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what tangled webs we weave (Chapter 6)

Title: What Tangled Webs We Weave
Chapter 6: A Coward at Heart
Fandom: Static Shock
Pairings: Hotstreak/Virgil (Static)
Warnings: lots of angst, a bit of self-hatred and internalized homophobia
Word Count: 5133 (25,444 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
Chapter 5: Bullets and Flame


Virgil manages to keep himself together long enough for the police to arrive and take charge of the surviving Vipers, he and Lily's father ensuring that Hotstreak gets the praise he's due. However, the instant that this duty is completed, the teen makes his excuses to his companions and flees the scene as quickly as he can.

His mind is in such turmoil that the journey barely registers and he's holding onto his composure by a thread by the time he shoves open his front door. Thankfully no one else is home because this is when Virgil finally loses it, the teen collapsing to his knees on the floor.

Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck. What am I even doing? What the hell is wrong with me? I like girls; I've always liked girls and now I'm turning gay for Hotstreak?! What the fuck? Virgil moans to himself, clutching his head in his hands. While his father hadn't raised him to be prejudiced, there was a difference between believing that everyone had the right to love how they wanted and having his worldview turned completely upside-down.

The teen has always thought of himself as straight, one of those facts of life he never questioned, and he is not prepared for this. It's gotta be a mistake; just the adrenaline rush of almost dying messing with my mind. I mean I've admired other guys before, but who hasn't checked out the competition and a lack of attraction isn't why Daisy and I broke up. So I definitely like girls.

Eventually Virgil pulls himself together long enough to make it to his room, flopping down on his bed with a frustrated sigh. Okay, I mean I didn't want him to die. Screaming his name was a totally reasonable reaction since we're more or less friends now; it's not like I would have wanted Richie to get hurt either and I've never had any desire to kiss him. I've never had the urge to kiss any other guys so this really has to be some weird kind of fluke.

With this comforting veneer of denial pasted shoddily over the truth, the teen feels a little more comfortable for his self-image is back where it belongs. Indeed he's so convinced of his heterosexuality that he decides to prove it to himself, imagining another man naked to see if he reacts.

At first he picks a random guy from one of his classes, running his mind over the other's scrawny shoulders and feeling rather smug when his cock doesn't so much as twitch. But then the pale skin in his thoughts gains a warmer tone, dark hair turning red, and Virgil feels himself flush with heat. For kissing Hotstreak is far too easy to imagine, his lips soft but demanding and the pyro's skin would burn against him as the other took control.

Almost against his will, the teen slips his hand into his pants, stroking himself in time with his fantasy. It takes an embarrassingly short time for him to come and he spills over his fingers at the thought of those green eyes fixed on him.

Okay, fuck. So apparently that's a thing. I like girls and I like Hotstreak, but just because I think he's ridiculously attractive doesn't mean I'm actually in love. That's simply ridiculous, Virgil tells himself shakily, one last desperate attempt to rewrite the facts. Yet the more he tries to fight it, the deeper the knowledge roots within his brain and it must be love when the thought of spending his life without the redhead makes his heart ache like it is breaking.

He wants to date the other metahuman, to kiss him and hug him and fight at his side, and it took them both nearly dying to open up his eyes. Nearly dying and a whole lot of soul searching, since in all honesty the teen still doesn't want to believe that this is true.

But it is. Virgil is well and truly head over heels for a former delinquent Bang Baby and accepting this fact only makes him freak out more. Because the only thing he can think about is all the reasons why this cannot happen, all the reasons why any attempt at a relationship is doomed, and his terror is a hard knot in his chest.

For while young love is supposed to be a bright and hopeful thing, the teen has seen too much darkness to believe in that. There are too many fears that he has never truly faced, instead burying his guilt and helplessness beneath a smile and a mask. Static is never insecure about himself; Static is never lonely or afraid. No matter what Virgil is feeling, Static gives him distance for the superhero exists apart from the normal world and that truth does not change. The metahuman does not want it to change.

Because he failed to save the one who mattered most, his mother's death nearly destroyed him and he cannot go through that again. He cannot fall in love just to have his heart broken and with Hotstreak that's all he's going to get.

Even if the pyro returns his feelings, and the teen rather doubts that, the two of them would never be able to work it out. For Virgil would either have to keep his identity a secret until the lies ruined him or he would have to do the unthinkable and tell Hotstreak the truth. Oh he had imagined doing just that before, unmasking everything and hoping that it went right, but that was only an idle fancy. That was no more than a passing daydream, because while Virgil might have managed it as friends, as lovers it's impossible.

