Billy Kaplan was adjusting the cardboard sleeve around his coffee cup when a Doombot crashed through the front window of Starbucks, shattering glass and toppling tables and sending startled patrons screaming for cover. The bot slid to a screeching halt about two feet from Billy, still twitching, and he cursed quietly before dropping his coffee and vaulting over the counter. He crouched behind the dessert display and peered through the glass, watching the road outside and the fleeing, flailing pedestrians. There was a gaping hole in the Doombot’s chest, sputtering sparks and smoke and rapidly ticking gears, but it still attempted to regain its feet, droning, “Doomdoomdoomdoomdoom” like a demented Invader Zim toy.
“No, no time for nerdiness right now,” Billy muttered to himself. “It’s hero time.”
He had been training with his new teammates for almost two months now. Iron Lad had yet to declare them ready for the public eye, but Billy figured if trouble literally came crashing down on him, then he didn’t have much of a choice, now, did he?
The Doombot struggled into a vaguely vertical position and Billy gritted his teeth, already forming a spell in his mind. His vision washed blue and the unnatural static that came from his power made the hair on his arms stand on end, but then he heard the sound of approaching jet-boots. He ducked behind the counter just as Iron Man dropped in through the destruction of the front window. His landing sent shudders through the tile floor and Billy could see an array of cracks spreading out from beneath his boots. He watched in awe as Iron Man approached the convulsing Doombot and with one calm, sharp jerk removed the bot’s head, tossed it away, and took off through the window.
The store went uncomfortably quiet after that. Billy rose slowly to his feet. He could still hear the sounds of battle somewhere up the street, but he couldn’t see anything beyond the shattered windows. He stepped out from behind the counter, keeping well away from the decapitated Doombot, and peered outside –
– just in time for something else to fly past him and crash through the far wall with a sickening crunch.
Billy stared, his heart thudding too fast. His mouth hung open, but he couldn’t breathe.
“Cap?” he said, his voice no more than a strangled whisper, and he hurried to the fallen hero’s side. “Cap!” he said again, louder this time, and fell to his knees, feeling suddenly lightheaded.
Captain America was lying half-crushed in the rubble, eyes pain-fogged, blood flecking his lips. He coughed, winced, looked at Billy with half-lidded eyes.
“Ow,” he rasped, then tried to smile encouragingly when he realized Billy was staring at him with horrified, wide eyes. The smile came out looking more like a grimace. “S-sorry, but can I… get a little help here?”
“Oh! Yeah. Yeah, sure.” Billy leaned forward and gently removed some of the rubble covering Captain America’s torso. Cap seized up and cried out, and Billy had to clap a hand over his own mouth to keep from echoing the shout.
A jagged length of rebar protruded from Captain America’s sternum, right beneath the bloodstained star.
“Holy shit,” Billy said. “Oh, shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit.”
“Wha – what’s…?” Cap’s voice trailed off as he caught sight of the rebar, and he closed his eyes and coughed, his face suddenly very pale. “Oh. You think you can… help me get it out?”
“I – I don’t know,” Bill said, his voice shaking. Shit, that was a lot of blood, and Cap was definitely struggling for breath now. “Are you sure I should try moving you? I mean, I could call for help, or something, or…”
Captain America raised one shaking hand to his cowl, and stuttered out, “C-Cap to Iron Man. Could use you at the Starbucks, if convenient.” He tried to smile at Billy again. “There. How’s th-that for help?”
Billy was about to reply – to say what, he hadn’t the slightest – but then Cap’s eyes rolled back and he went mercifully, horribly limp.
“Oh shit!” Billy lurched forward, hands fumbling at the rebar, at Cap’s uniform, at anything, just so long as he could save him. Captain America couldn’t die, and he certainly couldn’t die on Billy’s watch.
Closing his eyes, Billy thought back to his training, back to the self-help books he and Teddy had pored over to give Billy ideas for how to work his magic. He breathed in deeply, trying to concentrate despite the overwhelming copper scent of too much blood, and let his hands rest on Captain America’s torso.
