Author's Note: Dialogue heavy but I hope you like it. I just rediscovered fanfiction a couple days ago and couldn't resist trying to finish this story. Lotsa stuff happens in this chapter. A stupid amount of stuff. Please enjoy, and maybe give chapters 1-7 a quick reread?
"Why, God, why?" Richie sobbed theatrically. "Goodbye, my friends… Oh, I will miss you. We've been through so much… please forgive me, I didn't want it to end like this…"
It was early afternoon but the sunny skies didn't stop late November from cooling Dakota's air. Richie, Madelyn, Frieda, and Shelly were all seated in a small clearing flanked by shedding trees. Shelly sat on a thick tree stump, head bowed and eyes down, with a worried Frieda next to her. Madelyn was perched delicately on a fallen log, ankle stretched out in front of her, absently crushing leaves in her palms. And then there was Richie, kneeling in the center over his freshly buried inventions.
"Oh, give it a rest," Madelyn said, using her good foot to kick some more dirt onto the grave from her seat nearby. Some of it flew up and hit Richie in the face and he sputtered.
"Hey! You know nothing of the love one man has for his tech!" Richie objected, brushing off his face and leaving a few streaks of dirt on his cheek.
"I know you're a loser and a dweeb," Madelyn replied easily, the corners of her mouth twitching up. "Now stop playing in the dirt and let's go."
"Sorry Richie," Frieda said with sympathy. She was crouched on the ground, one hand on Shelly's shoulder. "You said it yourself. 'Gotta cover our tracks, switch it up.'"
"But my skates!" Richie moaned.
"Don't be a baby," Madelyn snorted. "What's the big deal?"
Richie glowered. After narrowly losing the diner mob, they had stopped in an outcropping of woods and decided that their usage of Gear's skates and board was much too obvious. Dakota PD, while ridiculously incompetent on occasion, wasn't entirely stupid. The connection had to have been made already, or at least it would be soon enough, especially if Static was on the case. And if Richie knew Virgil, which he did probably better than he knew himself, Static was definitely on the case.
"They'll be scanning the skies," Richie had pointed out earlier, a fact which he now regretted. Because of his comment, his inventions were now buried under a good foot or so of topsoil.
"It's not like you won't come get them later," Madelyn added.
That much at least was true. Richie possessed a perfect photographic memory along with his incredible intelligence; he could pin point and memorize a couple coordinates with more accuracy than NASA in his sleep. It was just the principle of the thing. Those were his babies.
"Yeah," He stood, dusting dirt off of the borrowed jeans he was wearing. He pushed some of the other fallen leaves over the mound, creating an unsuspicious forest floor. "I guess we're hoofing it from now on out, eh?"
Madelyn made a face.
"So when are we leaving?" Frieda said wearily, pulling her auburn hair back into a neater ponytail.
Richie sighed, resisting the urge to rub his sore shoulder. The wound was shallow and Shelly had redressed it that morning, but it still stung more than Richie wanted to let on. The dressing itself was gradually turning pink again. Statistics of gun shot wound infections leading to death swam into his mind. "I think we need to actually figure out where we're going."
"I thought we were headed to Dakota Union High?" Frieda said. "Unless you have a better plan."
"Going?" Shelly said suddenly, breaking from her daze. She hadn't spoken since they'd left the diner. Her eyes were bloodshot and her lashes were wet as she stared at Richie. "I thought this was over."
"Well, no," He said slowly. He tried to be diplomatic. "We've still got people after us. There's the creeps who took Madelyn and me, and the cops definitely. The only good thing we have going for us is that Static is sure to be looking for me. Even so, the longer we stay here the sooner -"
"I don't know why I've entertained this nonsense so long," Shelly burst out, cutting him off completely. She shrugged off Frieda's hand from her shoulder in anger. "This is ridiculous. Come on, all of you. We're leaving right now!"
She stumbled up from the tree stump, her dark hair falling in front of her face. She grabbed Frieda's wrist in a white-knuckled grip and wrenched her up from the ground, pulling her along forcefully.
"Hey!" Frieda cried in surprise, digging in her heels. Shelly responded by pulling harder in the direction of civilization, back towards the diner. Their struggle kicked up and crunched the fallen autumn leaves, crushing them into powdery dust that filled the air.
