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.
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.
“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.
“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.
James looked around to see a girl maybe a year younger than him with dark, curly hair and pretty, round face.
“You’re James Rogers, right?”
“Yeah,” said James with a resigned sort of sigh.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
“You might have warned me that I was going to school with Rob.”
“Rob?” asked Steve.
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
James managed to convince the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent that dropped him off at school to let him out a block from the front entrance so no one would see the car. He slunk to his locker where he found Rob waiting for him.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Alright,” Rob said with a shrug.
James sorted through the books he needed for the start of school.
“Can I help you?” he asked coldly after a minute of Rob just standing there watching him.
“Just being friendly. Sheesh.”
James ignored Rob as he followed him to their first and second period classes, but he was harder to ignore when he sat down at James’s empty table at lunch.
“So,” Rob said as he set down his tray. “What the hell is your problem?”
“Oh come on. There’s no way you’re always this surly.” His pushed his too-long red bangs from his eyes.
“I just don’t want to be here, okay?”
“Dude, it’s high school. No one wants to be here.”
There was enough truth to the statement that James did not bother replying. Still, Rob was looking at him expectantly and James had been raised to deal with awkward silences so he fished for a comment.
“Um. How’re your parents?”
Once upon a time, Tony and Pepper had been a common sight on the Helicarrier. They’d had their own quarters near the Rogers’s so James had grown up with them around, but he hadn’t seen either of them in years.
“Fine,” said Rob shortly.
“You still live with your mom?”
“See your dad at all?”
“Yeah.” Rob looked uncomfortable for a moment. “Look, can we not talk about my family? I’m not any more into being a Stark than you’re into being a Rogers.”
“So what do you want to talk about?” asked James, genuinely unsure what to say.
“How about how they still haven’t figured out a way to make industrial pizza not taste like cardboard with tomato sauce?” asked Peggy, sitting down next to Rob. “Can’t you do your boy genius thing and fix this crap?”
“Um. Food science – not really my area of expertise.” Rob made a face. “Oh, James this is-.”
“Peggy, yeah, we met.”
She smiled at him.
“Sorry about the other day. I’m usually not quite that awkward. I was just–. You know, meeting you.” She looked a little pink and didn’t meet James’s eyes.
“It’s fine,” said James, a little uncertain, but trying to be polite. She was a lady, after all.
“Anyway,” said Rob, “she’s a sophomore, but she does robotics team with me.”
Of course Rob’s on the robotics team, thought James.
“Sorry about the food,” Peggy said. “I bet it’s all casserole and pie at your place.”
James snorted as an image of his dad looking like a 1950s housewife popped into his head. While Steve did cook sometimes, more often than not they ate in the S.H.I.E.L.D. mess hall.
“Not exactly,” he said. “Let’s just say I’m very familiar with industrial pizza.”
Rob finished off his slice and picked up a small plate of some kind of pie.
“Dessert test,” he declared and flipped the plate upside-down.
The pie plopped wetly down onto his empty pizza plate.
“I’d say that passes,” Peggy said.
“What’s a dessert test?” asked James, confused.
“The dessert test is seeing how long it takes dessert to fall off the plate. If it takes too long, it fails,” Peggy explained.
“How long is too long?”
“Depends on how hungry I am,” Rob said with a laugh as he started into the messy pile of pie.
To James’s surprise, he found himself smiling.
That evening James wandered through the Helicarrier to one of the science labs. Bruce had been away for almost two months, but he was back now, running tests on whatever he’d been off studying.
“Hey, Bruce,” said James, announcing himself in the doorway.
“James,” he replied, looking up from his work and smiling. “How’s school going?”
“Eh. It was better today.”
“That’s good. Making friends?”
“Sort of. Rob Stark’s in my class.”
“Hm. How’s that?”
“It’s okay.” James perched on a table. “It’s weird, though.”
“I imagine it would be,” said Bruce, polishing his glasses on his shirttail. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Tony.”
“So other than that being weird, is it alright?”
“Not really,” James admitted. “Everyone knows who I am.”
“That would be hard,” said Bruce, nodding.
“And they all expect me to be like my dad.”
“I hate to be the one to point this out, especially when you’re seventeen, but you are like your dad,” said Bruce with a barely suppressed smile.
“We’re not even related.”
“But you are like him, James. In a good way.”
“But I’m not him!”
