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We Can Be Heroes

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It’s rough transferring into a new high school second semester of junior year. It’s rougher when that high school is the most elite one in Manhattan and is pretty solidly populated by the children of the obscenely rich and famous, who have gotten their way their whole lives. But it’s even rougher when your name is James Carter Rogers, you’ve never been to real school before, and your dad is Captain America.

***

James looked around his first period classroom nervously. It was filled with people is own age, not something he had much experience with. They were all chatting away happily, catching up after Christmas break, he supposed. Most of them were very well dressed and to another person they would have looked very adult, but James had done most of his growing up on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier so anyone not in a suit or uniform looked like child to him. Still, James was surprised at how threatening he found this room full of teenage civilians any one of whom he could have taken down in no more than three moves. His dad had always done his best to keep James out of the public eye and he found his stomach twisting at the idea of so many gazes being about to fall upon him as he stood in the doorway with no idea of what to do.

“Hey! James!”

James looked around and saw none other than Robert Yinsen Stark waving at him, a big, stupid grin on his face. Great. How had his dad failed to warn him that Yinsen would be in his class? There was no way he hadn’t known; he worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. and S.H.I.E.L.D. knew pretty much everything about pretty much everyone. Still, sitting next to him was better than standing in the doorway so, with an internal sigh, James went to take the empty seat and pretended that the entire class wasn’t suddenly staring at him.

“Hey, Yinsen,” mumbled James, sliding into the desk. He’d known the guy back when they were kids, before Tony had left the Avengers, but they hadn’t seen each other in almost ten years and rekindling old friendships hadn’t really been on James’s to do list for the day. (To be fair, that list contained only one goal: survive.)

“Rob, please. No one’s called me Yinsen since I was like seven.” He made a face.

“Rob?” James asked.

“My mom wanted to go by my first name since it’s her dad’s and all, but it was too stuffy so now it’s Rob. Anyway, it’s a lot better than Yinsen. I mean, who names their kid Yinsen? Well, Dad, obviously. Not that he’s ever told me why.” Yinsen – Rob – let out an exasperated little huff of air after his rant. “Anyway, I didn’t know you were the new transfer.” He grinned again and pushed his strawberry blond hair from his eyes. How he’d ended up a ginger was a genetic mystery that, when pressed, Tony had always refused to solve.

“Yeah, well, everything’s very hush hush up there.” James flicked blue eyes at the ceiling to indicate the Helicarrier.

“What? At S.H.I.E.-?” Rob began, but James cut across him.

“Don’t shout about it. Jesus.”

“Sorry,” said Rob, rolling his eyes.

“Alright, everyone,” called the teacher, a young man with a bright smile. “Let’s get settled down and see who’s here.”

The class took their seats and the teacher, to James’s chagrin, began to call roll. He recognized some surnames here and there – the children of politicians and actors – but there wasn’t any kind of fuss until his name came up.

“Rogers, James?”

“Here,” James said, his eyes fixed on his desk.

“You’re new this semester, aren’t you, James?” asked the teacher in a friendly manner as a ripple of whispers flitted across the classroom.

“Yeah.”

“Well, I hope you’ll feel very welcomed here. Let me know if I can do anything for you.”

“Thanks,” said James, thinking suck-up.

The teacher continued on with the roll, though James hardly heard the names; he was too busy wishing he could just vanish into his seat and that everyone would stop shooting him sidelong glances like he was some exotic and possibly volatile creature. James wasn’t really much to look at. He was slightly on the short side of average in the height department and his build wasn’t anything to write home about. Sure, he worked out a lot more than most seventeen-year-olds, but he was skinny despite his muscles and had fairly narrow shoulders and rounded features. His hair was blond and his eyes were blue, like his dad’s, but that was just a happy (depending on who you asked) coincidence as he was adopted. He peered at the world from behind rectangular, black-framed glasses and, while he often stood like a solider, he was very familiar with how his shoes looked when he walked.

Once the lesson was underway, people stopped looking at James for the most part and started looking at their notes or out of the window. When the bell rang, Rob grabbed James’s schedule before James had even finished putting away his things.

“AP US?” he confirmed. “Me too. Let’s go.”

He led James down the crowded halls to their next classroom where, thank god, the teacher did not feel the need to call roll. She did, however, feel the need to review World War Two.

