Elements of HotGear

By: CrystallicSky

Disclaimer: I don't own Static Shock or any of its characters, nor do I make any profit or attempt to with the writing of this or any of my other pieces.

Warnings: Language, homosexuality, mild violence, implications of sexual situations, etc.

-.-.-.-.-.-

Fire-

Bullying had a system.

There was the initial approach, full of intimidation: the confident, menacing stride towards the soon-to-be victim and usually backed up by several sneering cronies.

Once the victim was confronted, there was usually some posturing. The bully would do a bit of verbalizing, like a cat batting a mouse around for fun before going into the kill. This was usually done to make sure the victim knew what was coming and that they were completely helpless to stop it.

At that point, the roughhousing would kick in, starting as low as a shove and escalating as high as punches and kicks depending on the purpose of the confrontation and whether or not a teacher was around to step in.

If the bully was after lunch money or something like that, it would be over as soon as the desired thing was promised or handed over. There would be a pinch more taunting, usually about what a loser the victim was, but that would be it.

It was when the bully was just in it for fun that things got more difficult. The only way it would stop was if a teacher put a stop to it or if the bully got bored.

It was one such bully that currently had Richie cornered and was somewhere towards the beginning of Step Two: posturing.

Seth Davis was still technically a new kid, his family having moved from New York only a week ago, but he had quickly gained popularity and social standing at Dakota Union High. He'd gotten himself friends, cronies, and a fearsome rep in only that one week, and he'd quickly learned who was who in the school's pecking order.

Unfortunately, he'd learned that Richie Foley was the resident geek and naturally, 'geek' meant 'easy mark.'

At the moment, Seth was talking about something or other; his own awesomeness, Richie assumed when all of his minions laughed with him, but he wasn't paying any particular attention to them.

Mostly, he was analyzing his situation, hoping for an out, and prospects were not looking too good.

Of course Seth had chosen to pick on him as lunch was ending and most of the people who might've helped him had already gone back inside. Of course Virgil was out sick today. Of course he was too far from the door to make a successful run for it.

Really, it was ironic: Gear, half of the city's most esteemed, metahuman crime-fighting duo was going to get beaten up by some high school kid.

There was the option to fight back, Richie acknowledged. He was much stronger now as a senior than he'd been as a freshman, and had learned plenty of methods for taking down opponents thanks to his extracurricular superheroing. In theory, he could wipe the floor with this idiot and be off to AP Calculus in two minutes.

But he couldn't do that.

If he fought Seth, word would get around and his secret identity would be out. He already had a reputation around the school as a brainiac, and if people found out he could whoop ass, too, there would be talk because how many teenaged geniuses were there in Dakota who could also lay a pretty good smack-down on somebody? There was a reason Richie insisted on wearing baggy jeans and hoodies instead of showing off the muscles he'd earned, after all!

"Hey, geek!" Seth suddenly exclaimed, drawing the blond from his thoughts. "Are you even listening to me?"

Richie blinked, looking up at him. "No, not really," he admitted. "I'm assuming it was something about beating the tar out of me."

Best to get this over with. Besides, it wasn't like he couldn't take a punch, and if he let the bully get this out of his system, he could move on with his day.

Seth scowled at him, irritated that his prey wasn't quivering in fear. "Better watch your mouth, Foley," he suggested, shoving his palm against Richie's shoulder.

Ahhh, the opening shove, Richie thought to himself. Step Three.

Bullying had a system, which is what made it very surprising when, instead of a punch, Seth and his two cronies froze.

Following their gaze, Richie turned to see what had thrown off the system.

None other than Francis Stone stood there, leaning casually against the chain-link fence, his arms crossed over his chest.

Seth's first instinct was to sneer at whoever dared to interrupt his fun and tell the newcomer off; maybe even mock him a little, 'cause only fags streaked their hair like that. He would later be grateful to his second instinct not to upon noticing the distinctly muscular arms that could probably make a punch feel like a freight train to the face.

Instead, he looked, eyeing the stranger warily. He dressed like a thug, which didn't necessarily mean anything, but his posture, the scowl on his face, and even the tilt of his head backed him up.

He was no poser, that was for sure. He might've even been to jail a couple times, from the look of him.

Okay, so, probably not a good idea to be confrontational: this guy was older, bigger, and probably meaner than Seth and it just would not do to get his ass whooped in front of a nerd like Foley.

There was, of course, nothing stopping him from asking what the dude was doing here.

Seth steeled his nerves, caught the stranger's eye, opened his mouth…

And promptly shut it as a foreboding feeling crept over him.

Something about this guy…his eyes, particularly…was terrifying. Closer, they might've been green, but from this distance, they looked black. Black and hot. Like coals in a fire, feeding it, making it hotter.

It was only when a bead of sweat dripped off of his nose that Seth realized that it actually was getting hot, which was disturbing, to say the least. After all, it was currently late autumn.

A thought struck him and his eyes widened. Could this guy be…a Bang Baby? Everyone had heard the stories; the gang war that coincided with a chemical explosion and resulted in super-powered criminals.

The man staring him down from the fence sure as hell looked like he could've been in the wrong place at the right time.

But no…he couldn't be a Bang Baby. The city'd taken care of all that: they'd released a cure. That was the only reason his folks had decided to move here, because all of the super-powered freaks were gone!

Still…Bang Baby or no…

Seth had no idea who this guy was. He likewise didn't know what he was doing at a high school when he most definitely looked old enough to be in college.

He did, however, know that he should not mess with him.

Looking away, he scoffed. "You're lucky, Foley," he declared, stepping back from the geeky teenager. "I just remembered that I've got history next and there's this really hot chick in my class."

"Have you scored with her?" one of his friends asked.

"Of course," Seth shrugged, "only, like, a dozen times. Hell, I'll probably get her to skip class and blow me in the janitor's closet!"

Richie resisted the urge to snort at the obvious lie and watched in silence as the cronies laughed.

"Maybe I'll see you later, geek," Seth said, turning and heading back for the school building. "Y'know, if I'm not too busy getting laid."

The cronies laughed again, guffawing obnoxiously and high-fiving each other as they followed Seth away.

Richie watched them go before looking back over at Francis, who had not moved an inch from his relaxed slouch against the fence.

"I could've handled that, y'know," he called to him, not worried that anyone would hear him being friendly with his past tormentor. Class had started and nobody was outside besides the two of them.

