I don't want you to leave!" Virgil burst out suddenly. He clenched his fists on the table and bowed his head. "I'm sorry, Rich…I'm so damn sorry and I know I saw things too late, but please give me another chance! I know this doesn't make up for everything, but I promise I'll try…I'll change! Anything you want, just name it. I'll do whatever it takes." Virgil at last looked up and Richie was dumbstruck to realize the other man was close to crying. "I can't lose, you Rich. I don't want to lose you."
Richie was silent for several heartbeats, just staring across the table at his lover. Finally, though, he found his voice.
"Virgil…what the hell are you talking about?" Virgil jerked back, confusion blooming on his face. "Who said anything about leaving?" Richie demanded, his voice heated.
"I…I heard you. In your office, last week. I was going to surprise you with lunch, but Granger was already there. I—I heard you say you wanted out…that you weren't happy anymore. Rich, I swear, I'll do whatever it takes…I want you to be happy."
Richie's brow furrowed as his photographic memory replayed his last few conversations with Bill. What would have been said that—suddenly he had it, and Richie felt the blood drain out of his face.
"You…you heard me and Bill…oh V." Virgil nodded miserably.
"I know I shouldn't have been eavesdropping, but I'm glad I know. I can fix this, Richie, I promise I can."
"I'll take more time off from the practice."
"I'll take a leave of absence from the League, if you want."
"Virgil!" Richie bellowed, cutting through his lover's rambling.
"What?" Virgil asked, startled.
"Teaching," Richie replied. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He thought he might do both.
"Huh?" Virgil asked intelligently.
"I'm not happy with the teaching. Dr. Forrester talked me into taking two freshman classes this semester, and I hate it. It takes away too much time from the research aspects of my job. The upperclassmen are great, but these kids don't know jack about physics. Bill's been trying to convince me to drop the courses, but I didn't want to disappoint Doc Forrester. He's been nothing but good to me since I joined the staff. I'm telling him tomorrow that I won't be teaching anything below a 300 level course next semester."
Richie could literally watch the process of the realization sinking in. First, Virgil's eyes widened, the shadows in them chased away by dawning comprehension. Then his fists unclenched on the tabletop and he sat up a little straighter. Finally, he smiled…the dazzling grin that always made Richie's heart skip a beat because he knew it was reserved for him and him alone.
"You…you mean you're not leaving?" This time Richie did laugh.
"V…how could you think I was leaving you? I love you, you dumbass. I'm never going to leave you. And even if I was ever considering it, I'd talk to you." There was a note of chiding to Richie's voice. Virgil's face turned serious.
"You've been pretty spacey these past few weeks. I thought…I thought you were trying to pull away from me. You were always too tired to do anything…you've been really distracted." It was Richie's turn to feel the rush of guilt.
"Virg…it's finals week. I've had four hundred tests to administer and grade, twelve thesis defenses to listen to, all that shit with Dr. Forrester, and Batman still isn't satisfied with the new Javelin design even though I've told him I'd have to re-write the laws of aerodynamic theory to make it more efficient. Maybe I can get around to it this summer, but for now he's just gonna have to take what he's got. The point is…I've been too tired to remember my own name half the time these past few weeks. That doesn't mean it had anything to do with you. I'm sorry, though…I should have talked to you more."
"I shouldn't have gone off the deep end," Virgil said quietly. Richie smirked.
"Okay, here's the deal. I'll forgive you if you forgive me. And from now on, no jumping to conclusions!"
"Deal," Virgil agreed quickly. Then his face turned serious. "I—I love you too. More than anything, Rich."
Richie sat back in his seat, a faintly surprised expression on his face. "Wow. I think that's the first time you've ever said those words to me, V."
Immediately, the happiness on Virgil's face fled, to be replaced by guilt. "I know it is. That's…that's part of why I was so freaked out. Granger…he was right about one thing. I never tell you how much you mean to me."
Richie blinked in confusion. "What're you talking about?" he asked. Virgil frowned and raked his hands back through his hair.
"You just said it…I've never told you I love you. I can't believe you put up with me this long!"
"V…you tell me you love me every day," Richie said softly. Virgil looked up, and he looked so miserable that Richie had to laugh again, the sound warm with affection.
"Rich, no I don't. You just said that was the first time I've ever told you."
Richie smiled softly, then rose and walked around the table to stand by Virgil's chair. Virgil scooted back automatically, allowing Richie to sidle in between his legs and rest his hands on Virgil's face. "You've never said the words…but you tell me all the time."
"Huh?" Virgil repeated, raising his own hands to rest lightly on Richie's hips.
"Why don't you ever put sugar in my coffee in the mornings?"
"Uh…you hate sugar. Said it makes the coffee taste like pancake syrup." Virgil was looking at him as though he was slightly crazy, but Richie was used to that.
"And why'd we go to the Grand Canyon for vacation last year when I know you wanted to go to the beach?"
"You don't like the ocean, either…haven't been able to go swimming since you saw 'Jaws.'"
"Why do you always have dinner ready on Wednesday nights as soon as I walk through the door?"
"'Cause that's your long day and you never have time to go get lunch…you're starving by the time you get here."
"V...you take time out of meetings and League business to call me down at the gas station just because you know I forget to eat when I'm working. You come into my classes sometimes even though I know you don't understand a word of it, just because you like to see me teach. You never complain when I don't come to bed with you three days in a row because I'm working on some new project. You listen to everything I say. You remember everything I say. You're my best friend, my partner, and I know I'll always be able to depend on you for anything. You…bust out every romantic cliché in the book because you're afraid I'm going to leave. You love me, V. You never had to say the words…you tell me every day, with practically every move you make."
"Wow…I do all that?" There was a faintly teasing edge to the voice, but Richie could tell he had gotten through. Virgil looked touched beyond words.
"Yeah…you do." Then he leaned down and kissed the other man deeply, sliding his hands down to stroke the wonderful softness that covered a hard chest. Virgil replied with compound interest, tightening his grip on Richie's hips and pulling him down to straddle his lap. His hands slid up under Richie's shirt and Richie shuddered at the feel of the familiar, slightly rough hands mapping his skin.
At last, Virgil leaned back, breaking the kiss. "So…if I'm more of a show guy than a tell guy—"
"You better take me up to that bed and show me…at least a few times. Just to make sure I understand."
Fortunately, Backpack was there to make sure the candles were blown out safely.