"Yo! What are you doing?" Richie yelped, moving forward to help Frieda.
"That hurts!" Frieda cried. Shelly let go, suddenly ashamed.
"Oh, Frieda," She breathed as the girl rubbed her wrists. "I'm so sorry. I'm so… I'm sorry, I just…"
"No, Shelly," Frieda said tightly. "I understand. You're not really yourself right now. I just wish I could help you."
Shelly dissolved into tears. Frieda, kind by nature, moved to hug her, and gently eased her down again onto the tree stump. Richie squatted in front of her.
"Miss Sandoval… Shelly," He said. He took a deep breath. "I didn't know when to tell you, but now's as good a time as any I guess… I met your father."
"What?" Shelly sniffed, raising her head from her arms. The tear tracks were harsh against her skin.
"Yeah," Richie said gravely. "The other night, when I woke up in that laboratory, I was chained to an operating table." He paused and glanced up at Madelyn. The girl had her arms crossed over her chest and was looking away. "We both were."
"You were chained to an operating table?" Frieda echoed, horrified.
"Yeah," Richie answered. He gulped audibly. "And I'm not gonna lie, I was scared. But then your dad showed up, Shelly, and he was so brave. He unlocked the chains and helped us escape. He died helping us live. You have no idea how grateful I am."
"But… what was he even doing there?" Shelly asked, sounding heartbroken.
"He specialized in genetics, right? Well, I think… I think that whatever was happening or about to happen to Madelyn and me, he was part of it, and then maybe it got too deep, or he had some change of heart, and realized how awful it was. And he set us free."
"My father would never perform experiments on children!" Shelly said fiercely.
"He probably had no idea that his genetics research involved us until it was too late." Richie reasoned, but Shelly was inconsolable.
"I don't care," She said, standing again. "You three are coming with me. We're going to the police and that's it. I've had enough of your excuses about Static and Gear and whoever - people are getting killed - my father is - he's -" She choked.
"No, Shelly," Richie said vehemently. "Hold up. This is bigger than Static and Gear, something seriously whacked is going on!"
"This isn't up for discussion -"
"Don't you get it?" Madelyn exclaimed. "They experimented or… or something on me and Foley over there! My powers aren't working any more, and that jerk is having migraines every day. What do you think was happening?"
Shelly faltered and Richie spoke before she could say anything.
"Shelly, your father believed that whatever is going on was wrong, and he died saving us."
"I'm staying to help Richie, and I guess Madelyn too." Frieda said firmly. She shook her bangs out of her pretty face. "It's more than a story now, we're involved. But we need you, Shelly. You can't make us go. So stay with us."
"Frieda, I've said it a million times, but this has gone too far." Shelly said, her voice almost pleading. "What about your parents? I'm responsible for your safety!"
"I know," Frieda said, but this time her voice was gentler and she reached out to Shelly. "But I'm pretty sure it's obvious that we can't turn back now."
"Your father gave his life to prevent whatever is going on in that laboratory from happening," Richie said softly. "Isn't it worth figuring out why?"
Shelly drew a shaky breath. For now her crying had wound down to hiccups and sporadic sobs. But she saw Richie's logic, and agreed with it, and her resolve broke. He was right about her father, and her journalistic instinct told her Richie was her way to those answers.
"I guess you're right," Shelly relented quietly. She gave a humorless laugh that was half a sob. "Look at me, almost 30, letting a teenager call the shots."
"If it makes you feel any better, I am the smartest human being alive," Richie joked, trying to lighten the mood. Shelly gave a weak laugh.
"So what do we do now?" Frieda asked.
"I'm taking us back to Dakota Union High," Madelyn said. "From there Richie will use the computers and we'll hack into Alva's databases. Let's go."
"Well, you're uh, you're half right there," Richie said. "But cool your jets for a sec. We can't do anything until nightfall, so we should make good use of our time and get as much background and planning done as we can. Honestly, I just want to get in contact with Static as soon as humanly possible, but that'll be hard considering we've gone off the grid."
"Yeah, and no credit cards or phones or anything that can be traced." Frieda nodded.
