Title: What Tangled Webs We Weave
Chapter 4: A Rhythm of Sorts
Fandom: Static Shock
Pairings: Hotstreak/Virgil (Static)
Word Count: 3838 (14,036 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
For the first few weeks, Virgil keeps this promise easily because Hotstreak fits into his life with nary a ripple to show that he wasn't there before. This shift begins on Tuesday morning, which finds the redhead waiting in front of the high school, an astonishing amount of his homework actually complete.
Richie gapes at the pyro when he pulls a large stack of books and notebooks from his ragged backpack and Hotstreak smirks at the confusion in his eyes. However, it is Virgil whom he waits for and his smirk shifts into a slightly more honest smile when the other teen drawls out, “Well I suppose I am mildly impressed. Maybe you have a chance of graduating after all.”
His words are a little more sarcastic than the redhead probably deserves, since the teen actually is rather impressed by the other's dedication. However, Virgil had decided the night before that his best chance at success is making Hotstreak work for it because the pyro has never been able to back down from a challenge. Besides it's a great excuse to keep his distance and he needs a bit of space between them if he's going to convince himself that all that blushing was a fluke.
But it totally was because looking at him now is hardly making me swoon. He's actually kinda funny looking with those stripes in his hair and his sleeves all ripped like that. So it must have just been the surprise or something, confusing me before.
Virgil's excellent attempt at rationalization is interrupted when the redhead replies to his needling with a smug, “I told you I was serious about this,” and the words remind him that they should really be moving on.
However, Richie is still gaping, as are quite a few of the other students in the courtyard, so it's up to Virgil to get the three of them moving once again. So he elbows the blond in the side and shoves him forward, determined not to be late for a second time that week. Once they're inside the building, he leaves his friend at the lockers since they don't share first period and then drags Hotstreak into Government just before the first bell rings.
Old Mr. Grant is in fact so old that he hardly even notices them and the teen is relieved to avoid the near interrogatory explanations that the other teachers had put him through. Not that the rest of their classmates give them the same respect and after being stared at for an hour, Virgil is feeling rather sympathetic toward the way Hotstreak starts to glare and grinds his teeth. So he distracts the redhead with carefully placed barbs until the other teen is more focused on him than his annoyance and they manage to finish class without anyone getting singed.
At least the next period is slightly easier since these students have had a day to get used to the idea and they don't gawk quite so much. Even better, Richie is there to help distract Mrs. Dietrich's piercing eyes and the entire class warms up a bit when Hotstreak actually manages to answer one of her pointed questions and she faints back into her chair, unconsciousness quickly turning into a snore-filled sleep.
Since she's no one's favorite teacher, the students let her sleep until the next bell rings and even the most over-achieving geeks appreciate the reprieve. So as they walk to their next class some of the stares are more thankful than frightened and even if this doesn't last, the change gives Virgil hope.
If kids whom Hotstreak used to terrorize out of their minds will forgive him for it in exchange for some amusement, then the pyro may actually have a chance to turn his life around. People in Dakota aren't exactly known for their acceptance, but they also have short memories and as long as Virgil can keep the redhead acting the part, everyone will forget about his sordid past before too long. It worked for Rubberband Man didn't it? Though he at least already had fans.
Virgil gets momentarily distracted by the horrifying thought of the pyro getting groupies like the ones that sometimes try and follow Static around, but he comes back to himself when Hotstreak nudges him in the side. He looks up and sees the other standing far too close, eyes sparkling with amusement and suddenly the metahuman cannot breathe.
I never noticed his eyes were green, the teen thinks muzzily before stepping back and putting an arm's length between them. Virgil successfully fights down another blush by thinking of deeply unsexy things and shoves his new realization back behind another wall of denial as he follows Hotstreak into their next class.
Thankfully it's Physics and the frustration of attempting to explain their current experiment to the redhead soon wipes out any kind of weird admiration. So as far as he's concerned the other teen will be staying firmly in the friend zone and keeping a bit of separation between them seems to do the trick.
Once the school day is finally over, Virgil has other things to worry about because he's soon standing in front of his house with the pyro at his back. The metahuman hasn't been this nervous since his father found out that he's Static and he tries to tell himself that this is just as likely to go well. Strangely, Hotstreak also seems twitchy but before the teen can ask him why, the front door swings open with a creak.
