Warnings: Slash, Language, Violence, Zombies. All the good stuff.
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, I don't even want them. I just want to borrow them so I can play. They're like action figures, in a way.
Mind the Gap
Chapter 1: Richie's Subway Hell
There was a time when Richie had the ability to vedge out, when he didn't have the problem of little voices in his head, sounding distinctly like himself, jabbering all the time about unrelated subjects. Before, he couldn't be working on updating Backpack's power generator, while mentally cataloging the various (but unfortunately not extensive) weaknesses of his nemeses, and at the same time checking whether he was right about nemeses indeed being the plural of nemesis, which of course he was because for the last few months he's been a certifiable genius. A few months before Richie certainly couldn't have done that, plus continuing an IM conversation with GLFan4, plus cooking a microwave burrito, plus mouthing the famous line, "Soylent Green… IS PEOPLE!" from the movie being run in the background. At least, not without gaining some extra limbs or a clone or something.
But now, not only he could, but he had to. He never could really control his thoughts, he figured no one could, but now instead of being aboard a runaway train, with one beginning and one destination, his brain was a runaway subway system, with ideas and thoughts moving in and out, two more getting aboard for every one that left. When did he start thinking in metaphors, anyways? It wouldn't be so bad if every signal that entered the steel doors was a useful and well-behaved commuter, a yuppie yammering in her cell phone, "You see, that Metahuman's powers seem to stem, pardon the pun, from natural wildlife, judging from his vine attacks. Not only does he increase the rate of the vegetation's growth, but he can in fact control them as if they were extra limbs. Vines use photosynthesis to grow, therefore…" No! Some commuters are the college aged, giggling perverts who take the close quarters as an excuse to pinch their fellow traveler's asses, and gleefully bellow, "Wonder what Fertilizer Man would look like in Poison Ivy's tights and bodice?", or the sad figures in the corner of the subway who helpfully pointed out, "Soylent Green… IS PEOPLE!"
Richie thought he had problems informing his best friend Virgil that his father was a racist, and that despite that, Richie loved him. When that was somewhat resolved, Richie then faced the problem of telling his best friend that he was gay, and that problem hadn't even been solved yet. If he couldn't tell Virgil that, how could he tell him that Richie's mind was a strange, spastic place where he was shocked everyday that he hadn't become completely lost to it? That the only times he felt divorced from it and back in reality was when Virgil was there to distract him, or when he was Gear, too busy staying alive to get lost in the chorus of a mutated brain? That he- FIREBALL!
Gear dodged quickly to the left as burst of flames flared his way. Crap! Things must have been getting worse if Richie's musings interrupted his job as Gear. He shot upwards from the garden's ground until he reached the height of the cement wall that marked the back of an excessively grand property. He fumbled for a zap cap, one that would soak the subject with water while it trapped him; perfect for jerks like Hotstreak, who, by the way, was currently racing towards him. Time was bought for him by Static, who raced forward, delivering a quick charge that hit just in front of Hotstreak, forcing the Metahuman to dodge to the right rather than to continue his pursuit.
"Hey, Hotdog! Up here!" Static shouted, charging for another electrical shot. Gear knew he was trying to distract the villain's attention from him, as usual, and if it didn't give Gear a clear shot to end the battle, he would have complained. After all, Gear cared about Static just as much as he assumed Static did him. Virgil didn't have to protect him anymore, his armor and Backpack did that. Hotstreak, temper that he had, rose to the challenge and turned around to streak towards Static.
"Not this time, you little punk!"
Static made a face in mock offense as he floated upward, shooting electrical energies at the pyromaniac, which Hotstreak managed to dodge. "Punk? Geeze, Hotstreak, do you blow your father with that mouth?"
"Oh, ew." Gear blurted out. It wasn't a picture pleasant even for a self-believed sex maniac like him, and he gave Static a disgusted look. Even the electrical superhero looked a bit appalled that he actually said that aloud, but not nearly as enraged as their very own firestarter, who jumped and rammed into Static in midair.
"What the… Shit, man! Below the belt! What the hell is the matter with you?"
In normal circumstances Gear would be inclined to agree, but instead he only felt a horribly cold dread as he watched his partner fall downwards in an angle for ten feet before hitting his back against a cement wall with a sickening thud, and then falling the remaining feet to the ground.
