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Heatfic: Family Values

Title: Family Values
Word Count: 3,053 (!) for the fic itself; 3,404 for fic plus hidden notes at the end. Word count is not absolute since Word counts some funny stuff as "words".
Fandom/Characters: City of Heroes universe; Ray (Heat Lightning) and family.
Disclaimer, sort of: The CoH universe is copyright NCSoft and Cryptic etc. Ray's family, their business, names, Ray's background, and so on were all created by me.
Background info notes follow the end of the fic, in white-on-white, so as not to spoil it for those who don't want to read about stats or things like that.

Comments, feedback, etc. are extremely welcome. :)

Family Values

Even in a polo shirt and Dockers, Ray "Heat Lightning" Jeffries knew he looked like he belonged in a costume. The hair was a dead giveaway – no matter what he or barbers tried, his hair refused to submit to shears or any number of conditioning products. Never mind that it was dark green.

At least the people of Paragon City were used to a high hero-to-civilian ratio. Most big cities were, after a while. So Ray received hardly a glance as he waited in the airport for his family's flight to disembark.

He figured he'd meet them here, make sure they found the hotel okay, and then spend most of his weekend keeping them away from the warehouse headquarters of his team, the Sunday 9s. He wasn't embarrassed about his team; far from it. They were good people, on the whole. No, it was that –

Ray was distracted from his inner monologue by the sight of four large, muscular people with nonstandard hair colors. Yep, that was them. He stood from the hard plastic waiting-area seat and waved his hand to get their attention.

Ray himself was not short – he topped six feet before the hair – but he ran toward the thin side. If it weren't that he had his father's nose and his mother's hair color, it might be easy to wonder if he were really related to the taller, heavier heroes who came up to meet him.

Like Ray, they wore civilian clothes at the moment, but also like him, it didn't disguise the fact that they weren't ordinary civilians. The Jeffries clan ranged between seven and eight feet tall, each of them, with either green or blue hair, and they were all built like brick bunkers. When Ray was younger, people had wondered how he'd survived childhood roughhousing with his older siblings.

"Bro!" Brent gave him a careful slap on the back. "You're lookin' good. Like the hair."

"Thanks." Ray grinned. "Mom, Dad, Brent, Summer – glad you could make it out here."

"Oh, sweetie, we were glad to come," Ramona Jeffries said, bending down to give him a hug. "We haven't been to Paragon since your brother was a baby. I hope we can still find our way around!"

"Well, that's why I'm here, eh?" Ray shrugged, with a smile. "Paragon's changed a lot in the last couple years, and I've still got plenty to learn, but at least we can get around. There's a great all-you-can-eat Chinese place over in Galaxy near your hotel."

"Do they understand about appetites?" his father asked. Allen "AJ" Jeffries was the largest of the immediate family – no big surprise there – and from a lifetime of crimefighting had developed a no-nonsense attitude.

Ray knew what his father meant; all of them, Ray included, ate like bottomless pits. It was part of the reason he'd taken up cooking (the other part being that he genuinely liked the activity). "Yeah, they're used to heroes eating there. I don't get to Galaxy City much these days, but it's a good place to eat – sometimes the 9s go there as a group."

"I'd still like to meet this group of yours," Mrs. Jeffries said. "I like to know what kind of people you're associating with."

"Mom – "

"Can we get our bags and check in first?" Summer broke in. Like the rest, she towered over Ray by a foot, and her platform shoes enhanced the difference. "And go to this Chinese place? I'm starved." She popped her bubblegum as if to accent her statement.

"Let's do that," Mr. Jeffries rumbled. "Ray, you've got communicators in your group, don't you?"

"Yeah, and I've got mine on me. Why?"

"Tune yours to –" Mr. Jeffries named a frequency – "and start heading for the hotel. I know you'll be slower than us, so we'll pick up the bags and follow your location heading."

"Um, right, Dad."

~ ~ ~

Ray was the first one in four generations to be able to fly. He was the first one in four generations who was a blaster, too, so when he'd gotten his powers, he'd suspected the two things were related.

Looking back and down at his family, leaping over tall buildings as though they were playing hopscotch, he wondered for the first time if maybe he could fly because he just plain weighed less.

He wondered if he'd ever know whether that was true.