Francis grinned at him and raised a hand, tracing a heart-shape with one flaming finger before blowing it out; leaving behind a heart of smoke that quickly blew away in the autumn wind.

Richie laughed. Virgil had been thoroughly pissed off at him for using their personal supply of Big Bang gas to give the older metahuman his powers back, but Francis had proven himself capable of behaving. Now that he had a boyfriend, his once-famous destructive tantrums seemed a thing of the past. He really only ever used his fire for harmless parlor tricks, these days.

"You're not supposed to be cute, Frankie," he called again. "Knock it off!"

He saw Hotstreak smile again, accompanied by the faint sound of laughter across the distance between them.

"Get to class, blondie," Francis ordered him, "or I'll break out the really cute shit."

"Oh, yeah?" Richie challenged. "Like what?"

A fireball was swiftly hurled at his head and the genius gasped, preparing to dodge it. At the last minute, however, the fire dissipated, leaving a ring of smoke to frame his face. He realized quickly that it was less of a ring and more of a kiss-mark.

"Oh, god," he groaned, "you're downright adorable! I'm going, already, I'm going!"

Hotstreak watched as Richie turned and went back inside, waiting until the doors shut behind him to hop back over the school's fence and carry on with his day.

Francis was no goody two-shoes, but he had to admit: it felt pretty good to be a hero, every once in awhile.

Water-

"Did you and her ever have a thing?"

Hotstreak glanced over. "Who?"

Richie shrugged, determined not to make eye-contact with his boyfriend. "Y'know…Maria."

"Did I ever have a thing with…? Oh. Ohhhh, no. No, we didn't," Francis assured.

"Are you just telling me what I want to hear?" Richie wondered. "'cause I can see why you would. It's never really a good idea to talk about your ex with your current, but…you can be honest with me. I promise I won't…flip out, or anything."

"I am being honest, Rich. Nothing happened, I swear."

Richie scoffed. "Oh, come on, nothing at all? If that's true, then what was up with all that stuff that happened when she tried to get cured?"

Francis frowned. "It's…complicated."

"Can you explain it?"

Hotstreak examined Richie for a brief moment. He looked nice in the moonlight, but that pout didn't really suit him. It probably wouldn't go away until the Maria-thing was explained.

"We knew each other before the Big Bang," he started. "She's got an older brother; or she did, anyway. Him and me were close friends, so we hung out sometimes."

"What happened to him?" Richie asked.

"Y'know how not everybody survived the Big Bang?" The blond nodded. "He didn't. I heard he melted when everything went down. So did Maria, actually, only she melted into water instead of goo."

Richie said the first thing that came to mind. "Jeez, that sucks."

Francis nodded. "Anyways, after I got my powers and ditched the hospital, I ran into her. She was freaking out and we…ugh, I guess we…bonded, or whatever. Some sort of, 'some crazy shit just happened to us, and we're here for each other' type thing."

Richie frowned and looked out over the rooftop, watching the city's bright lights off in the distance. "So…you bonded."

"Yeah, but it was two…very different types of bonds."

"How so?"

"Well," Francis explained, "I started seeing her kinda like she was my little sister. She started seeing me as a potential boyfriend."

"Oh, boy…"

"You're telling me."

"Okay…so, when you two hung out and committed crimes and stuff, you were sticking around to keep an eye on her and she was doing it 'cause she wanted to get into your pants?" Richie surmised.

Hotstreak nodded. "I'd have told her right off that I didn't like her like that, but I mean, really…how the hell do you tell a girl something like that and have it actually go well?"

"Couldn't tell you," the blond shrugged. "I've never really dated besides you."

"Yeah, well, just so you know, it's difficult." Francis made a face and shuddered, as if remembering something unpleasant. "Past couple of years, I've been a freaking magnet for aggressive chicks, and they get mean quick. I got on Talon's bad side once and couldn't hear for a week; and even less has happened between us than with Maria!"

Richie laughed. "Sounds like you've got bad luck with girls, Frankie."

"Less so with guys, though," he said casually, glancing over at Richie. "Well…you're the first dude I've ever been with, but you have yet to act evil and crazy and try to maim and/or kill me, so…that's a plus."

Francis had never been very good with romance, but he'd apparently said the right thing, because Richie happily scooted closer and leaned on him.

Looking out on the city again, Richie rested his head on Hotstreak's shoulder. "You think we'll last?" he wondered.

Francis watched the city lights, too. "Hell if I know," he admitted. "I don't care so much about the future. We're with each other right now: that's good enough for me."

Richie chuckled. "I really don't know how you've had such crappy luck with girls, Frankie. You're a charmer when you don't try."

Wrapping an arm around the blond's shoulders, Hotstreak smiled. "Guess I'd better keep not-trying, then, huh?"

Earth-

"Richard Foley! Where have you been?"

Richie winced. "Uh, hey, mom," he greeted, shutting the door behind him. "What—"

"Don't you 'hey, mom,' me, young man," Maggie Foley snapped. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"

Normally, Richie would've glanced at the clock so he could give a time not too far off from what it actually was; making it look like he actually had some sort of idea and was more responsible than he was being given credit for.

His mother just so happened to be standing in front of the clock, tonight.

"Um, well, since you're waiting up and less than happy with me," he rationalized, "it's probably pretty late, huh?"

"You're damn right it's late, Richie," she exclaimed. "It's 3:00 AM! 3:00 AM and you're just getting home! Do you have any idea how worried your father and I were?"

Richie was thankful that said father was either working a night-shift or asleep at the moment. Were Sean Foley here, the Riot Act would be read to him followed by several other very unpleasant punishments.

Those would likely be coming in the morning…er, daybreak, at least.

"You didn't need to worry, mom," Richie said, attempting to salvage the situation. "I was at Virgil's place."

"Oh, no, you weren't! I called Mr. Hawkins first and he assured me that Virgil hadn't seen you since school let out!"

Crap, Richie thought to himself, busted.

Maggie took the moment to more closely inspect her son. "Home late, lying and filthy," she observed. "Just where have you been, Richie?"

The blond looked down at himself, wincing at the dirt stains on his knees and the palms of his hands. He knew if he were to turn around, his mother would be able to see the soil coating the back of his hoodie.

