When you're on a superhero team, sticking around to see what happens next can be really dangerous.
Partially because the speedster who happens to be the long-lost son of the Scarlet Witch just blew up half the U.N., partially because a giant enemy crab is trying to attack the entire team for massive damage, and partially because half the team is either a prince, a reality warper, or a mutant.
Billy Kaplan--alias Wiccan--kept finding this out the hard way.
"So, only Gemini, Taurus, and Cancer are there?" Kate Bishop--alias Hawkeye--said, nocking an arrow in her bow and frowning. "That's strange. The Zodiac usually travels in a pack."
"True," Eli Bradley--also known as Patriot--remarked, bolting for the United Nations building by her side, "however, if I remember correctly, the Avengers dealt with some of their members awhile back. They're either in jail or dead. This could be all that's left." He reminded her.
"At least they left the twins." Tommy Shepherd, the newest and fastest, calling himself Speed, said cheerfully. "Seriously, I think they were a little older, but I can live with that. Older women have more experience."
"You are a terrible person." Cassie Lang--the second Ant-Man's daughter, Stature--remarked. On her shoulder rode the Vision--the second Vision, based off of Iron Lad and the original. He just shook his head and tsked quietly, more amused than anything. Tommy shrugged.
"Whatever. Anyways--can't any of you go faster? Billy, you have a teleportation spell, don't you? The United Nations building isn't getting any less destroyed!" He snapped. Billy blinked, shocked, before blushing and looking away sheepishly. His boyfriend, Teddy Altman--God-Emperor of the Skrulls, Dorrek VIII, also known as Hulkling--just grinned wickedly, flying beside him.
"Uh--yes. Yes, I do!" He said. "Okay, just hold on. I'm gonna cast--"
"Do it, damn it!" Tommy snapped. Billy glared at him before his hands began to glow blue, his eyes closed as his lips moved and he began to chant.
"IwantustogettotheUnitedNationsbuilding, IwantustogettotheUnitedNationsbuilding, IwantustogettotheUnitedNationsbuilding, Iwant--" His spell was cut off as the whole team was enveloped in a bright blue light, making them disappear in an instant.
Before they knew it, the whole team was standing in front of a ravaged United Nations building, facing down the tattered remnants of the Zodiac. Tommy pushed his glasses up his nose and yawned, shaking his head in disgust.
"Ugh, nevermind. I'd rather just run next time." He muttered. "My stomach hurts like hell."
"Sorry magic gives you an upset stomach, but we'll worry about that later," Billy said, adding, "does anyone have a plan?"
"Figure out why they're here, what they want, why there's only three Zodiac signs filled, and beat the crap out of them." Eli replied. "It's genius."
"A very unique brand of genius, but I can definitely get behind "beating the crap out of them." Tommy retorted. "Ready?"
"Ready." Eli agreed. "Kate, you stay back here and try to pin them down with a few arrows. Vis, go into the United Nations building and try to get to the hostages. Just phase through the rubble. Cassie, shrink down and go with him. Billy, Teddy, Tommy; I want you with me."
"Aye aye, captain." Tommy said, skidding to a stop right beside him. Eli grunted in frustration and massaged his temples.
"I can already tell you're going to be a pain in the ass." He muttered. "All right, Young Avengers--let's move out!"
The whole team broke apart to do as Eli had asked.
Kate chewed harshly on a piece of bubble gum as she strung her bow, nocking an arrow and staring down the skyline from her vantage point. There was always such a strange disconnect in combat when she fought with her bow and arrow. She didn't feel close enough to all the action. Still, a well-aimed arrow had Cancer dropping one of the hostages and clutching his hand in agony, so it wasn't all bad.
She grinned and pushed her sunglasses up on her forehead. It could be worse. She could still have the nickname Hawkingbird. That would just be cruel.
"So," Tommy said, zipping up the steps and right towards the snarling, massive bull, "do we actually have a plan besides "punch them until they stop moving?" Because either you tell me now or I'm just going with that."
"Don't hurt them too badly." Eli warned him. "We can't injure them any more than is necessary, Tommy. You need to learn that qu--"
"Punch them, but not too hard. Okay, got it!" Tommy said cheerfully, slamming his fist into the Taurus' ribs. With a heavy wheeze, he dropped the hostage, (who looked like an ambassador--Eli really hoped Tommy wasn't going to make possibly sparking international incidents a hobby), and sunk to the ground, trembling in pain.