~ ~ ~

"So, Ray." Mr. Jeffries pushed his plate away. The food at the Chinese restaurant was abundant, and yes, the staff did understand about heroic appetites – the all-you-can-eat special was $12.99 a person. Mr. Jeffries had grumbled at first, then paid and started putting away food as though his life depended on it. He now looked at the buffet as though wondering whether to go for an eighth plate of food. "This group of yours, the Sunday 9s. What are their prospects?"

"Their prospects?" Ray shoveled in some food of his own to give himself a moment to think. "I'm not sure what you mean, Dad. We're really starting to make a name for ourselves, though. A lot of criminals know who we are – at least, Lapis thinks they do – and a bunch of us are getting famous individually, too." Ray decided not to mention some of the more dubious "fame" events unless directly asked.

"How many people are in the group?" Mrs. Jeffries asked. If not for her green hair – a slightly lighter shade than Ray's – her towering height and her tanklike build, she looked like any other concerned middle-aged mom.

"Um, I'm not sure. Maybe... sixty?" Ray took a guess. "But there's maybe a dozen or so that really are into it. The rest are sort of like junior members, I guess you'd say. The 'mains', we're the ones who go out and get the job done so people know about it."

"Sixty people?" Summer raised an eyebrow and tossed her long, dark blue hair to one side. "That's not a supergroup, that's a convention. How do you keep track of them all?"

"Well – "

"And you're one of the leaders," Mr. Jeffries said. It was not a question.

"Co-leader, with Lapis. Lapis Lizard," Ray clarified. "We started the whole thing, kind of, and we were the ones who kept it going in the early days."

"Mm." Mr. Jeffries nodded, seemingly lost in thought. The rest of the family watched him as though waiting for an actor to say his line. Ray looked around at each of them, knowing something was up and hoping he'd be able to figure it out.

"Ray," his father said, turning slightly in the oversized booth to face him, "We'd like you to come back to Philadelphia."

"I like it here," Ray said automatically, but his father held up a hand, and the young mutant quieted.

Mrs. Jeffries took over. "Ray, we know you like it here in Paragon, but it seems like you're just spinning your wheels. People back home are asking when you'll be back, when the J-Stars will be a complete team again."

"Mom..." Ray rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand. "I said when I left Philly, I don't feel like a J-Star. I never have."

"You could if you give it another chance," Brent said. He'd finally finished his overloaded plate of fried rice and cherry blossom beef. "Let's face it, Ray, you're different than us, but we could use you, and you'd get the benefit of being the only blaster. Betcha can't say that, with sixty people in your team, can you?"

"I'm not the only blaster, no, but – I'm the main one," Ray said, leaving off the I think. "And yeah, I'm different. I'm not a tank like most of the family and I'm not a defender like the rest. I can't – I can't wade into the fight like the rest of you." He busied himself with pushing leftover bits of green and red pepper about his plate. "You guys need someone who can fight alongside you, not behind you. I can't do that, and I don't want Brent hanging back just to keep me safe. And I like it here. I like being one of the Sunday 9s." He looked up to see his mother gazing back at him, and willed her to understand, because if she did, he'd have a lot less trouble convincing his father.

"Well, if that's the way you feel," she said, and Ray wasn't sure whether she meant it, or had decided to postpone the discussion for later. "How about some ice cream?"

~ ~ ~

After eating more food than was probably necessary, returning to the hotel, and discussing family gossip on the balcony while watching heroes fly or jump or teleport their way across town, Summer said she wanted to go out on the town. As the local expert-of-sorts, Ray volunteered to show her around. Philadelphia had the same collectible-badge program as Paragon, but of course the two cities had different badges, so for an hour the two collected badges for notable events and locations in Paragon history.

"Okay, I think that's enough of those," Summer said at last, looking over her haul. "I'm sure we'll be getting more over the weekend. Are there still kraken in that one place, like in your letter?"

"Perez Park? Su-" Ray began, then remembered that some of the 9s still frequented Perez – Boneshatter, if no one else, since the ex-Skull was hunting someone or something in there. "Um, actually, I think probably it's too late in the year for kraken anymore. Besides, it wasn't too hard to take down, when Lapis and Blue and I did it. Probably wouldn't give you much challenge at all."

"True," Summer agreed, in the manner of someone who's faced hordes of monsters and lived to tell about it. "Just thought it'd be nice to try one out. Well, I'm sure there'll be an announcement if one shows up, right?"

