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what tangled webs we weave (Chapter 5)

Title: What Tangled Webs We Weave
Chapter 5: Bullets and Flame
Fandom: Static Shock
Pairings: Hotstreak/Virgil (Static)
Word Count: 6275 (20,311 so far)
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Summary: When Virgil accidentally offers to help his worst enemy turn his life around, he soon finds himself juggling far too many secrets and an inconvenient crush.

Chapter 1: Blame the Rain
Chapter 2: Insults, Doubt & Aggravation
Chapter 3: Skepticism
Chapter 4: A Rhythm of Sorts


When he thinks about it later, Virgil decides that everything is definitely Richie's fault since his friend is the one who suggests going to the mall that weekend. Or the teen could blame it on his dad instead, because the moment which changes everything can be traced back to another conversation in the kitchen on one Wednesday night.

The Hawkins family always seems to have their most important discussions around that dining table, a habit left over from when his mother was alive, although this one doesn't seem particularly significant at first. Virgil has just venting about Hotstreak's inability to grasp the slightest bit of Physics and by the time they finish eating dinner, Sharon looks ready to smack her brother if that would shut him up. Honestly, the teen doesn't think his father is really listening to him either, but at least he's polite enough to smile and nod along.

“It's just so aggravating,” Virgil groans, tugging at his hair in frustration and ignoring the sighs of his captive audience. “I mean it's gravity and acceleration not rocket science and he's somehow passing Calculus so this really shouldn't be that hard.”

“He's probably cheating off you; the kid's a delinquent idiot who should be sent back to jail.” Sharon mutters snidely on her way out of the room and Virgil's temper flares.

“What is your problem, sis?” The teen shouts, one hand slamming into the table. “Hotstreak hasn't done anything for weeks now and you're still being a total bitch. Why can't you just give him a break?”

“Maybe I'm worried about you, little brother. Did you ever think of that?” Sharon yells back and Virgil's mouth drops open in surprise. “ I've seen his type a hundred times before and it always ends the same. You're getting way too invested in this guy's success and we're the ones who will have to pick up the pieces when he finally lets you down.” She stomps out of the kitchen before her brother can form a reply and he slumps back down in his chair, the wind knocked from his sails.

I didn't know she felt like that, the teen thinks, feeling slightly guilty about the way that he had yelled. I suppose she does see the worst offenders in her job, but why can't she simply trust me and give Hotstreak a chance?

To be fair, Virgil may be leaning too far in the other direction considering that everyone around him seems to think he's being foolish and the doubting voice in his head often agrees. However, if the teen was in the habit of being sensible, he would never have become a superhero, and he's seen Bang Babies change their lives before.

So when his father opens his mouth to speak, the metahuman cuts him off with a sigh, “Are you going to chew me out too? Give me another lecture on how Hotstreak simply has to be evil at heart.”

Though it seems that this conversation is destined to be full of surprises because his dad shakes his head and replies with a firm, “Of course not. While I understand your sister's concerns, Francis has kept his nose clean since he got out and I've been around long enough to know that even delinquents try to meet your expectations. Your belief that he can change is one of the strongest factors in this kid's favor so I'd be a fool to make you throw that away, and if all your effort fails in the end, I'll support you through the pain. That said, Sharon might relax somewhat if you told her the truth.”

While the pride in his father's words warms Virgil's heart, that last comment opens up a whole new can of worms. Or actually an old one, since his dad has been on the teen to tell his sister about Static ever since the old man found out, but that's one point on which the metahuman has no intention of giving in.

“You know I can't risk her like.” He replies, rehashing the argument that they've had so many times before. “Even if she didn't freak out, it would only take one slip to get her killed- look at what happened to you when Omnara figured out who I was.”

As always, his father doesn't have a good answer for that, but the older man also doesn't surrender the battle without a fight. “You shouldn't lie to the ones you love,” he says disapprovingly and Virgil winces at the censure in his gaze. However, then his father changes the subject, asking, “So what have you tried so far? I used to be a fair hand at Physics in my day.”