“No, you’re not,” said Bruce with gentle reassurance. “And you shouldn’t be. You’re your own person and you’re going to make your own accomplishments. You just have to give yourself time.”
“Sometimes I wish I wasn’t part of this world,” he said quietly, gesturing around at the Helicarrier.
“I know. Me too.”
There was a pause as they both thought on the lives they had never asked for.
“So Bruce,” James said, sliding off the table and grabbing his bag. “How’s your chemistry?”
“Excuse me?” asked Bruce, inwardly praying that he wasn’t about to be solicited for dating advice.
“I do not understand a word of this.” James pulled a large textbook with a Bunsen burner on the cover out of his bag and dropped it on the table. “I hadn’t gotten nearly as far as they are. They’re at least three chapters ahead of where I was in my old book.”
Bruce smiled. That kind of chemistry was something he was extremely good at.
“Let’s take a look.”
James thought things might be looking up at school. It was surprisingly easy to fall back into his childhood friendship with Rob and Peggy turned out to be both sweet and witty. And neither of them ever mentioned the Avengers.
Other people were not so considerate.
On James’s third day of phys ed, the teacher, who also couched track approached him about joining the team. “With your dad’s skills there’s no way we wouldn’t win.” James turned her down as politely as he could. Which wasn’t very, according to Rob.
His history teacher asked him if he wanted to join model UN since he “must have such an interest in politics.” Again, James said no.
Several more couches tried to get him on their teams over the next week and he could hardly get through a class period without someone making a comment about his dad. Most them were at least nice, though not all.
“So do they pay your dad to wear that costume, Rogers, or were the tights his idea?” one boy shot at him in passing in the lunchroom.
James was halfway to his feet, but Rob and Peggy each grabbed an arm and pulled him back down into his chair. As much as he didn’t want people associating him with his father, James wasn’t about to let some stupid kid insult him either.
More then once he’d been asked if he would be picking up the shield when he grew up. One girl doing her senior paper on something about superheroes and consumerism asked if he could get her an interview with his dad and the Avengers. Sometimes, it felt like the only word James knew was “no.”
“Hey, America!” called one boy in the hallway. “Is it true you live on that flying thing of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s?”
“Yeah, it’s true. My dad works there,” said another.
“Don’t say that too loud,” said the first boy. “America there might get him fired for you being annoying.”
And then people started calling him “America.” That was the last straw for James.
James pounded into the punching bag, hitting and kicking it with everything he had and hating himself that it wasn’t more. He’d been training semi-unofficially for nearly as long as he could remember yet he knew that the marks on the floor and wall from where punching bags had been punched right off their hanger would never be added to by him. He would never be as good as his father.
“I. Am. Not. Him,” James grunted with each blow to the bag.
“Who said you were?” asked a gentle, female voice, making James jump about a foot in the air.
“Jesus! Do you have to sneak up on me like that, Natasha?”
“It’s just habit. Sorry.” She smiled at him.
“I didn’t know you were back,” he said, grabbing a towel and wiping sweat from his eyes.
“Just finished debriefing.”
“How’d it go?”
“You know I can’t talk about it,” she said with a slight laugh. “But it was fine. Piece of cake, really, once I found the bastards. That’s what took so long.”
“I bet Clint’s glad you’re back.”
“Yeah, he is.”
James loved that Natasha and Clint were Natasha and Clint, a unit, a constant in his life. They’d never gotten married or anything, but they’d quietly been a thing for as long as James could remember and it was nice that they were reliably together. Knowing that such stability was even possible made James feel just a little bit better about the world.
“So has school gotten any better?” Natasha had left for her mission not long after James had starting going to “real school.”
“Everyone thinks I’m him.”
“People started calling me America.” It was the first time he’d admitted to the fact.
“Well, if they’re all so eager to meet the Avengers, tell them I’d be happy to come clean the floor with them any time they like.”
That made James smile.
“I don’t think that’d go over too well with Dad.”
“And them giving you all that crap is?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.
“Well, no, but I try not to mention it too much. I know he feels bad about it.” He sat down on the bench beside his bag.
“James, it’s not your job to protect his feelings,” said Natasha, sitting next to him. “He’s supposed to look out for you; he’s your dad.”
“Yeah.” James turned and fidgeted his bag, shoving his towel and water bottle away. “I just wonder what my life would have been like if he wasn’t.”
“I know,” said Natasha softly. “But we can’t change the past. And Steve’s a good father.”