The teen cannot give Hotstreak that kind of leverage with which to break him should the other metahuman be disgusted by his attraction and if he reciprocates, the pyro has never been the kind to hide. He's never been the type to back down from a fight and yet Virgil doesn't even want to imagine how badly a gay Static would go down.

He can see the headlines now: 'Superhero or super queer; Dakota's finest slums it up,' and the thought makes him cringe. Static has to be a symbol not a mockery but if the teen is actually to date Hotstreak, he cannot do it with only half his life. So maybe the risk would be worth it, if they were truly happy together, but what if they broke up later on? Virgil would have ruined everything, gambled everything on hopes that did not pan out and he would rather have some heartbreak now than dream and lose it all.

So it's a bloody mess and that's not even considering everything else that might go wrong. The metahuman already has nightmares about Richie and his father being tortured to get at Static and adding Hotstreak to that equation would only make them worse.

Virgil is supposed to protect the ones he cares about not get them killed, and while the pyro can defend himself pretty well, the thought of someone hurting the redhead because of him makes the teen want to hyperventilate. So while he knows its cowardly and part of his heart hates himself for the decision, the metahuman cares too much to risk the other's life. This is the same reasoning that's kept him from telling Sharon the truth, protecting those he loves through ignorance, and while there may be a better way, Virgil doesn't know how find it.

Because he's afraid, too afraid to risk his heart and too much of a coward to risk the image he has built. The teen needs Static to remain a shining paragon so that he can feel worthwhile even as he hates himself for the dependency.

So he decides to stop thinking about it, burying his self-loathing beneath the knowledge that it won't matter anyway. Enough of this, Virgil tells himself firmly, shoving his face into a pillow and screaming his emotions into the cloth. Hotstreak probably doesn't return your feelings and it would ruin your life. End of story, so suck it up and deal.

---

With this new determination to ensure that nothing changes, the teen finally manages to fall asleep, hoping that the world will make more sense in the morning. But Virgil soon discovers that keeping things the same is much harder than he thought.

Because now that he knows what the warmth in his chest means whenever Hotstreak smiles, he finds it almost impossible to ignore. The teen starts second-guessing every action, wondering if he's sitting too close to be considered friendly, and twitching under the pyro's hands. He's never noticed how often the other metahuman likes to touch him, always patting him on the shoulder or poking at his cheeks.

This touching drives him crazy because it makes him hopeful; it makes Virgil wonder if his feelings are shared and these thoughts are too dangerous to allow. They are dangerous but unstoppable for no matter how he tries, the teen cannot seem to shove them down.

So the only thing to do is put some distance between them and pray that this will make his love start to fade. Thankfully, with Hotstreak now working part-time for his father, Virgil has a good excuse for seeing him less often and since the redhead is passing all of his classes, he pulls the tutoring back as well.

Yet this separation only makes the teen feel worse because now he's lonely and heartbroken. Over the days that follow he becomes sluggish and distracted, his secrets weighing heavy on his mind and everyone who knows him wonders at the change. But Virgil brushes off his father's questions and Richie's worried looks because he can't tell anyone that he's preoccupied by dreams of burning kisses that make him wake with sticky sheets.

While his dad wouldn't hate him for liking men, the teen can't help but think that he'd be disappointed by his choices and somehow that thought is worse. That right there is almost enough to make the metahuman want to rip these emotions from his chest even without the other problems and he just wishes it would stop.

Virgil just wants things to go back to the way they were before since he misses being friends with the redhead and Hotstreak's obvious confusion at the change threatens to drown him in guilt. It's not as though the pyro has a lot of other allies in this world and it's not fair for the teen's stupid feelings to ruin the progress that they've gained. But he simply cannot do it, because every moment in the redhead's presence threatens to destroy the walls around his secrets and when Hotstreak comes over for Thanksgiving, Virgil has to excuse himself before the meal is through.

The teen had invited the pyro weeks before, after he found out that the other had nowhere else to be, and he could hardly retract the offer when he was pretending that everything was fine. However, seeing the redhead sitting at his table as if he were truly part of their family turns out to be more than he can bear.

Because that's what he wants desperately and that's what Virgil cannot have so this parody of his dreams is like a knife into his chest. Finally the teen claims that he isn't feeling well and hides up in his room, refusing to leave it for anything.

He can hear his father making excuses for him, probably thinking that it's hero business, and the metahuman dearly wishes that were true. Because Virgil needs to get this thing under control or it's going to screw up everything and yet he simply doesn't know what to do. He doesn't know and he hates himself for it, hates himself for staying silent when the redhead comes to say goodbye.