“Can anyone tell us a little bit about the warfare of that time?” The teacher glanced around the room. “Come on people, we talked about this before Christmas; it was on your midterm.” No one raised their hand. “Anyone? No? How about you, Mr. Rogers? Surely you can tell us.”

The room fell silent and everyone looked at James.

“It was horrific,” he said quietly. “Not quite as horrific as the Great War, I suppose, but it was... terrible.” His dad rarely spoke about what had really happened out in the field, but when he did, his eyes went dark.

The teacher did not call on James again.

He managed to stay under the radar until lunch when he found himself in that most terrible of positions: standing in the doorway to the lunchroom, holding a tray of food, with no idea where to sit. He hadn’t had his pervious class with Rob and the guy had vanished off somewhere and now James was left with nowhere to go. Eventually, he spotted an empty table in the corner and headed for it. A few people called out to him, by his last name only, as he passed them by, but he ignored them. He sat with his back to the room and ate in silence, hating everything.

He didn’t get why his dad had made him go to “real school.” He’d been getting the best tutoring S.H.I.E.L.D. could find, which meant he was getting pretty much the best tutoring possible. In addition, he learned all sorts of things from the Avengers and other S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel, eagerly listening to whatever they’d teach him from throwing knifes to the basics of gamma radiation. However, his dad had insisted that it would be “good for him” to “spend more time with his peers.” James was pretty sure he had nothing in common with these people other than their parents were famous too and his dad was the last thing he wanted to talk about to a bunch of gawking strangers. He just wanted to go home. Abort mission.

“Um, hey.”

James looked around to see a girl maybe a year younger than him with dark, curly hair and pretty, round face.

“Yeah?”

“You’re James Rogers, right?”

“Yeah,” said James with a resigned sort of sigh.

“I’m Peggy.”

“Nice to meet you,” he replied, trying to sound as if it was.

“You too.” She smiled a little awkwardly for a moment. She had the look of someone who was used to being full of confidence and was very confused to find herself with out it. “How’s it going? First day, right?”

“Yeah. It’s okay, I guess,” said James with a shrug.

“Where did you go before here?”

“Um. I was home schooled, sort of.” That was the easiest way to put it.

“Oh.”

She stood there a moment longer and James raised his eyebrows at her.

“Can I help you with something?” he asked.

“I’m named after my great-grandmother,” she said in a rush as if the statement had some deep meaning that James was supposed to pick up on.

“Um?”

“Peggy Carter.”

James stared at the girl, suddenly understanding.

“So your dad has talked about her.”

“Um, yeah. A little.”

“My grandmother’s told me all the stories her mom told her about your dad.” Peggy’s eyes were bright and she was a little flushed.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” James muttered.

“If your dad ever wanted to meet...” She let her voice trail of hopefully.

“My dad doesn’t really like to talk about it that much,” James told her, hoping that the comment would discourage her.

“Oh. Well.” She stood there awkwardly for a moment. “Here.” She pulled a notebook and pen from her bag, scribbled something down and tore the page out. She held it out to James, who, after glaring at it for a moment, took the paper. “You can call me if... whatever.” She stood there a moment longer and then dashed off with a hurried, “See you later.”

On the paper was written “Peggy Carter Morgan” and her phone number.

It made James feel weird to think about sharing his middle name with a stranger – especially since they were named after the same woman.

James slogged through the rest of the day, avoiding eye contact and awkward questions about his father as best he could. Last period of the day he had gym because, for some reason that James could not fathom, the school did not count a lifetime of S.H.I.E.L.D. training as the three required phys ed credits. After totally dominating the game of kickball, he changed in the locker room not far from Rob, who had put off taking gym for as long as possible. A few other boys were muttering to each other and James caught his own name among their whispers. After a minute, one of them, whom James recognized as the son of a movie-star couple, approached him.

“I guess that super solider stuff wasn’t genetic,” he snickered, taking in James’s narrow build.

“I guess your mom’s plastic surgery wasn’t genetic either,” James shot back. No shit the serum wasn’t genetic. Wasn’t this supposed to be a school for smart people? Anyway, hello, adopted.

“You leave my mom out of this, Rogers,” the boy said hotly.

“You leave my dad out of this. I kicked your ass out there.” He took a step forward towards the boy.

“Easy, tiger,” said Rob, putting a hand on James’s shoulder.

