Richie knew Virgil was there when he woke up. He could have deduced it logically, since he wasn't lying where he must have fallen, on a hard street or rooftop; and as his limbs weren't tied, he likely hadn't been captured by any criminals. Thus the odds were that his partner had found him. But he didn't deduce. He just knew.
Opening his eyes proved the hypothesis. Virgil was slumped in a metal chair beside his bed, his neck crooked at a seemingly impossible angle for sleeping but his peacefully closed eyes indicating otherwise. Fluorescent lights shining on gray walls and the crisp white sheets under him informed Richie that he was in a hospital.
That Virgil was in his Static outfit, minus jacket, gloves, and mask; and that a quick glance down at himself verified he was still in costume as well, save for his helmet, informed him of trouble. Maybe big trouble, though Richie didn't feel especially damaged. Sitting up aggravated a set of bruises, but nothing worse than after a rough night on patrol; and a momentary dizziness quickly blinked away. The mild nausea and headache could be chalked up to the tranquilizer. He prodded his skull but felt no bumps that might have meant a concussion. His helmet and his suit's emergency booster rocket system should have broken the worst of his fall, wherever he had come down.
So why would Virgil have rushed him to the hospital without even taking the precaution to get him out of costume? Virgil wasn't dumb. Frowning, Richie snapped his fingers in the triplicate pattern to activate and summon Backpack. The robot, dormant on the floor, activated and clambered up onto the bed to settle in his lap. He took out his glasses from a side compartment, shoved them on and checked the onboard computer's display, noting only four hours had passed.
Before he could query Backpack further, Virgil yawned, stretched, and blinked sleepily at him, then bounced out of his chair. "Richie! You're awake!" He was grinning, a great big two zillion volt grin that pulsed through Richie and effectively short-circuited all logic and questions and most other systems of higher reasoning.
"Uh, yeah," he managed, hoping his return grin wasn't as dopey as he dreaded it might be. It had been a while since Virgil had smiled at him like that, so complete and totally, like the only thing on his mind was how happy he was.
"How you feel?" Virgil asked, leaning in to inspect his eyes. Maybe checking for dilation or mismatched pupils. "Okay? Not sick or anything? You look okay." His hand came down over Richie's, quite casually enough to be accidental. "Maybe a little flushed."
"I, uh, I feel fine," Richie stammered, trying desperately to coax the hot blush down from his cheeks. "Just thirsty, that's all."
"Yeah, doc said you might be." Virgil squeezed his fingers, so quickly he might have been imagining it, then let go to dart across to the room's sink and pour a glass of water. "Here you go." Virgil returned to his side to hand him the glass, then picked up his mask draped on the adjacent empty bed and slipped it over his face. " I've hit the button, the doctor should be here in a few."
"Thanks. Where's my helmet?" Richie asked, gratefully swallowing the water. Sliding his legs off the bed, he tested them on the floor. They seemed steady enough, so he stood up, stretched and looked around.
"Under the chair," Virgil supplied, pointing, "but you won't need it. Doc's seen your face already. Uh, sorry about that, man. But don't worry, she's cool."
"V, why'd you bring me to the hospital? Did I have a bad reaction to the tranquilizer?"
"Uh, no, not really. Except for being knocked out."
Richie rubbed the back of his neck, seeking to dispel the last muted throbbing in his temples. "Well, that's to be expected, being as that's the point of a tranquilizer. So what about the bad guys, did we get them?" He summoned a mental picture of the room. "There were five of them, plus Agent Kruepke."
"Yeah, we got all of them. Or you got them, I mean, the job was pretty much done by the time I got there. You kicked their asses." Static punched his partner in the arm, triumphantly. "I just needed to grab the agent and that old guy. They're all in police custody now. Along with the evidence--most of their equipment was stored there. Looks like an open-and-shut case, shouldn't even need our testimony. Except maybe for Agent Kruepke."
"He's claiming that he was working a deep-cover sting operation, and we screwed it up."