"...Okay, he already blew up half the place. What were you actually expecting?" Billy muttered. Eli sighed and massaged his temples.
"Nevermind that." He snapped. "Teddy, I need you to handle the Gemini--these two have telepathy, and I'm hoping if you can shapeshift quick enough, they won't be able to pick up on your mental signal." He told him. Teddy nodded, outstretching his wings and soaring up to the balcony where the Gemini were.
"Ladies," he greeted them politely, despite being unable to stop the massive, toothy grin spreading across his face, "I advise you put down that nice intern and find yourselves someone tougher to pick on."
The two of them stared at him, their eyes flashing pale blue. Teddy tsked and shook his head, his skin swirling with a multitude of colors in patches across his skin; the reptilian flesh of a Skrull, a coppery bronze shade of skin, a patch of olive, pale white, his hair rippling in the breeze and shifting each time it moved; only his wings, throughout all this, remained stagnant.
The sparks stopped. The twins began to sputter. Teddy shrugged.
"What can I say?" He said cheerfully. "I am not myself these days."
He knocked them both out with a single swipe of his hand to the back of both their heads. He picked up their unconscious bodies and sighed.
"I really still feel bad about punching girls." He muttered. Billy, who had flown up beside him to check on him as soon as he heard the sounds of fighting, just smiled.
"If they're evil telepaths, they probably started it." He consoled his boyfriend. Teddy shrugged, setting them down beside the unconscious Taurus and Cancer. His wings were folded in close against his back, a sign of panic or worry Billy had already learned to pinpoint. He put a gentle hand on Teddy's shoulder and murmured, "Ted? Honey, are you okay?"
Teddy shook his head and shivered, his shoulder-scales ruffling nervously, like a bird's wings, before he buried his face into Billy's neck and shifted back into his humanoid form.
"...Being in so many forms like that so fast freaked me out," he confessed, "I didn't...feel right. Like I was wearing someone elses' skin."
Billy was instantly beside him, clenching his fists into Teddy's jacket and snuggling close for comfort. Teddy hugged him close, grateful for the quick affection, nuzzling his face into Billy's mop of mussed-up black hair.
"It doesn't normally feel like that, then?" Billy asked. "Shapeshifting, I mean."
"No," Teddy said, "normally it doesn't feel like that at all. But...this time felt different. I don't want to do something like that again." He murmured. Billy nodded.
"You don't have to," he agreed, "just let Eli know."
"It's fine." Eli piped up, coming up beside them on the steps of the building. "I heard." He sighed. "Sorry, Teddy. I wanted to see if it would work--"
"Don't beat yourself up over it," Teddy cut him off, consoling him with, "it's fine. We learned it didn't work without freaking me out--that's good, right? That we learned about it here and not in the middle of something big, I mean."
"Yeah." Eli agreed. "That is pretty good." He frowned, paused, surveyed the area. "Have Cassie or the Vision checked in?"
"Present and accounted for!" Cassie piped up, growing back to her normal size as the Vision phased through the steps.
"We managed to lead most of the people inside to safety," he explained, "the rest were too injured to move. Are any ambulances on their way?"
"Yeah," Kate said, climbing down from her vantage point and putting her bow away as she spoke, "I saw them coming from up there. If Billy fixes this place up, we can be on our way...?" She offered. "I mean, unless you guys wanna stick around and get yelled at by the cops."
"No thanks," Billy said, grinning before adding, "give me one second. I'll teleport us out of here, too--"
"The hell you will, I'll just run." Tommy said. "Your magic hurts." He frowned. "Are we going back to the hideout?"
"...I guess." Billy murmured. The look on his face was inscrutable. Teddy's eyes were filled with concern as he gave Billy a quick glance, but he shrugged Teddy's concern off for the time being with a shake of his head. "See you in a minute, Tommy."
"Killer. Later." He was off in the blink of an eye as the rest of the team looked at each other.
"Okay," Eli said, "we have to deal with Tommy."
"I know, I know," Billy muttered, "but that's a whole-team thing, and not exactly a good idea to do in front of the United Nations building. Let me just fix it..."
With a quiet, quick, softly muttered incantation of, "Iwantthebuildingtoberepaired, Iwantthebuildingtoberepaired, Iwantthebuildingtoberepaired," blue sparks had shot out into the United Nations building, reforming it in two seconds. Billy grinned, pride evident across his face.