"Yep," Richie responded. "and I don't have a Shock Box to communicate with him either." He turned to Shelly. "Shelly, what can you remember about your father's work? He had to have talked about it before. Mentioned it at dinner, or on the phone, maybe? Anything you can remember will help."
"He didn't talk about work much," Shelly answered with a frown. "But he did mention it a few times. He got the job maybe six months ago?"
It was June.
Knock, knock, knock!
Mr. Sandoval pushed himself up from his deep armchair with a groan.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," He grumbled as he made his way to the front door. He squinted through the peephole and saw a warped version of his daughter's grinning face. He pulled open the door.
"Buenos dias, mija!" He laughed as she threw arms around him happily. "Come in, come in."
She followed her father into house, shutting the door behind her. It was her childhood home; their family had lived in Dakota all her life. She threw her purse down on the bench in the entryway. She'd spent many days in her youth tugging on snow boots or kicking off sneakers sitting right there. With a smile she toed off her flats.
"What brings you here today, Shelly?" Her father said, settling back down in his armchair with a long sigh and muting the television. "Not that I don't love seeing my only daughter."
"It's my day off," She answered, gesturing to the shorts and sleeveless top she was wearing. Her dark hair was pulled up in a stubby ponytail. "Can't wear these at the office, which is a shame since they never seem to turn on the AC. You'd think after the heat wave of last July they'd be more understanding."
"Ah," Mr. Sandoval nodded.
"Iced tea?" Shelly offered, navigating around the familiar living room and heading to the kitchen.
"Please," Mr. Sandoval answered. There was some opening and shutting of cabinets, and the mild hum of the refrigerator as Shelly opened and considered its contents. There was a "hmm" followed by an "aha!" and then Mr. Sandoval could hear the tea as it was poured over ice.
"How are you, papa? I haven't heard from you in months." Shelly called from the kitchen.
"Well, mija, I've been taken out of retirement." Mr. Sandoval said with a smile. "So I've been very busy."
"Out of retirement?" Shelly echoed, coming around the corner with two tall glasses. Condensation dripped down their sides and the ice clinked against each other as she set the glasses between them and took a place opposite her father on the couch. "I thought you liked being retired?"
"Oh, I did, but even a quiet man like myself becomes bored." Mr. Sandoval said. "I was approached by a man named Alva and it's a very interesting project. I haven't been able to use my Genetics degree to its full effect in quite some time and I'm excited."
"Oh wow," Shelly frowned. "I hope you know the stigma that comes with that name."
"Ah, don't worry, mija," Mr. Sandoval placated her, taking a sip of his iced tea. "This is an entirely new branch of the company, only partially funded by the main sector of Alva Industries. Barely connected."
"Okay," Shelly said. "What's got you so excited about it?"
"Well," Her father said, becoming animated. "You know I specialize in genomics and biomedical engineering, and with this project I'm involved particularly in DNA sequencing. I can't disclose everything but it's revolutionary stuff, Shelly. I'm working with others in my field – tissue and neural engineers as well! There's a lot of highly esteemed people in the scientific community collaborating on this. Thankfully there's not much of a commute for me as they are keeping operations right here in Dakota."
"Oh!" Shelly exclaimed, eyes bright. "Can I interview you and do a piece on this?"
Mr. Sandoval looked alarmed.
"No, no, no," He said adamantly. "It's a classified position… don't repeat any of this, Shelly. This is off the record."
Shelly blinked as the memory faded. She stopped speaking and it was the four of them again in the forest clearing.
"That's it? That's all he told you?" Frieda said, clearly disappointed. Richie narrowed his eyes and cocked his head at Shelly.
"There's no such thing as 'off the record' for an aspiring journalist," Madelyn said as if she was reading his mind. "Even if you weren't digging, it's still your job to be nosy. What else do you remember?"
It was September.
There were cars in her father's driveway, which Shelly hadn't expected. They had eaten breakfast together that morning and she'd left her press pass on his kitchen counter by mistake. It was late in the evening, but Shelly had figured he wouldn't mind if she stopped by to grab it. The cars were both jet black and innocuous. Something strange was going on.
