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Brakes on Desires

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“Hank knew how you felt about him. He felt the same. He just got lost.”
—Steve Rogers, "Yellowjacket," Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes


Yellowjacket can’t breathe.

Jan’s miniscule body is stretched helplessly between King Cobra’s fingers, her eyes scrunched tight with obvious pain. The villain is speaking, but Yellowjacket barely hears the words over the pounding of his heart. All he can think is that Jan needs him.

And suddenly, filled with panic, Hank feels like himself again. It is as if he has slipped into a different mind entirely. But there is no time for an existential crisis now.

Jan.

Without hesitation, he releases a swarm of bees to attack King Cobra’s visage, distracting him and taking him down swiftly. Unconscious, Jan soars out of his grasp, descending quickly to the ground. Hank leaps forward and catches her just in time, sliding across the cold prison ground without taking his eyes off of her small form. He cradles her like something precious.

He heaves a deep sigh of relief when she opens her eyes blearily and says, “Hank?”

When her arms come up around him, warm and familiar and holding on a little too tightly—it feels like coming home.

*

He finds out later that Jan had to beg Tony to let him stay, which stings. Despite everything, he is dismayed that someone he still considers a friend would turn him away. It is Jan who delivers the news, though, so Hank has no room in his head for anything except delight at the way her hands fit so nicely in his. He exercises great restraint preventing himself from staring at the spot on the side of her neck that he is aching to kiss.

But Hank can’t help it; he hesitates. He knows that Jan genuinely wants him around—she’s never been one for subterfuge—but he’s not so sure the other Avengers feel the same. During that battle with the Serpent Society, he had gotten along fantastically with them all, but that was all Yellowjacket. Not Hank Pym, scientist and pacifist and so many things the Avengers are not. He doesn’t belong here. And he can’t see the point in remaining where he’ll only be getting in everyone’s way. He can’t return to Grayburn after the mess he’s made of everything, but he can get other grants, start over in a new lab. Maybe.

But then Jan says, “Please, Hank. I want us to be together. Don’t you?”

Something catches in Hank’s chest at her words. Jan’s straightforward honesty is going to destroy him someday, he knows it.

“Of course I do,” he says with a sinking feeling in his stomach. These impulsive decisions never turn out well. Jan—beautiful, brave, kind-hearted Jan—will tire of him. The Avengers will become fed up with him (again). He’ll have to leave them (again) or worse, be kicked out.

But Jan grins, her smile showing off perfect teeth and lighting an excited spark in her eyes. His logic quakes under the weight of that dazzling perfection. Inside, he trembles with too many feelings that he cannot rationalize. Deep down, he knows that if she wanted him to, he would follow her to the ends of the universe.

She squeezes his hands. They’re warm, and he wishes they weren’t wearing gloves so he could feel her soft skin.

“Good,” she whispers, moving closer. On her tiptoes, she sets his hands on her waist and leans up. Against his lips, she murmurs, “Kiss me?”

He does.

*

Not a week later, he wonders if he’s made a monumental mistake.

His right arm is swollen from a particularly nasty bout with a pair of giant mutant jellyfish, and he can’t focus on his work because he keeps getting distracted by Jan, both in his thoughts and in real life. Not to mention Yellowjacket screwing things up in his head, but he’s not about to admit that to anybody.

The object of his affections is curled up on a couch she dragged into his lab earlier this week (Thor helped). A pad of paper propped up in her lap, she chews absently on the end of her pencil. Hank glances at her for the fifth time in two minutes and memorizes how cute she looks contemplating her dress designs and sketching intermittently.

Suppressing the urge to march across the room and kiss her, he turns back to his notes. He’s so unfocused that they look like gibberish to him. With a frustrated growl, he grabs an empty beaker tube from his table and throws it at the wall. The noise it makes as it crashes against the laboratory walls makes him feel a little better, if only for a second.

“Hank? What’s wrong?” Hank commends Jan for pretending to sound genuinely concerned.

He wrings his hands and jabs at his lab notebook. “I just can’t figure this out! The jellyfish sample is giving me crazy readings that don’t make any sense. I’m missing something, but what is it?”

Frowning, Jan sits up and puts her notebook aside. Hank, pacing back and forth, jumps a little when she places her hands squarely on his shoulders. “Hey,” she says soothingly, the gentleness of her words at odds with her firm grip. “Breathe.”

He takes a deep breath, noticing that she draws it with him. The way she is smiling is only reserved for him, and he loves it, covets it wholly and without shame. Shutting his eyes briefly, he lets her comforting presence wash over him as she traces his left cheekbone with her thumb.

