In the mood to lose my way
by Te
December 19, 2004

Disclaimers: Not even close to mine.

Spoilers: Major ones for "Now You See Him..."
Minor ones for "Jimmy."

Summary: Richie's life is officially kind of weird.

Ratings Note: PG-13.

Author's Note: Written for Jack, for Yuletide 2004.

Acknowledgments: To LC and Houie for much
hand-holding. To Marici for pointing out a rather
dumb-ass mistake on my part, and to Jack for
helping me fix it.


Richie has a routine to fall back on, these days. He's
actually *had* a routine -- even before his brain
started doing things without his permission, and
before he really *needed* one.

Well, *he* hadn't needed one, but Virgil did. *Static*
did. The Big Bang had turned Dakota into the kind
of place which needed a superhero as much as
Keystone or Metropolis -- if not as much as Gotham --
and superheroes needed (sidekicks) information.
This is where he came in -- though, if he's honest
with himself, even if Virgil *had* been the kind of
person who took detailed notes as a matter of
course, and had had the time, skill, and inclination
to make up the kind of database Richie had, Richie
would've just found something *else* to do for him.

Uniform repair, secret-identity-protecting alibis...

And, yeah, most of the time Richie can tell himself
that it's all about the superheroics, and the fact
that he was dressing up like Superman before he'd
realized that Superman was as real as police
officers and firefighters, that it's just something
*any* self-respecting fanboy would do -- given half
an opportunity and a best friend with superpowers.

Most of the time.

It's just that he *is* only telling himself that, because
it's been a long time since he's been able to think
about the fact that he really would do almost
anything for Virgil as anything but one small,
important piece about how he, well, *feels* about

It's not something he really talks about -- the only
person he *would* talk to about it is Virgil, and, really,
*no* -- and it isn't something he really thinks about.
There's always something new he can add to
Backpack, or something else to add to the Static files,
or, well, something else for him to *do*.

Whether it involves being Gear or just being Richie.
He's *busy*, and he likes it that way, and Virgil is his
best friend in the world, and the closest thing he's
ever had to (family) a brother, and, in the end, Virgil
likes Daisy and Richie has a very close relationship
with his left hand.

He's pretty sure things might change when they're out
of high school and it won't be so *huge* that he's
walking around with two secrets instead of just one,
and he can... well, most of the time he's pretty sure
he can wait, especially since the only thing he's really
waiting *for* is the ability to *say* some of this stuff
to Virgil. Some of it.

He's *been* waiting, after all, and you hardly even
notice you're waiting for something if you're busy
doing other things. Which he should be -- there *is*
a routine. Weird Eddie really *wasn't* just another
Bang Baby, after all. He'd made himself into
something different, something *weirder*, and now
he's stuck living in -- maybe *permanent* -- slow
motion, in part because of something *he'd* built.
And he definitely needs to think about *that*, and
maybe come up with some useful conclusions for
the database in case something like this ever
happens again.

For when it *does* happen again, because Dakota
isn't the same city it was when Richie was a kid.

He should be thinking about that. As opposed to the
fact that, on any *other* night, Virgil would be right
here helping him out, asking the questions that help
every part of Richie's mind *fire*, or maybe just
tossing balled-up paper at his head, or practicing with
his powers until Richie's hair is standing on end,
*all* of it, everywhere, and Richie's earring is
stabbing him with small, painless shocks every few
minutes, and --

On any other night, Virgil would be here, with him,
or maybe they'd be in Virgil's room -- Virgil's
computer *looks* ancient, but it has just as many
customizations and additions as Richie's own -- but
either way, they'd be together.

But it's only ten, and the B2K concert is probably
still going on, and it's *Virgil*. He doesn't *have*
to be home tonight until midnight -- special
dispensation from his father -- and he *won't* be.

Because it's Daisy.

It would be so *much* easier if Virgil had worse
taste in girls, as opposed to picking out the one
who happens to be beautiful, smart, funny, *and*
friendly. She even *dresses* well, and...

And it's one thing to be pathetic, especially with no
one around to *see* it. It's another thing to be
pathetic and not get anything *done*. If Virgil
*does* come back to the station before heading
home, the last thing Richie wants him to find is,
well, *him*.

Staring at nothing, *doing* nothing, and no closer
to having an idea on how to deal with criminals
with super-speed than he was when they'd maybe,
sort of, possibly *crippled* this one.

Weird Eddie.

He probably shouldn't be thinking of Jimmy so much --
it's not like Eddie was trying to protect himself from
bullies or anything.

Except for how it's possible -- really extremely
possible -- that maybe all of them should've been
thinking of Jimmy -- and people like them -- when
they were all basically torturing Eddie in science
camp. Richie winces.

Virgil would make thoughts like *that* easier to
handle, too. Especially since he'll probably feel just
as lousy about it as Richie does, just as soon as
Richie puts the thought in his head.

He doesn't want to make Virgil feel lousy. He

He wishes -- really a *lot* -- that he didn't actually
*know* what he wanted, because, for once, knowing
doesn't help with anything. Not getting this done
and *not* with, well. Getting it.

Nothing's really going to help with the latter, but
the former... well.

