It was April by the time James realized he was nearly living the life of an average high school student. He went to classes and did his homework. He stayed up late studying for tests and finishing essays at the last minute. He hung out with his friends after classes and went over to Peggy’s house on the weekends sometimes. He got good grades and he made out with his secret boyfriend behind the library when no one was looking. He doodled in class, glared at people who teased him, and threatened people who teased his friends. It was almost like being normal. He still went home to the Helicarrier, ate dinner with the Avengers several times a week, and trained his butt off despite the fact that he’d never be a hero like his dad. All in all, though, it was a good life.
"So when are you going to come out?” Peggy asked him one Friday afternoon in May as they made cookies in her kitchen.
“Um,” said James, his head in the cabinet as he hunted for vanilla.
Before he could say any more, the buzzer sounded and Peggy went to let Rob in.
“I got the biggest one I could find,” he said, dropping a truly massive bag of dark chocolate chips onto the counter with a dull thunk. “Think it’ll be enough?”
“I dunno, maybe,” James teased.
Rob rolled his eyes and kissed James quickly, earning himself a look from Peggy.
"What are you crazy kids talking about then?” he asked, going to the sink to wash his hands.
“I was just wondering when you two are going to come out,” Peggy said frankly.
Rob stared at her.
“What?” he said after a moment.
“When are you going to come out?” she repeated.
“Not anytime soon.”
“Why?” Peggy asked.
“Well,” Rob said, drying his hands slowly. “We’ve talked about it and given that James’s dad is from the forties and everything, he probably wouldn’t take it too well. Plus, the last thing any of us needs is for it to get out that Steve Rogers’s son and Tony Stark’s son are a thing.”
“I guess,” said Peggy dubiously. “But you’re seriously not going to tell anyone? You’re not even Facebook official.” She rolled her eyes.
“Captain American might be technologically challenged, but my dad can definitely use Facebook,” Rob said. “Does it really matter that much?”
“I guess not. But it seems like it would bother you guys, having to hide like that.”
“It’s kind of exciting to have to keep it a secret,” he said.
“Doesn’t it get old?”
“Not really. I’m pretty good at secrets what with S.H.I.E.L.D. and everything. Why do you care so much?”
“I just worry about you guys.”
"Why?” Rob asked.
“It can’t be healthy for you to hide like this.”
"Naw, it’s good practice,” Rob said.
“For what?” she asked.
“For when we’re famous and have to hide from the paparazzi.” He flashed the patented Stark smile.
“You are famous,” Peggy pointed out.
“Well, there you go then.”
Peggy shook her head.
“You two are impossible.”
“But you love us.” Rob nudged her with his elbow.
“God only knows why.”
“Because we make damn good cookies. At least, I do,” James amended. “I dunno about that mess.”
Rob stuck his tongue out at him and James responded in kind.
“Boys, boys,” said Peggy as if she were their mother. “Honestly, you’d think Captain America’s kid would have a little more maturity.”
“Thanks, Loki,” Rob muttered.
James punched him on the arm slightly harder than was strictly necessary.
“It’s nature verse nurture,” Peggy said, ignoring the scuffle. “How did you end up with your dad, anyway?” she asked.
“Sorry,” said Peggy at once.
“No, it’s okay; just not something I talk about a lot since everyone at S.H.I.E.L.D. already knows.” He thought for a moment, picking his words. “There was this big fight in Brooklyn right after Rob was born. Some sort of alien attack, long story. Anyway, S.H.I.E.L.D. sent the Avengers in and they knocked out the bad guys and everything, but it was still a big mess. They mostly got the area evacuated, but some civilians got killed. Including my parents.”
“It’s okay. I was just a baby; I don’t remember it at all. Anyway, my dad found me in the rubble, took me home, and decided to keep me. He said he always wanted to be a father, but he knew there was no way he was going to get married what with being so busy avenging shit. He said it was fate or something.” James shrugged as he finished his story.
By the time Peggy’s mom got home, the second tray of cookies was baking and the trio was enjoying the first batch.
“Okay, you weren’t kidding about the cookies,” Peggy said, her face euphoric.
“It’s my grandmother’s recipe,” James said.
“Straight from the 1940s?” Rob asked.
“And, what, your dad just remembered it?”
“Who cares?” Peggy interrupted. “These are amazing.”
Even Peggy’s mom, who was, in their opinion, the goddess of snacks, had to agree that they were the best cookies she had ever had.
The boys were getting ready to leave when Rob’s phone went off.
“Hey, Mom. ... Oh, okay. ... When will you be back? ... Okay. ... Um, could I have someone over? ... No, Mom, why would I do that? ... Just to hang out. ... Cool, thanks. ... Okay. ... Love you too. ... Bye.”