“You wanna take a walk?” Jan asks, arms winding around his waist. She feels warm and wonderful against his chest. “Maybe it’ll help you get your head around those pesky readings.”

Hank doubts it, but he says yes anyway.

*

Two weeks after Hank moves back into the Avengers Mansion, Jan falls asleep in his bed. In the background, some silly comedy film Jan roped him into watching plays on his bedroom's television screen, the protagonist having a heated argument with the romantic lead. Earlier that night, Hank had reluctantly agreed to put his papers away, and Jan had happily snuggled up to his side. Throughout the movie, she had slipped lower and lower on the bed until she was lying on her back. Hank retrieves a throw blanket from the reading chair and places it over her, tucking the ends in gently.

For a long time, he stands there and just looks at her. She looks so young and peaceful like this, the way she had when they first met. Jan still radiates vivacity, but sometimes he speculates that her time with the Avengers has replaced her innocently adventurous spirit with a dangerously fierce passion. She isn’t one to mess with on the battlefield—that he knows for certain. Despite that (or maybe because of it), Hank yearns, more than anything, to just sleep next to her. But they have no precedent for this. It would be unseemly and presumptuous, and if he loses Jan, he will have nobody.

The living room is empty save for Clint, who is perched on the armchair watching late night cartoons in the dark. Hank sighs, grabs a blanket, and stretches out on the massive sectional couch.

"Eight-hundred-thread-count sheets not good enough for you anymore?" Clint teased. Hank can never tell if his tone nowadays is more playful or hostile. He tries to convince himself it’s the former—even though a niggling feeling in the back of his head whispers that Clint has never thought much of him, nor has he ever shied away from mocking him.

"Jan fell asleep in it," Hank explains, trying to shove away his paranoia and turning on his side to get more comfortable. Clint gives him a bewildered look.

"And she kicked you out?"

"No, no, she didn't mean to fall asleep. We were watching a movie. I didn't want to just . . . assume."

Clint bursts out laughing. “You mean you haven’t slept together yet? Wow. You’re even more oblivious than I’d thought.”

Hank flushes and quickly quells the annoyance that spikes within him. He can’t blame his teammates for not welcoming him back if he keeps suspecting them of pettily making fun of him. Clint unrepentantly makes fun of everyone, he reminds himself. “That’s none of your business,” he bites out in the most civil tone he can manage. Clint, predictably, ignores him.

“Dude, knowing Jan, she roped you into watching a movie in order to make a move on you,” he chortles.

“What?” Hank says, aghast. He squints at Clint in the darkness. "Jan wouldn't do that."

Except that’s just the kind of thing Jan would do to get what she wanted. Which means that Jan desires him, too? The thought is lovely, but it would still be wrong to assume. He wants to treat Jan well. Lord knows she deserves it after putting up with him for so long.

“Man, you geniuses can sure be dumb sometimes,” Clint complains. “Jan has been trying to get into your pants for ages. In fact, I can’t remember a time since I met you two when Jan wasn’t trying to get into your pants.”

Cheeks on fire, Hank protests, “That’s not true.”

Clint frowns at him, tilting his head to the side as if assessing him. “What’s the deal, Pym? I know you’re interested; only an idiot wouldn’t be able to see that. So what’s stopping you? Because no offense, but she is way out of your league. Most guys would kill to have a chance with her.”

Briefly, Hank contemplates hiding under his blanket until Clint gives up on him and leaves. With a sigh, he relents and says quietly, “I just don’t want to do anything that will push her away. She means so much to me. I want to do everything right.”

“Buddy,” Clint says, sounding much too serious for Hank’s comfort, “if anything’s going to push her away, it’s you worrying your ass off. If you wanna do things right, stop putting her on a pedestal. It’s Jan. You know Jan, and Jan knows you. Stop tiptoeing around, and just tell her what you want. Make your damn move. She is head over heels for you.”

“I don’t know,” Hank says, even though inwardly he admits that Clint does have a point. “Maybe you’re right,” he concedes.

Clint snorts. “You’re hopeless, man.” He settles back in his chair and turns up the volume on the television. Without looking away from the bright, flickering screen, he says, “And Hank . . .”

“Yeah?”

“Stop tiptoeing around the rest of us, too. You’re an Avenger. That means you can be yourself—no matter how crazy and ridiculous that is—and the rest of us will still be here to back you up.”