“Stay of it, Stark,” the boy snarled. “Don’t you have a robot to program?”

“Don’t you have a test to fail?” Rob retorted.

The boy took a step towards Rob, but James got between them, ready for a fight.

“Come on,” said one of the boy’s friends. “Let’s get of here. Losers aren’t worth our time.”

The aggressive boy gave James and Rob one last, contemptuous glance and then followed his friends out.

“Thanks,” said Rob, grinning lopsidedly.

“Whatever,” said James, grabbing his back and heading out to the circle where an unmarked S.H.I.E.L.D. car would pick him up.

***

“So how was school?” asked Steve, grinning like he’d spent his whole life waiting to ask the question.

James dropped his bag on the sofa in their private quarters of the Helicarrier and went to the fridge.

“I made you a snack.” Steve indicated a plate of cookies, an apple, and a glass of juice on the counter.

Sometimes James wondered why his dad hadn’t gotten a white picket fence installed outside their rooms.

“Thanks.”

“Well?” Steve prompted, still with that all-American dad smile.

“It was lousy,” James said after another pause.

“I’m sorry,” said Steve, frowning. “What happened?”

“All anyone sees when they look at me is you.” He took a long drink of juice. “That’s all they care about.”

“I’m sure that’s not true. They just haven’t gotten a change to know you yet.”

“They don’t want to know me; they want to know you.” James took a moody bite of cookie. “One person knew me,” he said.

“Oh?”

“You might have warned me that I was going to school with Rob.”

“Rob?” asked Steve.

“Stark.”

“Ah.”

Steve stood in awkward silence. It had been even longer since he’d seen Rob given everything that had happened.

“So do you have homework?” he asked at length.

“Yeah, I guess.”

James gathered up his snack and grabbed his bag as he headed towards his room. He paused in the doorway.

“I got this today.” He pulled the paper with Peggy’s number from his pocket and held it out.

Steve approached his son and took the paper, frowning slightly.

“A girl’s number?” he asked. “That’s good, right?”

“She’s not any girl. And the number’s more for you, I think.”

“Who is she?”

“Well, she’s named after her great-grandmother.”

Steve went slightly pale.

“Sorry,” James muttered, a little of the anger draining from him at the look on his dad’s face. “I just thought you should know.”

“No, it’s fine. Maybe you’ll end up being friends.”

“I think that’d be a little too weird.”

“I’m sure it’ll work out just fine.”

“Dad, can’t I just go back to tutoring?” he asked, not looking at Steve.

“James, you need to get out of this bubble.”

“This bubble that you trapped me in?” James muttered, not quietly enough for Steve not to hear, and vanished into his room.

***

That evening found James on a viewing deck, looking out over the lights of Manhattan, far below him. He turned when the door opened.
“Oh, James,” said Agent Coulson. “How are you doing?”

“Honestly?”

Coulson nodded.

“Shitty.”

“Your dad said it didn’t go so well today,” he admitted.

James turned to look at the tight-laced agent and sighed.

“Phil, I don’t know how to interact with people my own age,” he said.

“Sure you do.”

“No, I don’t. Hell, I hardly know how to interact with civilians.”

Coulson sighed.

“I mean, look at me,” James went on. “I’ve haven’t had a friend my own age since, well, since Rob was still living here off and on with his parents. And then everything went to shit and-.”

“James,” Coulson chided gently.

“What?” James asked. “It did go to shit when he left. Tony barely got visiting rights in the end.”

“How do you know that?”

“I can access S.H.I.E.L.D. files just as well as the next guy.” James shrugged and looked morosely out the window. “Phil, I can’t do this,” he said after a long pause.

“Yes, you can. You can do more than any kid your age. If they can handle high school, so can you.”

James smiled a little at that.

“High school’s hard,” Coulson conceded. “But you can do this.”

“Yeah, sure.” James shook his head and turned away. “They only even look at me because of my dad.”

“And that’s why he tried to keep you away from the public for so long.”

“I know.”

“But you’ve got to, well, to come out of the ice, so to speak.”

James gave a hollow laugh.

“I could have had a normal life,” he said, quietly.

“I know. I’m sorry, James.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“Doesn’t mean I can’t be sorry.” Coulson touched his shoulder gently. “You should get some rest.”

James nodded and turned to go. “Thanks, Phil.”

“No problem.”