Peggy and James looked at him expectantly.
"My mom has to go out of town. Something to do with Rhodey and all that military crap Dad used to be involved in back in the day. Anyway, she said I could have people over if you want guys to hang out at my place.”
“Aren’t you going to your dad’s?” Peggy asked, frowning.
“Hey, I’m a big boy. I can handle myself alone in the apartment for a night or two. Honestly.” He rolled his eyes.
“My mom’s having people over tomorrow so I have to help around the house tonight,” Peggy said.
Rob turned to James, who willed himself not to blush.
"I’d have to ask my dad.”
“It’s cool if you don’t want to,” Rob said quickly. “I just thought, hanging out and stuff.”
“No, it’s fine. I just have to ask.”
Peggy shook her head at the boys’ awkwardness while James called his father.
“Hi, James. What’s up?”
“Would it be okay if I stayed at Rob’s house tonight?” he asked, crossing his fingers in his pocket.
“At Pepper’s apartment or–?” Steve asked cautiously.
“At his mom’s place, yeah. But she’s out of town for the night. Something about Rhodey. Rob just wanted the company.”
Steve thought for a moment.
“Alright, but be careful.”
"Dad,” James said, annoyed. “What have I got to be careful about?”
“The city’s a big place.”
“I know. I know.”
“Alright. Call when you’re ready to come home. You can bring Rob along if you like.”
“Really?” James asked, excited.
“I don’t see why not. I’ll check with Director Fury and text you.”
“Good luck with that,” James snickered.
“The texting or Directory Fury?” asked Steve.
“Okay, smart-aleck. I’ll see you later.”
“We’re good,” James said, smiling at Rob as he hung up.
When they entered the apartment, the lights clicked on and a cool, British voice said, “Welcome home, Robert.”
“Hey, JARVIS. Cut the security system, would you?”
“Who is with you?”
“James Rogers. He’s cool.”
JARVIS did something computery for a moment.
“Your voice code is valid. Security systems offline.”
“You call yours JARVIS?” James asked.
“It doesn’t bother your mom?”
“No, she likes him.”
While Tony was still the sole master of the original JARVIS, pretty much everyone he cared about had one of their own, including each Avenger and James. They were all technically called JARVIS-point-something, but they were customizable. James’s sounded American and was called Marvin because he’d just finished reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the first time when he was declared old enough to have his own JARVIS.
"So, pizza?” Rob asked, dropping his bag onto the sofa.
“Order us pizza from the usual place? Two larges. One with green, red, and orange peppers, sausage, onions, olives, and extra cheese and one with–.” He turned to James. “What do you want?”
“Is that it?” he asked, sounding distinctly unimpressed.
Rob rolled his eyes.
"And one with pepperoni and cheese – heavy on both.”
“Anything else?” JARVIS asked.
Rob looked at James who shrugged.
“Do we have drinks here?”
“There are sodas and juice in the fridge,” the AI reported.
“Then just those cheesy breadstick things.”
“JARVIS knows what’s in your fridge?” James asked, impressed.
"Yeah, it helps Mom keep track of the groceries and stuff.” He went to the fridge and opened it. “Coke?”
While Rob grabbed two cans, James looked around the apartment. It was sleek and modern, but low-key. It was very clean and there was little about it to give away the fact that it belonged to the ex-wife of one of the richest men on the face of the planet. It seemed very Pepper as far as James could remember what she’d been like.
“You wanna hang out in my room? We won’t have the TV, but it’s cozier.”
James nodded, took the can Rob offered him, and followed his friend to his room.
A twin bed was pressed up into the corner to the right and there was a dresser almost behind the door and a closet next to it. A long worktable ran along the wall opposite the door and there were two large windows over it. A bedside table sat by the head of the bed and there were a few shelves and lamps around the room. Unlike the rest of the apartment, the Tony Stark influence was extremely clear in Rob’s room. The whole place was a wreck. Clothes spilled from the closet and dresser. The bed was an unmade nest of blankets, one of which James noticed was an Avengers product. The shelves were overflowing and there were papers and books on most of the other available surfaces. The mirror over the dresser was half covered in post-it notes baring Rob’s untidy scrawl and few neater ones that must have been penned by his mother. There were movie and science posters on the walls along with snapshots of friends and blueprints of machinery James could never hope to understand. The worktable, however, was utterly immaculate, edged with perfectly rectangular stacks of papers, which were all carefully stapled and organized; little, labeled drawers full of tools and parts; and tidy cups of pens, pencils, and rulers. In the center was a large computer monitor playing a Star Trek screen saver.
“Sorry it’s a little messy,” said Rob, quickly forcing the closet doors shut on the avalanche of clothes.
“It’s great,” James replied, grinning.
“You wanna watch a movie or something?” Rob asked.
