I've never written a classic high school coming out/first time slash fic before. So now I am.
It was the heat. Hottest Dakota summer in two decades and none of it would have happened if he hadn't been so damn hot. Hurting and tired and not thinking, even if that's what he was supposed to be, the thinker, the genius. The super-brain, and Richie wished it would shut down now like it had then. Instead it kept repeating the evening over and over in his head, like an old cassette, rewind and playback, until he wished he actually did have a tape deck between his ears, so the tape would have a chance of breaking.
Lying on his bed, staring up at the water stains on the ceiling as the fan hummed and rattled in the window, all he could see was Virgil's face, all he could hear was his best friend's voice. His brain was supposed to be his super-power but he'd never felt so powerless.
He'd heard of crime waves before, but had thought they were hyperbole, journalistic metaphor. Crime wave, like a heat wave, as if a hot front of illegal activity might descend over the city like the oppressive summer swelter. According to the FBI analysis touted on the news, the burglaries were the work of either a single, highly organized ring of professional thieves just come to town; or a couple of up-and-coming gangs competing. Either way, they were cleaning out the city like a bank vault, and while they were mostly targeting the people who could afford it, a few guards and cops and victims had already gotten hurt. Someone was going to die, sooner or later, if they weren't stopped.
"There's no metas involved, it's a job for the police," Richie had pointed out once, but just once, because Virgil didn't buy it and neither did he. Crime was crime and a hero was a hero and if Static was going to go out hunting, then of course Gear was going with him.
The thieves had been striking in the dead of night, not for the cover of darkness, Richie suspected, so much as because it was cool enough to move then. So they patrolled at night, every night, dividing their time between the uptown penthouses that were the thieves' targets, and the dark alleys downtown where heroes were always needed. And tried to sleep days, amid parents calling them lazy slackers and friends calling them out for fun, and this was no way to spend the last summer of high school. But by now he'd come to accept that his life was never going to be normal, had come to expect it.
If only it weren't so damn hot. Difficult to sleep, when your muscles were aching from the night's work and the rising sun was beating through the curtains, and even stripped to boxers the sheets stuck to your skin. He'd been designing a coolant system for his suit so he could at least be comfortable on patrol, but there hadn't been time to install it.
V didn't mind the heat, generally. Richie had speculated on ancestral trends, Virgil being genetically equipped to deal with Africa's tropical climes while his own Viking blood was acclimatized for Scandinavian winters; but the fact was that Virgil didn't mind the cold much, either. He just was more resilient, still wearing his costume's jacket on patrol, though by the night's end the T-shirt underneath would be sweat-soaked, wet black cotton molding to his chest like sheer silk and Richie would have to look elsewhere, V's face, his boots, the sky.
The humidity was getting to Static, though, draining him, so the constant sub-audible hum of energy running through him was dampened, the currents that Richie was used to prickling his scalp now imperceptible. Even touching Virgil, bumping into him or a casual brush against his arm, there wasn't the usual fuzzy static field playing against his fingers, just sweat and skin and it was too hot for contact anyway.
It was harder for Static to control his powers, not a dangerous strain, but the extra effort gave Virgil headaches, made him cranky. So they had been fighting anyway, the usual sniping spats of friends close enough to get under each others' skins, maybe snapping more than usual but they could let the heat apologize for them. It was August first tomorrow, and soon it would be fall, and it would be better in the fall. Cooler.
But still, this wasn't the way Richie had planned to come out to V.
Not that he'd exactly had a plan, per se, but he'd had some ideas. Most of them involving alcohol, at college, a couple years from now. When they were older. More experienced. And Virgil would probably have a...girlfriend, and he'd...have a...
It wasn't like V hadn't said it other times, and yeah, it had gotten to him then, too, but not enough to bring it up. Virgil didn't mean it, not like that, it was just something you said to piss the other guy off. It wasn't like Richie hadn't gotten far worse just playing video games online; no one really meant it, no one even thought about it, and he shouldn't be so goddamn sensitive. Sticks and stones. If only it hadn't been so hot, even so late at night, dark like an oven as they patrolled the city's warren of alleys.
The heat, and the bruises from Hotstreak blasting him into that dumpster. Francis at least enjoyed the weather, his fire raging higher and hotter than usual. Maybe something to do with the sun, his mutation modifying his cells to absorb more than vitamin D from the sunlight, though solar flares didn't have a significant effect on him. But definitely stronger.