Why can't I just stop these crazy feelings? Virgil thinks, hugging his knees tight. I just want to be able to talk to him like friends and nothing more and stop worrying about giving the game away. And as always when the teen is overwhelmed by his problems, he begins to crave escape.

So even though the metahuman knows he shouldn't, he pulls out his mask and Static chases Hotstreak down. The superhero finds his target walking down one of the side-streets, hands in his pockets and a dark cloud on his face. But while Virgil would have been struck by the need to make the other feel better, as Static the urge is not so strong.

Because Static is a different person, a persona he's created, and with that mask in place, his voice is steady when the superhero asks, “So what are you doing out so late? Shouldn't you have some place to be?”

“Not now, Sparky. I'm not really in the mood.” The pyro replies, looking up at him in annoyance. “Don't you have better things to do than check on me?”

This reaction is a stark reminder that while Hotstreak and Virgil may be friends, the other metahuman does not think the same of Static, and the teen feels a moment of regret. He has been ignoring the redhead when on patrols even as he and Virgil got closer and now he wishes that he had tried a bit harder like this. But while it would be nice if the pyro liked both of his identities, this difference is what he needs right now, so he shoves that regret aside.

“Not really. Dakota is usually pretty quiet over the holidays since everyone is too busy dealing with their families to go commit a crime.” The superhero tells the other with his trademark cocky grin before his voice softens almost against his will. “Besides I wasn't checking on you really. I was just on patrol and thought that I'd say hi.”

“Sure,” Hotstreak says, eyebrows rising skeptically. “And what made you think that was a good idea? We don't exactly have a lot of conversations.”

Even though this is what he wanted, it hurts to see the redhead so hostile and it takes effort to keep Static in place. But if he can get past this, persevere until the two of them are better acquainted, maybe that will help. Maybe then the teens can have a proper friendship without love getting involved and with this example, Virgil can hopefully learn to control his thoughts again.

“I heard about what you did at the mall. That was good work.” Static tells him as a first step in this direction, flying down to perch on a nearby fence.

However, while his praise is sincere, Hotstreak doesn't seem to see it that way because he bristles and snaps out, “Right and I'm sure you think you could have done so much better if you were there. But you weren't and I didn't do it for you anyway.”

If only you knew... “No I'm serious. That was impressive work and the police said those Vipers were actually prepared for me with plastic guns and everything.” The superhero explains earnestly, trying to get the other to believe him. “So I mean... I was wondering if you might want to work together sometime.”

“Are you serious?” Voice rising incredulously, Hotstreak stares at Static as though he's gone insane. “I'm not exactly some kind of masked do-gooder you know, even if I refused to sit back and watch those assholes kill a kid.”

“Well yeah, it would be a little hard to create a secret identity for you when half the city knows your name.” Static snorts, before sobering again. “But my offer was serious. We know we can work together because of that time with Alva and I could actually use the help, particularly if criminals are starting to learn what I can do. So since you seem to be serious about turning over a new leaf, you're the best one for the job.” Please say yes. Please.

The pyro is silent for a long moment, obviously thinking it over and with every second that he doesn't refuse outright, the other hopes a little more. Though, “And what's in it for me?” is hardly resounding yes.

However, it is very Hotstreak and Static has to fight the urge to smile fondly as he responds. “Well for starters the police would stop looking at you sideways every time that you walk by. Other than that, it should make it a whole lot easier to get hired once you graduate and I may be able to get you off parole. Besides, we'd have to train together so you'd have a perfectly valid excuse to kick my ass.”

“Fine, then. If you can actually get me off parole then I'm in, but I'm not wearing spandex or any stupid mask.” The pyro agrees grudgingly, holding out a hand for Static to shake.

“Hey I'm not one for spandex either so you don't have to worry about that. You can show up in your jeans for all I care.” He replies, hopping off the fence to seal the deal. For the first time in several weeks, touching Hotstreak doesn't make his heart beat into overdrive and the superhero has never been so very happy that his costume includes gloves.

I can totally do this, Static thinks optimistically as the two of them set up a time to meet, refusing to think about how this plan might go wrong. Thus it's a far more cheerful metahuman who flies off again, returning home to finish Thanksgiving with his family.

---

Yet for all his wild optimism, Virgil manages to juggle the two sides of his life for less than a month before it all comes crashing down.

Everything goes perfectly at first; Hotstreak shows up to meet with Static as promised and the two of them work together even better than he hoped. For as it turns out, years of fighting against each other have taught the Bang Babies to read their opponent's moves and the two metahumans' powers are nicely complementary. In truth, other than their shared weakness towards water, the two should be nearly unstoppable and over the years Gear has come up with a number of tricks to protect his friend's Achilles heel.