Backpack crawls over when Richie calls -- and, while
he still *wants* a dog, Backpack is really, really cool --
and offers the small, black communicator when he
taps on the compartment. *He's* really not supposed
to have this -- Batman had given it to Static, after
all -- and he and Virgil had agreed that they'd only
use it in case of horrible apocalyptic emergency --
it's *Batman* -- but.

Batman is *used* to dealing with speedsters, and with
people crazy enough to give themselves superpowers,
and possibly just tapping on it like this won't make --

"Static. What's the problem?"

Anything happen. "Er... it's R -- Gear, actually. I...

It's really strange to hear snickering coming from
nowhere. From the... wait, no. It's coming from
*inside* Backpack, and it's a lot less strange when
Richie pulls out the Shockbox that they'd somehow
tapped *into*. That...

"Um... Robin?"

"Yep. What's the emergency?"

Well, it *sounds* a lot less strange. And... yeah.
He's totally talking to Robin. Now is *not* the time
to point out that he's pretty much the template for
Richie's existence, especially since --


Right. Thinking. "I -- there's no emergency, really,
I just..." His voice was pretty much supposed to
*stop* doing that cracking thing two *years* ago.
A year ago at the latest.

"Just calling to chat? On a Bat-communicator?"

Robin isn't laughing, but it *sounds* like he might
start again any minute. Which, really, is one of the
better reactions he could hope for. "Well, I... I
mean, there was this... er." He's actually capable of
not sounding like an idiot. Really.

"This er...?"

"Eddie Felson. Er... Edward. He stole a machine that
let him manipulate... time? It's hard to be sure. It
let him move at superspeed, and --"

"Gimme a sec."

"-- sure." Richie waits. He can't actually *hear*
anything other than small, thoughtful noises, but --
not for the first time -- he can't quite make himself
stop fantasizing about spending an hour with
Batman's computers.

*Half* an hour.

Fifteen *minutes* --

"Got it. Speedwarp. You guys caught him -- nice."

Richie blinks. "I... thank you?"

"Heh. You're welcome." It's funny, but Richie thinks
he can *hear* Robin smiling. Or possibly smirking.
"So what can we do for you?"

Good question. "Well, it's... a little out of our depth?
I mean, I don't know which reports you're
accessing, but the only way we stopped him..."
Richie winces. "It was mostly accidental. I was able
to rig up a similar machine for Static to use --"


Wincing *and* blushing. Wonderful. How does Virgil
*do* this? "I -- thank you -- but, well. I'm not
actually sure *what* I did -- what *we* did, in terms
of the company Eddie stole the gauntlet from -- and
now Eddie's... well."

"Hmm... the report I've got here says his heart rate,
pulse, breathing... all of it's almost too slow to
register as anything but clinical death. Is that about

Richie winces a little more. "He... crossed the

Robin snickers. Again. "Always a bad idea. So basically
you're looking for some input on how to keep this
from happening again -- or from happening in a way
that nearly gets you guys killed."

"That's... about right. I'm also... well. I'm worried
about *Eddie*."

The Shockbox is silent for a moment, and then Richie
hears Robin blow out a breath. "Easy to forget you
guys are new to this. So many of these people just
fuck themselves over without *thinking*... anyway.
I'm not sure what I can do to help -- we just don't
have that kind of information available -- but..."

Richie blinks. There's... really a *lot* there. "I... well.
I didn't mean to bother you. I just thought --"

"Wait, wait, gimme another minute."

Richie waits. He can hear Robin talking to
someone -- Batman? -- but he can't actually make
out the words.

"Heh. Be there in --"

Richie blinks.

"A Flash! Man, I *never* get tired of that."

Richie blinks again, and pretty much focuses on
blinking, because that's *Flash*, and he's got an
armful of Robin, except Robin is jumping out of
Flash's arms and brushing off his uniform and it's

"Hi, I'm Flash!"

Richie shakes his hand. The material of his gauntlet
seems *really* thin, and he's smiling, and Robin
is looking around curiously.

They *really* need to clean. And... *Flash*.


And -- Flash is waving a hand in front of his face.
"You okay, man? You look a little --"

"Superhero shell-shock," Robin says with a grin that
doesn't seem *entirely* evil.

Richie shakes it off as much as he can and tries on
a smile of his own. It feels like it'll shake itself
right off his *face*, but... well. "I'm Richie. Gear.
Er... hi?" He looks around Flash -- he's *taller* in
person, which makes sense because he's always
standing next to people like Wonder Woman and
Superman, but -- *taller* -- and Robin's leaning
against the wall.

And still grinning. "I figured I should call in a

"That's me!" Flash says.

Specialist. Right. Okay... he can focus. He can
absolutely focus. "I... there was... well, Weird
Eddie..." Robin is doing a handstand.

Robin is... grinning at him more. "I filled Flash in."

"He called himself 'Weird Eddie?' Man, I thought
*Amazo* was bad."

Maybe if he did a breathing exercise or something.
Except for how he doesn't know any breathing
exercises. "Uh -- actually that was his name. His
nickname. Only he didn't pick it. I -- well. He's..."
Walking toward Richie. On his hands. Robin is.