Richie had picked himself up off the pavement, shaking his ringing head as he registered Virgil shouting his name—"Gear! You okay?" He'd been about to answer when Hotstreak had loomed over him, the fists raised over his head flickering with flame, orange hellfire in the murky night. Then a brighter, whiter light flashed and the fire streaked up into the sky, exploded in a starburst as it met the electric blast.
For a moment Richie was blinded, the speakers in his helmet crackling with the overcharge. Heart pounding in his ears, he blinked frantically into the darkness above him. Virgil had been flying straight into that attack, if he had miscalculated—and then Static swooped around the column of gray smoke, growling, "You don't touch him, you son of a bitch," and threw another lightning-white bolt. Before Hotstreak got off an answering blast, Gear fumbled to toss out the cuffs, automatic binders reinforced against metahuman abilities that snaked around his arms and legs, trussing him like a red-and-yellow-crested turkey.
A few minutes' questioning proved it was all in vain anyway. Hotstreak didn't know a thing about the burglaries, and whatever he had been up to climbing that balcony, they'd stopped him before he'd done anything illegal. They left him for the police to pick up, and he'd probably get out on bail by tomorrow, with nothing on him but the usual disturbing the peace. So in the end another night had been wasted, nothing to show but his bruised back and Static's irritated frown. Hotsteak had almost been smirking, squatting on the pavement with his arms locked behind him, not sweating—fire's a dry heat. "If I got electric burns I'm gonna sue, you cocksucking Superman-wannabe."
"Aww, I'll send you some aloe lotion," Static shot back. "Since no lawyer's gonna touch it. Superthugs like you are too hot to handle." He'd grinned, but Richie hadn't the energy even to groan. He'd hoped to get some sleep tonight while it still was night, but the sky was already getting light, sunrise only an hour away.
Virgil had picked up on his fatigue, nudged his arm as he turned away from their catch. "C'mon, partner, let's blow."
"You asking him to, or you volunteering?" Hotstreak sniped after them.
"Hey, I'm not the one who's flaming here. Missing your cellmate so much you can't wait to get back into prison, huh?"
Hotstreak had snarled like a rabid dog and Static kept smirking as they flew out of range. But once they'd touched down on the rooftop a few blocks from Richie's house, Virgil shook his head, grimaced. "God, I hate that fired-up faggot."
And he shouldn't have, but his back was hurting and it was too late, too hot. "Don't say that. Don't say things like that when you don't really mean them."
"But I do hate him," Virgil said, blankly.
"You don't have to call him—things like that. Someone might be offended."
"I was trying to offend someone. It worked, too, the way he was foaming." But there must have been something in his voice, because Virgil threw up his hands. "Okay, man, okay, Static will try to be more PC."
"It's not about being politically correct." If his face were flushed, it had been heavy exertion for such a sweltering night, and anyway the visor would hide it. "It's about saying dumb things when someone might hear you and might be insulted, might be hurt. Even if you're not actually a homophobe. Because you're not, right?"
"I got it, Rich, I'll watch my mouth," Virgil said, easily, one hand casually resting on his shoulder. "But it's cool now, bro, there's no one up here to hear but you."
And Richie saw it then, exactly how it would go, the chain reaction of conversation, like a chess game in which setting down one piece guarantees the mate six moves ahead. He could see all the possibilities, every alternative calculated as carefully as any supercomputer, but by that moment he'd already said it. "Yeah, I'm here."
Virgil's brain might not have been mutated like his, but he always was plenty smart. Too smart, and they'd known each other for too long. "Yeah, Richie, you're here. But I wasn't talking about you." They'd known each other for far too long; he could see how desperately Virgil wanted just to laugh and ignore it. And couldn't. "I wasn't. Right?"
"I don't know. Were you?" Sweat was sliding warmly from his stifling helmet down his neck, prickling where Virgil's gloved hand was too hot on his skin. "Did you mean you hate Hotstreak? Or just faggots in general?"
"You're not a—" V began, and stopped, and started again, "you don't—you've never—"
He didn't say anything, and didn't have to. Virgil lifted his hand, took one step back, then two. Three, opening clear space between them, too far to reach across. A careful distance, like Richie was something dangerous. Contagious, and it was no better or worse than he expected, and wasn't prepared for all the same.
"So you're..." Virgil sounded calm, not upset, but uncertain. "You like...you're really..."
The first pale reflections of dawn glowed on the smog and clouds overhead, and the traffic noise below was rising with the sun. He couldn't see what Virgil's expression really was, under the mask. Hatred or disgust, anger or fear—nothing he wanted to see anyway.