It's an obvious attempt to lighten the conversation, but the teen is grateful for the reprieve and truthfully, he's always happy to talk about Hotstreak these days. Besides, if his dad can help him figure something out, that would be one huge weight off his mind. So Virgil tells him about the lesson plans and the tutoring and the many varied ways in which his attempts have failed, before resting his head against the table with a sigh. “He's really not an idiot like most people think, but it's like something just isn't clicking in his brain. Though he must have some understanding of acceleration and the rest or he wouldn't be such a damn good shot with those fireballs of his.”

“Hmm, that's an interesting point.” His father muses, looking at his son thoughtfully. “What about trying a more hands-on approach? There's nothing like a few explosions to keep a teenager interested in science and being able to use his abilities might help Francis overcome whatever is blocking him from understanding now.”

“Wait, you want me to let Hotstreak light stuff on fire?” Virgil asks incredulously, though he has to admit that the point seems sound. If nothing else it would certainly be different and might help to convince him that studying can be fun.

“Well it's not exactly my first choice,” The older man admits. “But part of Francis' rehabilitation is teaching him to use his powers responsibly, so this would be a good opportunity to check on his control. In fact, in the name of second chances, tell him that I'll hire him part time at my center if he passes your next test.”

“Really?” The teen beams, all his earlier annoyance forgotten. “I was worried that even if I managed to get him his diploma, no one would trust Hotstreak enough to hire him and he'd have to go back to robbing people just to pay his bills. But with you as a reference someone will have to give him a chance for sure... and maybe Static can help tip the scales in his favor too.”

“You do realize I'm only going to give him a reference if he actually does the job well?” His father says, always the voice of reason, but even he can't dampen Virgil's mood right now. I mean, I know I promised myself I wouldn't try to plan out Hotstreak's life, but this doesn't mean I shouldn't try to give him options. Really, there's no reason not to take the opportunity that pops is offering, assuming his crazy plan works out.

So the teen spends the rest of the evening lost in rampant speculation and he barely notices when his fantasies drift into actual dreams.

---

Virgil has to wait until the weekend to take his father's advice and he's nearly bouncing with anticipation as he leads the redhead toward the edge of the city. He doesn't want an audience or innocent bystanders around for this, just in case everything goes horribly wrong, and the teen never thought that he would be glad for Dakota's excess of abandoned lots.

But it's to one of these that the metahuman leads Hotstreak and although the redhead bitches about all the walking, Virgil can tell that he's intrigued by the promise of a surprise. In fact, the other teen looks sincerely disappointed when they stop in a rundown parking lot and he turns to his guide with a huff.

“We're stopping here? I thought you had something cool to show me, but I got my hopes up for this crap?” Hotstreak says, waving one hand toward the cracked asphalt.

“Don't be stupid, I'm not that much of a dick,” Virgil retorts, swinging his backpack off his shoulders. “This place isn't your surprise; I just needed to find somewhere that wasn't likely to burn down before we get started.”

“Get started with what?” The pyro asks suspiciously, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Lighting shit on fire, of course,” He replies with a grin, pulling a handful of wooden discs from his pack. “I want to see what you can do.”

“You... really?” Hotstreak says, eyes lighting up with glee. “You're not scared that I'm going to fry you or something?”

“If you wanted to burn me, you would have done it already and I thought we deserved to have a little fun. Besides, I'm sure you're dying to use your powers again; I would be if it was me.” Virgil tells him, and while the redhead doesn't know the truth behind his words, he's happy to go along.

They start off small, the pyro throwing flames at stationary targets placed around the lot and the teen soon discovers that he's having fun as well. In the past, Virgil had always been too busy dodging to really appreciate the nuances of Hotstreak's power, but now he's fascinated by all the different things the other teen can do.

Not only can the pyro create fire just like Static does with electricity, but this ability is really only the tip of the iceberg. Or volcano maybe, given how the redhead throws his deadly missiles through the air with ease. But what Virgil finds most interesting is how Hotstreak can control the temperatures of everything he touches, which is the same trick he used to dry them off on that first day. This is an ability with a score of applications and so with a little experimenting, the teens discover that he can increase the heat of his flames as well until the parking lot is covered in melted slag.