Richie frowned. "Not likely, from what I heard. He was telling them to get out of town before they got caught. And there's the false information he gave me."
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Though he did help me when I got there, told me right away where you and the boss had gone. I'm thinking maybe he really was running a sting to start out with, but then he got tempted. Whatever. Internal Affairs or the FBI, they can sort it out.
"By the way, speaking of the FBI--Agent Statler wasn't the guy, but you'll never guess where I found him!"
"Well, okay, you can guess that, but I bet you couldn't guess how many girls there were. Or how many feather dusters."
"I don't want to know," Richie said with fervent honesty. "So you caught the boss, and then went after me--where'd I land, anyway?"
"Rooftop next door, you crashed right into some garden supplies." Virgil demonstrated the conjectural landing, smacking his palms across each other. "You're lucky they weren't storing fertilizer."
"Better that than the street. I got bruised enough as it is." Richie rubbed his elbow, which felt like it might have been the first part of him to hit. He could still bend it without difficulty, however, so it wasn't broken.
"You sure you're okay?" Virgil asked, standing right there and poking at his injured arm, gaze intent with concern.
"Fine," Richie assured. If he leaned forward just a little bit he would be resting his forehead against Virgil's, could see the concern in those dark eyes that much closer...
He rocked a step back instead. "But you brought me to the hospital straightaway, in costume--how badly hurt did I look?"
"We-l-ll," Virgil said, in a drawn-out tone that indicated he wasn't especially planning on continuing from that opener. Luckily for him, the door opened at that moment and a doctor entered, a woman of average height and indeterminate age in a white coat. "Yo, doc!" Static said, raising a hand in relieved greeting. "He's up."
The doctor smiled a hello back at him, looked Richie up and down and nodded in satisfaction, then had him sit down on the bed so she could take his blood pressure and tap his knee and more standard doctor rigmarole. Richie tried to sit still and not fidget, or blush. Medicals exams were always a bit embarrassing, and in his Gear costume without his helmet, he felt downright naked, even though he didn't think he had ever met the doctor before, and it wasn't like Richard Foley's face was that famous. But even if she wouldn't recognize his alter ego, it was the principle of the thing. A superhero shouldn't be exposed like this.
At least she didn't actually have him strip down. Not with Virgil right there. He'd be bright red from head to toe, he knew it. Very attractive, the tomato look. Stupid fair-skinned genes.
"Well, Gear," the doctor said at last, "you look to be shipshape. I recommend putting some ice on that elbow and taking it easy today, if you don't have any urgent hero business. No meetings scheduled with the Justice League, right? Good. I want you to call me--" she took a business card out of her pocket and handed it over--"I'm off-duty in a couple hours, but my cel number's there, so if you have any unusual symptoms in the next twenty-four hours, dizziness, double-vision, vomiting, I want to know. But I don't expect any problems."
Richie glanced at the card, then pocketed it automatically, though he wouldn't need it now that he had memorized the numbers. "Thank you, Dr. Slinger."
"Now, did Static explain our arrangement?"
Virgil laughed. "Sorry, didn't get a chance. You got a pen?"
The doctor smiled and whipped out a purple glitter ballpoint, along with two comic books. Taking the comic offered to him, Richie realized they were one of the local independent fan productions, copied at Kinko's and stapled by hand. The art was impressive all the same, vibrant and dynamic. And flattering. Even if he would never actually have musculature like that, no matter how many steroids he took. He didn't think it was anatomically possible for his skeleton to support such mass. Not to mention it would require a complete redesign of his suit. But it was the thought that counted.
"Whoa, look at this page!" Virgil exclaimed. "I am smoking! I'm gonna sign here, on the bicep. It's for your niece, right? What's her name?"
"Gwen. And my nephew's Roger, if you'd be willing to autograph your picture, Gear. He's a huge fan of yours."
"Oh yes, he's told me so quite a lot. He thinks you're cool, and cute."
"He's got excellent taste for a six-year-old."