Hank contemplates that for a while. He still doesn’t feel entirely comfortable here in the Mansion with everyone, but when has he ever felt entirely comfortable somewhere other than his lab? Just as he has never fit in his skin seamlessly, he has never fit in socially. He doesn’t trust the Avengers completely, but they are the closest thing he has to friends. He doesn’t even agree with most of their principles, but he would die for any of them if it ever came down to it. How screwed up in the head does that make him?

As strange as it is to think, Clint is probably right. He needs to take initiative with Jan before she bores of him and gives up on them, just as he needs to stop treading so lightly when it comes to his teammates. It won’t be easy. It never is for him. But that doesn’t mean he can’t try.

“Thanks, Clint,” he says. Clint’s only response is a snore. Hank smiles a little and asks JARVIS to turn the television off. Closing his eyes, he tells himself, Tomorrow. Tomorrow, he’ll talk to Jan.

*

He ends up taking her out to dinner, because he is determined to be a gentleman. The place Tony suggests is fancy and expensive and just the kind of place Hank would never step foot in. But it’s worth it to see the delighted and impressed look on Jan’s face when they climb out of the cab. Hank is lousy at these things, and Jan’s not exactly easy to impress.

“What’s all this about?” she asks, narrowing her eyes suspiciously up at him even as she grabs his arm. He shrugs.

“I just wanted to treat you to something nice,” he says.

Leaning up in her elegant heels, Jan presses a kiss to his cheek. “You’re sweet,” she says.

They have a lovely time at dinner, full of fine wine and good humor. They swap stories, reminiscing about old times and sharing things they’ve never told each other. When Jan laughs, her earrings twinkle prettily in the candlelight and her eyes sparkle with warm affection. It grounds Hank, reminding him that she could be anywhere else in the world—with anyone else in the world—but she’s chosen to be here, with him and his cheap suit and inability to pronounce anything on the menu.

Before they leave, Jan steps away to use the restroom briefly, and the moment she’s gone, Hank finds all his anxiety flooding back. Dinner was the easy part. Now what? Contemplating his wine glass, he laments his extremely limited dating experience. Jan is used to being pampered with expensive gifts and alpine getaways, but she knows him too well to expect that from him. So what does he have to offer? How can he convince her to stay?

Arms loop around his shoulders, Jan’s soft cheek brushing against his own. “Whatcha thinking about, handsome?”

She smells so nice Hank can’t resist turning his head to kiss her. It comes to him then in a sudden moment of clarity: It doesn’t matter what they do, because as long as he is with Jan, he is content. From the way, she pulls him closer and digs her fingers into his hair, he realizes that she feels that way about him, too.

“How lucky I am,” he answers.

*

“Let’s not go inside just yet,” Jan says when the cab drops them off in front of Avengers Mansion.

“Huh?” Hank replies, as she tugs him toward the main garden.

They settle on a stone bench by the fountain, hidden from the house by tall shrubs. Jan beams when Hank wraps an arm around her, finding comfort in the familiar vivacity and confidence she exudes. With the sounds of the streets and the cool breeze drifting over them, they talk quietly and exchange slow kisses, attention focused solely on one another. It’s nice—peaceful—in a way that is new to Hank. Here, there is no reputation at stake, no colleagues to impress, no personal worth to prove to himself. Here, no one is judging him. Jan’s seen him at his worst and disagrees with him on many things, but she still wants him, still smiles at him like he’s hung the moon.

As the cabernet haze fades, Hank finds a different kind of lightness in the flutter of his heart as Jan tells him she’s never felt this strongly about anyone before.

“Me neither,” Hank says simply, because words have never been his strong suit.

“I want this to work, Hank,” Jan says. “More than anything I’ve ever wanted. Tell me what you need.”

Hank doesn’t have to think about his answer. Squeezing Jan’s hand, he says, “You’ve already given it to me: a second chance to do things right.”

“And what else?”

“I won’t ask any more of you,” Hank says.

“Come on,” Jan says, kissing him on the side of his neck. He shivers, the soft sensation of her plush lips setting him ablaze from head to toe. “Be real with me, Hank.”

Her eyes are serious and earnest, but there’s a mischievous quirk to her lips. She knows perfectly well what she does to him—relishes it, even. It’s so Jan that Hank’s heart swells with a burst of fondness. He does his best to will away any inappropriate thoughts and thinks hard.

“Patience,” he says at last. Between his anxiety and his squeamishness toward violence, the simmering resentment and insecurities he never talks about, his workaholic tendencies and whatever the hell Yellowjacket is, too big and too real in his head, what he needs is a rock—someone he can count on, someone who will try to understand instead of dismissing his feelings, someone who will help him through his darkest moments.

