Author's Note: What's up with not having a slot for movieverse fic? Not cool, ff dot net. Anyway, I'm attempting to branch out of the whole giant robot bracket, so here's a bit of flaming skeleton for you.

Vengeance Doesn't Pay

Stunt riding and the spotlight had lost its thrill for Johnny Blaze. Jumping semi trucks was all well and good, but the Ghost Rider could go straight up buildings without even thinking about it. There wasn't much Blaze had left to prove to himself.

His criminal record was cleared through a convenient combination of missing paperwork and the fact that there was no way he could have smuggled a blowtorch into his jail cell and cut his way out after taking on a room full of skinheads and druggies who swore up and down that he'd turned into a demon before their eyes. If it didn't make sense, the police didn't want to think about it.

That left Blaze with his girlfriend, his bike, and a substantial but not extensive bank account left over from his public career. And his alter ego, of course, but the Rider didn't seem the type to entertain children at parties.

After a week of half-hearted poking at the want ads, Johnny was approached by Bob Carmichael Senior and offered a job.

Bob was an older, slightly pot-bellied man who hailed from Georgia and had the accent to prove it. The marks of his trade showed on his overalls in grease stains and scorch marks and he walked with a slight limp, a little parting gift from his time in the war. In general, he was the sort of man you either had as an uncle, mechanic, or bartender and to whom you confided secrets about beautiful but sinister women who'd left you to sleep with James Bond.

Bob owned a bike repair shop down at the end of town and would be right honored if a famous rider like himself would come on down and do a bit of honest work for him. Blaze accepted, partially because it was good work and partially because Roxanne was standing behind Bob's back holding a large notepad with the words 'TAKE THE JOB' written on it in red Sharpie. Sweet woman, but she wasn't about to let him sit at home and idle his life away in front of the TV.

The job was fairly quiet and uneventful, which suited Blaze just fine after performing in front of stadiums of screaming fans. The hours were ideal, too; Bob had almost total night blindness and he always closed before dark, leaving Johnny free to pursue his other job without bursting into flames the moment some scumbag dragged his ass through the door. There were two other workers who stayed out of sight most of the time, and Bob came by every once and a while to perch on the workbench and shoot the breeze with Blaze while he worked.

It was relaxing, really.

"Beautiful woman you've got there, Johnny," the old mechanic said one late summer afternoon as Blaze patched up a fuel line that had somehow gotten fragments of hair and bone inside the tattered hole. He was hoping they belonged to a possum.

Bob always called him 'Johnny', right from the moment they met, drawing out the name ever so slightly. 'Blaze' sounded too much like a horse or a dog, Bob said, and things were much more personal down where he came from.

"Roxanne? Yeah, she's really something."

"Not her." Bob gestured towards Grace's spot at the door, where she glowed like a queen among the dull dented machines piled up around her. "Her."

"Oh." Johnny chuckled as he fumbled around in his toolbox. "Yeah, her too."

Bob managed to heave himself up from the workbench and limped over to take a better look. There was something almost lewd in the way he touched the handlebars, the way someone might feel out a beautiful woman or look at a piece of priceless artwork.

"She looks real pretty on the TV, when you were jumpin' all them trucks and 'copters and things on fire, but the TV don't really do her justice at all. One of a kind, this girl is. I keep tryin' to get my son interested in all this but he just runs off with that hoodie gang, playin' his damn video games and messin' up the neighborhood and then complainin' when he runs into a bigger bully'n he is and gets his face busted in, can't take a healthy interest in anything normal..."

One filthy, callused hand slid over the seat as his rantings trailed off into a respectful silent smile. He tilted his head up and looked longingly at Blaze, as if asking for a drink of water in the desert. "M'not as young as I used to be, Johnny, but I wouldn't mind just one go-round with her in the back lot."

Johnny felt the sting of jealousy at that, but Bob was an old man and it seemed to mean so much to him. A few minutes of riding wouldn't hurt anything.

"All right. One go-round."

Blaze wheeled Grace out to the yard and let Bob settle down onto her. The older man started the engine and just sat for a moment, letting the purr of Grace's motor flow through him with his eyes half-closed while his bum leg dangled on the ground. One hand ran down the gas tank and Blaze was about to ask if the two of them needed a room before Grace began moving in a slow circle around the yard.

It was almost cute, like seeing a toddler on a Big Wheel. But Bob went faster, eyes half-lidded and face turned up, faster still and now Blaze was sure Bob'd had more experience than he admitted because no normal person would simply close his eyes when making a turn that tight and oh Christ he'd gotten out on the road.

"No, hey—I didn't say you could do that!"

Blaze grabbed a set of keys from the workbench and jammed them into the nearest bike he could find with two working wheels. The results were…less than dramatic.


He went through two others before he found a hole that would fit and took off, wincing inwardly at the imperfect, almost rattling noise of the foreign bike's engine. Not I his /I bike, not something that was a cross between an old friend and an extension of his own body. …and given the way his current ride looked and sounded, it probably shouldn't have been on the road at all.