“Sorry boys, I got tired of waiting,” says Mr. Hawkins in the doorway. “I'm Virgil's father and you must be Francis Stone. It's good to meet you.”
He holds out a hand and after only a moment of hesitation, the pyro reaches out to shake it, not even bothering to correct his dad on the name. Instead the redhead responds with a quiet, “You too, sir,” while Virgil looks on in surprise. Must be trying to make a good impression, or more nervous than I thought, the teen thinks as his father ushers the two of them inside.
They head into the kitchen for this conversation and it will be private, since Sharon had refused to be around Hotstreak until their dad had cleared the pyro and Richie is out patrolling on his own. However, while Virgil is quite happy to be free from his sister's judgmental glances, this also means that there's no one else to use as a buffer against his father and he soon pins the redhead beneath his gaze.
“So, Francis, what exactly do you want from my son? He seems to believe that you're going straight and asked for his help. However, you'll have to excuse me if I have trouble believing that you plan to change after all this time.” Virgil is surprised by the harshness of his father's words since he thought they had already discussed this and it actually kind of worries him, the way that Hotstreak seems to shrink beneath that glare.
However, before he can say anything about the way this conversation is going, the other teen replies. “Of course I understand it sir. I think he's the only one who has actually believed me, but it's the truth. I turned eighteen a month ago so the next time I screw up they'll lock me up and throw away the key. I may not be a genius, but I know that.”
“All right, I suppose I can see the logic behind that and if you are lying at least you're consistent.” His father replies, voice softening slightly. “But why should my son help you? Surely you have a friend or relative who could assist you with the transition instead of him?”
Virgil winces again, realizing that there were a few things he left out of his explanation, but for once the pyro doesn't fly off the handle at the mention of his relatives. Instead he only flinches slightly and explains, “Um, not exactly. Most of my friends are already in jail or headed that way, if they were ever really my friends at all and I don't have any family....” Hotstreak pauses uncomfortably for a long moment, before continuing in a rush of breath. “My dad left when I was a kid and my mother overdosed before I started high school, so I haven't had anyone in years.”
The other teen cannot hide his choked gasp at this news, the memories of his own mother's death still sharp even after all of these years have passed. Virgil's father is startled as well, though when he reaches out as if to pat the redhead's hand, the pyro bristles.
“Don't fucking pity me.” He snarls, giving Virgil a vivid flashback to their old antagonistic days. “I survived just fine without them or anybody else.” However, while Hotstreak's words are vicious, his eyes are strangely vulnerable and the other teen suddenly wonders, how much of his fury is an attempt to hide his weakness? Like an animal lashing out when cornered and in pain.
This still doesn't make his actions excusable, but Virgil had been a mess for months after his mother was shot. He understands the impulse to fight the grief with anger and without his family there to support him, he might have lost himself for good.
However, the teen is also pretty sure that offering sympathy now would make the redhead punch him and he's had enough of that for a lifetime already. Virgil's father seems to come to the same conclusion, or simply has the skill of long experience, because he waits patiently for Hotstreak to regain his calm.
Eventually the pyro pulls himself together enough to continue and his glare dares anyone to comment on the minor freakout he just had. “Anyway, Virgil's always been one of the good kids so I thought if anyone could help show me how to be less of a delinquent, it'd be him. And the cops wouldn't let me back in school without someone to vouch for me.”
“Understandable.” Virgil's father nods sagely. “Although I do wonder why the police thought that my son was a suitable stand-in for a real adult.”
“Because they're fucking incompetent and my parole officer's a joke.” Hotstreak snorts bitterly before remembering that he has an audience that he doesn't want to offend. “I mean, uh, I may have mentioned you as a good influence. Since you work with troubled youth a lot and all.”
“I see.” At this point Virgil has no idea what his father is thinking since he hardly recognizes the stern man who's sitting at their table, but at least he's starting to sound a bit more conciliatory. So hopefully this strange discussion will end with permission to continue with his mission after all. Not that the metahuman understands why exactly he's so determined to see this through, but the teen made a promise and he means to keep it if he can.