"I was…at the park," Richie answered. "See, I wanted to help out with this service project going on over there. They're planting flowers and pulling weeds to make it look nicer for the kids that play there."

Maggie was unconvinced. "It's after midnight, Richie," she reminded.

"Yeah, I know that," her son responded quickly. "I figured that since it was such a great cause, y'know…why should it have to stop when the sun goes down? I volunteered to keep working. I meant to call, but I just got so caught up in the planting, I just forgot!"

"…in the dark. At night."

"I'm just dedicated to the cause, I guess," Richie shrugged. "But you're right, mom, it's getting late. I should probably get to bed." Quickly, he faked a yawn and bid his mother a good night before hurrying up the stairs to his room, leaving the perplexed woman to stare after him in a mixture of confusion and irritation.

It was only after he'd safely made it into the bedroom and shut the door behind him that Richie deflated with a sigh of relief, flopping bonelessly onto his bed.

There would be trouble tomorrow; plenty of explaining he'd have to do for both of his parents and for Virgil who would likely be patrolling the streets looking for him even now after receiving that phone call from his mom. He'd have to call him on the Shock Vox to let him know personally that it was okay to go home and sleep; that he was fine and he'd clear everything up at a more reasonable hour.

For now, though, Richie sighed and buried his face in his pillow. "That is the last time I let Frankie talk me into a date at the park," he muttered.

Air-

Hotstreak was woken up to the sound of angry muttering. Angry muttering, for that matter, in a very familiar voice.

His eyes met brick wall as soon as they opened, reminding him immediately that he was in between places right now. Recently escaped from prison again, Francis hadn't had time to find an abandoned shack or score enough money to rent an apartment, and as of the moment, this alleyway was his home.

Which, really, was fine. The weather was warm without being humid, so he wasn't getting caught in the rain or cold and the neighborhood, while less than respectable, was populated by criminals unlikely to call the cops on him.

But that was neither here nor there at the current moment.

"Damn jerk," the grumbling continued. "Can't believe he would…just trying to…dammit!"

Hotstreak decided that this was worth investigating. After all, it wasn't often that blond geeks one used to terrorize went traipsing around in bad neighborhoods in the middle of the night bitching.

Standing, he left the alley and turned onto the sidewalk, immediately spotting his old classmate.

Richie sure hadn't changed since last he'd seen him. Still skinny, still blond, still geeky, and from the looks of it as he fearlessly walked this dangerous street, still totally oblivious.

Had this been back in their school days, Francis would've tailed Richie for awhile just so he could laugh when the kid got mugged. If not that, he'd have beaten him up just for fun and shoot him taunting looks at school the next day, knowing he would never be ratted out for it.

Tonight, he was struck by no such urge.

Certainly, he could do either of those things; it would be all too easy, particularly now that he was a Bang Baby and Richie was just a normal teen.

But…that was just it: it would be too easy.

Now that he had super-powers, Francis was on a whole different level. As a man who enjoyed challenges, he knew quite well that only other metahumans posed so much as a threat to him.

Beating up Richie wouldn't be any fun. It would be like taking candy from a baby; easy, and where's the fun in that?

So, instead, Hotstreak only approached the blond, clapping a hand on his shoulder.

The very high, very unmanly squeak Richie let out was absolutely hilarious.

Francis watched with a smirk as Richie spun, eyes widening behind his glasses. "H-Hotstreak," he stuttered. "Stay back! I know kung fu and thirty-seven other dangerous words!"

He received a laugh in response to this. "I'll just bet," the redhead grinned, "but you don't need to use any of 'em, Foley. I'm not looking for a fight."

Richie frowned. "Y'know, somehow, I don't buy that…"

"Based on my track record, you shouldn't," Francis openly admitted. "You can believe me or not. I don't really care, either way."

"Okay," Richie said suspiciously, "if you don't want to fight, then, what do you want with me?"

Hotstreak shrugged. "Nothing," he said honestly. "I'm just curious."

"About?"

"What you're doing here." Francis shot the younger man a condescending look. "Don't tell me you don't know that this is, like, the worst neighborhood in the city."

"Why do you care where I am?" Richie demanded to know.

"I don't, particularly," he was reminded. "I said I was curious, that's all. What brings a scrawny thing like you to a crappy place like this?"

Richie was, by now, weirded out. Since when did Hotstreak talk to people like a normal person? Since when did he not feel like using him as a punching bag?

"V and I hang out at a place around here, sometimes," he answered vaguely. "I'm just heading home."

"You two lovebirds have a fight or something?" Francis wondered.

Richie froze. "How—"

"You were ranting all the way down the street, Foley," Francis said. "I just put two and two together."

"Didn't know you were capable of basic addition," Richie muttered before he was able to stop himself. He flinched, bracing himself for the inevitable punch to the face.

It didn't come.

Instead, Hotstreak laughed. "You're funny, blondie," he said. "Now, what could your boyfriend have possibly said to piss you off so much?"

Richie frowned. "He's not my boyfriend."

"Might as well be," Francis decided. "You two are attached at the hip. What fucked up your perpetual honeymoon?"

Blue, bespectacled eyes rolled. "It's nothing. I'd rather not get into it with you, thanks." Richie turned and made to leave.

"Who else are you gonna get into it with?"

Richie stopped. "What?"

"Well, come on, Foley, you've only got, like, one best friend," Hotstreak pointed out, "and you two are fighting. Who else are you gonna talk about it to?"

"Why do you care?" Richie demanded again.

"I don't," Francis assured. "But I've got nothing better to do right now and I wouldn't mind listening."

By all accounts, Richie shouldn't have said anything. He should've walked straight home, played a violent video game to relieve a little stress, and then gone to bed and forgotten that this…unbelievably weird conversation with Hotstreak had even happened.

"It's…this girl at school," he eventually blurted out.

"You both wanna get with her or something?" Francis guessed.

"No," Richie shook his head. "Well…kind of. I don't, but V does, and it's…getting in the way of stuff."

"He's pussy-whipped, huh?" Hotstreak shook his head. "It always sucks when a friend forgets bros are supposed to come before hoes."

"Well…yeah, but it's more…complicated than that…"

"Like how?"

Richie bit his lip as he tried to figure out how to explain the situation without giving something away. He may have been pissed at Virgil, but that didn't mean he wanted to blow his secret.