After they had signed and returned the books, the doctor thanked them, then said, "It was wonderful to meet you boys in person. You won't appear in the hospital records after this, so you don't have to check out officially. Go when you're ready, I'll keep the door locked for now, and come back to check at the end of my shift. I'm assuming you'll be taking the private exit?" and she nodded significantly at the window. "Have a good day--and for all you've done for our city, thank you."
After she left, Virgil flopped down on his back on the bed opposite the one Richie was sitting on. "I vote we stay here and nap until she comes back. There's air conditioning!"
"It's not as bad as it was last week."
"Yeah, like being in a furnace isn't as bad as being in the sun's corona."
Richie had to agree. "It's been so muggy, I don't think I've slept a full night in a week."
"Me neither," Virgil said, but thoughtfully. He sat up, took off his mask, then slowly slid off the bed to stand. "Rich."
Richie resisted the urge to scoot back on the mattress, away from the focused determination in Virgil's face. "Weren't we going to nap?"
"We're gonna talk first."
"V, I don't think--"
"Good, don't think. I won't, either, or else I might chicken out again. But this is important, Richie," Virgil said. "I need to work this out. I screwed up tonight, and it came out all right, luckily, but it might not the next time. And what we do--I can't risk it. So I need to say it, even though I'm not sure how it'll turn out, but just not saying it is not working. I don't know how you didn't for all that time, I can't stop thinking about it, and I don't really want to, actually, even if I'm scared about screwing up this, what we've got already, since it's more important than that anyway, but we gotta be able to talk through it, since we did before, and once I get it off my chest--"
"V. Virg. Virgil! You're babbling."
Virgil blinked at him, strangled a high-pitched half-giggle and awkwardly rubbed the back of his head. "Uh. Yeah."
"I should know, you tell me when I am often enough," Richie joked, but Virgil didn't laugh again, just stared at him like something in Richie's face had caught him so he couldn't look away. His expression was half deer-in-headlights, half--something else. Richie wasn't sure what, couldn't recall seeing it in his friend's face before. Not quite desperation, not quite yearning, but it was like he was reaching out, with also his strength, and Richie realized he couldn't look away, either, could only stare back.
Virgil had moved a couple steps forward, was now close enough to touch, but Richie couldn't move, sitting on the bed like he was paralyzed, his mouth frozen closed, with no words coming to mind. He had reached the limit of what he could avoid, what he could put aside or sidetrack or run from; Virgil was right here and he couldn't escape. Couldn't even close his eyes.
"Richie," Virgil said, speaking all nervous and fast, blurting it out in a hurry like he was afraid it wouldn't be heard, like he didn't know he had Richie trapped so he had no choice but to listen, "I've thought about it a lot, and I know it's not the same for you and I know it's weird, but I think--no, I know, I actually, really--okay, here's the thing, I love you, Richie."
For a moment Richie just stared at him, with that same trapped look. Then he tilted his head fractionally, so the light bounced off the lenses of his glasses and Virgil couldn't see his eyes anymore. "Yeah, V, I love you, too, man."
"Not like that!" Virgil protested. "Or, I mean, yeah, like that, too, I love you like a friend, obviously, but not just like that. Okay, Richie..." Dammit, he had worked this all out on his head, but now none of the words were there, and he really should've taken notes. Public speaking in class he had never had a problem with; Static's one-liners always came without effort. So what the hell was wrong with his brain now? Thanks a lot, brain. Just when he needed it most.
And Richie was giving him that look, a different one now, not quite 'you're a moron' because Richie never did think that, for all he had perfect right to, with his own IQ. But a furrowed-brow confused expression, like he was trying to figure out what Virgil was trying to say but was coming up blank. Or maybe just fighting the impulse to put words in his mouth. He had to have noticed by now, right?
This had been a lot easier when Richie was asleep. When he couldn't be heard and wasn't being watched with that curiosity, that genius, that feeling.
