Note: This takes place in a different storyverse than the rest of my Static and DCAU fics. Also, this is slash, so if that bothers you, go read something else.
Richie's life is a series of stories:
This is the story of how Gear and Static defeated Brainiac twice, reclaimed the Watchtower (the first one, back before things changed), saved the Justice League, and oh yeah, the world. He likes this one, even if he kind of sort of got turned into a Brainiac zombie by Backpack and was sucked inside a robot suit and ANYWAY the important part was how he gave Virge the "Control" clue.
This is the story of how Gear and Static almost lost their powers when they cured most of the Bang Babies, and defeated that weirdass amalgam of Hotstreak and Ebon by being awesome.
This is the story of how Richie Foley finally had it out with his dad about, well, everything, really, and stormed out and became his own man and a superhero in his own right, and a full member of the League instead of just auxiliary, and, okay, he wasn't quite there yet. He tells himself this story is going to work itself out, one of these days.
Today's work will probably be filed under a story called something like "how Gear and Static routed out that nest of heroin dealers and hauled their sorry asses to jail."
Gear looks over the crates sitting between them and the bad guys, using Backpack's extendible eye so his own doesn't get blown off. Static is watching him warily. "Five guys," Gear whispers. "No, six. One's toward the back of the room, kinda hard to see. Three at the table. Other two at the left."
Static nods, and then he gives Gear that little grin, the one that says he's in the mood to stretch. "Time me," says Static.
Static flies up over the crates in a smooth arc, the disc under his feet like a part of his body. Gear can't see his face, can't see the gleam of joy, but he can see Static spread his arms and extend out his powers through each finger. One, two, three four, five caught in a beam, and thrust up against the walls of the room. As the sixth turns to flee, Static extends out just the pinky from his left hand, and the last guy is pinned.
All in under a little less than three seconds.
"New record, bro," Gear says amiably, and even as the baddies struggle, he's out and around with the zip-ties, corralling each one in short order. As he always does, when he fits the tie snugly, he thinks about Robin, how he showed them this trick back before … Well, before. Gear yanks the tie a little harder than he might for the last guy.
Static is already calling the police as Gear steps back and admires his handiwork. This was easy, and he's not dumb enough to say that out loud, or the killer follow-up phrase "too easy." The last time he'd been that stupid, the bad guys - in that case, a trio of gang bangers who'd stolen Bang Baby gas from Alva's private stores in a misguided attempt to acquire superpowers - had promptly melted through the ties and come after them. That was more of a workout than he'd wanted, even if Virgil still teases him regularly about getting more exercise to avoid the paunch he saw in the future.
He watches Static as the police sirens sounds in the distance. Static has been to the future, has been to the past, has rubbed more Big League shoulders than Gear, has been a superhero longer and is far better known here in Dakota. Gear thinks he should be jealous, hell he has been jealous from time to time, except for the part where Virgil is also the coolest guy he's ever known, and Richie is a little too busy thinking he's amazing to be upset with him about it.
This is the story of how Gear is okay with playing second fiddle for the rest of his life, he thinks, and laughs.
"Share?" Virgil asks.
"Nothing. Just my brain."
"Weirdest brain I've ever met," he says with affection, and it's nice. Virgil's voice changed in the middle of their freshman year of college, and Richie's still startled sometimes by the change in timbre. Virge sounds like an adult, and nothing like his father, and Richie wants to ask him what it's like to meet your future self and know who and what you're going to be, to know for a fact that you're going to be awesome and respected and that you're going to have a family and be someone. Richie already knows what it's like to know he's going to have a spare tire around the middle and still wear his same dorky face mask. He wants to ask if it's better from Virgil's side, because as he sees it, the one thing future him has going for him is that Virgil's still in his life.
Richie wants to ask Virgil a lot of things, but the police are coming through the door, and Static is explaining everything, and they're thanking him, with a nod over to Gear but Static is the hero of Dakota and everyone knows it, including Richie. He's cool with that.
This is the story of how Richie Foley fell in love with his best friend and never ever told him.
Something's off about Richie tonight. Virgil's been best friends with Richie since forever, and he can read Richie's moods even better than he could read Frieda's, back when they were dating in high school, or Daisy's, back when they dated through their first two years of college. He had been able to read Anita's mind while they'd dated briefly last year, but that was due to the crazyass alien beam they'd been hit with, and while that had been a lot of fun, the dating stopped shortly after the beam wore off.