"V and I are…were working together on this really important project," he said. "I mean, it's more his field of expertise than mine, but I don't want to just stick him with the whole workload 'cause he's better at it, so I was trying to do my part, too."

"Fair enough," Hotstreak decided. "And he had a problem with that?"

"Not really a problem," Richie delegated. "It's just that he really likes Daisy—that's the girl—and he was completely neglecting the project. I was trying to pick up some of the slack and doing what I could to help out, but…it's not my field. I can't do everything! So, I was trying to remind him that he has other responsibilities. Y'know, besides girls."

"Didn't take it too well, did he?"

Richie sighed. "Hell no. He said I was nagging and to get off his case about it."

"Sounds too simple to piss you off bad enough to fight with him," Francis surmised. "What happened then?"

Richie bit his lip again as he thought of how to relay the next part of what happened without saying too much. "Well…while he was off somewhere with Daisy or wherever the hell he was, some guy started messing with our project. Big, jerky windbag of a guy, too."

For a moment, the blond feared he may have been a little too on-the-nose with that comment and given Hotstreak too big of a clue that the 'windbag' he was talking about was Slipstream. The guy had been on the news and causing chaos all over town.

Thankfully for him, Francis did not own a TV and had been nowhere near the area of Slipstream's crimes.

"So, what happened?" he asked.

Breathing an internal sigh of relief, Richie continued with his altered version of the story. "I called V and told him what was going on. He was pissed, but he came over, anyways. There was kind of a fight and some…chemicals got mixed that weren't supposed to and both of us almost got hurt."

"Almost," Francis echoed. "So, nothing bad happened."

"No, but that didn't stop V from snapping at me," Richie frowned. "He got mad at me; said I wasn't supposed to be there and it was more his project than mine. I was pissed that he even had the nerve to be mad at me when I was the only one even interested in the project after Daisy'd come along, and I got mad at him for slacking so much."

"Another thing he didn't take well," Hotstreak guessed.

Richie snorted. "You got it. He said if that was how I was gonna help him, he'd rather I not help at all, and I—"

"Said the equivalent of 'fuck you, too, I'm out'?"

"…yeah," he nodded. "Pretty much."

Francis sighed. It was weird to him that he was still here listening to Foley talk about relationship problems with his BFF instead of just smacking him around and walking away.

Jeez, maybe he did care.

Deciding if he had to care, then, he was at least gonna get something out of it, he grabbed Richie by the arm and started dragging him down the sidewalk.

"H-hey!" Richie practically squawked, stumbling after the older man. "What the hell?"

"Come on, Foley," Hotstreak said, his grip not letting up, "I'll let you buy me dinner and you can tell me all about your trouble in paradise."

Richie wondered momentarily what he'd just gotten himself into, but decided that he might as well go with it. If Hotstreak hadn't killed him yet, he probably wouldn't.

The dinner, at a nearby Burger Fool, did, in fact, proceed without any killing, as did the one the next night, and the night after that.

Even after he and Virgil patched things up and defeated Slipstream, he continued to seek out Hotstreak just to hang out and talk with him. He was sure there was a reason he did it, but Richie wasn't particularly ready to think about those implications.

Hanging out was safe enough for now, and maybe one day, he'd be ready to think about his motivations for hanging out and about Francis's reasons for hanging out with him.

Ice-

"…so, I said, 'you're the only abominable snowman I see here!'"

Richie snorted with laughter, nearly choking on his order of chili cheese fries. "Oh, man, that's classic, V," he snickered. "How bad did she kill you for that crack?"

Virgil shrugged from across the booth, nonetheless smiling. "Oh, y'know, she slipped one of her lacy bras in with my underwear when she was doing laundry. It was a red one, too."

Richie gave a halfway sympathetic wince; the other half was just plain amused. "So, you've got your very own collection of pink panties, now? Nice. Sharon's devious as hell, you gotta give her that."

"Big time," Virgil readily agreed. "I'm kinda just waiting for her to snap and go on some kind of psycho-bitch spree."

"There will be no survivors on that dark day," his friend solemnly agreed.

Virgil laughed, taking a sip of whatever generic brand of cola this place stocked and glancing outside.

It being winter, it was colder than frozen-over hell and Dakota had, in fact, been host to a severe storm a few days back. Temperatures had warmed slightly afterwards, and most of the snow had either melted or been shoveled away by now.

A quick look at the sky, however, suggested that it would be all for naught in an hour or two.

"Aw, man," Virgil frowned, "look at that! It's gonna snow again."

Richie followed his gaze. "Dude, it's December," he pointed out. "It tends to snow a lot this time of year. What's the big deal?"

"The big deal is that I'm gonna have to shovel it all off the driveway! Ever since pops threw his back out trying to do it last year, and because Princess Sharon can't be bothered to pick up a shovel and help, it's gonna be all on me to—"

He was interrupted by a ringtone.

Richie reached into his pocket and removed his ringing cell phone. "Hang on, V, I gotta take this real quick," he apologized.

Virgil shrugged. "It's cool."

Richie shot him a thankful grin before answering the call. "Hey, Frankie," he greeted, "what's— …hang on, what?"

Really, Virgil was not in the habit of eavesdropping on phone calls, particularly not his best friend's, but it wasn't as if the blond was whispering and they were right across from one another.

If he happened to hear something, it would hardly be his fault.

"Wait, you're where?" Richie demanded. "What the hell are you doing… Why… No, hang on, wait, start at the beginning, I don't…"

Virgil frowned, his inner Static telling him to pay attention. This was not your typical, casual call.

"Why the hell would he do that?" Richie exclaimed. He winced soon afterwards, and Virgil was easily able to guess that the person on the other end did not appreciate being asked questions he didn't know the answer to, either.

"Okay, okay," he watched the blond delegate, "never mind; doesn't matter. Where are you, again? …alright, hang out there for a little while longer, I can be there in fifteen."

Abruptly, Richie's eyes flickered over to Virgil before returning to the tabletop. "Yeah, I…me, too."

The call was ended and the phone placed back in Richie's pocket. Virgil quickly found himself raising an eyebrow as his friend began piling various bits of garbage on his tray and placing unfinished food on Virgil's.

"Uhhh, Rich?" he asked. "What's going on?"