"That was awesome!" He said. "I don't think I've ever tried to fix something that big..." He nudged his cape off of his shoulder to stretch his arms out a bit. "I do feel kind of sore, though. Just a quick teleportation spell instead of the levitation, okay guys?"
"Fine by us." Cassie said. "But Tommy's right, teleportation hurts more."
"Everybody's a critic." Billy muttered, but he was already casting the spell that would bring them home, blue light swallowing the whole team up just as the police cars began to pull up to the scene.
The whole group landed back outside the hideout, brushing themselves off. The door was open; Tommy must already be inside, then.
Kate pushed her way in through the door and immediately winced. The lights in the warehouse were blinding; it looked like all of them were on, in fact...
She frowned as her eyes adjusted. Yeah. They were all definitely on. It felt...weird. Wrong, somehow; the fluorescent lights gave everything an eerie, almost chilling glow, and it made the entire hideout-cum-warehouse look much, much stranger than it should.
Everyone else was in the process of following her inside as they noticed the lights; Eli gave her an odd look, and she just shrugged haplessly.
"Tommy?" She called out into the silence, her voice echoing throughout. "Tommy, are you there? Did you leave the lights on?"
There was no response for a minute or two. Kate didn't say a word; she just waited. Everyone else looked nervous, or at the very least, on-edge. Finally, however, she got a reply.
"Don't turn them off." Tommy's voice echoed throughout the warehouse, and Kate couldn't stop the shudder down her spine; the echo across the semi-empty hideout was ringing and tinny, making his voice sound inhuman and giving it an uncanny quality that was close enough to Tommy's voice to make the whole echo that much worse.
"Please," he begged, "please just leave the lights on. No darkness."
Eli and Kate looked at each other. Eli just nodded and stepped forward, Kate setting her bow and scarf down, ushering everyone else in as calmly as she could.
Eli, however, didn't look concerned. He looked entirely nonchalant, setting his shield down on the coffee table, kicking his boots off, and settling in on the plush couch Kate and Billy had picked up from a yard sale. The television Kate had snitched from her house was across the room, blinking awake with a small whirr as Eli grabbed the remote off the couch cushions in one smooth swipe. Vis had gotten them free cable--one of the many benefits of a synthezoid teammate.
Everyone watched as Eli turned the television on like the entire situation was totally normal. He even put on the news like he always did; not a single part of the post-patrol routine out of place.
"Tommy." Eli said, and the rest of the team jumped at the sudden sound of his voice. It didn't sound angry, though; it sounded as soft and low as Eli's normal voice did, right down to the way he dragged his 'y' vowels just a bit. "No one turned the lights off. See?"
No response. Eli checked the tv guide and frowned, skipping through the news channels to see what was on the cartoon stations.
"Hey, new episode of that pony show you like, Billy." He remarked. Billy sputtered. Teddy just grinned at him. Eli flipped back to the news.
"Tommy?" He called out again, his voice a bit louder now. "Tommy, come on out. The TV's on. Come watch TV."
There was a pause for a minute or two. Kate handed Eli a bowl of popcorn Cassie had made that everyone had started nibbling on for a snack. He set it down on one of the empty couch cushions.
The sound of Tommy's voice cut through the silence, and then the soft whistle of air being torn apart in the wake of something greeted their ears. It was not an entirely unpleasant sound; like the whistle of a bird, in fact.
If Eli was surprised by Tommy suddenly sitting barefoot and shirtless on the couch, he didn't show it. He just took a piece of popcorn and switched channels for the six o'clock news.
"Do you have any clothes?" Eli asked. "Apart from the costume."
Tommy lowered his head and looked away.
"No." He mumbled, his toes curling into the couch cushion. He had lean feet; Eli wasn't entirely sure why he was noticing that, but he was. Tommy's feet were long and lean and just a bit gawky, too big for his body, but in the best way possible.
Briefly, he wondered if they were ticklish.
Eli choked that thought down and focused on Tommy's face. He looked pale and tired; there were bags under his eyes, and his cheekbones were hollowed-out and grim looking. He wasn't like Billy, whose skin was the warm sort of creamy pale that came with a naturally milky complexion and decent meals; Tommy's was the pale skin of a corpse, and his heart throbbed in sympathy for the speedster despite himself.
