The end of the world conspires to happen in Texas, down at the Gulf of Mexico. And a year ago that would have been far enough away from Dakota that Static and Gear wouldn't have made it over before the whole thing got canceled with some extreme prejudice. Except a year ago Richie hadn't been dating Kal giving them the occasional access to Justice League Zeta beams. So if needed they can actually make it down there to help.
And then Auqualad is captured and "if needed" flies right out the widow.
The first mistake made by Villain Who Richie's Not Paying Enough Attention To was getting out of bed that morning. The next was obviously going against the Justice League. But in Richie's mind the two biggest mistakes are taking his boyfriend, and using giant robots.
It takes him five minutes after their arrival to hack into the robots and turn them against their maker, and less than one after that to track the signal back to Really Stupid Villain's base.
Aquaman is held up elsewhere so it's Mera, Auquawoman, who knocks down the outer wall on the warehouse were Kal's being kept, and starts cleaning house. With a tidal wave of water directed in from the marina.
There are a few scuffles, and some people that have to be tied up, but then Kal comes out, on his own two shaky feet, and Richie just can't help himself. Kal has been through worse, he'sbeen through worse, but that never makes this any easier. He wraps his arms around Kal, one landing on the small of his back in support, the other running along the invisible scaly texture of the skin just surrounding Kal's gills. A quick motion retracts the bottom half of his faceplate (because risking his secret identity every time he gets the munchies is so not cool), and then he brings Kal down into a desperately gentle kiss.
He's so wrapped up in their reunion that he doesn't even notice the press until the flash of a camera reflects off the standing water left on the docks.
Richie almost jerks away, but as he steps back Kal falls forward into him. He props him up against his shoulder, and tries to maneuver him far enough away that he can look for any serious injuries.
The reporters start asking questions all at once, little bits and pieces floating into Richie's ears. "Hardware! How long have you been a in a relationship with Auquaboy?" "Did Superhero work turn you gay?" "How did the two of you meet?" "…first gay superhero couple.." "…opinion on gay marriage?" "…sort of example for young…" "Gizmo!" "…public display of affection?" "…coming out.." "…gay superhero…"
He has a bad grip on Kal, and they're all to close for him to shift it. He can barely hear him mumbling against his neck under the voices, and the drum of panic beating in his head. Gay, gay, gay go the reporters and hurt, hurt, hurtgoes the panic, until finally his brain supplies a solution. He grabs his Shock-Vox and contacts Static who gets there in moments.
Static's landing, and the vague charge he's holding in the air, is enough to break a hole in the crowd. He shoots him the most thankful expression he can, and they rearrange Kal so they can get a better look at him.
"Nothing I can see man. We should get him back to be checked out though," says Static.
Kal helps them get him onto Staic's disk, the easiest form of transportation they have, and they leave behind the gaggle of reporters shouting questions into the sky.
A few hours later, and Kal's resting in the med bay at Mt. Justice. The sedation that he had been fighting off at the dock has taken hold again, but other than that there was no real damage.
It's a relief; but there's still a twist of fear in Richie's stomach.
The first person Richie ever told about being gay was V. For a long time he was the onlyperson that Richie told. Even after almost a year being in a relationship with Kal the only other people that knew were connected to Young Justice or to the Hawkins
And now he can turn on the television, and see a picture of himself kissing Kal. On national television. Did it even for, a few seconds while he was passing through the rec room to grab something to drink.
He grips Kal's wrist in his hand, fingers resting on his pulse. He doesn't know what to think, to feel, to do. His head is spinning with the thought that there are strangers who know more about Gear than his father knows about him, about Richie.
Kal blinks at him, momentarily awake, and frowns. He shimmies over, and spreads his arms out, wrapping his hand around Richie's own wrist to tug him down. Richie follows, and curls up against his solid chest.
Tomorrow Richie will see how the world reacts, and what it means for him. For them. Tonight he's going to take comfort in his boyfriend's arms.
It isn't long before the media circus is in full swing.
The picture seems to be on every tabloid and the news magazines in the world. Every news station has a story, every pundit an opinion.
These 'Superheroes' are no more than an attack on the morals of our society. Sense the founding of the 'Just Us League' there has been an increase in the immoral behavior rampant across our fair country, and now they have placed our family values under direct attack with this indecent image of two male superheroes kissing! Something must be done!- Glorious Gordon Godfrey
Mrs. Robinson is the coolest little old lady Richie has ever met. At age eighty-three she has five children, twelve grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She has sprayed mace in Shiv's eyes, used a fire extinguisher on Hotstreak, and once threatened to bend Ebon over her legs for a whoopin'. She makes lemon bars that are to die for.
She tells him he's going to Hell.
All these Atlanteans are left wing liberals. First they try and tell us we can't drill off of our own shores, and now they're spreading their immoral practices, and parading them in front of us. The only thing 'Aquaman' and 'Aqualad' are is a ploy to brainwash our youth with their liberal propaganda. -Melissa Turnwell
"I don't understand," says M'gann, "What they have, I can feel it, without even trying. How can someone hate something that's so beautiful?"
"I could probably give you a reason, something about ignorance and fear," says Robin, "but the truth is, I don't understand it either."
Talking to the cops after fighting a Bang Baby is a standard part of the job. It's one of the many things that Richie does that feels more exposed. He's used to the idea of everyone looking at him as a superhero, and now it feels like everyone who looks at him just sees that he's gay.
When he sees that they're dealing with Officer Murphy, a large black man that already hates Gear and Static, Richie almost leaves Virgil to take care of it himself.
He's gritting his teeth watching as Murphy's partner secures the prisoner.
"You're with that Aqualad boy, aren't you?"
