Trial By Fire

Chapter 1

Author's notes: okay, so since people have been badgering me, HERE IT IS! The sequel to Courage Under Fire, the totally redone Trial By Fire. A few things have definitely been changed, but I'm keeping at least one or two original characters.

I should also forewarn you all that I am a full-time college student, I'm majoring in English/Creative Writing (Predictable, yes no?) so that means I will be busy for the next few months. When I am not in class, I am usually doing homework, reading, or writing papers. School, and work, always comes first for me, but I will do my best to bring this out to you. Again, I am in college, so I WILL be busy!

Disclaimer: I've said it before, I'll say it again, The WB owns the boys and any characters you recognize from the show. Donovan, Natasha and Jack all belong to me, so no stealing!

So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen…Trial By Fire…


He sat perched on the rooftop of the old apartment building like a hawk on a branch, the musty old smell of fish and motor oil lingering in the heavy, late summer air. While the day had been humid and noisy despite the high temperatures, the night around him was still and unnervingly quiet as he looked through his night-vision binoculars at the waterfront below him. The man had a small briefcase on him, and looked like a regular dark leather briefcase to the untrained eye; but years of being in the business had helped him perfect his tactics. This was a business where any sort of mistake could mean imprisonment, even death.

Sure, he would admit that his…occupation…was less-than-legal. But he wasn't about to list "Occupation: Smuggler" on his census forms…

Suddenly some movement caught his eye. He took an infrared scanner out of his briefcase and looked through it. It was definite; the boat had just come in. that meant he would need to get closer. He quickly, yet quietly, packed up his things and slinked along the roof, rushing down the rusty fire escape, careful not to alert the people living inside the building. Rationality scolded him, besides, what did he have to fear from a bunch of addicts and drunks anyway?

There was at least a ten-foot drop from the bottom of the fire escape to the alley below, and he didn't want to risk lowering the rusty ladder and drawing attention to himself. He made a quick calculation, spied a pile of black trash bags, and made his decision. In one fluid motion, he was able to throw his briefcase over to the pile, and it landed with a quiet thump on top of the pile. Next, he lowered himself off the side of the fire escape, and dangled by his arms like he was preparing for a pull-up. Then he calmly let himself fall, landing in a crouch. The impact, though minimized, sent shockwaves through his joints, and he bit his bottom lip to keep from crying out. Anti-arthritis medication my ass, he thought. He may have been pushing sixty, but this man was far from ready to retire just yet…

As soon as his feet hit the ground, and after he grabbed his things, he rushed towards the docks, his dark clothes helping him blend in perfectly with the shadowy and sordid surroundings. As he meandered through the deserted alleyways, skirting around dumpsters and rusting trash cans, he felt his heart jump a few times. No, not tonight, he couldn't afford to mess up now. It's just nerves, he told himself. No need to lose it now.

Finally he made it to the docks and hid himself behind a warehouse, watching the barge carefully. He could barely see it through the mist, but once he took his infrared scanner out again, he was able to see red shapes walking around.

Guards.

He inwardly cursed. He may not have the chance to get inside that night. Knowing this buyer, whatever the cargo aboard that barge was, it wasn't going to be above-board. He furrowed his brows and looked around him. Lots of guards, but so far, nothing else out of the ordinary. He had to admit, it was pretty clever of them to use an old, barnacle-encrusted, and rusting old ship to carry this cargo— if this was, in fact, the cargo he was looking for. Most people would have looked at the ship and thought it was simply an old oil tanker, nothing more, nothing less. The fact it was an oil tanker on Lake Dakota, when there were no oil refineries—at least none still in service—that was suspicious.

Suddenly, he saw through the infrared, a limousine pull up. Curious, he decided to get a little closer…

After skulking past a couple armed guards, he managed to get close enough to the limo to see someone get out. He bit his lip to keep from gasping out loud, but his eyebrows shot up.

Edwin Alva Jr, he thought. Well I'll be damned. He knew that Alva Corp was somehow involved in this trade-off, but he'd never guessed Edwin's kid was behind it.