Virgil shakes his head, clearing it. He's not thinking about Anita right now. No.
"What's up?" he asks Richie.
Richie puts on that smile, the one that says he's not talking about it, whatever it is. "Nothin', V. Hey, want to go for a beer?"
The words sound weird coming out of his mouth. Virgil still sees Richie as a fifteen year old, and in his head, he himself is only about sixteen. They're both twenty-two, though, legal and free to do anything except rent a car, and it's still like they're kids trying to sneak one of Richie's dad's beers and knowing they're not going to get away with it this time either.
"Um. Sure. Let's go back and change."
"Well, yeah." Richie says, looking down at his costume. They head back to their headquarters. Since he got his sweet glimpse of the future, they've been slowly excavating the area below the gas station. But so far what they've got is a crawlspace.
As Virgil shucks his costume, he frowns. The job thing is starting to bother him. He's got an engineering degree, but the economy isn't favoring engineering jobs just now, especially not in Dakota. He doesn't want to think about moving. Pops is okay with him at home, lets him know daily that he's so proud of what Virgil does, and Sharon at least tolerates him now that she knows he's not just slacking off with Richie all the time. They won't kick him out, but Virgil feels that he won't be a real adult until he's got a job, gets his own place to live. He thinks it's worse for Richie, whose parents don't know and who've been asking him what he intends to do with the piece of paper he just spent four years earning. Virgil would be okay with Richie moving in at his house, and Pops has already told him it'd be a good idea. But it would be easier if they could find work, too.
Richie picks the bar, a not-shabby place midway between their homes. Feeling like he's going to be kicked out at any time, Virgil follows him in. The bartender immediately asks to see their IDs, but they both have Driver's Licenses now and they're legit.
Still nervous, Virgil sits at the bar beside Richie, and they order a couple of beers. He takes a sip of his, and that's when he knows he's never really going to be a drinker, as the flavor explodes angrily in his mouth and he has to choke down the swallow. He turns around as casually as he can, and looks over the barroom.
He is in a bar. They are in a bar. For the hell of it, he translates it in his head into Latin. He wonders if there's a rule about geeks being allowed in bars.
Richie sips his beer loudly and then makes a face. Virgil can't hide his smile. "Was it all you dreamed?"
The beers cost four bucks each, and Virgil makes himself drink about half before he gives up. Richie manages to finish his, wearing the same expression he does when he has to eat Sharon's cooking. Virgil's not sure what the point of this is. The beer is awful, the music is annoying, there's smoke everywhere. In the back of his head, he thinks this is where you come to pick up a girl, but casting his eye around to the few women in the room, none of them look like someone he'd want to get to know better. Well, except for those two in the booth closest to the door. They look about Virgil and Richie's age, but since one is practically in the other's lap, Virgil is pretty sure they're not interested in being picked up, at least not by men.
"You ready?" he asks, when Richie drains the last of his drink.
"Yeah." They pay the tab and go out into the warm night air. Dakota is always humid in August, day or night. Which works: even though the city practically lives out of doors during these hot evenings, the day-to-day criminals - the pickpockets, the grab-and-goes, that type - are more interested in finding a place with working air conditioning than they are with making Virgil's life difficult.
They walk down the street together for a while, but they live in opposite directions and this isn't going to work. Richie stops under a streetlight, chewing his lip, and that at least Virgil can read.
"You wanna sleep at my place tonight?"
"Sure!" Richie says too fast, and okay, maybe he's just upset at his dad again. Every day, Virgil is grateful for Pops.
They walk towards his house, the breeze making the night a little more bearable than it might be. Virgil keeps his ears open for the sounds of trouble, but they don't find any all the way home.
Richie? Can't sleep. At all. He's been trying for the last two hours. Virgil is in the bed, happily sleeping the sleep of people who can sleep. Richie thought alcohol was supposed to make sleep easier instead of harder, and yet here he is. On Virge's floor, like he has been any number of times. Wide awake.
This is the story of how Richie was too wired to fall asleep even with his very first legally purchased beer from a bar inside him. He doesn't want to get on the computer, which he would do at home, because he doesn't want to wake Virgil up. Except part of him kind of does want to wake Virgil up, and that part is part of why Richie can't sleep. Partly. He sighs.
