Playing with Fire


Richard Foley was less than pleased.

His activities as his secret persona, Gear, had forced an involuntary day off from school (which had promised to be such an easy day), said activities had gone on for all but the entire day (what had prompted nearly all of Dakota’s Bang Babies to come out of the woodwork all of a sudden?), and of course, just as he was heading home after a hard day’s work of superheroing, sans water-resistant costume, it had begun to rain.


The teen was soaked through and through at this point, his blond locks plastered to his forehead and his glasses so speckled with rain drops that he was all but blind as he at last neared the house he called home.

Upon arriving at the sidewalk before his home, however, his relief at soon being able to get out of the pouring wet and of peeling off his water-heavy sweatshirt had to be put on hold.

His father’s car, he could barely acknowledge through a combination of his natural near-sightedness and the blurring of his glasses, was in the driveway, parked at an odd angle. An angle, the young genius realized, that meant without doubt that Sean Foley was drunk.

Richie knew that to walk in the door so late with his big, short-tempered father was something so close to suicide that a hospital visit could be included as the closer to his punishment; especially knowing how much worse he was when drunk. It would be best not to come home altogether and return home in the morning: if his father asked where he’d been, he could excuse his absence easily with a sleep-over at Virgil’s and, ‘oh, didn’t mom tell you?’

It was a strategy that had worked before, Maggie Foley always timid and lacking the self-confidence to believe, much less assert that Richie never told her anything of the sort if he suggested that he had.

Poor mom, the teen blankly mused, beaten into quiet submission by her stronger husband’s threats and intimidation tactics.

Not him.

The normal high-schooler turned superhero refused point-blank to be so blindly subjected to his father’s or anyone’s whims.

Unfortunately, such a determination at the moment meant another hour or so of walking to his best friend’s house, in the middle of the night and in the icy, monsoon-like rain.


Just as he turned from his house, barely beginning to trod the wet sidewalk on the way to the Hawkins’ home, the blond stopped as something bright invaded his peripheral vision and he turned to the street, blue eyes squinting a bit to see past the barrage of water-soldiers and their fallen brethren splattered upon the pieces of glass that focused his vision.

A Ford Mustang had just pulled up to the curb beside him, a brand new one if those license plates (obviously fake, but only to the interpretation of his mastermind intellect; the average person wouldn’t be able to tell the difference) were any indication. The paint job was hot-rod red, surprisingly without the flame decal that he would have expected from who he was sure was behind the wheel of the car.

His suspicion was confirmed as the passenger side window was rolled down and a familiar voice gruffly demanded, “You coming or what?”

Richie had been given all the prompting he’d needed and walked the two necessary steps to bring him right alongside the car to open the door and climb in.

It was heated, the blond gratefully noticed, though by the actual heater or the driver, he could not be sure.

Nonetheless, it was warm and dry, a current contrast to himself at the moment and a pleasant one, so he chose not to bother with questioning it.

What he did bother with, however, was the inquiry of, “You’re not stalking me, are you, Francis?”

The redhead to his left snorted as he pulled away from the curb and began putting distance between the Foley household and the Foley son, driving at a speed slower than his usual so as not to hydroplane over the wet road. “Don’t call me that,” he ordered, “and so what if I was?”

Richie blinked at that. “I was joking,” he stressed. “What are you, a pedophile?”

“I’m only three years older than you,” the stronger metahuman protested. “ ’Sides, you had a pretty shitty day, Foley: it’d have been just your luck to get jumped out of costume by Maria or somebody.”

The teen gave a noncommittal grunt and slumped into the passenger seat, the warmth of the car slowly beginning to seep pleasantly into his chilled bones.

A brief silence overtook the vehicle for several minutes and, glancing idly out of the window, the teen quickly realized that they weren’t going anywhere in particular; just driving.

“You okay, Rich?”

Richie looked over at Francis Stone, well-know and wanted criminal, his dark green eyes still fixed diligently upon the road.

“Yeah,” he answered with a sigh, bringing a hand to his face to massage his sore eyes, “I’m fine. Just…shitty day.”

“ ’S fine,” the elder male conceded, “everybody’s got bad days.”

Curious, the blond wondered, “The kind of bad day the guy you stole this Mustang from had?”

The metahuman shrugged, only offering, “I like sports cars,” in his defense.

“You’re lucky I’m off-duty,” Richie boldly proclaimed. “Otherwise, I’d have to turn you in, Hotstreak.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Francis grinned, as if amused by the very idea, “you couldn’t. Just ‘cause I’m not Einstein’s reincarnation like you don’t mean I’m dumb: no way all those times you had some klutzy ‘accident’ that let me get away were really accidents.”