Robin flips back onto his feet and shoves lightly in
front of Flash before putting his hands on Richie's

Some ridiculously useless part of his mind is
wondering what *Robin's* gauntlets are made of.
The rest of him is just kind of staring. Wonderful.

"Take it easy, Gear. Suit up and lead us to the

He's not suited *up*, oh Jesus --

Robin shakes him. Lightly. And grins more. "I figure
Flash will poke at him a little, and even if we
*don't* figure anything out, we can always ship
our data to the League."

Which makes perfect sense. All right then. He'll
just -- the rush of air nearly knocks him off his
stool, and Flash is holding both his uniform and
one of Virgil's spares.

"Sleeveless? Really? Does that work better for you?"

Richie frowns. "Um..."

Robin shakes him again. "The trick is to only try to
answer *half* the questions."

Richie blinks, and Flash is... he doesn't know where
Flash is. Richie shakes it off -- again -- and focuses
on putting on his suit the right way. He manages to
get the helmet snapped into place -- and he's
*really* going to work to make it more secure,
because, God, Eddie had taken it *off* him --
before Flash gets back.

"Found the prison!"

"Good, Flash. Wait for us."

Flash nods and grins. "Sure. Hey, Gear, are there any
good pizza places around here?"

Which, in retrospect, was an entirely sensible
question to ask. He hadn't exactly gotten the time to
*talk* to Eddie -- no one had -- but, as it happens,
he'd stolen nearly as much *food* as jewelry.

Possibly he would've been eating the way Flash is
right now -- chewing too fast to see and surrounded
by empty pizza boxes. He'd picked up an extra
cheese pie for him and Robin to share, and Richie
wonders what the guards will think the next time
they come up to the roof.

Possibly guards who work in prisons packed full of
supervillains are used to this sort of thing.

Certainly *Robin* seems to be.

"No pepperoni? No sausage?"

Flash swallows something that looked -- in the
half-second before it disappeared -- to be about the
size of a brick, and shrugs. "Hey, I didn't know if
Gear was a vegetarian or not. Are you?"

Vegetarian. Okay. "Um... no. But... thank you."

Flash grins at him. "You're welcome! Should I get
another pie? They really have great sausage."

"They... well. It's home-made." At some point, Richie
is going to have to take some notes about how long
a teenaged male can maintain a blush without
passing out. His hypotheses were all wrong.

"Good deal," Flash says around another mouthful --
Richie *thinks* he says -- and Robin reaches out --
really very slowly -- and sets a gauntlet on top of
Flash's last pizza. "Hmm?"

"You *could* just share, Flash."

"I... um..." Flash licks sauce from the corner of his

Richie should definitely not be thinking about that.
Or about the way Robin's smiling. "You *have*
enough," Robin says, and drags one finger over the

Flash looks at the pizza, and at Robin, and back at
the pizza, and -- it's too fast to tell. "But..."

Robin snickers and leans back -- all the way, until
he's on his elbows and his legs are stretched out in
front of him. "Take that one with you when you go
to bring us *another* one."

"I can do that."

And Flash is gone, just that quickly, and Richie is
sitting on the roof of Foucault Correctional surrounded
by empty pizza boxes and next to Robin, who probably
wasn't hitting on the Flash.

"God, he's cute."

Except for how he totally was. "Um." Totally and
completely... "Robin?"

Robin wipes his mouth with his gauntlet, and licks
the sauce off his finger. "I mean, I'm pretty sure
he's a virgin, and he kind of makes *me* feel, like,
*ancient*, but... cute."


"Though not as cute as Static. Where *is* he tonight?"

The nice thing about wearing a helmet with a visor
is that he's pretty sure he won't *lose* his eyes if
they actually fall out of his head.

Which is an increasingly likely event, considering the
fact that Robin is... it's a Look. There should definitely
be capital letters there. Although Robin *could* just
be waiting for him to use his mouth for talking, as
opposed to, well, gaping.

"Um. On a date. Actually."

"At that arena we passed. The concert?"

Richie blinks. "Well, I..."

Robin smirks. "You were staring so hard I thought
you were going to smack into that Zesti billboard."

Right. He was trained by *Batman*. The world's
greatest *detective*. "I... guess I was... obvious."

Robin rests his weight on one elbow and punches him
lightly with his other hand. "Don't worry about it.
Civilization will hit Dakota *eventually*."

There's a part of him that really wants to *protest*
that, but... really *not* against someone who lives in
Gotham. And gets speedster rides from the Flash.

"Sometimes I think there should be something for
*us*. The younger ones. Because as great as it is
hanging with Batman, and whichever Leaguers I'm
allowed to play with *this* month..." Robin snorts
and shakes his head. "Going back to high school is
serious culture lag. There's Batgirl and Nightwing,
but... really just *not* the same thing."

He has a point. "You have a point. Um." He's really
supposed to be smarter than this. All the tests said

"Which is just to say..." And Robin grins at him
again. "Even if we *don't* get anything useful out
of this trip, I'm glad you called."

Richie smiles ruefully. "I think I can manage to be
more entertaining once my brain stops spinning."