So after only a few days of training, the superhero feels comfortable enough to take the other out on patrol and once they capture their first gang of bank robbers, Static is pretty sure that Hotstreak's hooked. Because the redhead can't stop bouncing, grinning proudly at the cops when the pair turns their prizes over and it's actually rather adorable.

This is the beginning of a beautiful partnership, or so he hopes, and over the days the pyro does start to warm up to Static slightly. They even manage to have actual conversations instead of sniping at each other, though some of this is due to the superhero's inability to completely separate Virgil's emotions from their interactions. He tries his best and the mask of Static does keep the stronger feelings locked away, but he's so used to treating Hotstreak as a friend that some things still seep through.

Which is why one evening after they've finished their patrol and are hanging out upon the rooftops, the superhero finds himself asking a question that's been on Virgil's mind. “So are you just completely fireproof or what?”

“Huh? Well I think so. I mean I've never actually tested it for sure because I'm not that fucking crazy,” Hotstreak replies, flicking little balls of flame from his fingers. “But I seem to be immune to my own fire at least. Which is good because otherwise I would have been screwed from the start. Why do you ask?”

“Partially just curiosity if I'm being honest.” Static tells him with a grin. “But I was also thinking that your powers would make you an awesome fireman and being a superhero isn't exactly a paying job.”

“You know I've never really considered that,” The pyro says, looking rather surprised that the superhero has put any thought into this. “I guess that would make sense since I can control other fires a bit as well. But don't you actually have to be a fine upstanding citizen for a job like that?”

“It's not like you're running for office or something and if you're really fireproof I doubt the chief would care. Besides, if we keep working together, people should start to see you in a different light and you'd still have to graduate and pass the training anyway. So you've got plenty of time before you'd have to make a decision either way. Just think about the option, will you?”

“I guess I can do that,” Hotstreak agrees, before turning to pierce Static with a contemplative stare. “Hey you're about my age, right? Do you know Virgil Hawkins? In your real life or whatever.”

Static nearly flips out at this question, a frisson of panic shooting through him at the thought that the other teen might know. But the pyro doesn't seem to be angry, and he should be furious, so the superhero gets himself under control enough to say, “Um, I know of him. Why do you ask?”

“I dunno. You just sounded a bit like him right there, what with the future planning and optimism and all.” The redhead tells him, running a hand through his hair as he continues awkwardly. “At first he was the only person who actually seemed to believe me when I said I wanted to change and so he was helping me out, but now he's gone kinda weird. Not wanting to tutor me as much makes sense since studying is a pain in the ass and I'm doing better now, but it's like Virgil doesn't want to hang out at all. Fuck I don't know why I'm even telling you this; it's not like you know what's going on in his head.”

God I wish that were the case, Static thinks, feeling incredibly guilty about even having this conversation. It feels like a betrayal, though of himself or Hotstreak he's not sure, and the lies burn as they come out of his mouth.

“I haven't talked to him in quite awhile so I don't know what's on the guy's mind right now, but I doubt that it has anything to do with you. He's probably just busy with college applications or girl troubles or something and you shouldn't take it to heart. I mean you should have heard him after I learned that he'd been put in charge of you and tracked him down to get the scoop; I've never seen anyone defend your good name like that.”

“Really?” The superhero feels slightly better about his actions when the redhead's expression brightens, looking as though it's a huge weight off his mind. “That does sound like Virgil, too damn nice for his own good. I guess I better go talk to him and clear the air. Thanks for the advice.”

Hotstreak hops off the roof with a little smile which momentarily stuns Static with its brilliance, until he shoots up in a panic as he realizes where the other teen has gone. But by flying home at his top speed he manages to make it back first, changing just in time to answer the pyro's knock. Though the sight of the redhead still threatens to overwhelm him, now that Virgil knows how abandoned the other teen was feeling, he forces himself to smile cheerfully.

“Hey, what's up?” He asks, digging his nails into his palm to keep himself under control. While the metahuman manages all right as Static, without that persona here to aid him, it's a struggle not to stare at Hotstreak's lips.

But his smile must be normal enough because the pyro doesn't seem to notice any difference, or he's just caught up in his own embarrassment. “Nothing much. I just haven't really seen you around in awhile except at school and I was wondering if you wanted to hang out. Or something.”

Hotstreak looks so uncomfortable with asking that Virgil doesn't have the heart to turn him away even though he probably should. So instead the metahuman squares his shoulders and tells himself to deal, opening the door wider with an only slightly rictus grin. “Sure, of course we can. I know I've been busy lately and since you seemed to be swamped yourself, I didn't want to bother you.”