Whatever the Bang did to us, our gifts are a lot more complicated than most of the superheroes that I've met. Maybe Richie's crazy theory that they evolve with us is actually right. I mean look at me, I started out with the ability to move around metal and now it seems like I can do almost anything that's even remotely related to electricity.

Virgil finds himself wondering just how many other abilities the pyro would discover with proper training and the teen suddenly wants nothing more than to see whom he becomes. Because this is where Hotstreak belongs, eyes sparkling in the glow of his own flames, and the electricity sizzles beneath Static's skin at the sight. He wants to tell the other metahuman everything, pull off his and reveal the truth so they can finally meet on equal terms.

Because for all that Richie is his best friend and possibly the most dangerous of them all, there's some things that the blond has never understood. He's never had this wild torrent of elemental power coursing through his veins; never had the same need to save people that drives Virgil to this day. Gear's true interest is invention and once he leaves for college, things will never be the same.

He will come back, his friend doesn't doubt it, but the two of them won't be partners the same way anymore. Richie will be the tech guy, the one coming up with gadgets and strategy, and with his eyes focused on future possibilities, the blond won't have time for the more hands-on approach.

Virgil doesn't hate him for it, how can he when he just wants the other to be happy, but sometimes the knowledge of what's to come fills him with loneliness. Perhaps that's why he's so invested in Hotstreak because something about the pyro makes the teen think that he would understand. He would understand the need to be right in the thick of it and if Virgil can just show him the joys of helping people, maybe he will have found another partner after all.

Yet the metahuman has spent so long protecting his identity that resisting temptation is practically second nature and his secret remains locked behind his teeth. He needs proof that he can trust the redhead, more proof than his irrational emotions, and honestly, the teen doesn't know if it will ever be enough.

Even if Hotstreak stays on the straight and narrow, even if he and Static begin working together, Virgil doesn't know if he can cross that line. There's too much risk to those he cares about, too much opportunity for things to go wrong, and he has always been a coward at heart. Not with his own life or Virgil wouldn't have become a superhero, but he can't handle the thought of losing someone else he loves.

However, the teen brought the other metahuman here to teach him something, not have an emotional crisis, and so with some effort he manages to get himself back under control. Thankfully, Hotstreak doesn't seem to have noticed his lapse because he takes Virgil at face value when the metahuman calls out, “Hey, let's try something a little more interesting.”

“What did you have in mind?” The redhead asks, idly tossing a ball of fire from hand to hand.

“I wanna see how you do with a moving target,” Virgil replies, pulling another handful of wooden discs from his pack and raising one eyebrow in challenge. Before long he's launching the target into the air for Hotstreak to strike and no matter how hard the teen throws them, the pyro never misses his shot.

“Not bad at all.” The metahuman says after the tenth target disappears in a burst of flame, pausing to rest for a moment before finally coming clean. “Though I have to admit that I may have had an ulterior motive for bringing you out here. We're going to study Physics, and you're going to get it if it kills me.”

“Oh come on. Really?” The redhead groans. “I'm having way too much fun right now to ruin it with studying. Can't we just keep blowing things up instead?”

“Don't worry, that's exactly what we're going to do.” The other teen replies with a smile. “Your aim is fantastic so you must have some idea of acceleration and trajectories locked in that brain of yours. All we're going to do is bring them to the surface so you can actually pass some tests.”

Hotstreak looks skeptical but he goes along with it and as it turns out, Virgil's father is correct. With the added incentive of lighting things on fire, the redhead actually manages to stay focused when the other teen explains their current homework and miracle of miracles, they actually make some progress. Oh the pyro hasn't suddenly become great at Physics, but after a few hours he seems to at least grasp the basics and that's infinitely more than he understood before.

When it starts to get dark, the two teens call it a day and walk back into town, chatting along the way. Their conversations always seem to flow easily despite the amount of snark and bitching that they engage in and before Virgil is ready to say goodbye, the pair comes to the point where their roads diverge.