Quietly, he slips from the bedroom into the bathroom across the hall. He can be quiet about it, and he can clean up quickly, and maybe he can get himself to settle the hell down. Lately, he's been thinking about Superman when he does this, and he figures it's got to be healthier than the two months he spent not being able to finish without thinking about Batman, but tonight it's remembering that grin Virge got as he threw the drug dealers against the wall earlier that sends him over.
He cleans his hands and goes back into Virgil's room. Virgil is still snoring, and Richie lets the sound lull him.
Pops is reading the paper when they drag themselves downstairs.
"About time you two woke up," Sharon says, and Virgil notices she hasn't made them breakfast and he's really okay with that. Normally she's ready to set rubbery pancakes out and if he doesn't find a way to chew through them, they'll start fighting, and he's just not in the mood. Richie has already dug through the cabinet for cereal and passes the box to him.
It's Wednesday, and the latest set of Help Wanted ads will be updated. Pops hands him that part of the paper, and Virgil scans it over his Cocoa Puffs. Fast food, health care, delivery driving, and plenty of bogus "work from home" scams, but he doesn't see anything remotely related to what he wants. But since the latest auto plant shutdown, there just aren't any jobs, not for anyone.
Pops says, "If you boys aren't busy today, I could use some help at the Center."
"We can do that," Richie said. "Right, V?"
"Yeah, no prob, Pops." But his mouth is on autopilot now. He doesn't mind helping out, and he's already put the mostly-volunteer experience on his resume. His college adviser told him that grant proposal writing would come in handy later, so Pops has been teaching him the ins and outs of requesting charitable funds for the Center. Every time he submits a proposal to the Wayne Foundation, he laughs a little inside, but that's not a secret he can tell his Pops, not ever.
Richie is downing his cereal with every sign of enjoyment, and Virgil likes the sight. Richie's mom won't buy things with sugar anymore, not since she started her latest diet. Sharon tries to make the rest of them follow her on her own diets, but it never works, though the food tastes a little better when she does.
"Interesting," says Pops. "Someone bought the plant."
"Banana?" asked Richie. "Marigold?"
"Automotive. It's going to be revamped for those zero-emission cars they keep talking about."
"Really?" Virgil peeks over the edge of the paper. His senior project included working with some mechanical engineering majors on a solar car project. Richie wrote the software that ran it, and he looks interested too.
Richie asks Backpack about the news the first chance he gets, and isn't surprised in the least to discover the plant was bought by Wayne Industries. Mr. Wayne has taken an interest in Dakota, and he thinks Virgil knows why, but Virge doesn't share.
Instead of dwelling on it, they run smack into a gang war that converges one street over from the Center.
This is the story of how Gear and Static smacked some sense into a bunch of gang bangers and still made it to lunch almost on time. The story has a nice epilogue with Mr. Hawkins patting Richie on the back and giving him that proud paternal smile that Richie knows he's never going to get from his own father. Richie feels like he's part of the Hawkins' family already, and that's a story he likes, too.
He laughs with Virgil over burgers and fries at Burger Fool, teasing him that they'll both wind up working here if they're not careful, and Virgil throws a French fry at him, then steals one off his tray. Virge has just the smallest bit of ketchup on his face, and Richie is totally not thinking about just leaning over and cleaning that off for him, no way. Except he is.
He cracks another joke about fast food employment, but it falls flat now.
Richie's been weird all day. Strike that. Richie's been weird ever since they met, but he's been upping the weird factor lately. Virgil suspects part of it is that they're out of college, they're officially adults, and they still feel like teenaged kids. He's living at home, Richie is practically living with him, and the only difference is that at the end of the summer, they're not going back to school. Sometimes he thinks he should miss spending as much time with Daisy and Frieda as he used to, but they both managed to find jobs elsewhere, Frieda in Gotham, and Daisy in Metropolis. Instead, it's more of a wistful ache, the same he feels when he knows he's not going to walk back through the doors of the high school (unless he's chasing a bad guy, in which case he'll be too busy to be nostalgic).
The online job searches tell him there are openings in Metropolis. He sends his resume, sparse as it is, but he already knows that if he gets an offer, an interview even, that he's not taking it. He's not going to abandon Dakota the way the car makers have, the way the politicians try to every year by slowly strangling the schools and the roads and the rest. His city needs her hero.
He glances over at Richie, who's busy searching the same kinds of want ads online with the slower-than-hell computers here at the Center. Richie could go to Metropolis, to Gotham City, even out to Star City, or Midway. Maybe he could find a job somewhere in the Midwest that didn't have a resident hero already, set up shop, and do his thing. Be the center of attention, for once, instead of standing in Virgil's shadow. Virgil used to tease him, a little, about being a sidekick, but really, Richie's been his partner for years, and just the thought of watching him leave is sending sick waves through Virgil's belly.