He'd heard very little about Tech Corp in the past couple years, at least not since Alva Sr. had succumbed to one of his experiments. The news reports were as varied as the rumors and tabloid trash that circulated soon after the incident, but all that they had ever agreed on was that there had been an explosion in one of Alva Corp's labs that took the life of Alva Sr. as well as a couple young scientists. The smuggler had forgotten their names, but apparently they were notorious for trying to bring down Static Shock.

Whatever occurred, Edwin Alva Jr. succeeded his father and took over the company, managing within a year to boost profits, and provide more jobs for people desperately in need of it. Edwin had even donated money to humanitarian efforts and granted money to an Edwin Alva Sr. Scholarship.

The spying smuggler wasn't fooled. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and he was quite certain that the kid was just as twisted and obsessed as his father. The entire smuggling underworld knew that Alva Sr. was notorious for his biological testing, and many refused to work with him. The smuggler's own syndicate had broken off ties with the dead businessman long ago…was it really twenty years?

The only real thing he knew was the Big Bang…when all those freaks had been created during a gang battle. Many people guessed that the Big Bang resulted in Static Shock, as well as all those "Bang Babies" or whatever the hell they were called. This smuggler didn't care—all he needed was a substantial paycheck, and he was happy.

Edwin exited the limo and a tall dark-haired man in a business suit materialized out of the mist. Both men were dressed in black business suits, and they held a short conversation, probably trying to reach an agreement on the price of the goods.

This was starting to get interesting. But the spy could have sworn he knew that other man from somewhere…then it hit him like a semi going 85 in a 50 zone. Donovan Holmes. That name was notorious to criminals everywhere. The guy was one-half Italian, one-half Russian, and all infamous. Though his name had not hit the mainstream media—yet—his name was still spoken as a curse in governments and intelligence agencies all around the world. He was well-known to stockpile weapons and bombs, and the rumors went that Donovan even had samples of Ebola virus and smallpox that he used to keep world leaders and enforcers from getting to close to him.

Oh yes, Donovan was a Class-A asshole, and it didn't take a genius to figure that whatever Alva Jr. was doing with this creep, the kid was in way over his head.

The spying smuggler finally witnessed the end of the transaction as both men shook hands, and Donovan swept his arm as an expression of welcome. Throwing his arm around Alva's shoulders, he led the man towards the ship, giving the signal to his men to start unloading.

The smuggler didn't like this at all. Why on earth was Alva Corp investing in a terrorist? It made no sense to him, but considering the company's past, it probably shouldn't have surprised him. But he'd seen enough. His instincts were telling him to get away while he still could, but something stopped him.

A forklift had been started and was being operated by one of Donovan's goons, it seemed. A pod bay door opened on the side of the ship on the side closest to the smuggler's position, and he was able to see inside. This time, he did gasp…in horror.

Biochemical matter. Weapons. Alva Corp was buying mutagenic gases from…wait. His brain skidded to a halt.

Holy shit, he thought.

Alva was going to stage another Big Bang.


The kids immediately cheered as the flame-haired man walked in the door. They whooped and hollered, and a couple of the preteen boys pounced and jumped on his back.

"Francis!" they all cried out joyfully. A number of the smaller children at the Freedman's Community Center rushed over to greet him.

Francis Stone, a former juvenile delinquent—and jail bait—had been a free man for three years, and as his parole officer had mentioned once before, he was impressed by how well Francis had reentered society. Part of it might have had something to do with the bang-baby's relations and connections, but mostly, the preferred theory was that the two loves of his life were what set him right.

He laughed and grinned ear to ear as the kids crowded around him. He hugged each and every one of them, ruffling the hair of a few boys and throwing smiles at a couple girls, who giggled behind their little hands as if they shared a secret with the man.

Francis had finally cut his hair short again—the long hair wasn't cutting it anymore. He had shaved a bit too, preferring a more clean-cut appearance. He was now 31 years of age, and in the prime of his life, a smile ever-present on his face. He had a lot to smile for: he was given a new life, a new home, a chance to turn his whole life around that resulted in one of the nicest jobs he'd ever had. And the fact he was in love with the two greatest men in the world helped too…

He looked up after someone cleared their throat; Francis smiled and nodded politely. "Hey, Mr. H."