“I want Cap to heal, I want Cap to heal, I want Cap to heal…”
He felt the static again, the pressure behind his eyes, the rush of warmth surging through his veins and into his hands as his magic changed things, healed tissue, knit bone.
He kept his eyes closed. The smell of blood lessened and he felt Captain America draw in a deep breath below his hands, heard the rustle of clinking scale-mail, felt the rebar slide cleanly free, but Billy did not stop, refused to stop. Not until he was sure. Not until there was no doubt that it had worked.
He heard rubble shifting, felt the tensing of muscles in Cap’s chest as he sat up, and then… a gentle hand on his wrist.
Billy’s eyes flew open with a gasp and he fell back onto his heels, head spinning and utterly exhausted. Captain America crouched in front of him, blue eyes worried and no longer bleeding, thank God.
“Did you…?” Captain America stopped, shook his head in wonder. “How did you do that?”
“I. Um.” Billy’s breath would only come in ragged gasps and he realized he was sweating. That couldn’t be attractive. Why did he have to sweat in front of Captain America the first time he ever met him?
Captain America rested a hand on Billy’s shoulder and gripped tightly. “Thank you,” he said, and it should have been impossible for anyone to sound that sincere. “I know it sounds like hardly anything, but… thank you.”
“Any time,” Billy said weakly, and Cap smiled. Billy just about swooned.
“I’m sorry you had to…” Cap paused awkwardly, and gestured at the rubble. “Well… to do that. But I have to say, I’m glad you were here. Who are you? A mutant?”
“Uh… look, I… I had to save you, I mean you’re Captain freaking America, for God’s sake, but I honestly don’t want any recognition or anything,” Billy stammered, holding his hands up. “I’m kind of… in hiding, I guess. For now.”
Captain America frowned. “But what you did was amazing. How can I repay you if–?”
“Don’t repay me,” Billy squeaked. “Just keep doing what you’re doing, and we’ll call it even.” He stumbled to his feet, hoping to get away, but Cap was in better condition than him and beat him to it. A sturdy hand steadied him as he rose and Billy let himself lean against his idol for a second as the room spun. “On second thought,” he said, mostly into Cap’s chest, and that was a little embarrassing, “why don’t you repay me by being careful and avoiding rebar in the future?”
Captain America cleared his throat. “Yes, well. I’ll do my best.”
Billy stepped away and was surprised to see a flush of color on Cap’s cheeks.
“Cool, thanks,” Billy said, then blinked to clear his vision and flashed a quick salute. “See you.”
“Wait.” Cap caught Billy’s arm, drawing him up short, and let’s face it: When Captain America wants you to stop, you stop. “At least tell me your name so I can thank you properly.”
“Billy,” Billy blurted before he could stop himself. “My name’s Billy.”
Captain America gripped Billy’s hand tightly. “Then you have my sincerest thanks for saving my life, Billy. If there’s anything I can ever do for you, just let me know.”
Billy stared wide-eyed for a minute, then choked out, “Yeah, okay, cool. Thanks. Um. Bye.”
And then he fled.
He stopped just beyond the Starbucks, and peered back around a corner to watch as Cap steeled himself to rejoin the battle still going on outside. He drew back his shoulders, grabbed his shield from where it had embedded itself in the front counter, and was about to step back into the fray when Billy once again caught the sound of rapidly approaching jet-boots and Iron Man landed inside Starbucks for the second time in ten minutes.
“Steve,” Iron Man said, and Billy could have sworn he heard worry in that automated voice. “You’re okay. I thought you –”
“I’m fine,” said Captain America with a reassuring smile.
“But I heard… you sounded awful. You asked for me. What–?”
“I’m fine, Tony,” Captain America said quietly. “I promise. Are the others–?”
Iron Man took two steps forward and cut Captain America off with a tight hug that probably would have broken anyone else. Billy’s eyes widened as Cap’s arms twined around the suit and he whispered something against Iron Man’s neck.
“Don’t do that to me again,” Iron Man said, his computerized voice carrying a little louder than Cap’s, and Captain America patted his back, squeezed his hand, and stepped away.