But maybe it's for the best.
"Hey, Rich. Here's one. Looks like what you've been looking for," he manages to say with plenty of false levity squeezed in, and he forwards the link.
"Yeah, saw that one. But it's in Central City."
"You could apply anyway."
"I'm not moving to Central City, V."
"Why not? Weather's nice there, you could pal around with Flash."
Richie snorts. "There's a bonus."
"Thought you liked Flash." Actually, come to think of it, Virgil's certain that Richie likes Flash a lot. Flash has a generous personality, big enough to embrace the two of them back when they were snot-nosed kids, even to act as a big brother-type mentor figure (as opposed to the "oh God, he's going to kill me if I screw up again" father-type mentor figure Virgil occasionally has in Green Lantern). And Virgil is pretty sure Richie appreciates Flash's expansive mind and heart and tastes. Richie dated in college, too.
"He's okay. I mean, he's cool and all." Richie mumbles something else, and Virgil doesn't hear him.
"I'm not leaving." It's not what Virgil thought he heard, but he's not going to press. "You tryin' to get rid of me?"
"Like a wart," Virgil teases. "I just don't want you feeling like you're stuck here. Hanging out in the old neighborhood."
"Hanging out with the old gang."
"Working at Burger Fool."
"Palling around with you."
"Like those guys who were so great at football and then never stop talking about that one catch they made twenty-seven years ago." Virgil laughs.
Pops comes over to the computers. "Glad to see you boys are having fun. What's that I heard about my famous catch back when I was in school?"
Virgil loses his smile. So does Richie. They look at each other.
"Virge was just telling me I should move to Central City and get a job there."
"Central City's a good town," says Pops. "Economy's stronger there. It is in most places," he adds, looking around. The Center is more empty these days, missing kids whose parents aren't working and haven't for a while now.
"Central City has plenty of superheroes," Richie says, looking at Virgil.
Virgil nods at him, just once. They're both staying, then. Virgil's good with that.
Richie doesn't want to go home that night, after patrol and stopping a punk's plans to really ruin a nice young woman's evening, but he's got to change his clothes, check in with his parents. The shouts start as soon as the door opens, and under a barrage, he finally makes it to his room with his pride only a little worse for wear.
He wishes his parents knew about his secrets. All of them.
There's a tap on his door. "Yeah?"
"Can I come in?" Mom tries not to invade his privacy.
She slips inside and sits next to him on his bed. "This came for you in the mail."
"Thanks." Usually he just gets bills for his phone, for the one credit card he has. No car, so no car payments yet, and he had a free ride at school, so no loans coming due. It could be worse.
Richie opens the letter, and his eyes widen.
"I gotta call Virgil."
"It's an interview schedule."
"That's great news, honey." Her lips twitch. "You were going to tell Virgil before you told us?"
He bends his head a little. "He's my best friend."
Instead of replying, Mom gives him a quick kiss on his cheek. "You know I will always love you no matter what, right?"
She holds his hand, meets his eyes. "I mean it, Rich. No matter what."
He puts on a half-smile. He knows what she's saying, and what she's asking. Maybe Mom does know some of his secrets after all. "I know. Thanks."
She kisses him again, and goes out of his room as he grabs his phone. Instead of hello, he says, "Did you check your mail yet?"
Instead of hello back, Virgil says, "Mine's set for next Monday."
The new auto plant, the one Mr. Hawkins was reading about, was not only hiring but, as the letter had said, was "identifying new talent local to the area being developed." It wasn't a sure thing, but it was a chance.
Virgil wants to prepare for his interview, but one thing crops up after another. Big time crooks and small time losers, and that's not counting the three (!) alerts he and Gear get from the League as Metropolis gets pounded by some outerspace outlaw with a mind for vengeance and an army large enough to need the whole Justice League plus their small-potatoes auxiliary members. Even Batman shows up, and Static hasn't seen him for an all-hands alert in years, not since Robin … got hurt.
Static and Gear find themselves working with Nightwing, Arsenal and Cyborg as they set up a perimeter to keep the civilians slightly safer than they would be inside the real battle. It's unglamorous but still pretty amazing. When they defeat the bad guy and his army, as he knew they would, Superman invites everyone not on cleanup duty back to the Watchtower for a small celebration.