Richie stood, taking the tray with garbage to the trashbin and dumping the refuse before putting the tray in the designated area. "Nothing you need to worry about," Richie promised, returning to the booth and shrugging on his coat. "It's just that my…friend needs a ride home. Some jerk decided to open up a fire hydrant on him and he's totally soaked."

Virgil's eyes widened. "In this weather? And he hasn't frozen solid, yet?"

"Not quite yet, but he will if I don't help him out."

Glancing around, Virgil dropped his voice several notches. "You want me to go hero?"

Richie shook his head. "Nah, it's cool. The guy who was screwing with him is gone by now. I just gotta give him a ride to his place, 'cause he'd turn into a block of ice halfway there if he walked."

"Do you want me to come with, anyway?"

"No!" Virgil flinched, and Richie amended, "I mean, no…no, it's fine, I can handle Frankie by myself."

The inner Static was screaming at him that this was a red flag. "Which reminds me," Virgil began slowly, "who's Frankie?"

"Oh, you know Frankie," Richie said. "We met at the…y'know, and we were all…yeah, you remember Frankie, V!"

If it had been a red flag, it was now a red tarp on a javelin. "I don't, actually," he insisted. "What—"

"Look, we can talk about this later," Richie said, his tone hurried. "I gotta go; I'll see you later, man."

And with that, the blond all but dashed out of the fast food restaurant, driving off in the modest, used car he'd gotten for his sixteenth birthday two years back.

Fifteen minutes later, just as he'd promised, Richie grabbed an extra jacket and stepped out of the car, glancing around for only a moment before he saw who he was looking for.

"T-took you long enough, Foley," Francis sneered at him, clearly trying to keep his teeth from chattering.

Richie took no offense at the dark look or the sentiment, knowing both to be a needed ego-defense. After all, big, bad Hotstreak had just been beaten and forced to call for help.

Help he very obviously needed, though. Francis hadn't been exaggerating when he said he'd been soaked and it seemed as if every inch of him had been drenched through. Of course, he wasn't dripping anymore, but the alternative was worse: a faint sheen of frost on his clothing and strands of his hair half-frozen in such a way that it would make a crackling noise if bent.

Richie wasted no time in slinging the jacket over the other man's shoulders, pulling him close into an almost-embrace to share warmth.

"What the hell happened, Frankie?" he demanded to know.

"S'what I told you," Francis snorted, returning the sort-of hug. "Shiv showed up and cut open a fire hydrant on me."

"Unprovoked?"

"Yeah."

"Frankie," Richie prompted.

"I didn't do jack-shit to the guy, I swear!" Hotstreak insisted. "I was trying to avoid him."

"And you didn't try to beat the tar out of him after he messed with you?"

Francis sighed. "Rich," he said seriously, "you know I'm trying to go straight. I'm out of jail 'cause I did my time instead of breaking out, I've got a fucking job and an apartment and you still think I'd fuck all that up just to put that psycho in his place? C'mon, Foley, he's not worth it and you know it."

Richie smiled. "You're right," he admitted, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have even considered the possibility that you'd lower yourself that far and then make it all for nothing."

"Damn straight," Francis agreed. He bent ever so slightly, nuzzling Richie's warm cheek. "You're lucky I'm dumb enough to think you're worth it."

The blond laughed. "Yeah, I am pretty lucky." A thought occurred to him, and he asked, "Any reason you didn't just melt this ice off you, Frankie?"

Hotstreak raised an eyebrow. "How many times have we fought, Foley?" he wondered. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, "I can't make a flame if I get wet, you know that. It's fucking ice, now, and this is still the best I can do." In demonstration, he snapped his fingers several times, eventually yielding a tiny spark that amounted to nothing.

"God, that sucks," Richie declared, "Come on, get in the car. I'll drive you home and you can put some clothes on that don't have icicles on 'em."

"Or I could just not put on any clothes at all…"

Richie snorted and lightly slapped the older metahuman's arm. "Let's go home, horndog," he ordered with a grin.

With no further protest, Francis followed him to the heated vehicle and they drove off towards his apartment.

From a nearby rooftop, a shocked Static stared after them for a very long time.

Light-

Richie clung tightly to his lover's arm as he was led upstairs and didn't protest as he was seated on his bed as if he had no idea where it was in his own room.

Mostly because he kind of didn't right now.

"Richie," Hotstreak's familiar, rough voice spoke, "are you alright?"

"As alright as can be expected," he shrugged. "Remind me again: how far from the bed is the nightstand?"

"'bout a foot," Francis informed.

Gauging the distance in his head, Richie removed his glasses and reached out, groping blindly for a few seconds before hearing them make contact with the wood surface and laying them there.

Wasn't as if he needed them right now.

"How are you doing?" the blond wondered. "You've hardly said a word all the way here. Not like you're Chatty Cathy any other time, but it's kinda weird for you not to say anything."

Hotstreak laughed. "I'm really pissed off," he admitted. "Like, so mad, I can't even see straight."

"Better than me," Richie tried to joke, "I can't see at all!"

"Why do you think I'm so pissed off, Foley?"

"Well…hey, don't worry about it, Frankie, V'll take care of the guy without me. He's more the hero, anyway. I'm more of a…sidekick."

"You put yourself in harm's way daily to make sure idiots don't get hurt by other idiots," Francis reminded. "Isn't that the definition of a hero?"

Richie smiled. "Yeah, I guess so. But really, babe, it's cool. Virgil's got it covered."

He heard Hotstreak stand and walk elsewhere in the room. "No," he said eventually. "This guy fucked with you. That makes it my business."

Somewhere in the back of his head, Richie found this terribly sweet; that Francis was being protective of 'his girl' and wanting to get into it with the guy that'd messed with him. Even so, the rest of him was wary. "You don't have to," he reminded. "V's pretty good at what he does. I'm sure he'll take this guy down in a day or two."

"I know I don't have to: I want to," Francis assured. "And trust me, it won't take me more than an hour or two."

Richie voiced his concerns. "You won't kill him, will you?"

Hotstreak snorted from wherever he was. "Nah," he said. "Might scare him halfway there, rough him up a little…but I won't kill him. For you."

Another thing that Richie found flattering. "Thanks, Frankie," he said sincerely.

"Anything you can tell me about this guy?" Francis wondered. "Much as I'd love to go whoop this fucker's ass now, it'd be stupid going in blind—no offense."