“I'll see you tomorrow right?” The teen asks as Hotstreak turns to leave. “We covered a lot of ground today but we should still study more before our test on Monday.”

“Sure, I guess,” is the rather unenthusiastic reply, but that's as excited as the redhead ever gets about exams so it will do for now. In fact, Virgil counts that as a resounding yes compared to some of the answers he's gotten in the past, so he just grins and waves his goodbye before heading down his street.

Later on that evening, the metahuman tells his father how it went and he grumbles when his dad laughs and says, “I told you so.” Adults aren't supposed to be that smug when they're right, the teen thinks, though Virgil can't really get too pissed off since his suggestion worked. And when Hotstreak shows up the next afternoon, the lessons appear to have stuck in his brain so the teen begins to believe that they might manage to conquer this last class after all.

---

Virgil decides to wait until after the test on Monday to tell the redhead about his father's offer and when he sees how nervous the redhead is that morning, the teen knows that he made the right choice. Hotstreak tries to hide it of course, still not one to admit to any weaknesses, but the other metahuman has gotten good at seeing through his facade of arrogance.

So he can tell that the pyro is worried by the way he glares at anyone who looks at him twice and the way he swears loudly in the hall. However, Virgil doesn't say anything since calling attention to his concerns would only make the redhead embarrassed and to be honest, he's kind of nervous as well.

While his grade is fine since he passed the last exam without any trouble, Hotstreak failed his miserably and they both know that the other teen only has so many chances left. Mrs. Lee just gives three tests and the final, which together count for eighty percent of their grades, so if the redhead fails this next one as well then his hope of graduation might as well be gone.

Though at this point all Virgil can do is wish the pyro luck and pray that all their studying will finally pay off. Or maybe I should just hope that teach has a break down and writes something easy for once in her life.

Sadly this does not turn out to be the case and when Virgil flips his test over to read the first problem, he nearly gives up then and there. Ahh, crap. Mrs. Lee really outdid herself this time, the teen thinks as he looks over the questions, all of which require involved short essay answers at the very least. But it is what it is, so he sharpens his pencil and bends his head to his task.

Once the metahuman finishes his own exam, he leans back in his chair and stares at the ceiling, waiting for the time to be up. From the corner of his eye, Virgil can see the redhead scribbling away furiously and in the seat next to him, Richie is tinkering with something on his desk.

Most students would be called out for attempted cheating if they did something like that, but by now the teachers have given up on making the blond pay attention. He can answer all their questions from the top of his head anyway and no one is quite sure how to deal with genius like that. Even Virgil is a little unsettled sometimes by how fast his friend's mind works, and the thought that he used to be the smart one almost seems unreal.

But whatever sparks of jealousy he feels never last, because the teen cannot regret the gifts that the Bang gave him. Still, it would be nice if Richie's skills could be borrowed from time to time so Virgil wouldn't have to worry about Hotstreak anymore.

Finally, Mrs. Lee calls time from the front of the classroom and the teen rushes to the redhead's side the moment the bell rings. To his surprise, the metahuman is grinning when Virgil reaches him and he throws one arm around the other's shoulder as they walk into the hall. “Well that sucked,” Hotstreak says cheerfully. “But the questions at least sort of made sense this time, which is more than they did before. So thanks, assuming my answers aren't all wrong, I might actually do okay this time.”

“I'll believe it when I see it,” Richie mutters from Virgil's other side and laughs when the redhead growls. The teen lets his friends snipe at each other for a little while, face growing hot beneath the pyro's touch, and then he smacks them both on their arms.

“Cut it out you two.” He says as they walk toward the exit. “I'm sure Hotstreak did fine, which reminds me, dad said he'd offer you a job if you passed this test.”

“Seriously?” The redhead asks, flopping down at the base of the tree where they always eat lunch. “Why didn't you tell me that before? I might have studied harder.”

“Didn't wanna psych you out.” Virgil tells him, sprawling out on the grass nearby. “Besides, you studied as hard as you could anyway so I doubt it would have made a difference. All we can do now is wait for Mrs. Lee to hand them back and see how you did. But anyway, should I tell pops that'll you accept?”