*This* grin is slow and knowing and entirely right
for someone who could be either fourteen or forty,
depending on the look on his face. "Don't worry
about it, Gear. I'm *used* to people needing a little
time to get used to *me*."

"I'm... really not shocked."

"Uh, huh. So how right am I about the *fact* that
you're doing Standard Sidekick Mope Number Four:
'My partner won't jerk me off in the shower?'"

Richie chokes. A little. "You're... not wrong. Is
this... I mean... there's a reason you get it, I take

The sound Robin makes is somewhere between a
laugh and a hum, and he's staring up at the stars.

There's probably more of them visible here than in
Gotham. A part of Richie's mind immediately starts
trying to work out *which* ones are new -- or
relatively new -- to Robin, but it's really pointless.
Robin's probably been to the *Watchtower*.

"He's got scars. He's *covered* in scars. When he's
naked, his skin is just this... this fucking *map*.
Everything he's seen, everywhere he's been,
everyone he's fought, everyone's he's *beaten*."

"I... wow."

"Yeah," Robin says, and this laugh is a little clearer.
"We've got about two minutes before the new pizza
is done and about two minutes and ten seconds
before Flash is back here. Now's a good time to
spit out *your* embarrassing observations."

His hair. His hands. His *laugh* -- "I don't know
where to *start*."

One of Robin's canines is crooked -- slightly. "That
bad, hunh?"

Richie smiles ruefully and stares at his gauntlets. "I
think I might have *not* been in love with him at
some point, but... he's been my best friend forever."

Robin shakes his head again. "I can't decide if that
would be wonderful or torture."


Robin snickers and bounds to his feet, rubbing at
his stomach with one hand and rolling his other arm
in a rough shoulder stretch. For some reason, it
makes it really obvious how much *shorter* he is
than... pretty much every other hero, ever.

"Is Flash on his way back...?"

"Hm? No. Chances are, he's flirting with whoever's
behind the counter at that pizza place."

"I'm not sure how Tony will feel about that."

Robin grins and rocks a little on his feet. "Well. You
never know, now do you?"

"Apparently not," Richie says, and starts stacking the
pizza boxes. And stops. "I... um."


"I mean... I don't even know *what* I want to ask.
When you knew, and who *else* you know who's...
or if you like girls at all, or when this is going to
make *sense*..." Richie shrugs and checks his
mental clock -- he's pushing an hour with one
continuous blush. Maybe this means he has
super-not-stroke-having powers.

And Robin just looks at him for a long moment.

"I know, it's not --"

"It wasn't really knowing. I just... knew what I
*wanted*. I started *taking* it before I started
thinking, if that makes any sense to you."

Not really, but he can go with it. "Okay..."

Robin looks back over his shoulder and then drops
into a crouch in front of him. "Like I said; I think
Flash is a virgin. But I also wouldn't be *surprised*
if he wound up just a little gay."

Richie snorts. "Is that like being a little pregnant?"

Robin's expression is only blank if you don't look at
his mouth. If you *do* look at his mouth...


"For *that* matter, I happen to enjoy the occasional
visit to Metropolis. And not for the clean streets."

"*Jeez* --"

"And then there's Wonder Woman, and, well. The
*unofficial* name of her home is 'Paradise Island.'
Which would be a shame, if it didn't lead to such
nice imagery," Robin says, and... waves his hand.

"I... oh. You're... bi?"

Robin shrugs.

"Okay, but..."

"Put it this way -- the first people I knew other than
my parents, really *knew*, were Batman, Batgirl,
Nightwing, and the other people in Batman's life.
Trying to put it into words just doesn't *work*. Have
you *seen* pictures of Batgirl?"

"I like the boots."

"The boots are great. There's a blade in the left

"That seems... really practical."

Robin nods. "Especially against Ivy. All those
*vines*... but anyway. I can't tell you when it's
going to make sense, because your *superpower*
is thinking and mine really isn't. Maybe you'll tell
*me* one day, you know?"

"I'd... I'd like that."

And Robin tilts his head and smiles at him. It
manages to be both softer *and* sharper than the
other smiles, enough so that Richie is wondering
what it might *mean*, but since Robin is kissing
him before he can even ask the question fully in
his own mind, the point seems moot.

Robin's lips are soft and that crooked canine
scrapes over Richie's lower lip and he tastes like
pizza. And his hair is spiked and thin and wrong
and scratchy and --

"Mmm. Nice," Robin says, and bites Richie's lip
before pulling back. And twisting his head away
from Richie's hands.

When *did* he put his hands in Robin's hair. "Uh..."

"You haven't done that before."

"Not..." With a guy. For real. With -- "No."

Robin tilts his head the other way, and the smile on
his face looks a lot like the ones Richie feels on his
own in his dreams. "Practicing one's skills is
important in our line of work, Gear."

"I'm a firm believer in... practice."

"Heh. Oh, yeah?"

And Robin's leaning in again -- *he's* leaning in
again -- and Richie wonders if he should lick his
lips or *not*, and he smells the fresh pizza just
before Flash's wake comes close to knocking him
off the roof.

Robin catches him.