"Static!" Finally Gear found his liquidized zap cap and threw it with enough force that he felt his elbow pop. It hit Hotstreak right in the middle of his back, causing him to seize up as he tried to reach behind him to pull it off. The genius didn't bother to look as the mechanical arms surrounded the Metahuman, instead firing his thrusters on his boots to fly himself to his friend. Static grunted and stood up, leaning heavily against the cracked wall. Gear dropped himself all the way to the grassy ground, boots squishing into the damp grass as he carefully hovered a hand over his injured friend's shoulder. "Are you ok?" Instantly various diagnoses of possible results from back and neck injuries ran through Gear's head, none of them sounding fun.
"Yeah…," Grunted Static, giving Gear a strained smile that always soothed his troubled mind, even before it went from Hayesville, Pop. 5013 to New York freaking City. He raised his arms despite Gear's muttered 'easy', managing to get them up to the height of his shoulders before wincing and lowering them. "My back and the wall broke my fall. Just going to be sore tomorrow. And the night after that… and the night after that. But I don't think anything's broken."
"Well, no. You're not weeping that much."
"Low blow, bro." He smiled again as he held out a hand, which sizzled with blue energy, calling his disc back to him from the damp grass that it rested against. After grabbing it he tucked the disc under his arm and moved to confront the now contained Hotstreak, who was already doused with the spray of water. Gear followed, his brilliant mind being extraordinarily helpful by rattling off fun concepts like Spinal Damage! Permanent Back Pain! Deformities! Undetected Internal Injuries! and even more useful contemplations of how 'Low blow, bro' rhymed perfectly in iambic diameter, so much so that a little café junky traveling in his Subway Hell repeated the wonderful phrase over and over and over.
"Alright, Hotstreak! What's your deal?" Static managed to ignore his likely burning shoulders to half lift Hotstreak from the ground with his powers, pulling them nose to nose. "First you try to burn down a park, leaving the community to clean up your mess, then you attack some kid who needed Gear's autograph to calm him down, next you drag us miles away from home when you attack the Governor's mansion! What gives?"
Hotstreak glared, angry face reddening while he undoubtedly contemplated swearing out the superhero who was about to send him back to the very place he made a break from a week prior. His angry features smoothed out to a smug sneer, and he shrugged as best as he was able to.
"Told ya, Lightning rod. I like to burn shit."
Static sighed in disgust but didn't look surprised as he used his powers to crash the captive BangBaby against the very wall Static recently found himself unhappily acquainted with, creating enough static electricity to keep Hotstreak stuck like a bug in custard until the cavalry arrived. Speaking of which…
The heroes heard the squishing of tramping feet on muddy ground as finally the police made their way to the back part of the once ornate garden, which now held areas of burnt vegetation and cinder piles. Finding Hotstreak adequately secured and soaked, Gear pressed a signal on his wrist and retracted the zap cap, catching it with one hand.
"Neat, huh? I hear the pitter-patter of teeny tiny police feet." Gear glanced at Hotstreak. "We're not going to get any other answers from him, we better go."
Static nodded as he moved on his disc, flying up and away as Gear followed, the police finally arriving to surround the Bang Baby. Gear flew closer to his best friend than usual, worried that his injuries from the fall were worse than Static wanted to let on to his enemy… and to his friend.
"You really think that his attacks in the last week have really been random?" Static asked. Gear was already several steps ahead of him, calculating the probability that the flares of violence were really just their favorite fire junky letting off some steam, and not some part of a, now hopefully thwarted, plan. Hotstreak, though no low threat, was not some sorta Joker-wannabe like Ebon. If it was the shadowy Bang Baby Gear wouldn't have a doubt that there was some reason behind his violence. Evil but cunning, Ebon probably wouldn't have risked recapture just for the sake of it. Hotstreak, on the other hand, was a bully in the more classical sense, with a temper that led him as much as Gear's mind moved himself.
"Well… I've studied the attacks." Gear mentally added, 'If by studied you mean finished analyzing them before I even realized that I was thinking about it. Man, that's so creepy.' "First was that park in front of our old Elementary school, in the middle of the night. There were no materials found there, no evidence from the wreckage that Hotstreak would have wanted to destroy. Just looked like petty vandalism hopped up on the Bang's crazy gas." So what else was new? "The second attack fits Hotstreak's pattern of bullying, like he did to us-" But especially you "-when we were in high school together. Preying on kids didn't go out of style when he got the Bang, I guess." Sometimes, Gear felt, the worse people possible were the ones who got caught in the blast. It just wasn't fair. Why couldn't it be a furniture salesman that got the laser-vision, which he used to cook marshmallows in December? But then he'd remember his friend Static… maybe all the trouble boom babies caused were the price a city paid for one Bonafide Electrified Superhero. Gear forced himself back to the main train of thought. "As for the governor…"
"Maybe Hotstreak voted Democrat, and was protesting the results." Static joked, causing Gear to snicker at the thought of Hotstreak waiting patiently in line at a polling station to perform his civic responsibility and vote for either candidate.