"Uh, maybe."

"Then the J-Stars can go pound it into the ground, show 'em how it's done in Philla," Summer laughed.

Ray winced, and she must've noticed, because she added, "We brought your uniform, y'know."

"You what?" Ray blinked.

"Your uniform. For the J-Stars. We brought it along. Thought maybe you'd like to try it on, you've been talking about getting a new costume lately." She looked at him, deadly serious.

"I..." Ray gave a short laugh and shook his head. "I can't believe this. You too?"

His sister shrugged. "We miss you, bro. You're a part of the family, and part of the team, even if you don't seem to think it. And it's not like we're nobodies – we get a lot of press back in Philla." She'd always pronounced it like that, instead of Philly. "I mean, you're taking forever in this team of yours, seems like. You'd probably advance a lot quicker with us."

Ray's irritation had grown as she spoke. He crossed his arms. "Be honest, Summer. Is Brent going to give me 'the talk' next? Everyone gets a chance to try an' change my mind? Because I don't want to come back to the J-Stars, Summer. You may be my family, but you're not my team. My team's here, in Paragon. This is where I want to be."

"Why?"

Ray looked closely at his sister; her expression implied she truly didn't understand what the appeal was. "Okay. I know you and Brent are cool with working alongside the folks, and that's fine. But here, in the 9s, I'm leader – well, co-leader – of an entire group, and I usually lead teams when it's time to fight crime. It's my chance to be someone besides 'junior J-star'."

"We never called you that." Now Summer crossed her arms.

"No, you didn't, but plenty of other people did. Here I'm just Heat Lightning. Not 'one of Philadelphia's family team,' or 'the skinny one,' or 'the first blaster in the J-Stars since the great Foxfire, so he's got a lot riding on his shoulders!'." Ray ticked off on his fingers as he spoke. "I'm just, plain, Heat Lightning, blaster, leader of an independent supergroup. That's why I want to stay."

"Okay," Summer shrugged, her body language making plain what she didn't say. "If that's how you feel. If that's how you want to – spend your life, fine."

~ ~ ~

Nothing more was said of rejoining his family's team for the rest of that evening, nor the next day, nor most of Sunday, and for that Ray was grateful. Instead, the Jeffries clan went sightseeing, ate, shopped, ate some more, narrowly missed the Sunday 9s as the latter sped, jumped and flew by on a mission, and ate. It was just something they did, on any given trip: eat like the world was going to end tomorrow. Ray did the same. The big mystery was what happened to all the food he personally ate, since his mass didn't seem inclined to increase. The tanks in his family, and Brent, they needed great quantities of food to keep up their strength, but Ray himself? Who knew what his metabolism was up to?

It was Sunday night before "the talk" Ray had dreaded happened.

"So," Mr. Jeffries said, as the family packed its bags. Their flight home was scheduled for 6 am, and Ray's father was big on getting everything ready the night before to minimize the rush in the morning. "It would've been nice to meet your team, Ray."

The young mutant waved a hand as though to brush the comment away. "Well, they've been pretty busy and all, and I thought, y'know, it was best if it was just the family this weekend."

"You're not embarrassed by them, are you?" Summer winked.

"No, I'm not! They're good people. I just want them to accept me for me." Even Ray had to admit to himself that that last bit sounded like an after-school-special moral. Remember, kids, just because you've got three eyes and a tail, it's what's inside that counts!

His mother stopped packing to look at him. "You mean they don't know who you are?"

"Mom – "

The rest of the family had stopped too. His father stood before him: "Son, if you don't blow your own horn, nobody's going to do it for you."

"I know, Dad." Ray stood and went to lean against the sliding-glass door. "But if I tell them I'm a J-Star, then that becomes me, if that makes sense. Then suddenly it's The Littlest J-Star slumming it in Paragon City. At least this way I'm my own person." And I got to change my codename and become Heat Lightning instead. He looked through the door at the rooftops. Huh, Clockworks look active today.

There was a long pause before Brent spoke. "So when're you going to tell them?"

Ray shrugged and continued staring through the glass door. "When it's right. I don't know yet. Nobody's really asked or anything. Or if someone figures it out, then, yeah, I'll say it." He looked back at his family. "I'm not ashamed of you or anything – "

"We know that, sweetie." Mrs. Jeffries walked over and gave him a careful hug around the shoulders. "If that's what you think is best, then that's what you have to do."