"Party on the Watchtower," Gear says, his grin wide.
"Sounds like a plan."
There's a shadow beside him. "You have an interview tomorrow," Batman says. "Go home and get some rest." It's not a request.
"That's a better plan," Virgil concedes, but Batman is already gone.
"Whoa," Richie says. "That guy never stops being creepy. How does he know what you're doing tomorrow?"
"It's Batman. He knows everything." Virgil goes home and gets some rest. Because it's late, Richie stays over again.
Richie finishes his last interview with a firm handshake and a smile he doesn't feel. He knows he's up for the job, knows he's qualified, knows he's going to be by far the best candidate. But selling himself in twenty minute blocks of time to people judging him on his clothes and his hair and how nervous he is? He's not sure he landed that particular dismount, and as he is escorted to the front entrance, it's with his heart in his mouth.
"You should know," says the last interviewer, a woman whose last name might be Higgins and might be Haggart, "Mr. Wayne spoke highly of your qualifications."
"He … did?"
"He was impressed with your transcripts. Said he thought you'd be a perfect fit."
"Really?" Someone more debonair, or at least more interview-friendly, would have used that as an opening to tout, with token humility, his own virtues, but all Richie can do is stare, slightly gaping. He closes his mouth.
Higgins or Haggart laughs. "He also said you'd be very nervous, and not to worry about it. The interview was a formality. Expect our offer tomorrow once the paperwork is finalized."
"Th - thanks! Thanks so much!" Richie is light as air now.
"Have a good day, Mr. Foley," she says, and lets him out.
He feels like a dork and he doesn't care. He's going to have a job. Virgil's already waiting for him in Mr. Hawkins' borrowed car; they came together because it made the most sense.
"I got the job!" Richie says before he can stop himself, before he can ask V how it went.
"I knew you would." The smile says Virge was just as successful.
"She said Mr. Wayne himself put in a good word for me."
"Well," says Virgil, as he starts the car, "then I guess you'd better make him proud."
"Yeah." He looks out the window for a minute. The old factory is going to be gutted and rebuilt; that means jobs, too, long before the cars start rolling out. It's not everything the city needs, not now after all this time, but it's a beginning. "Hey, let's go celebrate. Dinner someplace cool."
"I can't wait. Real paychecks. I can finally move out of the house. We should totally look for a place close to work."
"Yeah." Something clicked in Richie's head. "Sorry. I figured we'd get an apartment together since we're going to be working at the same place. And it's easier to go on patrol if we're together."
"No, that's a good idea." But Virgil is distant until they reach the restaurant. Virgil has apparently decided that "Someplace cool" means TGI Fridays. It's open and it's not crowded.
"There's some decent apartment complexes about halfway between here and the gas station," Richie says after the waitress takes their orders.
"How long have you been thinking about this?"
"Moving out of my house? Since I was nine."
Of course the local gang-types would pick today to burst into the restaurant and try to rob the joint. It takes some doing, but they're really used to this, and so no one sees Virgil slip into the Men's room for a quick change before Static bursts out and takes them down. Their fries aren't even cold by the time he changes back. They splurge on dessert.
They're a block from Richie's house, and he's trying to come up with excuses not to stay home, when the giant mutant slug chases three teenagers right in front of the car, and Virgil brakes barely in time. They both change and are out of the car hunting down the slug in thirty seconds flat.
Gear takes the path closest to the teens, figuring he can get them out of the way while Static takes on the slug. He's got his shock grenades ready just in case.
One of the girls screams, and the slug is over their heads. He doesn't see Static anywhere.
Richie hurls a grenade and pushes the kids to run faster as it detonates, but he's missed his throw and it only wounds the creature, which snarls in rage.
"Go!" he shouts to them, and then he sees Static on the ground about twenty feet away, dazed and getting to his feet. The slug must have knocked him good. Richie has just enough time to be glad when a powerful tail whips around and it's his turn to fly through the air and impact with the wall.
"Ow," he tries to say, and slides down. His ribs hurt, and his head hurts worse, and he's suddenly tired and nauseated. Stupid TGI Fridays.
"Gear!" shouts Static, and he hears a sizzle as his eyes slide shut. Static is frying the slug, holding it in place. They'll have to get it some mutagen gas, Richie thinks, and then he passes out.
Someone is shaking him. "Wake up." It's Virgil, and his voice is scared. "Come on."