Virgil's hackles rise, the faint bell of higher charged air whistling in Richie's ears. "What's it to you?" he asks. If Richie was half as thrown by the situation, and the instances of veiled hostility they've already run into as he is there would be a serious talk with V about his protective streak, and its tendency to go into overdrive.
Murphy, amazingly, doesn't rise to the bait. He shrugs. "Kid lives in Atlantis, right? Long distance relationships can be a bitch. My boyfriend only lives just outside the city, and we don't get to see each other nearly as much as I would like."
"Oh." The two of them are eloquent. Masters of the gab right here. "Actually he ah, he stays in embassies most of the time, not Atlantis." Which, Richie realizes, isn't remotely why Murphy is talking to him about this. "It's more the job than the distance. These guys never seem to care when I have a hot date planned."
"Too right. So," says Murphy, "what did you two Babies fuck up this time?"
Richie shares a glance with V. He supposes they shouldn't have expected that much of a change.
I can only hope that the Justice League is prepared to take down these young men. It's just a matter of time with these two leading a homosexual lifestyle before they turn bad. Just look at the facts. Pied Piper is a notorious villain and it's no coincidence that he's gay. - Charles Hornwell
Fred Phelps organizes a protest rally in front of the Hall of Justice.
They bring signs about hate and death. About a mad God that rages against America. 'FAGS DIE GOD LAUGH' 'PRAY FOR DEAD SUPERHEROES!' A small child holds the sign 'GOD SENT DR. LIGHT.'
A nearby high school class imitates the Patriot Guard Riders. They show up with armfuls of superhero memorabilia and make a wall between the superheroes and the Westboro Baptist Church. They fly flags, banners, blankets, hoodies, and stuffed dolls on the end of poles. A man selling balloons joins them, blocking a solid five feet on his own.
The Flash's Rogues release an It Gets Better video.
A fire breaks out at a restaurant in Happy Harbor, and quickly threatens to spread to neighboring businesses. Aqualad arrives at the scene and helps the firefighters with the use of his water bearers.
There is a crowd of bystanders and former restaurant goers gathered in the street. Anonymous from their place among the crowd one member throws a rock with cries of "Fish Faggot!" The throw goes wild, and instead of harmlessly bouncing off of thick Atlantean skin it strikes a small girl, cutting a gash across her arm.
Kaldur sits with the mother and her child, a girl of six named Jenny, while the ambulances check for anyone with smoke inhalation and see to her wound.
"I'm sorry," says Richie. "It's my fault."
He's at Mt. Justice, they all are, and he's just finished listening to the story of the restaurant fire earlier in the week. His stomach is a tight knot of guilt.
Wally frowns, half way through a sandwich. "Dude, some guy being an asshole is not your fault."
Richie knows that, somewhere in his head he knows. It's just so much harder to make himself believe. He's never had being Gear feel so personal before.
"If I had more self control, if I wouldn't have outed us! None of this would have happened!" He's losing it a little. Everything is pilling inside of him. Words are twisting into his gut, poking and prodding, telling him what a horrible person he is; for his actions, for his thoughts, for his breath.
"The fire would have happened," says Kal. And he's saying it in his important voice. The one that means ha has a point; one that he believes in. "I would still have been there. And this man, with so much hatred, could very well have found another reason to throw his rock. 'Faggot' was not the only slur to leave his mouth."
Kal puts his arm on the curve of Richie's neck and meets his eyes. "When I chose to come to the Surface World with my King I chose to walk among those who would not understand me. I chose to be an envoy for my people, and to fight not only criminals, but the bigotry shown towards us by those who shield themselves in ignorance."
"I understand, now perhaps more than ever, the reasons you wished our relationship to remain private. But now, with knowledge of our relationship common, I cannot help but feel that our silence does us no good." His eyes blaze fiercely, and for a second Richie almost expects the world to react to the passion held there, for it to rearrange itself to Kal's whims. "I would like to never again hear you apologize for expressing the love you hold for me, nor for you to feel fear for doing so."
"Whatever you decide to do bro," says Virgil, "I got you're back."
"We all do," says Robin.
Conner shrugs. "I still don't see why I can't just hit them."
"You can just punch them so hard they never existed, right?" asks Artemis.
Richie clears his suspiciously tight throat. "Right, so are we going on Oprah or Ellen? Personally I'm leaning towards Oprah, because seeing me dance is not a pretty sight."
It don't matter. I'm cool with everybody who is cool with me. So long as you're not hurting nobody, I'm not gonna hate on peeps for who they are. Gear is one of my heroes and this don't change that at all.- Romeo
The first interview they do is not with Ellen or Oprah, but with Mrs. Allen who knows all their secrets and helps them tell their story. It is, all things considered, one of the tamest stories of Kal or Richie's superhero career.
But it's important, to Richie, to Kal, and as he's beginning to realize, to a lot of other people too.
Somehow, through all the good, and bad, and insane things Richie finds something new inside himself. He finds strength in the support, and a strange determination in the face of the hate. He finds in himself an urge he never thought would be there. He finds his own story coming out as Gear to be the sort of inspiration he never thought he would find.
And so Richie does something he's told himself a thousand, a milliontimes that he would never do.
"Dad," he says, "I have something to tell you. About me. And I don't think you're gonna like hearing it, but I need to tell you."
His dad gives him a look and sets down his fork. He turns his body towards Richie giving him his full attention. "Alright," he says, "What do you have to tell me Richie?"
Certainly there are better ways that this news could have been broken, but it is still a large step for the gay community to have visible superheroes. This could open the way for more heroes, super and regular, to come out. At the very least there are a lot of kids out there that are going to be able to look at Aqualad and Gear and know they have something in common. It's a very strong thing to be able to look at someone so good and see this part of yourself in them, to be able to know that that part of you is good too. - Juan Rodriguez