"Whoops, sorry. Hey, Tony says hi."

Robin gives him a look.

"Static and I get hungry on patrol."

Robin gives him another *Look*. "I bet." And then
he turns to Flash. "Why don't you tell the warden
we're here?"

Flash frowns. "We're not eating?"

"It'll be here when we're finished. Even better cold,

"Ooh, *yeah*," Flash says, and reaches under his
mask for... a communicator?

"League toys," Robin says, when he notices the
question on Richie's face. "Every prison with
super-powered inmates has a line to the League.
Whether they want it or not."

"Have you been to the Tower?"

Robin grins. "Not *enough*."

"Okay," Flash says. "They should know to expect us. I'm
doing the talking, right?"

"Good question." Robin looks back over his shoulder at
Richie. "Do they know you guys here, or...?"

That's a *really* good question. But... "Probably not.
We just give 'em to the police."

Robin nods. "Then lead the way, Flash."

Flash takes two pieces of the new pizza with him, but
he still probably looks more official than Robin does.
And a lot more than *he* does. He should probably
make the visor darker, or at least learn how to control
his expressions.

The guard -- probably -- doesn't lead them through
one of the nastier parts of the prison in order to get
to the Warden's office, but it's nasty *enough*. Some
of the electronic restraints on these guys are making
Backpack twitchy, even though Backpack's
attachments are frankly better than ninety percent of
what's here.

It's more than a little reassuring when Robin frowns
and pulls what *looks* like a sensor box out of a
pocket of his belt and hits a few buttons.

"Probably the ambient e-m," he says, and Robin
gives him an approving nod and it's completely okay
to be a dork for that.

Even if he *does* know how Robin kisses now,
and... whoa. Yeah. Probably not a good idea to be
thinking about *that* in a prison.

Somewhere at his shoulder, or maybe just in front
of him, there's a place where Virgil should be so
they can share a look and maybe snicker and then
glare at each other until they stop.

Instead, there's Robin and the Flash.

His life is officially kind of weird.

He hangs back in the shadows with Robin when Flash
gives the Warden the situation, and the man seems
just as flustered as he should be -- which is *also*
reassuring. Even though he has the same guard lead
them down to where they're keeping Eddie, so they
wind up trailing through what's either Maximum
Security or a darn good impression of same.

Backpack clutches him, long since trained to respond
to this level of e-m (and, possibly, Richie's own heart
rate) with the 'reflex' of holding on tight just in case
some gorilla decides to see if Richie will bounce
when he hits a wall.

Robin strokes his belt.

It's both better and worse when they actually get
to Eddie. He's in the cell closest to the infirmary,
which means it's quieter, but he's still in pretty much
the exact position he was in when he and Static
had given him to the DPD, hours later. Not quite
the same -- his eyes are half-closed.

He's trying to blink.

"Been like that since we got 'im here," the guard
says. "Docs don't know *what* his problem is."
The guard gives them a different sort of Look. "Don't
suppose *you* do."

"That's what we're here to find out," Robin says -- in
a completely different voice than what Richie has
come to think of as his normal one. *This* voice is
earnest and... well, the *guard* seems to find it

Or maybe just mollifying.

"Then I'll leave you all to it. The call button is right
there --" It's big, and red, and looks sturdy enough
to handle a medium-range energy blast. " -- but I
don't guess you'll be needing it."

"Thanks," Flash says, and offers his hand for shaking.

The guard does so, looking frankly bemused, and
then Robin pulls something else from his belt and
aims it at the control panel. "Ready?"

Ready. Just in case Eddie is faking. Richie doesn't
know if he hopes Eddie's faking or *not*. He nods,
and Flash cracks his knuckles.

"Should I go in alone? Just at first?"

Robin frowns and strokes the box in his hand. "Yes.
We'll be watching." It sounds like as much of a
threat against Flash as a promise, but Flash just
gives them both the thumbs-up and zips into the
cell as soon as Robin... hm.

"What *did* you do to the locks?"

"Lock, singular. The League *also* has the security
codes for the prisons. Just in case." And then he
runs his gauntlet over the force-field. "I wonder if
this is soundproof," he says, in a slightly louder-
than-normal voice.

"Hunh?" Flash stops in front of the field and puts a
hand to his ear.

"Mostly, I'd guess," Richie says, and watches Flash
shake his head.

Robin waves a hand at him in a gesture that clearly
means 'it's not important.'

And then Flash nods and starts... moving.

The only thing *not* bolted down in the cell are the
sheets, and, after a moment, they rip themselves off
the bed and smack against the field.

"What's he doing?"

"At a guess?" Robin shrugs. "No idea. He's the only
speedster the League has gotten a chance to study,
and even Batman's files aren't that good."

Richie frowns and watches the sheets wind and
jerk their way around the cell. "He doesn't seem
very... secretive."

Robin snorts. "Hang with him for another couple of
hours and you'll know his name, Social Security
number, address, and the name of his prom date.
'Secretive' isn't the problem. *He's* not sure how
he got those powers, and is, apparently, still
learning the extent of everything he can do."

"And I thought 'mystery chemical spill with random
mutagenic tendencies' was disturbing and

The smirk is a little cold. "Welcome to the world of
the supers, Gear."