“Never,” he promised, and then the two of them vanished into the street.
- - -
Billy’s mother jumped him as soon as he walked through the front door.
“Oh, you’re all right!” she cried, clinging to him. “Why didn’t you call me? I saw it on the news, it was awful, I thought you might be dead.”
“I’m fine, Mom,” Billy said, hugging her back.
“Well,” Mrs. Kaplan said, huffing out a quick sigh as she let him go, “at least you’re not hurt. But don’t ever scare me like that again! You have a cell phone for a reason, young man.”
“So did you see the Avengers while you were there? They seemed to clean things up pretty fast.”
Billy sank onto the couch, staring at the news on the television. The fight was over but they were still broadcasting the destruction. Billy shivered when he caught sight of the wrecked Starbucks in the corner of the screen.
“Billy?” Mrs. Kaplan sat down beside him, looking concerned. “Did you hear me?”
“I asked you if you saw any of the Avengers,” she said again, frowning slightly at his lack of attention.
“Yeah,” Billy said. “I saw the Avengers.” I saw too much of the Avengers, Billy added silently, picturing Captain America’s blood and broken body…
“Oh, who did you see?”
“I, uh. I met Captain America.”
“Really?” Billy had never seen his mother so gleeful. She clapped her hands together, eyes bright behind her horn-rimmed glasses. “Is he just as nice as he seems in all of his interviews? And is he as handsome?”
“What? I can look.”
Billy slid further down on the couch, blushing. “Yes, he’s just as nice,” he said. “And ten times more handsome.”
“Oh, good. I always hoped for that.” Mrs. Kaplan patted Billy’s arm and got to her feet. “Wash up for dinner, honey. I know you’re shaken up and I’m glad you’re all right, but we need to retain normal social constructs in order for this family to function properly.”
“Yeah, sure, Mom,” Billy said, standing. “I’m just gonna call Teddy real fast, okay?”
He dodged the twins, jogged for his room, and slammed the door behind him. He stared for a moment at the Captain America poster on his wall, then collapsed onto his bed and dug his cell phone out of his pocket.
The phone rang three times before Teddy answered.
“What’s up, B?”
“I met Captain America today.”
“No way! Ugh, I’m so jealous. What happened? How’d you meet?”
“I saved his life.”
Silence on the other line, then, “You did what now?”
Billy rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and told the whole story in much more detail than he had told his mother, because he knew Teddy could handle it and besides, he would want to know.
“Holy crap, B.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“No, seriously. Holy crap.”
“I know. Can you say anything helpful?”
“I’m not sure. I mean, how is this a bad thing? You saved Cap’s life. Cap’s alive, you’re a hero, the good guys won. Isn’t that what we want?”
“I guess. I just don’t think I was ready for something like that yet.”
“So was he nice?”
Billy smiled, his gaze shifting once more to the Captain America poster. “Yeah, he was really nice.”
“Are you and my mother in league, or something?”
“What? No. I’m actually curious.”
“And this isn’t a trick question?”
Teddy laughed. “No, I swear.”
“Then yes, he was incredibly handsome. Once the bleeding stopped.”
“Ouch. Right. Sorry.”
“But you know what the weirdest thing was?”
“After I saved his life and ran away, Iron Man came in to make sure Cap was okay, and they had this… moment. With concern and reassurance and a hug and everything.”
“Yeah. You think…?” Billy trailed off, biting his lip. He thought back on everything he knew about Captain America and Iron Man, and thought that maybe, just maybe…
“You think they’re… I don’t know. Together?”
Once again there was silence on the other end, and then Teddy said, “Holy crap. They totally are.”
Billy sat up, startled at Teddy’s complete surety. “You think?”
“C’mon, B. Look at the evidence! I mean, they’re totally best friends, at the very least, and can you even count how many times they’ve sacrificed themselves to save each other? Not to mention all of their bickering and teasing and –”
Billy smiled and reclined again as Teddy launched into his explanation.
Let the super-shipping begin.