Rob dug around in a pile for a moment and then pulled out a huge, black notebook of blue ray disks, which he handed over to James.
“And I’ve got a bunch of stuff stored on JARVIS too.”
"Yes?” the AI asked.
“Just talking about you.”
“Wow,” James breathed, flicking through the binder. “You’ve got like a billion movies.”
"What are you in the mood for?” Rob asked, peering over James’s shoulder at the titles.
“Anything made recently.”
“Does you dad make you watch a lot of old movies?”
“Yes and no. Mostly it’s the rest of the team making him watch all the classics that he missed.”
“That’s gotta be weird,” said Rob, shaking his head.
“You probably know more about the time that he missed than he does.”
“So? Aren’t kids supposed to be better at pop culture than their parents?”
“I guess so. My dad’s probably just an exception to pretty much all the parent rules.”
"Pretty much all the rules in general.”
“So what do you suggest?” James asked.
“What are you feelings on sci-fi?” Rob asked, giving James a critical look and taking the binder from him.
“Peggy’s been showing me Doctor Who and I was there when my dad watched Star Wars,” James offered.
Rob laughed again.
“I wish I coulda seen that. Okay, so what about Star Trek?”
“I’ve seen most of the first two seasons of the original series.”
“Well, to be honest, the last season of TOS is pretty awful. But they had basically zero funding so it wasn’t really their fault.” He shook his head sadly. “How about TNG?”
“The Next Generation?”
“Right. I’ve only seen a little.”
“TNG it is, then, if you’re cool?”
“Transfer the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation to my desktop.”
“Don’t call me “sir,” JARVIS,” Rob said, annoyed.
Rob made a face and booted up his computer.
"Make yourself comfy on the bed,” he told James.
They were soon snuggled down in the mess of pillows and blankets watching Picard trying to deal with Q for the first time. They only paused when the pizza came. Rob went to get it and returned with the boxes, two glasses of juice balanced on top, and a role of paper towels under one arm.
“Here we go,” he said.
“Awesome,” said James, helping him set it all down.
The pizza was fantastic and they ate their way through most of it over the course of the evening. Eventually, Rob paused between episodes to clean up a little, sticking the rest of the pizza in the fridge for breakfast the next morning. James ducked into the bathroom to try to get the grease off his hands and when he got back to the bedroom, Rob was sitting on the bed looking a little uncomfortable.
“What’s up?” James asked, sitting down next to him.
“I was just thinking.”
"Couple of things.”
James raised his eyebrows and Rob continued after a moment.
“Well, I was thinking about what Peggy was saying about coming out. Do you think maybe we should?”
“Um, not really.”
“It doesn’t bother you?”
"Look, maybe your parents are all sexually liberated and shit, but my dad was still on ice during the summer of love.”
“What do you think he’d do if he found out?” Rob asked.
“Exactly. Your dad’s crazy about you and the rest of the Avengers would kick his ass if he tried to disown you, right?”
“I guess,” said James uncertainly.
“So what’s the worst that could happen?”
“He just really wanted me to be normal.” James stared down at his hands.
“Newsflash: being gay is normal. Anyway, he’s the one who raised you on the freaking Helicarrier.”
James gave a weak smile.
“Just think about it, okay?”
“So what was the other thing?” James asked after a moment.
“What other thing?”
“You said you were thinking about a couple of things.”
“Oh right. Just that you’re here and I’m here and no one else is here and what that, you know, means.”
“Oh.” James rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “You’re not looking to, um, because I don’t know if I’m really ready to–.”
“No,” said Rob quickly, eyes wide with alarm. “No. Not that I don’t–,” he went on quickly. “I’m just not ready to–. You know.”
“Okay. Cool. I mean. Yeah.”
They sat in awkward silence, each praying the other was on the same wavelength. After a minute, James edged closer to Rob, reached up, and touched his face, turning the other boy towards him. Rob looked at him for a moment, gaze flickering uncertainly from James’s eyes to his chin.
“Hey,” said James softly. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” he replied, swallowing as his voice nearly broke.
“Seriously, you seem a little freaked.”
“I’m good,” Rob assured him, smiling.
James leaned in and kissed him.
They’d never really had any uninterrupted time to just kiss. They’d always been listening for someone to come walking around the corner or for one of their phones to go off. Now, however, there was no one coming; there was nowhere else for them to be. They were alone and could dedicate all their attention to each other and James felt almost dizzy with it. Time slipped away and all James knew when they finally ended their make-out season, shirtless and sweaty, was that it was very late.
Rob pulled him close and they curled up together in the single bed, both down to their boxers.
“Thanks,” Rob whispered.
“For what?” James asked through the dark.
“Just for being here,” came the mumbled reply.