“If I actually pass, sure,” Hotstreak snorts in agreement before he starts bickering with Richie again, and the third teen lays back to enjoy the lunchtime show.

They don't discuss the situation again until Friday because Mrs. Lee doesn't finish grading their exams until then. But after a long speech about how everyone should have studied more, she finally starts handing the test papers back. These words do not exactly inspire optimism, though a quick glance shows Virgil that he did fine again while he waits for the redhead to get his. By the time their teacher makes it to the letter S, the teen's nerves are killing him and he pretty much stops breathing as Hotstreak looks at his grade.

But then the redhead's face lights up and he turns to Virgil with a brilliant smile. It's the most open sign of happiness that the teen has ever seen on the pyro's face and something in him warms at the sight. Beautiful, flickers likes a ghost across his mind before the thought is chased off by the redhead's voice.

“I got a C!” He shouts, waving his exam toward Virgil. “Well a C-, but that's still passing so suck it! C'mon we should go do something to celebrate. I owe you lunch at least.”

It's rather adorable how excited Hotstreak is and if Richie weren't there, the other teen would probably give in to his desire to play hooky right now. But the blond is a pillar of sensibility and convinces them both that going to the mall on Saturday would really be better. Well, he doesn't convince as much as dare the pyro that he can't last that long, but it's the same difference in the end.

---

So the trio meets over on Main Street bright and early the next morning before heading over to the Jefferson Street Mall. The teens wander their way from store to store, mocking the expensive high-fashion clothing and drooling over the new upgraded phones.

None of them actually has the money to buy one, Hotstreak's living stipend will barely cover lunch, but that doesn't stop them from trying out all the display models and generally making nuisances of themselves. They only leave once the clerks start giving them long-suffering sighs and annoyed glances, snickering together on their way out of the store.

Then Virgil gets sidetracked by a book display and drags the other two in with him to look at what they have. Richie heads straight for the comics as always, though he'll probably duck over to the science textbooks soon enough, and despite his whining, the pyro disappears into the sci-fi section of the store. By the time Virgil looks up and realizes that it's been over an hour, he's absolutely starving, so the teen goes to look for Hotstreak.

“I'm pretty sure you promised me lunch,” He says when he finds the redhead reading in a corner, and he has to laugh when the other metahuman jumps and glares. “I'm also pretty sure you're supposed to buy books before you finish them.”

“Yeah, well. If they didn't want me to read in here they shouldn't have such comfy chairs,” The pyro retorts, standing up with a sigh before reluctantly sticking his novel back on the shelf. “And I did say I'd feed you, but Foley is on his own. I ain't got the money to fill that pit he calls a stomach.”

“Fair enough.” They find Richie in the science section just like his friend assumed and the three of them head down to the food court to see what's there this month. Dakota is not exactly a center of fine cuisine and the mall restaurants go in and out of business every other week, which means that eating there is often a culinary crap shoot.

However, for once the choices aren't so bad. While the options may be fast food and more fast food, at least this time it's the good stuff instead of that weird over-processed swill. This makes Richie happy since knowing everything can be a downside to knowing everything and after some of the blond's horror stories, Virgil will never look at burgers the same way. But no one has managed to put him off pizza yet, so the teen orders himself two slices and starts in on them with a happy sigh.

He's licking the sauce off of his fingers when he looks up and sees Hotstreak watching him, a strangely stunned expression on his face. However, before Virgil can figure out what it means, the look disappears beneath the redhead's usual smirk. And then he gets distracted further when Richie makes the completely ridiculous claim that the current issues of Captain America are obviously the best yet.

“How can you say that? This arc is plotless dreck and if you think otherwise you need to get your brain checked out.” Virgil tells him, jabbing one finger toward his friend's chest. “Besides everyone knows that the Winter Soldier storyline is the pinnacle of the series. Claiming otherwise is practically sacrilege.”