"He's a Bang Baby, but you probably figured already. Calls himself Flashflare. He's got light powers or something, so you'll wanna look out for that."

Hotstreak snorted. "You think I'm not used to sudden bright lights?"

Richie was essentially blind, but it'd been a flash-blinding; temporary. Vision was slowly coming back to him, and just in time. The vague, imposing figure by the blur on the wall that was probably the window shifted slightly, an arc of blurry light fanning from one side of him to the other.

It was only the roaring sound and wave of heat that indicated it was flame.

"I get the feeling that display was kinda wasted on me," Richie admitted. "It'd probably have been more impressive with more clarity and less spots."

"Whatever, you get the idea," Hotstreak appeared to shrug, sounding unperturbed. "Anything else? What the guy looks like maybe?"

Richie thought back. "Well…he was kinda tall…maybe a little shorter than you. A lot skinnier, though; like, lanky-skinny."

"I need a little more to work with, Rich," Francis said. "What did his face look like? Do you remember what color eyes he had? What kind of hair? Was he black, white, what?"

"Hang on, I might remember his race, lemme think…Oh, yeah! He was a grayish blob."

Mostly unseen by the blond, Hotstreak grimaced. "Got you before you saw him?" he guessed.

Richie tapped his nose, indicating that he'd guessed right.

"Alright…I guess it'll have to do." There was motion and the sound of the window being opened. "You'll be cool here, right?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine," Richie assured. "I can just read a b… Surf the w… Watch t… I can listen to music and fake being able to see with the 'rents when they get home; y'know, at least until I actually can."

"You hurry up and do that, Foley," Hotstreak ordered, already climbing out the window. "No way in hell I'm being your seeing eye dog."

And then, he was gone, leaving Richie to make use of his remaining senses.

It was only a few hours later that he could see normally again. Maybe even better than normal, because his glasses now seemed far too high of a prescription. Just as Richie began wondering if Flashflare's attack might've pulled some weird laser surgery trick on him, the Shock Vox demanded his attention.

"Talk to me," he greeted.

"Hey, man," Static greeted him from the other end, "how are you doing?"

"Just fine, V," he assured. "I can see and everything; it's a miracle!"

Virgil laughed. "That's great. You're too much of a geek to be blind: how would you read the next issue of Plantman?"

"Says the guy who owns every issue from the year of his birth and on," Richie shot back.

"Even further back than that!" Virgil corrected. "No, seriously, though…the real reason I wanted to check in is, I caught the human firework."

"That's awesome," the blond acknowledged, "why would you need to check in for that?"

There was a pause. "Are you sure you haven't left the house since you got back?"

"Not unless I've been blacking out, sleepwalking, and then filling that time with memories of being awake and doing other stuff," Richie shrugged. "Why?"

"Well…I found the guy in the middle of the street downtown. He was tied up and it looked like he was on the ass-end of an ass-kicking. When I showed up, he went totally mental and started crying and telling me to apologize to Gear for him. Any idea what that's about?"

Richie put a hand over the receiver so Virgil couldn't hear his laugh. "No," he lied easily, making himself sound confused. "No idea at all."

"Huh," Virgil said from the other end, "that's weird. Whatever, I guess. I'm just gonna finish up a patrol and head home; see you at school tomorrow?"

"Sure thing, bro," Richie assured. "You do your thing."

"And you do yours," came the reply. "Static out."

Replacing the Shock Vox in its hiding place lest his mom accidentally stumble across it, Richie laid back on his bed, staring at the ceiling…

…which was still oddly clear considering he was not wearing his glasses. He'd have to let his mom know so she could schedule something with his optometrist to check what kind of focus he needed as of now. Hell, maybe he could even switch to those cheap, dime-store reading glasses if Flashflare had helped enough.

Abruptly, the phone rang, startling him out of his musings. A quick glance at the number from the line on the nightstand and he picked up the phone, calling out the door of his room, "It's Virgil, I got it!"

"Way to lie, babe," Francis chuckled at him.

"Oh, shut up," Richie demanded. "My dad barely came to terms with the fact that my best friend is black. He is so not ready to hear I'm dating a guy, too. Maybe in another seventeen years."

Francis only laughed.

"What'd you call for?" Richie wondered.

"Problem solved," Francis said simply. "Oh, and for the record: he was Asian."

And with that, the line went dead.

Richie snorted and put the phone away. Oh, the perks of having a tough-guy boyfriend!

Electricity-

Francis was enjoying a mind-clearing, perfectly legal midnight stroll when the ball of energy exploded at his feet.

Immediately, he jumped back, instinct lighting his hands aflame and shifting his body into a defensive position, ready to take on anyone who meant him harm.

Dakota's resident hero, Static jumped to the ground in front of the other metahuman, deftly folding up the Static Saucer and storing it in his coat. "Hey, Frankie," he greeted.

Noting the identity of his attacker, Hotstreak sneered and allowed the fire enveloping his fists to fizzle out. He promised—both Richie and himself—and that meant no fighting; most especially not with powers and even moreso not with Static.

"Hawkins," he acknowledged.

Virgil's eyes widened ever so slightly behind his mask and narrowed just as quickly. "Richie tell you?" he demanded.

Francis shook his head. "He didn't have to. He told me who he was, and he's really only got one running buddy. Less of a leap of logic and more of step over a crack in the sidewalk."

"Look, Hotstreak," Virgil frowned at him, taking a step closer, "I don't know what you're trying to pull, but you made a mistake trying to involve Richie."

"Trying to pull…? You think I've got some kind of angle with him?" Francis practically growled. It was more a battle of will versus want than a simple decision not to lash out, at this point.

"What else would you be doing with him?" Static demanded to know. "You're a Bang Baby, a bully, and a criminal!"

"I did my time, Hawkins," Francis snarled. "I even put up with the fucking anger management classes again and saw a shrink for three months. If you'd paid any attention, you'd know I haven't 'reoffended' since I've been out!"

"You're using him," Virgil insisted. "There's no way this is legit."

"Since when am I fucking Doctor Doom over here?" Hotstreak wondered. "I'm not a mastermind! How could I possibly be using Richie?"

Static took another step closer. "I dunno, you tell me. You've already gotten our secret identities out of him; what else are you looking for?"

"Nothing!" Francis took a step back. "I didn't ask him about that, he just told me!"