"Wow, Static. You know which party our governor represents. I didn't know you had it in you. Way to go." Gear, of course, knew. He couldn't help knowing, despite not really caring about local politics at his young age. Sorta hard to find such things important when you're facing death and destruction every week. But now he soaked up information like a sponge, more travelers aboard the crazy train- No, subway system. Each fact and allusion jostling each other for his attention; he can't just NOT KNOW which party represented his state, and the other states, and which parties in Canada had a foot-hold and it was very, VERY-
"Well, the chances were 50/50." Static smiled
Gear was rescued from his thoughts by Static. Thank God for Static/Virgil. Without giving it much thought, Gear shot Static a grateful smile, barely visible through his helmet's bulletproof shield. Sometimes Richie felt as he was likely to get trapped the ever widening gyre of his mind. "The center cannot hold"…Damn it; I didn't use to be able to quote things like that. I don't even like poetry.
When he was a kid his family visited New York, of all places. He didn't remember why, and they never talked about it. But he remembered that labyrinth of a subway that raced under the mammoth city. It scared the four-year-old Richie, especially the gap where the Subway reached the station, which the travelers would have to walk across to reach the other side. The image of Richie falling down into the dark space between the subway car and solid ground stayed with him for the rest of his life, and now was being recycled as his mind seemed to spiral farther than he ever thought possible.
Static was still staring at him. Crap, how long had he been floating still, staring into Static's eyes but not seeing him, thinking about so many things at once? Gear was about to crack a joke, laugh at Static's, say anything to normalize the situation when Static interrupted.
"Hey, so, we're in a nice part of town. Wanna get changed and grab something to eat?"
Gear wasn't expecting that. "But you're hurt. Don't you want to get home, rest yourself? Or get checked out at a clinic?" Even better.
Static just shrugged, and then winced in pain. "Naw, I'm cool." He caught Gear's smirk as his actions proved his words false. "What if I have a concussion, and have to keep conscious?"
"You're flying up here with me, not rolling around the ground in your own vomit. Your head's fine, it's your back I'm worried about, bro."
"It just needs to be rested against something nice and soft… like a booth! I know just the place!"
"Or a bed… V, a late night snack would be nice, but what about the time? It's nearly midnight, our parents could check on us at any moment for something. What if they get concerned when 'we' don't wake up?"
"Those mannequins of yours are first rate, Gear. It even looks like we- they're breathing."
Gear sighed. "I don't want to push our luck." He looked up again. "Oh god, V, don't look at me like that. Come on, we could get in trouble. I mean, Richie and Virgil show up in a town outside of Dakota five minutes after Gear and Static go salida? I know civilians sometimes seem a bit… thick in regards to us, but it just takes one observant person to… Oh, for the love of-! Stick your lower lip back in, I'm going! I'm going!"
"Yes!" Static pumped his fist, and then winced, holding it to his chest. "Ow, you didn't see that. Come on, I know where it is. It has awesome fish and chips."
"Since when do you like- Hey!" Gear sped up to catch his partner as he made his way west over the light-spotted city. "Wait, I don't have any money!"
"Don't worry about it, I- Ow…" Static lowered his arm that he had lifted up to wave off Gear's comment. "You didn't see that either."
The two friends raced off from the sky to touch the ground
When Virgil opened the door for him, Richie didn't think about it.
It was a nice place, evidently owned by determined people, being a Fish and Chip eatery so far from the sea. Richie was surprised it was open so late. It was the type of restaurant that had blue checkered cloth and every second order was clam chowder.
"Adam took my sister and us here for her birthday. It was real out of the way but he said it had a nice atmosphere. I saw him use the coupons, though." Virgil led them down towards the back of the restaurant to a booth next to a window, gesturing for Richie to sit down first. Something tickled the back of the prodigy's mind he obeyed, but he was already distracted by noting the various emergency exits of the buildings and the percentage of their chances for escape in case of Metahumans, fire, or, if Spiderman II taught him anything, Dr. Octopus. With Virgil and him watching each other's backs, the chances were pretty good.