And it's... it's hard to credit, like this. Sure, when
he's with Virgil, and they're not dealing with anyone
but the Dakota natives, it all kind of makes sense --
he's one of a community of people who aren't
entirely human. Who... *do* things that other
people just can't, even if it's just a matter of
thinking really well, really quickly.

But Robin *isn't*, technically, one of them at all.

And is, apparently, incredibly aware of it. Even though
Richie can't tell exactly what that awareness means.

After a little too long, Robin turns away again, and
it's something of a relief to go back to watching
Flash. And...

Well, his *body* isn't moving. He's holding a hand
over Eddie's sternum and the entire arm from the
elbow down is moving too fast to focus on. And then
Flash moves to touch Eddie's throat, and Eddie's
thigh, and, weirdly, the top of his head.

"Still no clue," Robin says, before he can ask.

"Got it."

Flash repeats the process, and then stops, and taps
his foot. For a second, it's just normal tapping, and
then it's vibration.

"He looks... pretty frustrated."

Robin makes a small, non-committal noise and
doesn't look at him.

"I... this is probably..." Richie winces. But Robin is
tensed up under the cape -- he knows how that
looks from Virgil's coats. "Did I piss you off, at some

Robin tenses even more for a second, and then
relaxes just as obviously. And smiles ruefully at
Richie from over his shoulder. "No. Just... thinking."


"High school is culture shock. So's this. In some
ways." His voice is quiet and a little low.

Richie isn't sure what to say to that.

"It's not about you."

It's about Batman, and the League, and... everything
else Richie isn't sure he *wants* to know about
Gotham. He settles for nodding, and glances back
at Flash. Who is... well, he's pretty much poking

"Sorry about that," Robin says, and his voice is back
to normal -- mostly.

"No, it's okay. I was just... wondering."

Robin smirks at him and leans -- it's pretty much a
controlled fall -- against the wall beside Eddie's cell.
"Wondering, hm? *I* was wondering a few things."

It's an invitation to change the subject. Possibly an
*order* to change the subject, and he knows what
Robin's tongue feels like in his mouth, but that
doesn't mean he really has the right to call him on
it. So... He gives Robin a smile of his own. "Like?"

"Well..." Robin reaches up and tugs on one of the
spikes of his hair, breaking the layer of product and
tugging it down to hang over his forehead. To...
bob, a little. Like...

Oh. "Heh. I..." He's pretty sure he *wasn't* blushing
for at least twenty minutes. Clearly he was due.

"What do they feel like?"

Richie knows what Robin's asking. And he's... well.
He's thought about it *enough*. "They're rough.
Scratchier than they look. Like... like maybe they'll
itch, a little, if he... er."

Robin hums a little and rubs a thumb back and forth
over one thigh. Black on red. Richie blinks and
looks up and... well, Robin's wearing a *mask*, but
Richie's still pretty sure he's raising an eyebrow.

It's a question. "Uh... yeah. There."

Robin smiles. "Hmm."

"And there's... his power." Richie swallows, and
glances up to see Flash chafing at Eddie's arms. It's
probably a good thing that they haven't taken Eddie
out of his homemade suit -- Flash's hands are, again,
moving too fast to see.

"His power...?"

Robin's look is sort of... casually curious. Richie's
pretty sure the casual is kind of a lie, but this... it
feels like payment to say this, an exchange that
he'd missed out on when they were still on the roof.

And it also just feels... really *good*. Because this
stuff isn't even in his *journal*. Virgil reads his
journal sometimes, after all.

"It's... when he uses it a lot, you can feel it. In the
air and all around you, and... especially when you're
in an enclosed space. Like --"

"Your gas station."

Richie reaches up to scrub a hand through his hair
and manages -- barely -- not to jab himself in the
visor. "I... yeah."

"That must be..." Robin shifts a little in a way that
almost looks accidental. And smiles a little more.

Richie grins. "Yeah, it is."

"Your earring is silver. I'm guessing it *used* to be
a less conductive metal?"

He bites his lip. "Gold, actually. But... yeah. Silver
is... better."

Robin's gaze sweeps down over his suit -- no. Over
his body. Looking for...

Oh. Jeez. "I don't have anything... else. Uh."


Which is... yeah. Richie smiles a little more. "I can't
say I haven't thought about it."

"Keep --"

Flash is knocking on the wall beside the force-field.

"Thinking," Robin says, and opens it up again for

Eddie is still... well, his eyes are closed now, at least.
"Did you find anything?"

"It's the weirdest thing *ever*. He's alive, and
he's... I can usually speed people *up*, you know?"
Flash is frowning and jittering, a little, in a way that
doesn't actually look nervous at all.

Robin frowns. "Speed them up...?"

"Hunh? Oh, not give them powers or anything, but...
like, I can make your skin hotter, and your heart
beat faster. Just by... you know. *Moving* you."

Richie nods. It makes sense. But... "You couldn't
with Eddie?"

"No! He's just... he's... it's like I wasn't touching him
at *all*, even when I *was* moving him. Like
there's something... *over* him, or around him, or..."
Flash turns and zips back to the force field and
*looks*. "You guys can't see anything, right?"