Yet another step, and Virgil was right in front of Hotstreak. "You expect me to believe that shit?"

"Yeah, I do," Hotstreak admitted, "but that's because it's true."

Scowling and in the most menacing voice he could manage, Static growled, "Prove it."

Francis did.

"Don't you think if I wasn't serious, I'd have slugged you by now?"

This gave Virgil pause. Oh, yes, Francis would have. In the old days, before the Big Bang, the redhead had absolutely no trouble landing a fist on him whenever he felt like it, and even afterwards, he never had any qualms about a well-thrown fireball.

This time, Hotstreak had seen him and dropped his fire and his fists, and even now that his personal space was being invaded, something that should've yielded a reaction, neither were coming back up.

Virgil stepped back.

There was a long, drawn out silence in which Francis warily eyed the superhero, wondering if there was still going to be a fight. He so very badly wished to smack the younger man around just a little, assert his dominance as a man and a metahuman, but he held himself back.

It would be stupid to screw everything up now and he would really rather not be carted back to prison over a stupid fight like this.

"How long has this been going on?" Virgil quietly wondered.

Francis quirked an eyebrow. "How long I've been going straight, or how long it's been going on with Richie?"

"Either. I'll bet they both started around the same time."

Hotstreak sighed, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Yeah," he agreed. "It's been…four months, give or take a week."

Static sighed, folding his arms over his chest for a second before a hand came up to rub at his masked face. "Why the hell wouldn't he have told me something like this?"

"He's scared," Francis answered immediately. At the look he received from Virgil, he explained, "You're his best friend, Hawkins. He doesn't want to lose you over this."

"Just because you and me are enemies?"

"Because he's gay."

Virgil blinked, looking like a deer caught in the headlights. "What," he wondered, "does he think I'm gonna stop being friends with him over it?"

"Those kinds of people exist," Francis shrugged noncommittally.

"And he thinks I'm one of 'em?" Virgil exclaimed. "Can't he give me a little more credit than that? We've only been friends forever! Why—"

"He doesn't want to risk it," Hotstreak interrupted. "He goes on about it all the time. He doesn't want to dump it on you and freak you out, he doesn't want to make you hate him, he doesn't want to make you uncomfortable around him being a straight guy with a gay friend. It's a whole lot of bitching that amounts to the fact that he's trying to think about you instead of himself."

"If he were really thinking of me, he'd have just told me," Virgil muttered. "Friends don't keep secrets like that, man…"

"Either way, he's gonna tell you when he's ready," Francis shrugged, turning away. "Better to let him tell you on his own than trying to force a confession. He'll feel less threatened, that way."

"H-hey, where are you going?" Static demanded. "We're not done here!"

An eyebrow raised. "What, do you wanna fight me?" he scoffed. "Can't; Foley's orders. If you want payback for high school, though, now's the perfect time. You can beat me up and I'm not allowed to fight back."

"Much as I'd love to, I'm not gonna," Virgil said, once more getting up in Hotstreak's face. "Not yet. But let me tell you that I won't hesitate for a second if you hurt him. No matter what, Richie's my friend and if you do anything out of line, I swear I'll make you regret it, Francis."

"Tell you what, Hawkins: if I hurt him, I'll invite you to come whoop my ass."

Virgil fixed him with a hard stare, like he was trying to determine the sincerity of the other metahuman's words. Apparently, he was satisfied by what he saw for he stepped back and unfolded the Static Saucer, electrifying it and hopping on.

"You keep your nose clean, Frankie," he ordered, flying off into the night. "I'll be watching."

Francis watched him go until he was out of sight. Then, with a derisive snort, he resumed his midnight walk.

Darkness-

"So…what's up?"

"Shut your mouth if you know what's good for you, Foley." Richie thought this might've been said with a sneer, but it was hard to tell with Ebon; at least in terms of facial expressions. He supposed it was something that came with being a living amalgam of shadow.

"Well, come on, man, I'm bored," he complained. "You could at least shoot the breeze with me, a little."

Ebon whirled around, a jerky motion made graceful by the fact that he was always a little less than corporeal and currently had no legs, only a column of blackness coming up from the floor. "You're pretty cocky, white boy," he said with what might've been a frown; again, very hard to tell. "You'd think someone in your position would be a little quieter."

Richie glanced down at himself, observing his position.

Tied to a chair, he thought. Lame.

"I would be if this was the first time this happened," he shrugged, largely unbothered by the situation. "But this is, like, the sixth…seventh…? Something like that, I've lost count."

"You should know the procedure by now, then!" Ebon snapped.

"I do," Richie said. "You grab me, hold me hostage, use me as a bargaining chip for Static, Static shows up, beats the shadowy crap out of you, and you get hauled off to jail while I go back to my life."

The lights flickered briefly, and Ebon's pool of shadow stretched, creeping across the floor and up the walls. Swooping in close, he glared with white eyes empty of pupils and for a brief moment, Richie was scared. "You got a real smart mouth, boy. What makes you think I need you whole to lure Static here?"

"Nothing," Richie replied honestly, catching movement out of the corner of his eye. "Nothing makes me think that."

"Then, why do you insist on being so smug?"

"'cause I'm pretty sure you're screwed."

As soon as he said it, a bolt of electricity struck Ebon in the back, zapping him and forcing him to turn and face his opponent.

"Static," he greeted, "I wasn't expecting you so quick."

"I was in the neighborhood," the hero quipped, "and you've seriously gotta stop picking on this guy, Ebon. This is the seventh time you've kidnapped him."

"Told you," Richie spoke from behind him.

Ebon made a noise that sounded like a hiss, the strange, inhuman weaving of his tall body only adding to the reminiscence of a snake. "I don't care if he's your friend or not, Static," he declared. "You sure come to save him often enough. If I ever want to see you, I know just how to invite you."

"Well, maybe next time, you could just send me an actual invitation instead of kidnapping people. This is getting kind of old."

Ebon laughed in response. "Oh, no worries, Sparky," he assured. "There ain't gonna be a next time…"

Quick as lightning, his arm extended, shooting past Static and grabbing hold of a simple bucket. The bucket was brought back to Ebon and jerked forward, revealing its contents to be water; water that immediately drenched the hero and rendered him useless.