Blaze caught up with Bob at the city limits, where he'd propped himself and Grace against a half-dead tree. The mechanic held his hands up and shrugged slightly, as if surrendering, while he wiped his sweaty brow against his dirty sleeve.

"Sorry about that, Johnny. But I couldn't stop myself. Just felt too good." He tilted his head back and looked up at the scraggly tree branches, breathing hard as if he'd been the one racing down the highway at 90 miles per hour instead of Grace. "Guess I see why you keep a'hold of her."

Blaze tried to laugh, but he couldn't put any proper humor into it. Wouldn't do to piss off his boss, he was an old man and who was he to deny him a little happiness and it wasn't as if Blaze hadn't let him ride in the first place…

Still. It made him oddly uncomfortable just seeing Bob touch her seat as he limped over to switch rides.

The drive back to the shop was reasonably sedate, keeping to the speed limit this time. Bob kept his head down and tried not to meet Blaze's eyes as they wheeled their respective bikes into the back lot again. Still, the older man couldn't seem to scrape the gleeful smirk from his face, or the feel of the wind from his graying hair.

Bob dug into his pocket and tugged out a crumpled package of Marlboros. "Think I got enough fresh air in me today to deserve one of these. Damn patches don't do shit, anyway." He cupped his hands around the cigarette and lit it, then tossed down the match and stomped on it.

Blaze leaned against Grace and watched him, arms folded, trying to avoid looking sulky and failing miserably.

"Look," Bob said apologetically, shifting the cigarette to one side of his mouth. "Lemme make it up to you for runnin' off with your bike. I'll cut you loose for today, you go take Roxamme out to dinner or somethin' and I'll close up a bit early. Fair deal, make us all satisfied?"

He held out one grease-stained hand, and Blaze gingerly shook it. "She'll like that, I guess," he said, shrugging and forcing a smile. "We haven't had as much time together as I'd like."

The days belonged to work and the nights belonged to sleep and the Rider. Some days they had plenty of time to catch up on the missed years, some days they were lucky to get a cup of coffee together and watch the sun come up.

"You take care now!" Bob called as Blaze mounted and drove off downtown again. He sat on the workbench for a few moments, smoking his cigarette and listening to the crickets begin to wake up. Molten metal hissed behind him, but he didn't bother to turn. The boy wasn't worth the effort.

"How low you've fallen, father. Standing around in a dirty little hole playing with your long lost pet." Johnny not two minutes gone and already the dark-haired brat was here to taunt.

"Dirty, says the boy standin' in a puddle a'grease and ratshit." Bob laughed harshly as he heard the rasp of someone trying to quietly scrap off his bootheel on the metal table leg while still maintaining his dignity.

Hah. As if he'd had any of that after the Ghost Rider kicked his fledgling form all the way back to the metaphorical ninth circle. Bob took a final drag of his cigarette, then dropped it to the ground. As it fell, his skin began to melt from his body like wax from a candle, his features smearing and reconfiguring themselves as the cigarette lengthened and went out. By the time the end of the silver-tipped cane hit the ground, "Bob" had slipped into something more comfortable.

"Time was, a young 'un knew his place," Mephistopheles said, his sophisticated purr mocking the Southern slang as he let the last dregs of tobacco smoke spill from his lips.

"But it's not your time anymore, father," Blackheart snarled back at him, stalking to his side, demanding to be acknowledged and respected. His eyes were red-rimmed, his face was gaunt and his sooty hair hung limply about his pale face.

"Certainly not yours, though," the Devil mused, letting his fingers ripple along the head of his cane. The garage's lights dimmed and the locks turned shut of their own accord. A few scattered tools quietly rattled into their places, giving the impression that someone had attempted to clean up. Bob wasn't a diligent fellow.

Blackheart swept his hand across the workbench and sent the welders and pliers flying across the floor. "Why are you sitting around this garbage pit toying with a creature that isn't even yours anymore?" He smirked, lowering his voice to a calmer hiss. "Going senile in your old age, Mephistopheles?"

"Why are you up here lecturing me about it?" Mephistopheles finally turned to look his son in the face, smiling ever so sweetly at him and relishing how the kind look made Blackheart squirm with frustration. "Jealous?"

One pale hand darted out, one pale finger nearly hitting Mephistopheles in the nose. Dark fangs flashed within Blackheart's mouth before his half-human skin hid them again.

"You're a sentimental old fool who can't break out of his tradition and who's scared that someone else tried it. That's why you'll never take this world." And Blackheart vanished, leaving behind a few whisps of smoke and the smell of brimstone. Typical teenager, no matter what power he held he had to have the last word before he went stomping off to his room.

"You do that, boy," Mephistopheles said to the empty ring of smoke and slightly melted concrete. He waved one hand and the floor smoothed itself over again. "You run along and do that."

Laughable, yes, but couldn't say he was surprised at his son's tenacity. After all, he'd been much the same at that age.