The younger boy shifted, almost uncomfortably. “I’m a superhero,” he eventually settled on saying. “I can’t let everything slide, but…you don’t hurt people; not really at least. You scare the hell out of them on an extremely frequent basis, destroy millions of dollars in both public and private property, and make an all-around nuisance of yourself to the city-”

“What can I say?” the super-powered man chuckled rather shamelessly at the accusations. “I enjoy the attention.”

“Anyway, Francis,” Richie continued, “you don’t hurt people too badly: rough them up a little, occasionally threaten them, but you’ve never sent anybody to the hospital like a lot of other Bang Babies do. I can let you slide without feeling too guilty so long as you’re not taking advantage of the fact that I don’t want to arrest you.”

“…I wouldn’t take advantage of you,” Stone confessed. “Not…not you. I don’t do shit just ‘cause I know I can, I do what I do to get by and that’s it.”

“Your tantrums count as ‘getting by’?” the blond inquired, and before his current companion could even attempt to deny it, he added, “And you know you have them.”

The redhead half-shrugged, admitting, “I’ve got a temper. People look at me wrong, like I’m nothing, like I’m trash, I can come clean and say I get pissed about it.”

“So,” Richie teased, “you’re saying you’re a hot-head?”

Hotstreak smirked, the crooked grin making the more covert of the Bang Babies remember how little the pyro’s temper ignited (pun most definitely intended) around him ever since they…well.

“Yeah,” the man agreed with him, heroically resisting the urge to set some random object they drove past ablaze just for the added emphasis, “I’m a hot-head: fitting, ain’t it?”

The genius grinned back, “Sure is, in more ways than one. That explains the tantrums, but what about this car? I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say you don’t need this to get by.”

“Yeah, I do: there’s no way I’m walking everywhere, and s’not like I’ve got the money to take the bus. Besides,” he asserted, “what would you being doing on days like this if I didn’t have this baby ready to pick you up?”

Richie was a little ashamed to admit he was on Hotstreak’s side with that one, but he certainly wasn’t ashamed enough to force himself out of the warm, dry vehicle and into the cold, wet rain.

“Speaking of which,” Hotstreak began, “where d’you want me to drop you off?”

With a confused noise, the blond inquired, “We’re not going to your place?”

“Don’t have one right now,” the meta casually admitted. “Cops got wind of where I was staying, so I had to split.”

“You gonna be okay for tonight?” Richie inquired. “Because I know an abandoned gas-station you could-”

“Nah, I’m alright,” the redhead promised. “I’ll find someplace soon enough. Don’t worry about me; where are you gonna stay tonight, Rich? Not with your folks, I’d guess.”

Definitely not,” the super-genius agreed, repressing a shudder at the idea of having to face an intoxicated bully of a man wanting to know where he’d been up until midnight and aware of no other way to achieve those answers but with his fists. “Can you drop me off at V’s place?”

A frown immediately creased Hotstreak’s features at the mention of his arch nemesis but, with forced civility in his tone, he replied, “Sure. Hawkins won’t mind you knocking down his door this late?”

“I don’t need to knock, I’ve got a key.” At the darkening of the frown at what was simply an off-handed mention, the blond sternly assured, “We’re just buds, Francis: there’s nothing going on between me and Virgil.”

“Doesn’t mean I can’t still get jealous if I wanna,” the pyro huffed.

“But you don’t have to,” Richie insisted. “V and I are more like brothers than boyfriend and…well, I guess other boyfriend. Its not like…us.”

“I know,” came the yet-disgruntled sigh. “I don’t like the guy. But…he’s your running-buddy, so I guess I’ll just have to deal.”

“Goodness gracious, Francis,” the teen exclaimed in a falsetto tone of false disbelief, “was that a mature statement that came out of your mouth just now?!”

The redhead risked a hand off the wheel for the sole purpose of smacking at the younger male’s arm, snorting, “Fag…”

Richie snickered at that. “Oh, and you’re not?”

A suspicious silence and then, “Shut up, I’m the man in this relationship.”

“Then I guess that makes me the woman,” the super-genius declared. “In light of that: slow down, buckle your seat belt, you just blew that stop sign, did we just miss our exit?!”

“You’re a bonafide dorkasaurus, Foley,” Hotstreak stated, a smile nonetheless on his lips.

One of us has to have the sense of humor, and considering you’re the one with the temper, I’d say it falls to me.” Richie reached over to put a hand on the pyro’s thigh. “Besides, we wouldn’t work as well as we do if we weren’t so not alike.”

The car at last pulled to a stop before the Hawkins’ household, Francis prompting, “We’re here,” in lieu of an actual reply.