Avoiding those eyes, Virgil deliberately focused on an unremarkable point on the ceiling somewhere past his friend's head, and gave it his best shot. "Okay, Richie, the thing is, I'm not gay, right? I know I'm not gay, I like girls, they turn me on. With the breasts and the hips and the--all that.
"But I've been thinking about it--not just thinking, actually thinking doesn't have much to do with it. But trying to get it. And I guess the only way it makes sense is that I'm bi. Like Ms. Howe said in the psychology course--wait, you didn't take that class. But I did, it was my elective last semester, remember. So there's this theory that most people are actually bisexual, they just don't know it, because of societal pressures, and I kind of thought that was bullshit when I first heard it. But then I kind of thought you were crazy, when you said it took you a while to realize that you were gay, and I get it now."
"I've been trying to tell how long it's been there without me noticing, but I haven't figured it out. Because really, I've always liked hanging out with you, being with you, more than with anyone else. We get on each other's nerves sometimes and we need space sometimes, but I always have more fun with you than anyone else. More than any girl, even Daisy, even if I like Daisy. I mean, I like Daisy but I like you more, and I always knew that, but I was thinking it was two different things. Only it isn't, not with me, anyway. Which I should've realized a while ago, some of the dreams I've had--I think my subconscious knew all along, but I was ignoring it, I didn't think it meant anything. Except once I started thinking about it for real--once the possibility occurred to me, you know? Then I couldn't get it out of my head, even when I was--especially then, actually, which helped clue me in.
"So, I think I'm bisexual, like maybe a lot of people are, and maybe I've always found guys hot, too, and this is just the first time I've noticed. Or maybe it's something else. Anyway, what it comes down to," and Virgil took a breath, but still didn't look at Richie. Almost there. "What it comes down to, is that I like you. Richie. I like you like that. That way. That way that means that I think about you all the time, more than usual, I mean, and think about doing things with you, more than what we usually do, a lot more, actually, and--I'm pretty sure I'm in love with you."
"Virgil," Richie said, as he had at least four times before in the past couple minutes, but Virgil held up his hand to keep him from continuing. There was a moment of silence, but for the faint hum of the AC, and Virgil finally screwed up the courage to drop his eyes down from the ceiling and meet Richie's. He wasn't done yet, and he knew he had to finish.
This wasn't the first time he had spilled out his feelings like this, and yet it was totally different, so different it might as well be the first. With a girl, even a girl as brilliant and understanding as Daisy, it was still somewhat a case of figuring out what to say, what she wanted to hear, how to put it so she wouldn't misinterpret. But with Richie, he always knew what to say; he just told Richie the truth, and Richie could figure out anything that he forgot to mention. Usually; they'd messed it up for a bit there, but they were over that now. Back to what their friendship had always been, which was that he could be himself, as big a dork as he might actually be, and never fear that Richie wouldn't have his back because of it.
Except that wasn't enough anymore. But while he knew what to say, he didn't truly know what he wanted from Richie now. Well, one part of him knew, very well, but that was not helping, and he tried very hard to think of other things besides Richie being right there, with his hair just that soft and his skin just that smooth and his eyes and his hands and, seriously, not helping--
"Rich, I'm not telling you because I want to--look, I'm not asking you out, or making a pass. I just wanted to be square with you, to tell you, because it'd be weird if you didn't know. It'd be wrong. I don't want to do that to you, bro, I can't shut you out. But I'm not expecting you to return it or anything--yeah, you're gay, but I know that doesn't mean you like all guys. I'm probably not even your type, right? And I don't want you to feel--obligated, or anything, like it's your fault, because it's not like I'm going gay out of solidarity, or something. I'd've felt like this even if you were totally straight, it just might've taken me longer to realize it. And I'm going to get over it. I just wanted to tell you. Had to tell you, because I was scared I'd do something to screw us up otherwise, if I tried pretending it wasn't there. And I don't want to do that.