Time had been good to Robert Hawkins, the man still radiated a calm and had a presence that afforded him the respect and prestige in the community, and even around the whole city. Robert's son, Virgil, was a prominent lawyer in the criminal justice system, and they knew the father by association with the son. He was well-respected, and all of it was equally deserved. And though his hair was graying, his vision getting poorer, and joints starting to bother him, there was still the spark in his eye that showed he was not down and out yet.

Robert smiled fondly and opened his arms for a hug, which Francis returned wholeheartedly.

"Welcome back," Robert said. "We were afraid you wouldn't come back."

"I've been busy at the shop—I was commissioned to work on this one guy's bike, and he kept changing his mind on what he wanted. It was such a pain…"

"Well, we're glad to have to back," the elder said, throwing a fatherly arm around the flame-haired man's shoulders. He led him in the direction of the gym. "Randy and Todd have been badgering me about getting you to play another game."

"No way," he scoffed. "I beat them fair and square."

"Francis, the boys are eight and ten."

He crossed his arms over his chest and pouted like a little boy stuck in a corner. "I still won."

Robert chuckled. "Susan's been looking for you too."

"Oh jeez," he rolled his green eyes. "What'd I do now?"

"It seems you promised to help her arrange the canned food drive for Thanksgiving…"

"That's three months away!" Francis argued. "Can't it wait?"

"Francis," Robert lightly scolded. "You gave your word…"

"Alright," he said dejectedly, throwing his hands up in the air in defeat, "Alright, alright…I get it. I'll go find her and organize it…" he stopped just outside the gym's door and looked inside to see all the kids running around. He stopped when he saw two familiar faces. Robert nodded his assent and allowed the younger man walk inside and stride over to…

"Hey Ivan, Natasha!" he called out, waving his arms.

Ivan and Natasha Evans had been married for less than a year, but already, Francis could see the blind woman's bulging stomach beneath her dress. When he'd heard the news from Virgil, he was stunned. His initial reaction—as well as Richie's—was to shudder and convulse at the thought of Ivan "Ebon" Evans procreating. But, as time wore on, he gradually came to accept the idea, even welcome it. His relationship with his former rival was still icy at best, but for the most part, Francis and Ivan had managed to bury the hatchet…and not in each other's backs.

Natasha, also known as Serendipity, for her ability to predict the future and see things that others couldn't, turned her lovely face in the direction of his voice and smiled sweetly, a maternal glow emanating from her like a halo of heavenly light. Ivan looked like a nervous wreck, trying to get her to sit down. She was well along in her pregnancy, and by the size of her stomach, Francis guessed she didn't have long to go. As he reached them, she finally gave in to her husband's pleas and sat in a folding chair, and accepted the hug from Francis and kissed him on the cheek in greeting.

"It is so good to hear your voice again," she said, beaming. "We haven't heard from you in quite some time…"

"Yeah, Red," Ivan teased. "We thought you'd be dead in a ditch somewhere."

"Yeah, you wish," Francis muttered. "So how much longer?"

Natasha smiled and laid her hand on her stomach. "Tomorrow is the due date, but I believe this little one will be late. I believe she will be the type who likes to sleep in late on weekends, and will be very stubborn…"

"It'll be a boy," Ivan said smugly.

"I don't know why you even bother," Francis said to him, arching an auburn eyebrow. "You know she's right."

Ivan whispered, "Yeah, but that's not what I've been telling all the guys I work with: they got their money on it being a boy."

Francis grinned. "Easy money?"

"Easy money," the dark man said, high-fiving the meta-human. Natasha asked, "I don't sense Virgil or Richard with you. Are they working?"

Ivan and Francis shared a look. "Uh, yeah…hard at work as usual. In fact, they had to take a, um, business trip…"

She smiled knowingly. "Ah, I see…missing them?"

"All the time," he said truthfully.

Francis' green eyes kept sliding down to her stomach, and it appeared even to the casual observer that his mind was processing things.

"Francis," Natasha said, "sit."

He obeyed, and she placed her hands on his cheeks and guided his face to hers. Though her eyes were physically sightless, her special abilities granted to her through an unfortunate turn of events gave her the capability to "see" far more than an average person…

Where did they go?