Static fell off of his flying disk with a thud, sputtering and hopelessly trying to get a spark going as the shadowy villain laughed.

Richie was now officially worried.

Ebon approached the fallen hero. "Funny," he taunted, "how such a little thing can make the big, bad Static totally powerless. Unfortunately for you, hero, I've still got my powers!"

Just as Static began scrambling to get up and away and Richie began struggling against his bonds in earnest, there was a crunching noise quickly followed by a loud thud as the door to the room was kicked in.

"Unfortunately for you, Ebon," the newly arrived Hotstreak declared, "you're all outta buckets."

"Hotstreak?" Ebon's eyes were wide, but if he were particularly shocked, the rest of his face was not showing it. "What the fuck are you doin' here?"

"Same reason we fought before the Big Bang: you moved in on my turf." Briefly, he spared a glance to the tied Richie, looking him up and down for any sign of injury. "You alright, Foley?" he asked.

"I'd be better if I weren't tied to a chair," Richie shrugged, slowly returning to calm now that things weren't looking quite as bleak. "Other than that, I'm pretty good."

Ebon gaped for a moment at the exchange before turning to his captive. "You are a Bang Baby magnet, kid," he said.

Richie chuckled. "Don't I know it!"

Blank eyes narrowed and refocused on the newcomer. "So, now, you wanna fight me, too, Hotshot?"

"Oh, don't worry," Francis assured with a smirk, "I wanna. I just gotta see if I have permission."

"…what?"

The redhead turned to the fallen Static, his grin replaced with a sneer. "Well, Static?" he prompted. "Am I allowed to fight with fire, or are you gonna rat on me?"

"It's not illegal if you're facilitating justice," Static decided. "Ebon's a convicted felon who just committed a kidnapping. I'd say you're good to go."

Hotstreak's fist lit aflame quickly, a testament to his eagerness. "Sounds good to me," he agreed.

Almost before Ebon could react, a fireball was launched his way, tagging the end of his shadow and sizzling it away into nothingness. He hissed and darted backwards only for another flaming projectile to hit his midsection; burning a hole with both light and heat.

Ebon quickly flattened himself (literally) against the wall. "You've gone soft, Francis," he said. "You forgot us metahumans are supposed to stick together. You're a traitor; like Static." The shadows on the wall that formed his body began swirling, making the familiar portal he frequently used. "I won't forget this," Ebon warned before disappearing into it, leaving the three young men alone in the room.

Hotstreak was over to Richie immediately, burning away the ropes that held him seated. As soon as he was free, he was up, arms around Francis's neck and hugging him for all he was worth.

A snort from across the room abruptly reminded Richie that Virgil was in the room, as well.

He sprang away from his lover instantly. "V! It's not what… I mean, that was… I don't know what I—"

"It's cool, Richie," Static laughed. "I know how you are with Frankie."

Richie gaped helplessly at his friend for a moment, mouth opening and closing like a fish. "Y-you…you know?" he eventually spoke.

"Yeah, I know," Virgil said

Francis watched as Richie frowned. "And…?" the blond asked warily.

Virgil smiled. "And I'm cool with it," he assured. "I don't care if you're gay or bi or even asexual, Richie. You're still my best friend since kindergarten and nothing's gonna change that."

It was a wonder that Richie didn't hurt himself with how widely he grinned before launching himself at Static, hugging the daylights out of him, too. "Aw, man, V, that's…I… thanks, man."

Francis gagged at the affectionate display. "Get a room, you two."

Richie separated from his friend and laughed. "Yeah," he decided, "I'd rather not, thanks."

Virgil frowned. "I thought we were friends!" he exclaimed. "You don't think I'm sexy? I'm in hero-mode and everything!"

Richie laughed harder. "Dude, you're like my brother," he pointed out. "Hell no, I'm not attracted to you."

"Well," Static pouted, "I think I'm gonna need an ice pack for my bruised ego." He then turned his attention to Hotstreak. "You weren't half-bad, Francis," he admitted. "Now that we're not really enemies…maybe…"

He had thought long and hard on this after discovering his best friend's relationship and eventually decided that yes, the idea wasn't totally crazy. It would certainly make Richie happy and it would be the perfect way to keep an eye on Hotstreak.

Steeling his nerves, Virgil boldly suggested, "Maybe we could make this a regular thing?"

"Superheroing?" Francis appeared to consider it for a moment. "I might have to. It's hard not doing anything with these powers and I miss having good fights every once in awhile." He eyed the young metahumans with him critically. "That, and you guys are screwed if you run into somebody with two buckets of water."

"Yeah, because who would ever think to bring three buckets?"

Francis and Richie laughed at that and Virgil smiled to himself. Maybe it wouldn't be all that bad having Hotstreak on the team: when he wasn't trying to beat him up or setting the landscape on fire, he actually seemed kinda civil!

"This is gonna be great," Richie declared. "A classic, crime-fighting trio! You have got to let me help you pick out a costume, Frankie!"

"A costume? What the hell do I need a costume for?" Francis wondered. "Everybody in the city already knows who I am."

"Aw, come on," Richie whined, "don't take the fun out of it! V and I have costumes; you'll be out of place if you don't have one, too."

"Fine, fine, I'll do a costume."

"Yes! Ooh! And maybe you could pick a new name, too! Hotstreak is your bad guy name. You're reinventing yourself, so why not a new name?" Richie smiled, excited by the possibilities. "You could be…Pyroman! Or Bonfire!"

Francis grimaced. "Uhhh, y'know what, babe? I think I'll stick with Hotstreak…"

Virgil laughed at both the disgusted expression on Hotstreak's face and the disappointed pout on Richie's.

It definitely wouldn't be so bad having Francis as part of the team; especially not if he and Richie were always this entertaining!

-.-.-.-.-.-

A/N: Been AWHILE since I wrote this pairing, hasn't it? ^^;

I guess my muse must've realized as much, too, because the first HotGear thing I've written since...jeez, last year, I think, has turned out to be 33 pages. o.0

Anyways, after I finished this, I realized that each individual segment of it could be seen as one big story. Only Ice, Electricity, and Darkness were meant to be seen as a series, but none of the other ones actually contradict the others.

Basically, if you want to see all the Elements as a connected series of events, there's nothing stopping you though they weren't necessarily written as such. :)

In any case, thank you all for reading, and I hope you liked the fic! :D