Can Jan be that person? Does she want to be? He knows, just as well as he knows Avogadro’s Law or the taxonomic phyla, that he wants her to be those things, more than anything.

“And you? What would the most eligible bachelorette in Manhattan ask of her lowly companion?”

“Lowly my ass, Doctor Pym,” Jan laughs, elbowing him playfully. He grins, too, and Jan looks up at the sky, beautiful bright eyes wide and yearning for adventure.

“Freedom,” she says.

Hank thinks of determined Jan on the battlefield, stingers firing and wings abuzz as she pursues a villain. He thinks of Jan bantering with masked, anonymous henchmen in her flippantly fearless way. He thinks of Jan getting hurt and refusing to stay down until the job is done. (This image he pushes away, because he now recognizes that the worst thing he could do is coddle her.)

But if she won’t ask him to fight, then he won’t ask her to stop. He understands now, that he doesn’t have that right—nobody does. Jan does what she likes, and that means that sometimes she will be in danger.

Hank will learn to cope. Jan deserves someone who won’t hold her back. And having her look at him the way she does, full of yearning and trust and devotion—he won’t give it up for anything.

“I can do that,” he says.

Later, they tumble into bed, full of love and the gentle swell of hope. Hank can’t get enough of the encouraging noises she makes as he runs his hands up her back and her stomach, and the way she smiles and melts into their enthusiastic kisses. Impatiently, she strips them down, until everything is skin and warmth, and all Hank wants to do is get closer closer closer. He presses kisses down her neck, chest, stomach, reveling in the sensation of her hands tugging gently in his hair, directing him where she wants him, how she wants him. He has always loved that Jan always knows what she wants.

The only thing he loves more is giving it to her.

*

In the morning, Hank awakens beside a still-slumbering Jan and his heart stutters for a moment at the precious sight. Eyelashes dark against smooth skin, sunlight playing across fair shoulders, arm draped protectively across his chest, she’s everything he wants and more. Chest feeling tight with emotion, he tugs her closer, resting his cheek against her forehead.

She stirs at the touch, blearily entering the conscious world. Even as he feels bad for waking her, he leans in for a kiss. She surges into it, fingers clutching him possessively in a way that sends affection and arousal coursing through him like twin coils of lightning.

“Hi, handsome,” she says, peering up at him with lidded eyes. “I could get used to waking up like this.”

It hits him all of a sudden, that this could be his life for the known future, if he doesn’t mess things up. He could start each and every day beside the kind, brave woman of his dreams and fall asleep every night with her arm around him.

“I love you,” he blurts out before he can stop himself. His hands tremble as they reach for hers. “Please don’t let me screw this up.”

“Hey,” she says, pressing a gentle finger to his lips as she squeezes his hand with her unoccupied one. “Stow that talk, soldier.”

He bursts out laughing, anxiety evaporated in his mirth. “Was that your Cap impression?”

Grinning ear to ear, she insists, “I thought it was pretty good!”

Chuckling into her shoulder, Hank says, “Yeah, maybe if he got turned into a frog like Thor did that one time.”

“Oh my god,” Jan says, shaking with laughter at the memory. “That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. His little cape!”

Hank nuzzles into her arm, pressing gentle kisses to the soft skin there. “Besides,” he says, “it’s not Cap I want.”

“Oh, c’mon, are you saying you wouldn’t?” Jan asks, grinning wickedly as she runs her nimble fingers through his hair. “Those shoulders . . .” she sighs dreamily.

“Well, the thing is, there’s this other Avenger who’s stolen my heart.”

“Oh?” Jan says. “Tell me about this mighty Avenger.”

“She’s amazing,” Hank says, suddenly feeling a little shy. “She’s fiercely brave and protective of her friends. She’s clever and confident and a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. She’s really good with people and is, without question, the most beautiful person I’ve ever met.”

Despite his burning cheeks, he meets her gaze, feeling the fortitude of his feelings shining from his eyes and drawing strength from the reciprocated sincerity in hers. The smile she gives him—a smile reserved just for him—makes his heart sing.

“Hmm, there’s this other Avenger who’s more my speed,” she says in a conspiratorial tone. “He’s cute and kind and always stands by his convictions, no matter what anyone thinks. He wants to change the world, and he’s got the brains and determination to do it. He means so much to me, and I don’t want him to ever forget that.”

Hank knows he’s shaking, but he can’t seem to get ahold of himself. “I love you,” he says again, choked with emotions. “And I promise you, I won’t screw this up.”