"I mean, this could be some dumb crush, I am a teenage guy. Our friendship, Richie, that's what really matters. Whatever happens to us later, whoever we're dating, if we get married or have kids or adopt or anything--you're still going to be my best friend. I don't want anything to screw that up. So I want you to know that I like you, and all that other stuff. But the important thing really is that I love you."
And Virgil took a final deep breath, and stopped, and waited.
And thought he finally knew what he wanted, what he was going to get, which was Richie saying, "'Me, too, Virgil," in that quiet, intense way he had, that you could absolutely tell he meant it, down to his soul.
Virgil was expecting it, listening for it, primed to hear it, mind and heart alike. Which is why he was so surprised when instead Richie shook his head, took Virgil's face between his hands, and pressed their mouths together.
It wasn't Virgil's first kiss. That one brief time with Frieda at that party, they both had pretended afterward it had never happened and done their best to ignore it for the sake of their far more important friendship. But the times with Daisy hadn't been single, or brief, and neither of them had tried to forget.
This wasn't like kissing Daisy; it wasn't as easy, as sweetly natural. Warmer and wetter and they didn't fit together the same way and he didn't know where to put his hands. But it wasn't like kissing Frieda, either; that had been a few years ago, a younger kiss, so furtive and ignorant, and this kiss was as unsure in its way, but not innocent like that had been, not unknowing, just doubtful.
Then he opened his mouth, and Richie took that permission, wholehearted and urgent, and Virgil found places to put his hands.
Nothing like Daisy. Daisy was all slim, tender curves that felt like if he spread his fingers wide enough he could hide all of her under them, not this lean but solid body striving against him. He was used to being accepted, being opened to, but not being met, welcomed by strength that matched his own. It left him breathless, when the kiss ended, more than just the vigor of the kiss itself.
He blinked at Richie, verifying that it was still Richie. That body, that contact, he should have known it so well; he'd seen it all before, hadn't he, and touched his friend often enough before. Not like this, though, and that made all the difference, apparently. But it was still Richie after all, peering at him nearsightedly--he had taken his glasses off, they were safely clutched in his hand--and with a little confusion, pulling back, putting space enough between them that Virgil could breathe again. Sort of.
"V?" Richie began, hesitantly when Virgil didn't move, perhaps a little hurt, aching pain bleeding into his tone even as he tried to sound cool. "I'm--sorry, Virgil. What you said, I thought...not what you were expecting, huh? It's okay. We can just forget--"
Virgil pounced. Not what he was expecting, too damn short, that had been, and Richie wasn't saying no--he did make some sound, but probably not a protest, though it wasn't articulate enough to tell, with Virgil's tongue in the way.
Rocking forward, he pushed Richie down into the mattress, and Richie pushed back, but that wasn't a protest either, not with his hands moving the way they were down Virgil's torso. This was like they often wrestled, only Richie wasn't struggling quite forcefully enough to get himself free, and Virgil had the advantage, being on top already. Richie's legs were trapped under his and he forced Richie's head down into the pillow with his kiss and the way Richie was shoving his hips against him was the hottest thing Virgil had experienced. Ever.
It was so overwhelming that he pushed himself away, sat back on the bed, almost trembling, forcing himself to pause before he crossed a threshold he might not be able to return from.
"What?" Richie raised his head, propped himself up on his uninjured elbow.
His face was flushed, his lips red and swollen, and his blond hair was tangled beyond the damage a cyclone would wreak. He looked nothing like Richie, and more like him than ever before, and Virgil gripped the mattress hard with both hands, hanging on for dear life. "I--just--you're okay with this?"
"Virgil..." Richie drew it out slowly, like his processing power was mostly otherwise occupied. "Was anything giving you the impression I wasn't okay with this?"
"I know, but I don't want...I mean, I do, obviously, but..." Virgil shook his head, trying to straighten out what few coherent thoughts remained. "We're friends, and we love each other, but you don't have to do this just because of that. Not if you don't want to."
"Don't want to?"