"Okay." He finally managed to say, turning back to the television. He realized Tommy was watching the television intently as well, his bright eyes watching the pictures on screen with a ravenous sort of intelligence and desperation that spoke of little communication or interaction with the outside world.
...Just what had they done to him?
Eli frowned, but he let it drop for the moment.
"Tommy, do you have anywhere to go?" He asked.
"Parents signed away custody of me when they put me in that place." Tommy's voice was quiet, as if he was ashamed of it. "I don't know who takes care of me anymore. It's fine, though. I can take care of myself--"
"No," Eli said, holding his hand up and cutting him off, keeping his voice gentle as he told him, "you're on a team. The team takes care of each other. That's why a team exists. It's why I asked." He shook his head. "So. No parents, either?"
Tommy shook his head. Shame weighed down his shoulders, and he looked like he was either about to punch Eli or burst into tears.
"No," he mumbled, "no, I don't have anybody."
There was silence in the room for a little while. Everyone else was at the makeshift kitchen table, looking at each other, entirely unsure of what to say.
"It's okay." Eli finally said. "My mom left. I don't know where my dad is, either. I live with my gran and my grandad." He shrugged. "It doesn't matter. It's not your fault."
Tommy just nodded, though he didn't look like he was entirely convinced.
"So. Let me think. No clothes, no place to stay, and no parents..." Eli frowned. "Hm. Well, first, you ought to know how we work. The real Avengers can't handle us, because Steve still hasn't entirely gotten over Bucky's death, and what he says, goes. Fortunately, you don't answer to Steve, you answer to me." Eli grinned. Tommy actually laughed a little at that.
"We all stick together on patrol; I know it'll be tempting, but stay with us. Don't run ahead. We can't keep an eye on you if you're out somewhere else." Eli told him. Tommy looked away and hugged himself tightly.
"Why do you need to keep an eye on me? Because I'm dangerous, right?" He snapped.
Eli checked the time and switched the channel back to cartoons. Billy tried not to look like he was paying attention, but he was, in fact, sitting on the kitchen table for a better view. Teddy just laid his head on Billy's lap and let him pet his hair.
"No," Eli said, "because we have to look out for each other, and we can't do that if we don't stay together."
Tommy just shrugged.
"Whatever." He mumbled. Eli continued on as if he hadn't responded.
"Patrols are usually around six until nine on school nights--though I don't know how you're going to get to school, we need to work around that--and noon to five on weekends. We usually go out for ice cream afterwards. Do you eat ice cream?" Eli asked.
"...Never had it." Tommy murmured, looking away again and pulling his goggles down over his eyes. Eli shrugged.
"Hey, it's cool. Everyone has to have their first ice cream cone at some point. Don't worry about it. We can find out if you're lactose intolerant, too." He teased. Tommy just huffed, but he looked, for a second, like he had smiled.
"Anyways, aside from that--you already know the hideout, and to be honest, we haven't laid down any sort of real framework," Eli confessed, "our main goal is to just keep being heroes without the adults getting testy about it. And telling our parents." He paused. "Though mine already know."
"I can always brain-zap them." Billy offered. "And can you turn the volume up?"
"Yes," Eli said, "you can brain-zap them if necessary, but I'd rather it didn't come to that. And yes I'll turn the volume up."
He turned the volume up on the television as Billy sighed with delight.
"So...you guys don't really have a plan, but you're going to be heroes." Tommy said slowly. "...Okay. That's not dangerous or anything."
"Well, of course it's dangerous." Eli said. "But let's face it; for two mutants, a synthezoid, a size-bender, a prophesized messiah alien God-Emperor, a super-soldier, and an Olympic-class archer with an attitude problem...what else do you have to do besides be a hero?"
Tommy considered this for a moment. Then he shrugged.
"Uh, supervillain," he said, "but I'm not fond of that option either." He looked up at Eli, putting his glasses back up on his forehead as their eyes met. "So...hero, then, I guess."
"Good choice." Eli agreed. "Welcome to the team, Tommy."
The two of them sat in silence and watched the cartoon for awhile. Tommy didn't bolt, in fact; he stayed exactly where he was until the credits rolled, his whole body relaxed, his face peaceful, his mind, hopefully, at ease, at least for a little while--though Eli could only hope for the last one.