Beaming, Jan reaches down to tug him into a kiss.

*

Clint catches them exiting Jan’s room together, Jan proudly wearing one of Hank’s old shirt and boxers as a hunter would the hide of an animal after a long, successful hunt.

With a shit-eating grin on his face, Clint lets out a loud, impressed whistle.

“Get it, Jan!” he whoops.

Hank covers his face with his hands; he can physically feel his cheeks heating in embarrassment. To his dismay, Jan high-fives Clint, smug smile even wider than his.

“I’m surrounded by teenagers,” Hank groans. Laughing, Jan loops her arm through his and tugs him downward so she can ruffle his hair.

“You love us, admit it,” she teases.

“You lovebirds joining us for breakfast?” Clint asks, hooking his thumb toward the kitchen. “Thor’s making waffles.”

Jan opens her mouth, clearly about to say yes, only to quickly shut it again, a thoughtful expression gracing her pretty face.

“What do you think, Hank? We could always go down to your lab instead.”

She’s giving him an out. For all that she tries not to bother him about it, Jan knows he still doesn’t feel completely comfortable around the other Avengers. Since he’s returned to the Mansion, she’s tended to treat his skittishness like something that will pass the more he faces the source of his anxiety. But here she is making an effort to be considerate about it, even if she doesn’t completely understand how he feels. Hank is taken aback by the tide of gratitude that washes over him. It’s the first moment in which he truly believes that they might actually be able to make this work.

He takes her hand and smiles warmly, openly, caring little about how sappy he’s feeling despite Clint’s presence.

“Waffles sound great,” he says.

Before they even reach the kitchen, Hank can hear Hulk and Thor bickering about a burnt waffle and T’Challa and Carol laughing about something while Tony and Steve discuss the logistics of the training meetup with the Fantastic Four scheduled for later.

“Good morning,” Steve says when they walk into the room.

“Hank and Jan finally hooked up!” Clint crows.

“Oh my god,” Hank mutters, mortified.

Tony lifts his comically massive coffee mug in a toast. “About time, guys,” he says. Then, because he’s Tony, he adds with a smirk, “If you took any longer I was going to steal her out from under your nose, Hank.”

“She’s not a thing to be stolen, you utter pig,” Carol chastises. “Besides, Jan would be much more willing to be stolen by me than by you.”

Laughing, Jan grabs a seat at the table beside T’Challa. “She’s not wrong,” she quips, tossing a wink at Carol. “But I’m sticking with Hank.”

“For now,” Tony says under his breath. It’s surprising how much an offhand command like that stings. It takes a valiant effort for Hank to will away the surge of insecurity that sweeps over him.

“For as long as he’ll have me,” corrects Jan, tone breezy but eyes serious as they find Hank’s and hold his gaze steadily. Hank gives her a watery smile in an attempt to reassure her that he doesn’t care what Tony says.

“Come, Doctor Pym,” Thor says, in that regal manner he has. “You must share a waffle with your shield brothers to celebrate your union.”

It’s official: Hank has the most embarrassing teammates in the world. But he accepts the proffered waffle and takes a seat beside Jan. Conversation resumes, and Hank looks around, feeling something like content aglow in his chest. He may not always agree with their methods, but even he can’t deny that these are all fundamentally good people. He’s proud to have fought beside them, despite everything.

As Tony is brewing a second tankard of coffee and Steve and Carol continue devouring the mountain of waffles Thor has concocted, everyone’s Avengers ID cards go off simultaneously. That persistent beep has for too long had been linked to dread in Hank’s mind. For a moment, he spares a thought for his old card, buried in a desk drawer in his ramshackle temporary apartment, wrapped in old shirts to muffle the incessant noises and any attempts at contact.

“You coming, Hank?” Tony asks, as the team stands up to disperse and change into their uniforms.

Hank hesitates, remembering that Tony hadn’t even wanted Hank back on the team on the first place. He remembers the way Thor nods distantly at him when they run into each other in the corridor, as if puzzled by him; the way T’Challa never visits him in his lab anymore; the way Carol frowns at him, evaluating, when she thinks he can’t see her; the way Steve tries to overcompensate for the others’ uncertainty by being effusively—suffocatingly—friendly.

But he remembers what Clint and Jan said, too.

Come ON, Yellowjacket coaxes in his head. Think of all the good you can do with the Avengers. Think of all the people they’ll—you’ll—help.

“Hank? What do you think?” Jan prompts, eyes bright with the anticipation of a good fight.

“I’ll get my suit,” Hank says.