Francis didn't care how long he knew her; the telepathy would always unnerve him. The very notion that she could drill into his head and read his thoughts bothered him.

I can not read your thoughts, Francis. Thoughts can not be 'read'.

Whatever, he thought.

Did they say where they were? she asked.

He shook his head. They mentioned leaving the country—something for the League.

This bothers you, she noted.

I hate being left out of the loop. It's the Justice League, not the fucking CIA!

Natasha smiled smugly. Should I tell you? The American Government has offered me work.

He glanced at her, his eyebrows nearly disappearing into his hairline. REALLY?

Yes, they think I could do good work for reconnaissance… she winked.

He groaned. You mean reading the enemy's mind, and getting information from that?

Precisely.

He had to find satirical humor in that. It was just too damn funny—all those conspiracy buffs would have taken this as definite proof that the US government was using psychic spies. Well, at least now he knew there was some validity to those claims.

So I'm guessing Ivan will have to get used to you saying 'I'd tell you how my day was, but then I'd have to kill you' then?

She thought about it, cocking her head to the side and pursing her lips. No, I don't believe so…he's smart enough to know to not ask.

One would think… he thought before he could stop himself.

She smiled and laughed a little. Ivan looked at her quizzically; she touched his arm, asking, "Would you get us some water please, dear? I'm parched."

He nodded, and kissed her forehead before walking away to do as he was asked. Natasha turned back to Francis.

"You have nothing to worry about," she assured him. "If Virgil and Richard are not sharing these things with you, there has to be a good reason."

"If there is, I can't see it," he sighed dejectedly. "I worry about them, you know? It's a dangerous job, what they do…and a thankless one…"

She nodded in understanding, resting a slender hand on his knee to comfort him. "You feel as though something would happen to them, and that you'd never see them again?"

He stared right into her face. "It scares the living shit out of me."

"Then tell them, when they get back. Tell them how this worries you, trust me, they will understand."

Francis said nothing, but felt a small hand tug at the hem of his crimson red t-shirt. He looked to his right and saw a small boy with a basketball in his hands. He was looking up at him with hope in his round dark eyes. Francis smiled.

"Hey Natasha…I'm gonna play a couple games."

She grinned. "Enjoy yourself."

"Don't worry," he said, standing, and pausing to stretch his legs. "I will."

Natasha heard the other children cheer as Francis' sneakers thudded against the wood flooring in the community center's gymnasium. The rubber soles of sneakers squeaked against the polished floor as a shrill whistle was blown, and children's shouts, playful jeers, and cheers rang out around the room just as Francis' laughter did.

"He really likes those kids, doesn't he?" Ivan said as he sat back down with his wife. He handed her a water bottle, already opened for her convenience. She smiled fondly; her husband treated her so well. As she sipped her water, she sighed. Ivan's hand covered hers and gripped it. She chuckled.

"Its fine, dearest…the time has not yet come." She could easily predict how he would react to her labor: he would try to put on the appearance of calm, but would really be as jumpy as…how did Francis once put it? Ah yes…'as jumpy as a squirrel on crack'. She struggled to hide the amused smile as it threatened to spill from her lips. That sounded about right…

She gasped as something shot through her psyche.

"Natasha?" her worried husband asked. "Are you alright?" he wrapped his arms around her protectively.

Though it was quite hot and humid inside the gym, the smell of sweat rising into the air, a thick perfume mingling with the smells of the summer air, Natasha felt a chill rush over her body. It was then she was certain of something, something she had hoped was over and done with from years ago.

"No…" she gasped.

"Natasha?" Ivan asked.

She shook herself out of it. "I'm fine," she said. "Just, had a little feeling…and it is NOT the baby!" she said before he could freak out. But the sense that she had received bothered her greatly. It bothered her about as much as being under the "care" of Miles Fisher had been…that's when it occurred to her.

"Ivan darling," she said in a voice betraying her concern. "We need to find Static."


A/N: how was that for a first chapter of the new fic? Please read and review. When I say this is a sequel, I mean it—questions that remained unanswered in Courage Under Fire will be answered here. I will update whenever I get the chance, so please remain patient with me.