Robin shakes his head. "No, but then we wouldn't if
it was... some sort of aura."

"Aura! Yes! Like... doesn't Superman have one of
those?" Flash is looking at both of them, back and
forth and back, but it's not like *he* knows.

"It seems to be... theoretical," Robin says, after a
moment. "No one has ever been able to measure it,
or detect it. As opposed to noticing its -- probable --

"You guys think Eddie's trapped inside something?
Wrapped up in... some sort of solid cloak of..." What
was that word Dr. McDonald  had used? "Hypertime?"

Flash nods and frowns at Eddie. "Bagged up like an
egg salad sandwich, Gear. And what's hypertime?
I'm not qualified for this, unless I *should* just
bang him against a wall a few times."

Robin snorts quietly. "Maybe we could wait on that.

"I... I don't really *know*. It's how Eddie referred to
it when he slowed everyone else down. Like... like
maybe *he* wasn't moving that quickly at all." Richie
frowns more. "I've *read* everything on this I could
get my hands on. I can duplicate it, but I can't
really... it doesn't *connect* to anything else."

"Hmm." Robin chews on his gauntlet a little. "Atom?"

Flash shrugs and knocks rapidly on the force-field.
"I *guess*. I think he'd like a break from all that
stuff Bats gave him on parallel dimensions."


"Different case," Robin says to him and chews on
his gauntlet a little more before shaking his head
and straightening and... moving away from the cell.
"Well. We know more than we *did*, a little."

It's not like he'd really expected them to *fix* this,
except... except he really had. Richie nods and
looks at the floor.

Robin puts his hand on his shoulder. "We'll keep
working on it. And I think Atom is going to want to
talk to you, just in general."

He can't decide if it's better or not that the idea of
one day getting a phone call from the Atom so
they can share notes is just kind of... there.
Somewhere next to -- and dwarfed by -- the fact
that Weird Eddie is... bagged up like an egg salad
sandwich. Richie swallows and forces himself to
smile at Robin. "Thanks."

He turns to share it with Flash, and Flash smiles
back at him, sunny and... no, sunny is pretty much
the word for it, right there. "Pizza?"

And Robin frowns at Flash, and it's a really *serious*
frown, but he stops when Richie covers his gauntlet
with his own. "Pizza's good."

He gets two slices, Robin gets one, and Flash gets
the rest. He makes apologetic noises around his
mouthfuls, and Robin hands him the cheese pizza they
hadn't finished without a word.

At eleven-forty-five, the alarm goes off in Backpack.
The others probably can't *hear* it, but they can
definitely see the way Backpack's arms kind of tap
at him.

"You have to go?"

Robin's looking at Backpack like he wants to take it
apart. Not in a *mean* way or anything, just in a
way that seems... really familiar. And then he looks
at *Richie*, and, right. Sitting on the roof of a
prison and chatting with superheroes and he's fine.
He's had hours to get used to this.

"Well, I... *I* have about an hour, but..."

Robin nods in a completely innocent way and smirks
in a way that really just *isn't*. "Time to hook up
with Static?"

*Past* time, and he's not saying that out loud. He
doesn't have to -- Robin is smirking in a way that
just really wouldn't work if Flash wasn't focused on
the pizza again. "Yeah," he says.

"Tell him I said hi," Flash says. "And ask him about
the sleeveless thing for me."

"It really wouldn't work for you, Flash. The friction
would be... unbearable." Robin's rubbing at his
thigh again.

"You're probably right," Flash says. "Still, it *looks*

"Shows off the arms really well," Robin says, and
he's *still* rubbing at his thigh and --

"Yeah, see, I *like* my uniform, but sometimes it
gets *hot*."

Richie doesn't choke. "I... um. I'll... see you?"

Robin grins wider. "Yeah. You will."

It's a lot easier to just smile back at Flash, and wave
back, too, but he can still *feel* Robin's eyes on him
as he takes off from the roof.

And as he flies back -- especially because he *does*
stop by the Coliseum even though he knows Virgil
wouldn't still be there, and also by the ice cream shop
even though he wouldn't really want to *see* Virgil
if he was there, because he'd still be with Daisy.

He isn't.

He *is* in his own bedroom, leaning out of the
window and waving Richie in quickly. He smells like
smoke and sweat and he's smiling so broadly it
kind of hurts.

"That concert was the *bomb*, Richie!"

"Do you at least feel *guilty* for not taking me?"

Virgil laughs and punches his shoulder. "Maybe if
*you* had the B2K shrine over your bed..."

Richie smiles, a little. "Maybe. I... I called Robin."

Virgil's eyes are wide and brown and shocked. It
makes all the time he spent blushing tonight just a
little worth it.

"About Eddie."

"About... oh. Man. Could they... did Batman know
how to *fix* him?"

"I didn't --" He hears Virgil's father's footsteps on the
stairs, and both of them wait silently until they can
hear his door close. "I didn't talk to Batman, actually.
Robin called in the *Flash*."