Ray didn't look at his father. He already knew what he would see there: the expression that said Why do you insist on making things so hard for yourself?

~ ~ ~

"Have a good trip," Ray said from the balcony of their hotel room. The packing was finished, they'd talked some more – avoiding any mention of business – and he was ready to fly back to Atlas Park and the warehouse.

"Thanks," Summer said, giving him a sisterly hug that nevertheless threatened to crack a rib. "You take care of yourself out here."

"Don't worry, I will." Heat ran a hand over his hair. "You take care of yourselves, too."

"I've got 'em covered," Brent grinned. "You just find yourself a good healer and stick by him or her, okay?"

"Or hang back, stay out of the fight," Mr. Jeffries added. "Don't risk yourself in melee. With your powers, you should be able to keep out of the fighters' way and still contribute."

"Right, Dad, I kinda know about that." Ray restrained himself from rolling his eyes. Did they think he was a complete newbie?

"Just want you to stay healthy, that's all." The older Jeffries tried tousling Ray's hair. "Wow, that's wiry stuff. I didn't remember it being like that."

"Now, Ray, you just take care of yourself, and if you need anything at all, just call us, okay?" Mrs. Jeffries finished filling a plastic grocery bag with sandwiches and fruit. "Here's some food for you to take home in case you get hungry tonight."

"Thanks, Mom."

"And if you end up in the hospital, make sure someone calls us right away," Brent said. "You need me, I'll swing out here for a week or so – "

"I'll be fine, Brent. I better head on back, see what everyone's been up to this weekend, that kinda thing. You know, leader stuff." Ray went through the good-bye hugs and handshakes as fast as politeness allowed, and kicked off into the night sky.

He wished they wouldn't treat him like he was made of glass. Okay, so he was skinny and definitely not tanklike, but he wasn't going to die from a stiff breeze either. Why should he go back to Philadelphia, when he'd have to look forward to Brent hovering over "baby brother"? Never mind that going back would mean he'd failed to make it on his own. He'd almost rather die than have that happen. Not literally, of course, but it'd be nicer to go back to Philly as Heat Lightning, Champion of Paragon City, instead of "the skinny one who couldn't cut it."

Maybe Lapis and the rest would be up to some missions tomorrow night. The faster he, Ray, rose up in the city's estimation and public awareness, the faster his family would lay off. Something to consider.

There was the tram. He'd just take the train back to Atlas from here, call it a night.

Ray ate the contents of the food bag on the way home.

~ ~ ~

Meta Notes

This story takes place over a weekend in late October (the weekend of the 23rd, to be precise). The next night, Monday, Ray "Heat Lightning" went out with some others of the Sunday 9s and proceeded to "die" multiple times. By the end of the evening he required rezzing (resurrecting) no less than 7 times and had learned that the F8 key could be used to yell for HELP!

This kind of thing is a little discouraging, as one might expect.

Tuesday night, Ray went out again to try and work off the xp debt he'd incurred from his repeated "deaths" on Monday. His teammate Emerald Flames said, perhaps half jokingly, that Ray/Heat needed to rein in his deathwish. (Heat kept getting into the thick of battle and subsequently clobbered.) Ray only needed one rez that night, but by that time, he was feeling pretty down and wondering if maybe his folks were right, that he wasn't cut out to do this, and maybe he should go back to Philadelphia and rejoin his family team.

Most of this story was written on Sunday and Monday, before the "night of seven rezzes," but by now even I think maybe Ray's family had a point. ^_^

Game terms: Ray's mom, dad and sister are all tanks (able to take heaps of damage and still keep fighting, for the non-CoHers in the reading audience). His brother Brent is an empathy defender, or healer. All four of them are built on the huge/muscular body type with as much height as the game will allow (7.5 to 8 feet tall), whereas Ray is 6' tall and as thin as the game permitted (which it calls "athletic"). All of his family are also mutants, and as might be noted from this story, evidently Ray is one of a long line of mutant heroes. The family supergroup/team is called the J-Stars and they operate out of Philadelphia. More information than that, I'm reluctant to give, since it would be more appropriate for his fellow teammates to ferret it out. ;)
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