Richie opens his mouth to reply and this debate might well have gone on for hours like some of their other discussions if the mall hadn't suddenly gone silent. But it does, one moment completely normal and in the next, as quiet as the grave. So the three of them stare at the other customers in confusion, wondering what's going on.

And then Virgil hears the screams.

He's out of his chair in an instant and ready to run toward the sound when Hotstreak reaches out to grab his arm. Shit, I forgot about him, the teen thinks, looking back at the pyro. And he's obviously not going to just let me run off into danger. Which would actually be kind of sweet if it wasn't so damn inconvenient right now.

Virgil turns to Richie but his friend just shrugs helplessly, for once unable to produce a solution to the other's problems from thin air. Of course I wouldn't be having this issue if I just told Hotstreak the truth, a small voice whispers in his mind. But the teen quickly shoves that crazy thought aside and before he can find another answer, six men in ski masks walk into view.

They're decked out for battle with multiple guns and body armor and the metahuman sinks back into his chair with a shiver. There's no way he or Richie can make a run for it now without someone getting shot, and he can't risk that with all these hostages around.

Actually, with this many witnesses, it's going to take a miracle for the superheroes to stop these guys without revealing their secret identities to everyone and the metahuman hates not knowing what to do. But while the teen may be able to halt bullets with his powers, Virgil's never actually tried it, and guns still make him twitchy after how his mother died. So he obeys quietly when the men order everyone into one of the stores and drags Hotstreak along with him, hoping that no one will do anything stupid until he gets his chance.

“What we have here is a hostage situation,” One of the gunmen says once everyone is gathered, staring down at them with a feral grin. “However, if you do exactly as we say and the police cooperate, you may actually survive your visit from the Red Viper Gang.”

I know them, they've been committing a string of jewelry store robberies across the country. They always leave a snake painted in blood on the wall, but this doesn't make any sense. The Red Vipers have never taken hostages before and they must be really desperate if they're drawing attention to themselves in a city known for having a superhero, the teen thinks, liking this situation less and less.

Two of the men hold their guns trained on the group while the others block off the entrances and Virgil takes this chance to look over his fellow hostages. The food court was relatively empty for a Saturday, so other than the trio there are only seven others: two teenage couples, one older man, and a father with his young daughter. They all look terrified and the sight makes the metahuman's heart ache, because he knows that they're likely counting on Static to save them.

What will I do if the only way to rescue these people is to use my powers without my mask? But I can't let criminals like that know who I am, the word would be out on the streets in a matter of days. The teen slumps back against Hotstreak, his thoughts in turmoil, and he watches numbly as the criminal's leader pulls out a phone.

He calls the police and starts listing off demands while his companions tie the wrists and ankles of their hostages with rope. They do the three teenagers first and Virgil is sure that they're not from this area when they fail to recognize Hotstreak at all. The pyro is one of the most famous of the Bang Babies in Dakota so only fools or strangers would treat him so casually. In fact, the moment the men walk away, the teen begins to smell the faint scent of burning and from the corner of his eye, Virgil sees the ropes fall from the redhead's wrists. On his other side, Backpack slices Richie free before moving on to his friend, but even though the three teens are loose, there's nothing they can do as long as those guns are pointed at their heads.

Maybe I could magnetize their weapons and stick them to something, Virgil wonders, but when he reaches his mind out to touch the metal, nothing happens. What the hell?! The metahuman thinks, unable to feel the guns at all and even the bullets are dim in his senses.

I've heard of plastic weapons before, but I didn't think that you could get assault rifles like that. I guess this explains why they don't seem worried about Static; even if they didn't bother to research any of the other Bang Babies, they're obviously prepared for me. There's no way I can take them out on the down low now.

“You think we aren't serious? I'll show you serious!” The gang's leader shouts suddenly, his face twisting in fury as he yells into the phone. “You just cost yourselves a hostage! Maybe this will make you rethink your stance.”

He signals to his men and two of the Vipers stalk toward their prisoners, a cold look in their eyes. Everyone flinches as they pass by but the men head straight for the young father and reach out to pull his daughter from his arms. The man tries to resist them, protesting violently as he holds the girl tightly to his chest.