And it seems that he will have his chance because eventually his dad nods firmly. “All right, son. I can hardly deny that you're a good influence so you can continue helping Francis turn his life around as long as he keeps his end of the bargain. However, I expect to know where the two of you are at all times when you're together and if anything illegal happens, that is the end if it.” He says, before turning to Hotstreak and adding, “This is your second chance. Don't waste it.”
“I won't Mr. Hawkins.” The redhead promises quietly and now that they've finished their business, Virgil would seriously like this conversation to be over. He had been expecting an introduction not a fucking emotional roller coaster, and he needs time to process everything he heard.
So the teen ushers Hotstreak out of the house and promises that they'll start their tutoring tomorrow, before finally blurting out, “What was that? The politeness and the sharing?”
Aah, crap. This is why Richie always says I need a better brain to mouth filter. He's going to hit me now for sure. However, while Virgil can't stop himself from flinching when the redhead turns around, the other teens seems more tired than angry. “Some of the guys I used to run with would hang around your father's center. They always said that Mr. Hawkins was one old fool it was safer not to mess with and if I piss him off too badly, he could make you stop helping me. So I was polite...ish.”
“And the sharing?” Virgil asks hesitantly.
“Is none of your goddamn business.” Hotstreak retorts. “But it wasn't lies and if sharing and caring will keep me out of prison, then I'll do whatever it takes. It worked, didn't it?”
“Yeah I guess it did.” The other metahuman sighs, but lets the pyro end that line of conversation and he waves goodbye before heading back inside. His father is still in the kitchen, staring thoughtfully at his cup of coffee, but he raises his head when his son sits back down.
“Well that was interesting.” He says and the understatement makes Virgil want to laugh hysterically. “But I think I can see why you want to help him and I'll support you as best I can.”
“Really? Thanks pops. But what was with all the doubts and threats anyway? I thought you had already agreed to let me help him and you know I can take care of myself.” The teen asks, letting a bit of his confusion bleed into his voice.
However, his dad just smiles and shakes his head. “Of course I know that son, but Francis doesn't and we want to keep it that way. It would be suspicious if I let you hang out with a known criminal without worrying at all and believe it or not, kids like that are more comfortable when they know what the boundaries are.”
“If you say so.” The pyro had never seemed like one to appreciate any restrictions at all, but Virgil will trust his father's judgment for now. And I guess he has tried to meet every one of my requirements, so maybe dad isn't too far off. Though I think I'll stick to framing mine like challenges for now.
His grudging agreement marks the end of that discussion and the teen soon heads up to his room to get started on his homework. That evening when Richie stops by after finishing his patrol, Virgil tells the blond all about the odd conversation and what his father had said. He even mentions what happened to Hotstreak's parents, although he hesitates before including that.
It seems too personal a confession to share, even with his best friend, but at the same time, he wants to know if it's the truth. Virgil needs to know because that sorrow hits too close to home and he refuses to face his own grief again if it was all a pretty lie.
However, Richie verifies the information with one quick search on Backpack, having hacked into pretty much every database there is some time ago. At this confirmation, Virgil isn't sure whether to be pleased or devastated, because while the teen is happy to know Hotstreak didn't lie to them, he wouldn't wish that pain on anyone. Even someone whom he used to hate.
His friend senses his melancholic mood and doesn't elaborate on what he found, although knowing Richie, he probably could. Instead he just mutters, “well that sucks,” and throws one arm across Virgil's shoulders. Then the blond starts chattering on about patrol and the other teen lets his voice wash over him, the white noise helping to chase the ghosts away. Eventually Virgil reminds himself that Hotstreak wouldn't want to be treated any differently and shakes off his weird mood enough to engage Richie in a debate of Zap-Cap tactics until they're called down to eat.
It is only later, when the teen is on the edge of sleep, that he remembers the vulnerability in the redhead's eyes and admits to himself that, in that moment, he had wanted to hold the other tight.
This first day sets the stage for the weeks which follow and soon their lives settle into a rhythm of sorts. Every morning, like clockwork, the three teens meet up in front of the school and Virgil shepherds Hotstreak through his classes, a task which gets easier with time.
For once the emotional volatility of teenagers works in their favor because while some of the students remain wary, most of their classmates move on to other dramas soon enough. Even the teachers get used to having the pyro in their classes and stop bring so surprised when he successfully answers any of their questions, though Mrs. Dietrich refuses to give up her glare.