Richie opens his eyes and sees Static in front of him, eyes wide and frightened behind his mask.
"I got the worm. Are you okay?"
"'m fine. Totally."
"You've got a concussion."
Richie sat up slowly, rubbing his head. Yeah, that was a nasty bump. "Ow," he said again.
"Let's get you to a doctor."
"No. I'll be fine."
"No way you're fine."
"Just let me get home and sleep it off. If I'm sore in the morning, I'll go see the doc." He sits and catches his breath. "Anyway, what'm I gonna say? Wounded in the line of duty by giant slug?"
"I could get us a transport up to the Watchtower. Or you could just tell the ER doc that you had a run-in with a mugger."
Richie gets to his feet, and he's a little dizzy, but he thinks he'll be okay. "It's nothing. Where's the worm?"
Virgil tilts his head, and Richie sees the puddle. As they watch, it's shrinking, and the slug returns to normal size. Still dead, though.
Virgil says, "We need to keep an eye out. If someone's growing mutant bugs for fun … "
Richie finishes, " … then we'd better find a really big can of Raid."
Richie talks him into going home instead of going to the ER, with an agreement that he'll stay at Virgil's tonight, and that Virgil will wake him up every so often to make sure he's not dead. Virgil isn't sure he likes this plan, but Richie doesn't want to go to the doctor, maybe because he's embarrassed about being beaten up by something squishy. Virgil feels his pain.
It's not so late when they get back. Virgil gets to tell Pops all about the interview and the new job, and Pops has that smile, the same one he gets when Static's made the evening news again. "I'm so proud of you, son," he says, but Virgil already knows it.
Richie's upstairs lying down, and Sharon's gone to bed already, and it's just the two of them. Pops doesn't drink, so instead of sharing beers, he's fixed them hot chocolate, and Virgil decides marshmallows taste much better anyway.
"Richie and I are talking about getting an apartment together. Someplace close to work. Both works," he says.
Pops sits back. "That's a big step. You sure you're ready to be on your own?"
"Yeah. And I'll have Richie with me."
"Well, he practically lives here, so I suppose it won't be much of a change for you." Something in the way Pops looks at him over the edge of his mug unsettles Virgil.
"Nothing," Pops says. And then, "I'm always proud of you. Both of you. I don't know if I say it enough."
"You do," and Pops laughs and ruffles his hair like he's still a kid.
"And if there's anything else you ever need to tell me, you know you can, right?"
"Sure, Pops. No more secrets." Virgil sips his cocoa, spearing the last marshmallow with his tongue and slurping it down.
"Okay." Pops finishes his cocoa and rinses out the mug. With a kiss to the top of his head, Pops says, "Good night."
Virgil goes to his room and changes into his pajamas before he wakes Richie to check on him. He makes him sit up and say his ABCs before he lets Richie's head slip back to the pillow. Richie is in his bed, so Virgil spreads out a blanket on the floor the way Richie usually does when he sleeps over. Which, yeah, is all the time anymore, and he never complains about how hard the floor is, something Virgil's just noticing.
He should set an alarm to wake himself in a little while to check on Richie, so he sends a bolt of energy over to his clock, and with a little fiddling, sets it without even touching it. Superpowers are the best things ever.
He closes his eyes, tries to sleep. Behind his eyelids, he keeps seeing the giant slug throwing Gear into the wall with a sickening crack, keeps feeling his stomach bottom out as Richie's lying there unmoving. It could have gone bad so easily. It could always go bad so easily. Some days he has to remind himself that just because he remembers one future, that doesn't mean he won't manage to screw something big up in the now and change it. Hell, even if he doesn't screw it up, if he actively tries to fix things, like Richie's paunch, even Batman's isolation. The future where he was an awesome superhero and Richie was still alive and that new Batman guarded Gotham City and Virgil had a son, all of it could be just a vision of Christmas Yet To Be, a ghostly picture of things not written in stone.
He rolls over, watching Richie sleep. Either of them could be killed doing their jobs. The League has lost members already. The future isn't set.
In a world with all possible futures, then, with his own life finally opening up with a new job and a new home, what does he really want?
He's still awake when the alarm goes off, and he wakes up Richie, and he smiles when he sees that he's alive.
They're not going to move out until they've both got a few paydays under their belts, but they search for a place anyway between getting started at the new company, helping out at the Center, and of course, squeezing in the awesome superheroing deal around it all.