"You sure you don't want someone who's, uh, more gay? Less straight? I mean, I still think women are hot, I'm still gonna think about wanting them, probably--"
"And I'm going to find other guys hot, probably, but right now..." Richie sighed and sat up. "Okay, Virgil, you asked before, what my type of guy was. Truth is, yeah, I have one." He made a motion like he was going to adjust his glasses, aborted at the last minute when he realized he had put them on the tray beside the bed. "My type. Is about six feet even, dark skin, dark eyes. Built, but not too built, nice pecs, especially in tight black t-shirts. Good arms. Dreadlocks, definitely the dreads. And did I mention I have this major thing for super heroes?"
Richie nodded, then looked away.
"For--a while now?"
"You asked how I figured it out. How I was gay. Well, that wasn't the only thing. But it helped."
"Huh." Virgil cocked his head. "So--have you been checking me out? Secretly? When I wouldn't notice?"
"V, are you checking out Daisy every single time you're in class with her, or just sitting having lunch?"
"Uh. Yes. Definitely."
Richie nodded. "Well, then."
"Really?" Virgil glanced down at himself, wonderingly. "I'm that hot?"
"So I don't have to feel guilty about all the times I've been checking you out in the last week, then."
"Really? You have?"
"You know, it's funny. Girls, I like brunettes best. But with guys, apparently, I really go for blonds. And glasses. And did you know you have a great ass?"
Richie turned bright red, which was about fifty percent of why Virgil had said it, the other fifty percent being that it was totally true. But then Richie had to outdo him by leaning forward until he was almost against Virgil's chest, and dropping his voice like someone might overhear, to whisper in his ear, "Prove it."
So he did his best, but came up for air in a couple minutes, gasped out, "Richie--"
"Yeah?" Riche sounded just as out of breath. They might have been running a marathon.
"You're totally sure--I mean, I go any further, I'm not gonna be able to stop. Seriously."
Richie set his hands on Virgil's shoulders, looked him in the eyes. "Are you sure about this, V? That what you want is--"
"You. Oh yeah. Sure. Absolutely sure--but you sure you're ready--"
"Virgil, we're seventeen year old guys. Of course I'm ready! I'm always ready! I'm gay, not a eunuch!"
"No," Virgil had to agree, from what he could feel in their present position. "Definitely not."
"Y-yeah. About that." With considerable effort Richie drew back. "Maybe we should check out of this hospital."
"But the AC! And the bed..."
"I suppose I could set Backpack to sound an alarm in an hour."
"Only an hour?" Virgil asked.
"The doctor will be coming back around then, right?"
"Oh. Yeah. So, the couch in the garage?"
"Works for me." Richie summoned Backpack to crawl onto his shoulders, then retrieved his helmet from under the chair, while Virgil donned his mask and took out his disk, then slid open the window, letting in the roar of traffic and the hot night breeze.
Posed on the sill, he looked back at Richie, grinned. "Race you there?"
"We gotta make a stop first," Richie said. "Find a drugstore, pick up a few. Uh. Necessities."
"Umm, don't sweat it. The gas station's fully equipped. I made sure."
Richie's eyebrows shot up. "So. All that stuff about just being friends, that being the important thing, that being enough..."
"I mean all of it. Always," Virgil said. "But a guy's gotta have hope, right?"
Richie laughed. "Totally." Activating his boot rockets, he hovered up to Virgil, chin almost set on his shoulder to use that same whisper, so damn tempting it hurt, "So, you wanted to know before, whether I like it on top, or...?"
"Let's find out," and Richie shot out the window to soar into the summer night, with Virgil right behind him all the way.
Big thanks to all my readers and reviewers, the feedback is greatly appreciated. I'm glad you've enjoyed it, and hopefully it entertained to the end! I've been a fan of Static Shock since the second episode aired, and have been wanting to tell a V/R story since about that time. So it was great fun to finally get around to playing with these boys, and I'm tickled pink that others have had fun with it as well. Thank you for reading!