“Please, take me instead. Don't hurt my daughter, please. Lily's all I have.” He begs desperately, but the criminals shove him down to the floor. One of them presses a boot into his throat to keep him there while the other Viper grabs Lily and hoists her into the air, gun against head. She starts crying, huge gasping sobs that shake her entire body, and when she calls out for her father, Virgil can't take it anymore. Even if everyone finds out about Static, he cannot sit here and watch this child die.

“Leave her alone!” Yet before the metahuman can move a muscle, it is Hotstreak who surges to his feet and shouts. In an instant, there are six guns pointed at his head but the pyro barely even seems to notice the weapons in his rage.

“I told you to let her go,” He growls, either brave or foolhardy as his hands curl into fists. What is he thinking? He's not bulletproof; he could get hurt, or die! Virgil thinks, his heart pounding at the threat to the redhead's life. This terror feels strangely familiar, almost like when his father was kidnapped or when Richie was possessed. But this time it's somehow worse, his fear paralyzing him with indecision and all Virgil can do is watch helplessly as the other teen faces off against the gang.

“Don't be stupid kid. You can't do anything against us.” The Red Viper's leader begins to laugh, pulling out a pistol and pointing it at Hotstreak's chest. “The only danger in this city is that Static fellow of yours and we're well prepared for him. So just sit back down or I'll kill you both.”

“Man and I thought I was the one who needed to study more.” The pyro replies with a smirk. “Static's far from the only freak in Dakota and you just pissed me off.”

With the last word, an aura of flames flares up around him and fireballs shoot towards five of the criminals as they stare in shock. Four of them drop screaming when their clothes ignite, only the leader managing to dodge, and then Hotstreak tackles the man holding Lily. He quickly proves that he's still the most vicious fighter out there, kidney-punching the criminal before grabbing him in a choke hold and shoving the girl back toward her dad.

“Look out!” Virgil finds his voice in time to yell a warning when the Viper's leader recovers enough to take his shot. He can hardly miss at this distance, but the pyro spins toward him and the first bullet lands in the other Viper's chest.

“Shit!” The man shouts, firing again. Though the shots knock him backward, Hotstreak ducks behind the dying criminal in his arms and escapes unharmed. Richie is busy shoving the hostages to the floor, but Virgil cannot take his eyes from the pyro even as the sound of the gunfire echoes in his ears. This is what the teen had wanted, for Hotstreak to be willing to fight for someone other than himself, and now he's risking his life to save them all.

Yet even as Virgil's heart swells in admiration, panic is clawing up his throat because the other metahuman has nowhere left to run. The last Viper dodges everything that the teen throws as he backs the redhead toward the wall and before Virgil can even try to help the pyro, there is one last shot.

“Hotstreak!” He yells, everything in him crying out in denial as the pair disappears in a wall of white-hot flame. The teen is on his feet in an instant running toward the blaze, feeling as though his heart is about to shatter in his chest. “Hotstreak!” Virgil calls again, trying to see through the smoke and all he can think is, please, please, please don't be dead.

“What it is? I've got a freaking headache.” A voice mutters as the flame finally clears to reveal the pyro leaning against the wall. The last Viper is unconscious before him, his skin blistered and clothes smoking, while his weapons lay shattered on the floor. “I guess all that experimenting with temperature payed off,” Hotstreak continues, holding out his hand.

On his palm is a melted pool of metal which had once been a bullet and Virgil's knees nearly give out when he realizes how close it was. But they survived.

The teen wants to punch the pyro for scaring him like that, and then he wants to kiss him with everything he has. This urge is hardly new, Virgil has been ignoring it for weeks, and yet for all his practice at denial, he can no longer ignore what he feels. Because this desire is not just physical for all that he wants to hug the redhead, to talk and laugh and kiss him; no, deep in his heart, the metahuman want to share the burdens that he holds. And whatever terror the teen felt at seeing Hotstreak in danger pales next to the fear that he feels now.

Oh fuck. I'm in love.


Chapter 6: A Coward at Heart