When lunch comes, the pair meets back up with Richie and while he and Hotstreak haven't exactly become friends, they seem to enjoy needling each other. It's an odd sort of relationship, built on mutual dislike and tutoring, but Virgil isn't going to mess with it as long as it works.
He needs the two of them to get along if he's going to stay sane through this school year, particularly as the pyro begins to join them outside of school as well. Not at first, because Virgil tries to keep these parts of his life separate and he did tell Richie that they'd try to hang out more as friends. But Hotstreak never has anywhere else to go and in all honestly, the other teen is kind of afraid to let the pyro out of his sight for too long given how often he's had to talk him down.
So without really meaning to, Virgil starts inviting him along until it's rare that he and Richie go out somewhere without the other teen also being there. Oh he scrapes out some time for hanging out and patrolling on the weekends when he sends Hotstreak off to do his homework but it's not what really what he promised. However, at least his friend seems to enjoy the tutoring so it's not like he's blowing him off entirely, and this helps to alleviate his guilt.
In fact, the tutoring is going rather well and for several hours after school each day, textbooks are spread across Virgil's kitchen table as the redhead's studying moves along in leaps and bounds. While the teen will never be a fantastic student, he's certainly not the failure that everybody thought and Virgil starts to believe that they might pull this thing off after all.
As long as Hotstreak keeps doing his homework, and the other teen plans to ensure that if it kills him, then the pyro should be able to earn Cs in most of his classes without too much of a struggle. He may even manage a B in History or Econ and Gym is an easy A for a guy like him. Virgil has to admit that he doesn't really understand how the redhead is squeaking by in Calculus, but he seems to have a knack for memorizing formulas and Mr. Williams never puts too many word problems on the tests.
So really it's only Physics that's still holding the pyro back from wearing his cap and gown and they've got months yet to sort that out. Although Virgil is increasingly certain that they're going to need those months, because nothing he says seems to get the concept of acceleration into Hotstreak's skull.
The last thing the teen wants to do is tutor the redhead all the way to June and then have him fail to graduate because of one freaking class. However, when they discuss their options, the pyro seems determined to earn his diploma instead of his G.E.D and Virgil hardly wants to stop him from being enthusiastic about his grades. Besides, he doubts that Hotstreak is planning on going to college and if it's all he has, graduating would look better to employers anyway. Not that they've had the job conversation yet because Virgil has enough on his plate without trying to plan the other's future as well.
Though in all honesty, what scares him most about that discussion is how easy it's becoming to picture Hotstreak staying in his life after the promised year has passed. And the closer they get to friends, the clearer this image grows.
Admittedly, it's a friendship built on secrets and omission and never talking about our issues, but somehow it still feels like a friendship anyway. And maybe if we do stay friends long enough for him to earn my secret, his past will balance out my lies. Wouldn't that be a sight, Hotstreak and Static flying around to save the day? And Gear if he's around.
This thought is little more than a fantasy since the pyro hasn't mentioned any desire of that sort and just because he wants to keep his powers, doesn't mean he wants to join the hero brigade. But it would be nice to have another ally since Richie plans to go away for college and the two of them are already stretched thin with the effort of juggling two lives. Sure they can call on the Justice League when things go really sour, but Static hates the way they seem to judge him for it, and Rubberband Man is too busy with his music to sit around on call.
At least the worst of the Bang Babies have already been dealt with, but there is always some crazy super-powered bastard showing up just at the wrong moment and Virgil doesn't really want to fight without someone to watch his back. Because Hotstreak is so fucking trustworthy. Get a grip V, help him pass Physics and then we'll worry about creating miracles.
However, no matter how Virgil tries to ignore these thoughts, they are always floating there in the back of his mind. These thoughts and others which he doesn't want to admit to and the teen also becomes much better friends with denial as the days pass by.
Because that strange fluttering in his stomach only gets stronger and every time the redhead touches him, Virgil's cheeks begin to burn. So the teen builds his walls ever higher and hides those thoughts behind them, patching up the cracks as they erode. He blames his blushing on embarrassment, the heat, or teenage hormones and pretends that he believes it to be true. And pretending works, as long as Virgil doesn't think too hard about it, and he is determined not to think on this at all.
Until Hotstreak goes and does something completely unexpected and tears all his denial down.
Chapter 5: Bullets and Flame