"How long?" Virgil asked finally. "I mean, how long have you been..."
"I dunno." There'd been so much going on, there had always been so much, and he hadn't really wanted to think about it. Hadn't thought about it, had tried to think about other things, he'd tried as hard as he could, with every cell in him denying it. Even a supergenius can't outthink everything, apparently. "I guess I've really known for about a year."
"A year," Virgil repeated, slowly, like he was making sure that was what he'd actually heard. "You've been—for a year—"
"Gay," Richie said, and his voice sounded angrier than he actually was, but he didn't know what to do about that. "I've been gay for longer than that, I'm pretty sure. Always, probably. I just didn't...I didn't notice before."
"You didn't notice?" Virgil made a strangled laugh. "So how'd you notice, Richie? Was it me? Have you been checking me out? Peeping when we sleep over—Jesus, how many guys have you slept with for real? How many guys have you—"
"No, V, I wouldn't—even if—I don't—it's not like that!"
"Then what's it like? What's it like, now that you—you're a—a—"
"A fag! Say it! A homo! A dicklicking, cocksucking—"
"Shut up!" V's yell was loud enough to echo off the brick walls, stirring sleepy pigeons into a flutter of white against the hot gray clouds. "Shut up," Virgil said again, quieter, breathing hard. "I didn't say that."
This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. The air was too hot, too humid; he felt like he was drowning, suffocating under the weight of the empty sky bearing down. "Sorry."
"I didn't say that," Virgil repeated, but his eyes were like he was looking at a stranger, wary, unwelcome.
It terrified him, more than anger ever could have. "I'm sorry, V," Richie said, desperately, "Sorry, just forget it, okay? We can just forget about it and—"
"No." Virgil shook his head. "No, Rich, we can't."
"Virgil, please. We can talk—"
"What do you want to say?" Like he was talking to a stranger, too, cool and reserved. Not spiteful or mean; he was the hero, after all, even now. But that reticent kindness was a worse cruelty. "You got some more secrets to spill now? Or you gonna keep the rest of them to yourself?"
"I'd've kept this one, too," Richie whispered, "if I'd known—I thought we were friends."
For a moment the city seemed to go silent, the traffic, the motors, the voices, everything stopped, like he had issued a challenge to reality itself, the very heat holding its breath. Then Virgil said, "Yeah, I thought so, too," as simple as that, and tossed down his disk, charged to a blinding glow in the fading night. By the time Richie had blinked away the afterimages he was just a glittering trail of sparks against the sky.
Richie didn't try to follow, just dropped down to the street, took off his costume to walk the couple blocks home. In the last year he had become an expert at entering too quietly to wake his folks. Once in his room Backpack crawled off his shoulders and onto its shelf, powering down next to his helmet. He locked the closet door, stripped off his t-shirt and jeans and sat down on the bed in his boxers, pressed the shock box's transmitter with his thumb. "You there?"
The only static to respond were erratic crackles of interference. "Virgil," he said over the hiss, "can we talk? Please? V?"
He waited, but there was no answer. Finally he put the radio on his nightstand, next to his folded glasses, and laid down. Outside the sun cast blunted shadows on the street, another muggy, hazy morning. Virgil should be home by now, flopped down on his own mattress, trying to snatch what sleep he could before it was too late in the morning to bother.
If he called the Hawkins' house Virgil might pick up the phone. Or his sister might, or his dad, and they could give Virgil a message if he were asleep now. If he didn't want to talk now, or later.
But Richie didn't know what message he could leave, didn't have anything that needed to be said, and it was too late now not to say anything. And it was so hot anyway, too exhausting to try to move through the thick blanket of humidity draped over the room. He should take a shower but that could wait until he got up later; he was sweating just lying here anyway.
He thought he should be angry, should be outraged and disillusioned and furious, and maybe later he would be, but now he just wanted to sleep. To shut his eyes and forget the heat, and his bruises, and his brain repeating the night, the words, the look on Virgil's face, over and over and over. This wasn't the way he had planned it, and maybe if he really was as smart as he seemed he never would have planned it at all, because as painful as it had been before, saying nothing, this was worse. Nothing could be worse than this.
Virgil's hand on his arm and he could feel where the glove had rested like a burn, invisible blister on his skin.
The shock box hissed softly on its empty channel, white noise muting the waking city outside. Stretched out on top of the sheets, he stared blindly up, not moving, just lying there, awake, because it was too damn hot to sleep, but that was okay, because it was also too hot to cry.
to be continued...