Shelly decided not to park in front of the house and instead slid her car silently against the adjacent neighbor's front curb. She shut off the engine, cut the headlights, slunk down in her seat a bit and waited. Minutes crept past and finally the front door opened, sending a sharp ray of white light into the darkness of the front porch. Three men walked out, followed by her father. They were silhouetted against the house and she could hear their voices speaking indistinctly with her father's. After a moment on the porch they left, one lagging behind to shake hands with Mr. Sandoval, and then the three men got into their cars and drove off. The night was too dark to see their license plates.
Feeling as though she'd just witnessed something significant, Shelly stayed motionless for a while, then turned on her car and drove up loudly into her father's driveway to give him warning. He was already opening the door as she raised her hand to knock.
"What's wrong?" Shelly asked immediately as her father greeted her. He already had the press pass in his hand, and she took it from him with a thanks.
"Ah, nothing gets past you, mija." The old man said. "It is this job. I was so excited at first but it is just more… political than I thought it would be. I am disturbed."
"I thought it was purely scientific?"
"Darling, science is always associated with politics," Mr. Sandoval sighed. "We just had a rather startling failure recently. It was… something I would prefer not to discuss even were I authorized."
"That's all I can remember," Shelly said, voice cracking.
"No, no, Shelly, don't cry," Frieda said. "It helps a lot to know what kind of business your father was dealing with."
"That's right, stop it," Madelyn sneered at Shelly from her place on the fallen log. "Maybe soon you'll stop overreacting and we can get things done."
"Okay! Okay!" Richie cut in sharply before Frieda or Shelly could speak. "Let's take a break. Madelyn? I want to talk to you. Alone. Now."
The other two women were looking murderous. Madelyn petulantly pushed herself up and limped toward Richie, who gave Frieda a knowing and apologetic look. The redhead paused and nodded in return, turning away as Richie pulled Madelyn through the brush and out of earshot of the others. The dead layer of leaves crumbled and crackled under their feet. Once alone, they stood between two oaks with intertwining branches overhead. The light that sifted through the canopy was startlingly bright and orange, and the occasional brown leaf drifted down around them.
"What the hell, Madelyn!" Richie burst out once he'd made sure they wouldn't be heard. He threw his arm to the side and pointed back towards the clearing. His metal bracelet reflected a flash of white light into the woods. "The woman just lost her father!"
"Yeah, well I lost a lot of things but you don't see me crying about it." Madelyn answered, shifting her weight and causing a rustling beneath them.
"You're a headcase, you know that right? What's wrong with you?"
"I don't care if you think I'm a bitch, I'm just telling the truth." She sniffed.
"Oh no. You know what I think, Madelyn?" Richie said suddenly, advancing on her. "I think all your snobbiness, all your control freak-ness, all of your high-and-mighty attitude - I think it's all just a defense mechanism."
"Oh yeah?" Madelyn demanded, eyes flashing, feet planted firmly. "Against what, your stupidity?"
"Ha. No," Richie said. "Against all those people at school who used to laugh at you."
"And you know what else I think?" Richie continued, drawing closer with blue eyes narrowed behind dark rimmed glasses. "I think that all you are is a lonely little girl who just happened to get juiced with Bang Baby gas, and instead of using her powers for good, wanted to get revenge."
He was right in front of her now, and she looked up at him angrily. She squared her narrow shoulders and refused to move, and when it was obvious that he wasn't planning to either, she shoved him hard in his chest.
"Hey, hey, watch it, Randy Savage," Richie taunted, swaying a little. Her arms pulled back to shove him again and he caught her by the wrists. "What are you doing, trying to steal Hulk Hogan's title?"
"You don't even know me," Madelyn hissed through clenched teeth, wrenching her hands free.
"No, I guess I don't," Richie admitted easily. He tapped his finger against his temple with his trademark sardonic, sideways grin. It transformed his boyish face, making him seem younger. "But I am a super genius, you know. Intuition comes with the territory."
She snorted in a very unladylike manner.
"Look, Madelyn," Richie said with a defeated sigh, uncharacteristically bleak. He was struck with a sudden longing to see his best friend again. Virgil certainly didn't cause him this much stress. "I know we've never been friends. Rivals maybe, but I don't hate you. For real. I know we'll never be tight. All I want is a truce. Stop taking out all your anger on us, and now especially Shelly, because it's counterproductive and irritating."