Virgil says he thinks it'll be okay if they occasionally have to duck out of work to take care of Earth-wide emergencies and foil bank robberies. Richie has to believe him.
It's a bank robbery today, middle of the day in downtown Dakota. They were out for lunch and happened to be close by when the police sirens went off, and Backpack - who lives in an actual backpack Richie takes with him to work like a briefcase - gives them the skinny as they change.
The cops see them glide in and give them a respectful distance, and that's nice. Static opens the doors with his powers, and wraps a vault door around the guys pointing a gun at the manager's head to get her to open it. Gear subdues two of the baddies who are out with the hostages, using Backpack to restrain them and zipties to hold them in place. Neither of them sees the last guy until there's a gun at Gear's neck and a heavy breath behind it saying, "Move. Slowly."
He sees Static coming back from the vault, that smug and happy look he knows so well on his face. Static stops dead as the guy behind him shouts, "Not one move, or he gets it."
Gear kind of hates his own face mask. It's hard to see through properly sometimes, and while he can see Static's eyes glitter through his, he's never sure if Static can read him the same way. He looks up at the curved mirror in the corner, and he sees the flicker in Static's face.
The purple light streaks out from Static's hands, hits the mirror at exactly the right angle, and pops the gun out of the guy's hand. Gear punches backwards with his elbow, and takes the goon down with a swift kick.
"Thanks," he says to Static, who only nods.
As the cops secure the area outside, interview the witnesses, and lead the bad guys off, the two of them take a moment at the side of the bank by the high windows. It's cool here, with an AC vent close by. They're alone, mostly, and it's nice.
"How'd you let that guy get behind you?"
"I thought you had the others."
"You were supposed to get the ones out here."
"No, I was supposed to get the ones with the hostages. That guy was in with you and came out."
"Clearly we need to work on our communication skills before it gets you killed."
"Gets me killed?" Gear snorts. "You're the one who's going to fry the first time you step into a puddle."
"A puddle, huh?" There's that gleam back behind the mask. They're causing a scene, or would be if anyone was paying them any attention at all, and they're both totally enjoying it. "Brave talk from someone plugged into a computer all the time."
"I'll show you 'plugged in,'" Gear says and pokes him.
Virgil pokes him back. Richie shoves him a little harder, and Virge's right there shoving him towards the wall, like they did when they were kids just messing around.
"How many times am I going to have to save your sorry butt before you take care of yourself?"
"Are you volunteering to take care of my butt?" Richie pushes him again. Virgil's pushing him back, and then Richie's back is solidly against the wall. It knocks the wind out of him, a little, but not nearly as much as when Virgil flips aside Richie's face mask and presses his mouth against his.
It's weird, and shocking in more ways than one as the electricity sparks through his teeth and right into his feet and fingers and groin. He thought it might be like this, except he never thought it'd be like this, and he has to catch up with the things Virge's doing with his lips and tongue, and whoa.
As they break, and thank God, they're still alone in here because in the last thirty seconds a brass band could have walked by and Richie would not have noticed, Richie tries to think amid the swirls in his head and the tingles in his extremities.
"Please tell me this isn't a hallucination," he manages to say.
V laughs, and there's no way he's imagining this. "Nope. Sorry."
"So, wait. Are we? Are you?" There's no way to have this conversation, not with his mask off and people about to walk back in and finish the bank's work day, and speaking of work, they need to get back to the office. There's an auto plant to build and new cars to help design, and a planet that needs saving in so many ways.
Instead of dealing with all that, Virgil bends in and kisses him again, and yeah, this is real and he's not dreaming, and things just got a lot more complicated, and a lot less complicated, too.
"Let's talk after work," V says, as Richie puts Gear's mask back on. "There's this apartment I saw yesterday I think you'll like."
Apartment, right. And things are going back to normal now, except that Virgil's hand is holding his as they make their way out into the hot August sunshine, and that is still Virgil's hand as they find a place to change back into their other costumes, the ones with ties that they use to pretend they're normal people. And before they go back to work, that's Virgil's hand in his hair and his mouth against his neck saying, "I don't think I could handle losing you," but it's definitely Richie's own hand covering it, and tilting his face to Virgil's lips to show him that isn't going to be an issue.
This is the story of how Richie Foley fell in love with his best friend, who turned out to be crazy about him right back. And they lived happily ever after. (They'll work on that last part. They've got their whole future ahead of them.)