The blond removed his hand and exited the car, pleased to note that at the very least, it’d stopped raining though the air and his clothing were still a bit cool and damp.

He heard a second car door shut and glanced back to see the older male stepping out of the Mustang and joining him on the sidewalk, standing just in front of him.

He took a moment to inspect the metahuman.

His fiery, red hair was spiked up as usual, the few bleach-blond streaks in it providing an excellent contrast. He’d always thought it ironic that Francis styled his hair in such a way as to resemble flame even before he’d had the power to control it.

Richie glanced a bit lower, to the rest of the man; noting the musculature of his form: the broad shoulders, anaconda-like arms, and the strong chest and washboard stomach outlined well by his tight, maroon tee, even in the darkness of the night. Many saw Hotstreak as a bully because of his physique, a muscle-bound brute who would just pummel people to get what he wanted rather than use his brain for so much as a full minute.

Admittedly, a lot of that was true.

He had been a bully when he attended Dakota Union High, specifically terrorizing Virgil, Frieda, and Richie (what a way to get his attention!). Granted, he was more of a city-wide terror than a school-bully now, but the principle was essentially the same.

He was muscle-bound, too, to be sure. He had to be, growing up on the streets and having even led a gang before the Bang Baby gas incident, and the need for strength had provided with a powerful, masculine body useful to the pyro’s ends but thankfully (at least to Richie) without the too-muscular, sinewy body-builder appearance. It was effective enough, as Francis Stone had the ability to lift an adolescent male a good foot off the ground and then toss him six or seven feet away with one hand.

What wasn’t true was that this man did not use his brain.

Hotstreak was smart, despite popular belief that he was dumb as a rock. It was more of a street-smart than a book-smart, but it was surely there. He had, after all, led an organized group of men in a situation quite alike to actual military war, showing he had a head for leadership and making decisions carefully enough so as to result in fewest casualties and losses.

The metahuman’s only real issue in his thinking was foresight.

In his second confrontation with Virgil as Static just about three years ago, he had shown intelligence in observation and conclusion by drawing the new superhero into the dead-center of a park, where there was no metal for his electricity powers to work on.

His logic had been sound: he had simply failed to realize that even though it wasn’t visible, there was always metal present in a city, such as the sewer pipe Virgil had pulled up from underground to defeat him with.

Richie locked blue eyes with the pyro’s deep green abruptly in a silent stare that, between them, was comfortable.

Without thinking, the blond stepped forward, briefly slipping out from under the glow of a street lamp into Francis’ waiting arms.

He pressed his wiry, compact form against the other male’s bigger, stronger one tightly, reaching upward just a bit to allow for their lips to meet.

The kiss was a firm, needy thing; hot and deep as if they were trying to devour each other to keep from having to part.

The genius reveled in the feel of a goatee tickling his chin and of an idle finger playing with the earring in his left ear when a sudden heat coursed through Richie’s body, so sharp a contrast to the cool of the night that he broke the kiss abruptly to give a questioning look to the other metahuman.

“You looked wet still,” Francis softly explained, his hands sliding downwards to keep the super-genius held flush to him by the hips, “Thought you’d appreciate being…not wet.”

The teen inversely mimicked the action, raising his arms to curl about the man’s neck as he realized that the elder’s power over flame and heat had been used to dry the yet-damp clothing upon his body. “Thanks,” he grinned, bringing their mouths together for one more kiss.

This one was slower, lasted longer: more of a parting gift than a plea to stay at this point. Richie savored the robust taste of the pyro’s mouth, only just retaining the composure to keep from moaning audibly as a hot tongue caressed his with a tenderness that conflicted drastically with the man’s usual attitude.

The pair slowly broke away and Richard lay his head on the other male’s broad chest. “I love you, Frankie,” he quietly confessed, even knowing the meta’s reluctance to say the phrase back.

There was, as expected, an almost awkward silence at the statement, but Francis surprised the genius with, “…love you, too, Rich.”

And with that, they parted, Richie stepping back under the street lamp and Francis retreating further into the darkness, rounding the front of the car to enter the driver’s side.

The out-of-costume Gear watched blankly as the notorious Hotstreak that he called his lover sped off in the stolen Mustang, entirely ignoring the stop sign at the end of the block to go wherever it was he went when his living arrangements were compromised and he let him go, instead turning and heading up the walkway to the house of his best friend and rifling through his (now dry) pockets for his key.

The redhead would not be seen for several days, perhaps even for a couple of weeks, but Richie wasn’t worried.

Francis always came back to him.


~~~~~~~~ Back to Static Shock ~~~~~~~~


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