Richie smiled at Virgil over the candle that separated them, and then gave the offending wick a look. Virgil got the picture and licked his thumb and forefinger, then caught the flame between them with a hiss. Richie felt certain areas of his body tighten at the move, but that reaction had become so common in his adolescence he was a pro at ignoring it, and instead said, "Much better. I'm sick of anything above 300° for the rest of the night." Richie rested his chin on the palm of his hand and raised his eyebrows. "So… 'blow your father with that mouth?'"
"Aw man…" Virgil laughed, relaxing against the booth as best he could. "I heard that line from some movie and I was just dying to use it. It just sorta slipped out."
"Maybe you deserved to get knocked around a bit."
"Ok, he was attacking…" Virgil lowered his voice. "The governor. And I'm the bad guy?" Virgil asks in exaggerated offense.
"He was attacking the governor's hedge animals. And yeah, that statement was wrong on so many levels." Richie paused, pretending to count on his fingers. "At least four."
Virgil crouched over the table towards Richie, which really just involved him moving forwards as his shoulders were already in a hunch. "I'll say sorry next time he breaks out."
Richie came forward to meet him. "To him? Try saying sorry to me, I was faced with a very, very bad image for a moment."
"I'm sorry." Another flash of white teeth.
"It sucked…" Richie trailed off. Once again he was hit by the feeling that something was off. Really, really off. Was… Virgil getting red? It was hard to tell with his pigment, unlike Richie's which burned with sun freckles by early June. Richie unthinkingly moved closer and looked analytically over his glasses, noting the sudden hitch of breath from his best friend. He narrowed his eyes. Reddened tone, difficulty breathing… perhaps Virgil was coming down with a fever? It normally did not take Virgil so long to recover from battle. "Are you tired?"
"Huh?" Virgil looked at him in apparent shock. "Of what?"
"What do you mean?" Richie pulled back from Virgil, who quickly averted his gaze. Richie grinned knowingly. "Aw, man, I got you…" Virgil swiftly brought up his menu; placing it in such a manner that it almost looked like the upside-down menu was growing spiky dreadlocks. "I told you it was late. If you're so drained, you shouldn't have got us to come here. We could have checked this out some other time…"
"Yeah… no! I'm fine." Virgil peeked out from behind the menu. "I'm great."
Richie smiled and nodded, then flipped Virgil's menu for him. His best friend was even more stubborn than he was. Arguing about it would only strengthen his resolve and waste valuable time. The quicker they ate, the quicker they got home and Richie put Virgil to bed. Or flew him to his street. The other way would just be weird. Richie let out a huffed laugh when Virgil had enough sense to look embarrassed after his menu was righted, and stared at his own in smug complacency. He wished he was always so insightful about his friend. But he had to admit, he was getting better.
"So…" Virgil began, hoping to change the conversation. "You think Static and Gear are gonna get some commendations for their heroic rescue of the governor's… plants?"
"I dunno…" Richie figured he'd conform for a bit, and decided on the chowder. "From what I remember about his campaign, he's more likely to focus on the fact that he was attacked by a Bang Baby than that he was saved by Bang Babies."
Virgil wrinkled his nose. "I liked the other guy."
"V, who was the other guy?" Richie grinned, and laughed when Virgil spun a long finger in a mimic of the universal, 'whoop-de-do.' He didn't mean the taunt, though. V was brilliant, the smartest kid Richie knew, especially on his feet. He was even sent to a special school due to his prevails in science, and that was for brains he didn't get from a freak gas explosion. Richie once again envied Virgil for the luxury of forgetting the unimportant details of life… Hell, even the important ones, from time to time.
"The fish and chips are good."
"Yeah, I think I heard that somewhere," Richie wryly noted, then changed his tone "I don't have to eat; I don't have any money on me."
"Look, don't worry about it; I'll take care of it. Just get what you want." Virgil locked his eyes back on the menu.
"I'll pay you back" Richie muttered, still unsure.
"Or not. Whatever, doesn't matter." Virgil shrugged and stared at the menu.