"Well, if you want that, I want an explanation," The girl stated bluntly. The breeze was stirring her silky hair like a black halo and again Richie thought of her lost barrette. They were standing so close that it seemed only natural to reach forward and tuck that stray lock behind her ear… but he stopped himself, narrowly avoiding the awkwardness that would have followed. "Tell me why."
Richie blinked behind his glasses and swallowed, still distracted by the strange compulsion. This conversation was taking a much different turn than he expected. "Um. What?"
"You're the super genius," She mocked. "Shouldn't a grasp of the obvious come with the territory?"
"Are you talking about… uh…"
"Madelyn, it's not really important anymore," He stalled.
"Foley," She pressed.
He ran a hand through his hair and looked away. "No."
"I deserve to know." The girl was nothing if not persistent. Kind of admirable, when it wasn't annoying. Richie sighed.
"I… You have to understand. I had no choice. Static put you away and it was for everyone's good. You can't deny that you did harm a lot of people."
"So I used a little mind control for week at DUHS and gave Static a couple bruises," She scoffed, waving her hand in the air as if brushing away a fly. "The biggest problems I ever caused in Dakota were some disruptions within the Metabreed. I was locked in that cell and drugged and sedated for months. Half the time I didn't know where I was. I wasn't allowed contact with anyone and I was straight jacketed. It was torture."
"It shouldn't have been that way," He said with a frown.
"It was excessive and unnecessary!"
"My answer is still no."
"Foley, I know you don't tell people even half of what you know. Everything you do, you have ulterior motives that even Static doesn't know. I've been in your head, Richie. I'm the only person who has the smallest idea what you do with that big brain of yours."
Richie made an exasperated noise. "What do you want from me, Madelyn?"
"The truth!" She said harshly. Richie's indecision was written plainly on his face. She looked at him expectantly.
"You don't know what you're asking."
"Tell me." She commanded.
"You had too much potential," It all came out in a rush with a force like a breaking dam and surprised both of them. When he continued Richie's voice was pained, barely a whisper. "Too much power. I could see it but... you didn't even understand it yourself. If you had honed it, found the mental stability and actually used it with true clarity and intention, you would have been too much for Static to handle. Eventually, a potential threat to the Justice League. That's why. It was… It was a preemptive measure." He looked down, afraid to meet her eyes. "Madelyn, I'm sorry." He implored. "Look, if you blame anyone, blame me. Virgil has no idea."
She was uncharacteristically quiet, and Richie tensed as the seconds crept by. They stood together, silent. He pushed his glasses up nervously and waited for the blow up, the indignant attitude.
"Was I ever going to be told this?" The girl whispered after an age. Her fingers itched, aching for her powers like a phantom limb.
"Honestly?" Richie answered. "No. Probably not."
There was no response.
"But I have a theory," Richie said desperately, grasping at straws. He was used to bold, confident, even rude Madelyn. This quiet, unhappy version of Madelyn was unsettling him. Like it upset the natural order of things. She finally looked up at him and her eyes made his breath catch.
"Madelyn, I -" He hesitated.
"Richie!" Frieda's voice rang out. It broke the spell.
"Go," Madelyn said. "Leave me alone."
"I just don't think you should be –"
"Richie!" Frieda called again.
"Just go, Foley."
He took half a step back toward the clearing and glanced over his shoulder.
So he left her.
Author's Note: My favorite part of this chapter is this last convo between Madelyn and Richie - I love the idea of him being the one who actually pays attention to the future and masterminds all kinds of shit. Static is just like "la la la put away a psycho let's go eat pizza" and whereas Richie is like "let me make sure I got this bitch under lock and key cause she could kick everybody's ass later and I'm not tryna deal with that shit." lol
Also, I'm still in love with the Madelyn and Richie love/hate romance, and it is progressing. Hopefully you guys like it. They just don't have a Disney relationship where they fall in love in two days.
Lol next chapter is half written. Much more action, maybe a flashback, and also Virgil, Mr. Hawkins, and Mrs. Foley! Idk who has bothered to keep tabs on this story, but if you have somehow… I would love, love, love a review. Please. Thanks!