They end up watching a movie and although the teen is careful to keep several feet between them, he still gets hot and bothered while watching the redhead lick popcorn butter from his skin. But Virgil survives the experience somehow and it's worth the effort required to keep his hands from wandering to see the pyro look so much happier when he leaves.

Which is why the teen suddenly finds himself spending twice as much time with Hotstreak when that wasn't in his plans. But they still patrol together when he's Static and now that the other metahuman has started seeking Virgil out, his resolve crumbles fast.

No matter how difficult it becomes to keep his stories straight and how often he has to excuse himself to jack off quickly in the bathroom, he simply cannot say no when faced with the pyro's hopeful grin. Worst of all, the teen starts wondering if it would be so bad to make his feelings known after all and that is a disaster waiting to occur.

For while Virgil's more or less gotten over the 'am I gay' freakout by now and is even considering telling his father in case he falls for another guy someday, all of the other reasons for his silence still remain. They bind his tongue and weigh down his spirit and his heart only gets heavier as Christmas Eve draws near. Because December 24th was his mother's birthday and living through that day without her always reminds him of everything he's lost.

It's even worse this year due to the turmoil that the teen is carrying and he can't help but think that his mother would know what to do. She had always loved him unconditionally so Virgil could have told her about his worries and maybe his heart wouldn't be as troubled if he had someone who understands.

This melancholy drives him to seek solitude and since his family is used to his depression this time of year, no one questions it when the metahuman ends up on the roof of his house night after night.

No one but Hotstreak, who finds him there one evening, chin resting on his knees. For once the sight of the redhead doesn't make Virgil blush because he's too dejected to be embarrassed about the way he wants to curl up in the other's arms.

“What are you doing up here?” The redhead asks, flopping down on the shingles by the other teen. “Is something wrong?”

“It's not important,” Virgil sighs, turning his head away. “I just have trouble with this time of year.”

But the pyro won't let him get away with that deflection, bumping their shoulders together gently. “Hey, don't say that. If it's bothering you then it matters and maybe talking will help.”

“Somehow I doubt that. But I suppose it can't make me feel any worse.” The teen says, looking down at his hands so he doesn't have to see the other's face. “You know my mother died in the riots, right? Some asshole shot her and killed her almost instantly even though she was only trying to help. So around her birthday I always get depressed and this year's worse than most. I just wish I could have saved her somehow.”

Hotstreak doesn't say anything in response and eventually Virgil can't stay quiet anymore, asking bitterly, “What? You're not going to tell me that it's not my fault cause I was just a kid and I shouldn't feel guilty anymore? Everyone else does.”

“Of course not. Even if it's true that's not going to make you feel any better, is it?” The redhead asks and the other teen turns to stare at him in surprise. Unlike most people who find out about his mother, the pyro isn't looking at him with pity or useless sympathy. Instead there is something like understanding in his eyes and Virgil feels his heart swell uncontrollably. “I used to have a younger sister, you know; she was a total sweetheart and I tried to keep her safe. But those bastards in family services separated the two of us after mom junked herself to death and when I finally tracked her down, it was too late. So I really do know what you mean.”

If Virgil wasn't already in love with Hotstreak, this would have made him fall and he buries his face in the other's shoulder to hide his tears. Yet the redhead simply holds him gently while he cries, waiting patiently for the teen to finish pouring out his grief. When his sobs finally wind down, Virgil raises his head again, wiping roughly at his eyes while he whispers an apology.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” The pyro replies and at the other metahuman's look of total incomprehension, he shakes his head. “You really have no idea, do you?” Hotstreak asks fondly and Virgil stares frozen when the redhead leans forward to press their lips together.

His mouth is soft and comforting, even warmer than the teen had imagined and for a moment he cannot resist sinking into the other's embrace. He wants to stay like this forever, to let the pyro share his burdens and destroy his loneliness.

But as the kiss deepens and electricity begins to build beneath his skin, Virgil remembers why this cannot be. As long as he cannot tell Hotstreak about Static, dating the pyro wouldn't be fair to either of them because his father was right and you shouldn't lie to those you love. Yet this is all that the metahuman does, he lies and lies and lies and so he does not deserve this. Let the redhead find someone better, someone who can actually trust in the ones they care about instead of a useless coward like him.

So the teen forces himself to pull back, heart clenching at the protest in Hotstreak's eyes. “I'm sorry, I can't,” He whispers and then he runs.


Chapter 7: Sometimes Love hurts