"You were hanging with Robin and the Flash tonight?
And you're complaining about missing the

Virgil's gotten really *good* at yelling at him in a
whisper. They've both gotten good at it, and...
tonight's just really *not* a good night for staying
on topic within his own head. Still though... "We
had pizzas. On the roof of Foucault." Richie gives
Virgil his best smirk. "Apparently, the Atom is
going to call me."

Virgil's mouth hangs open for a moment, and another.

"Also? Robin thought the belt I came up with for
you was *impressive*. I'm quoting. In case you
couldn't tell."

"You *suck*!"

Richie grins. "No, my friend, I believe it would be
more accurate to say I *rule*."

And there's no *way* Virgil's dad is already asleep,
and Sharon is probably still awake, too, but there's
also no way Richie can make Virgil *stop* when
he tackles him to the floor, even though they're
just rolling around and punching each other not
very hard.

"Robin and I also -- ow -- bonded over my *tech*.
By the -- ha, *stop* -- way."

"God, I can't *believe* you, Richie! You just *called*
him? Out of the blue?"

And Virgil doesn't sound angry or anything -- Richie
can *always* tell -- but... still. "Well, it's not like
*we* knew what to do about Eddie."

"I... *man*." Virgil bangs his head against Richie's
chest a few times. Richie can't really *feel* his hair
through the suit.

He wants to.

"But they fixed it, right? They know what happened?"

Richie sighs, and doesn't reach up to pull on Virgil's
dreds. "Well... no, actually. Hence the apparent
future phone-call from the Atom. Flash thinks there's
some kind of aura... thing. Around Eddie now."

Virgil sighs and just rests on top of him for a
moment -- not long enough -- before he gets up
and sits on the bed. "I just... do you think they
*will* fix it? I mean, Eddie's a *freak*, but he still
doesn't deserve *that*."

Richie sits up and rests his head against the side
of Virgil's mattress. And leans forward to pull off
his helmet before trying again. "I don't know. I
mean, the Atom's supposed to be one of the
smartest people in the world, so --"

"*You're* one of the smartest people in the world,
Richie," and Virgil slaps at his hair.

Richie swallows and looks at his knees and *copes*.
"I'm not in the *League*, V-man."

Virgil sighs again and Richie can hear him flopping
back on his bed. His hand is still in Richie's hair.

"I think they'll fix it," Richie says, and focuses on
not leaning back into Virgil's touch too much.

"I hope so."

There's this thing Virgil does when he's not thinking
about it. This *way* of touching Richie that's all
about rubbing at his skin and combing through his
hair with his fingers and it's pretty much the sad
little hook that Richie's been hanging this *thing*
on for years.

Because maybe, just maybe, *Virgil* hasn't figured
it out, yet.

What *Richie* has known since before he was
really sure about *why* he wanted Virgil's hands
on him in the first place.

"You've gotta get home pretty soon, hunh?"

Richie nods, and shivers a little at the short scratch
of Virgil's nails on his scalp. "Curfew's still one."

Virgil makes a small, annoyed sound and moves his
hand, and Richie listens to the mattress creak.
Virgil's turning over, and... yes. His *other* hand
is in Richie's hair, now. And he doesn't say anything,
and Richie *shouldn't* -- he *knows* this feeling,
and what it's like to spend all night thinking about
this, and wanting this, and how it makes him say
*stupid* things, and *obvious* things, but...

"I could probably swing permission for a
sleepover..." Tomorrow. "This weekend. I mean...
were you going out with Daisy again?"

"Hunh?" Virgil sounds half-asleep. "Oh, man,
*Daisy*. God, she can dance."

She really can. Richie waits for Virgil's hand to stop
moving in his hair and then stands up, heading for
the open window.

"Mmph. Did you say this weekend, Richie...?"

The thing about wearing the gauntlets is that you
can't really tell unless you're looking *closely* if
you're gripping something -- like, say, the window
frame -- hard enough to hurt. "Yeah. If you want."

Virgil yawns, and turns enough to grin at him.
"Yeah, man. Come over. Maybe I'll call up my
good buddy Green *Lantern*."

Richie snickers. "Yeah, *right*."

"Hey, he *owes* me."

Richie grins. "Night, V-man."

Another yawn. "Night, Richie..."

There isn't really enough time to swing by the garage
to ditch his uniform unless he keeps the skates,
which would pretty much defeat the purpose.

Still, he's really pretty good at climbing trees quietly,
and he hasn't locked his window since the first
time Virgil had shown up one Saturday afternoon
(when Richie's father was working overtime) with
a stack of comics and a smile on his face.


Once inside, he reflexively toggles Backpack to do
a quick scan of the house. His parents are both
firmly in the ninety-eight to ninety-nine point eight
degree range and not moving. He's pretty golden,
even though the taste of pizza in his mouth makes
him think about Robin's tongue and *that* makes
him think about what his father would say -- how
he'd *look* -- and... no.

Really no.

He brushes his teeth thoroughly and stashes the
uniform in the box he keeps behind his box of older
comics, both of which are under the bed.

He has study hall first period tomorrow, and he still
has reading to do, and rubbing his head against the
pillow is nothing like being touched, at all.

But he can *tell* himself it is, and that's good