Again Richie felt that feeling, like he was staring into the pulse of fear, the eye of dread. Basically, at something very, very bad. And it surrounded Virgil. "Clam chowder then," Richie stated, staring out the window. Alright, his intuition was telling him that something was wrong with Virgil. Intuition, Richie figured, is just when your subconscious knows something that the rest of your brain hasn't quite come up with it yet. It was the first time in a long time since Richie's brain was spinning slowly enough for there to be a discrepancy between his subliminal and superluminal minds. Must have been Virgil, he always distracted him. Well, it was time to speed things up. Ok, Richie figured, we'll analyze the way we used to, before when we didn't even had to think about the questions before the answers were right there in blinking red letters. Go through the things that stood our hair up, one by one. Put together the pieces of the puzzle. Richie began his mental outline, which visually appeared to him as black writing on the whiteboard kept at the gas station.
Weirdness 1: Virgil stopped us in mid-flight, seemingly spontaneously, to go to this specific restaurant.
Despite it being near midnight.
b) Despite us both being tired.
c) Despite him being injured.
d) Despite him not seeming very hungry.
Possible explanations: Unknown.
Weirdness 2: Virgil jogged ahead of me to open the door for me.
a) Despite him being the injured one, not me.
Possible explanations: Guarding against poisoned handles? Unknown.
Weirdness 3: Virgil shows evidence of ill health
Shortness of breath.
b) Blushing of cheeks (well, as close they can get, anyways).
c) Minute shaking of the fingers.
d) Very fine sheen of sweat evident around the temples and fingers, which
are leaving marks on his menu.
Possible explanations: Fever. Fatigue. Possible Infection?
Weirdness 4: He keeps staring at me!
a) It's getting freaky. I wish he'd stop.
Richie sighed as he interrupted his list with the morbid musing that he was slowly turning into a computer. Soon Virgil will have a Macintosh for a best friend… well, not a Mac. If he was going to be a human robot, he'd at least be a decent one. Weirdness 5… well, this definitely wasn't a place Virgil and he normally would go for a bite. Firstly, their table had the classy signature of a tablecloth, and none of the items on their menus started with 'Mc' or contained a pun. There weren't even placemats where Richie could lead Red Robin out of the maze and to his steaming chicken dinner. (That was wrong on only two levels). Richie absently poked the single pink carnation that was settled in a thin white vase on the window's side of their table with his finger, and then ran his hand along its delicate stem. Most notably, the closest things any of their usual hangouts would have had to this flower were sugar packets or maple syrup. And only in a roundabout fashion, in that they either came from sugar cane or maple trees, meaning both have roots (another pun, why did his mind torture him so?) in vegeta-
No. God no… Richie looked at the head of the dying carnation, having been broken from its stalk with clenching fingers. But Richie had other things on his mind than the one more casualty from an already disastrous evening for the area's plant-life. Virgil's eyes moved from Richie's hand back to his face, where Richie warily met his gaze head on. He felt a hollow lump in his stomach as the pieces snapped together as terminally as the carnation snapped apart, the bright red letters finally rising up from his subconscious to batter Richie with the most offensive four-letter word in the English dictionary. Surprisingly, it began with 'D', and wasn't referred to, as Richie originally thought, as 'see you next Tuesday'.
Richie watched as Virgil's eyes stared in a manner not unlike the gaze of a dog Richie once met moments before it became road-kill. It all made sense, and no sense at all. He said it had a nice atmosphere. Richie crushed the carnation in a fist, knuckles going nearly as white as his face. But where's YOUR coupon, you son of a bitch? Richie swallowed as he looked away; the flash of anger broke way to a wave of fear and confusion. How could this be possible? Virgil was his best friend! His straight best friend! Richie LIKED his straight best friend! He ADORED his straight best friend! Virgil was the best part of his life… why was he trying to ruin it? What the FUCK?
Richie drew back, eyes narrowed even as Virgil's were wide in panic. The electrical hero raised two hands and lowered them again, as one would calm a frightened animal, or perhaps beseech vengeful god. But the table remained deafeningly silent. Richie let out a slow breath. This was his punishment for all the times he scoffed at the phrase, 'too smart for your own good'. Figures his analytical mind would gleefully scrutinize its way to this situation but then leave him in the lurch to try to figure out how the hell he should deal with his straight best friend tricking him into a date. The silence persisted, each hero suddenly more afraid of the teen sitting opposite him than all the Metabreed combined.
And that was why both boys were so relieved when their restaurant was attacked by zombies.