“Maybe I had a good father,” James snapped, his temper flaring and launching him to his feet. “I’ll never know, will I, because he got caught in your cross-fire.” Without his telling it to, James’s body had taken an offensive pose, ready to strike, even though Natasha could have laid him out cold before he even made a move.
“I’m sorry, James.”
“Do you ever think about how many people have died because you?”
“Yes, I do,” she said quietly.
“I could have had a life, a normal life, but no. My parents got killed because of your fighting. Because of the stupid Avengers!” James could feel tears burning behind his eyes and he tried to blink them away. “I don’t even remember them! I don’t even know their names!”
“Your father’s name is Steve Rogers and he is a good man. Don’t ever forget that.”
James stood there, anger and pain flowing out of him at her gentle words and leaving his body weak and shaky.
“I know,” he said at last. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Come here.”
Natasha Romanoff was many things. She was a former thief, one of the best assassins in the world, and one of the top operatives at S.H.I.E.L.D. She was an Avenger and the only woman currently on the team. She was as hard and cold as the knives she used. She might be Clint’s lover, but she certainly didn’t belong to him and no one would ever accuse her of having a motherly bone in her body. However, she pulled James into her arms and stroked his hair and told him it would be okay because he was her teammate’s son and her team was her family.
Fun fact: the dessert test is a thing that my dad did when he was at boarding school.
Rob soon realized that if he didn’t dub himself official James handler, his friend was going to get himself expelled for fighting. Between him and Peggy, they pretty much managed to keep James under control, but the one day that Rob was home sick with a bad cold, James got himself hauled into the principle’s office.
“Mr. Rogers,” said Mr. Goldman sternly.
“I’m sure you know why you’re here.”
“And what do you have to say for yourself?”
James considered pointing out that the PE program needed improvement so that the students wouldn’t be quite so easy to beat up, but he decided to keep that comment to himself.
“Well?” prompted his principle.
“I’ll be calling your father.”
“Good luck with that one.” James knew for a fact that the first number listed in his file was a direct line to Coulson, who was much more likely to answer a call than Steve was.
Mr. Goldman apparently did not know this as he just frowned at James’s insolence, picked up the phone, and dialed the number.
“Hello, Mr. Rogers? ... I’m sorry, I’m trying to reach James’s father. ... Oh. ... Well, when will he be available? ... Oh.”
James tried hard not to laugh.
“Well, I’m the principle at James’s school. ... Yes, he was fighting. ... Are you someone this boy answers to? ... Good. ... I’ll let him tell you, then.” Goldman held out the phone to James.
Goldman’s frown deepened at James’s cheerfully casual greeting.
“James. Your principle tells me you’ve gotten yourself in trouble. What happened?”
“I was fighting,” said James trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, mainly to piss off Goldman.
“Did you win?”
“Of course I won. What kind of question is that?”
“How bad were the damages?”
“Not that bad. I know how to win without breaking anything – or anyone.”
“I know. So why were you fighting, James?” asked Coulson, finally getting to the heart of the matter.
“I was being bullied,” said James in his best fake puppy-dog voice.
“You know what they all say about me, Phil,” said James, more earnestly now. “It’s driving me crazy.”
“I’m sure violence is not the answer,” said Coulson in the tone he usually reserved for dealing with Clint when he refused to come out of the ceiling.
“It works for Natasha,” James said with a shrug.
“She’s Russian.” There was a pause and then Coulson said, “Listen, James. I know it’s hard, but you can’t just go around beating up civilians. You’re seventeen and you’re not an agent. And even if you were, those kids aren’t enemies of S.H.I.E.L.D. We can’t back your behavior and you know it.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“So do whatever your principle says and try not to beat anyone else up, okay?”
James fidgeted for a moment.
“Are you gonna tell my dad?”
“Will it help?”
“Probably not,” said James with forced cockiness.
He could almost hear Coulson raise an eyebrow.
“We’ll see,” he said at last.
James sighed and handed the phone back to Mr. Goldman.
James didn’t fight with his dad that night, just took the lecture quietly and then hid in Bruce’s lab to do his homework. The next morning, he was almost glad to go off to school.
Rob had the good grace not to mention James’s week of detentions, but he watched his friend like a hawk whenever they were together. James could hardly turn around without finding himself face to face with either Rob or Peggy, but usually the boy. This didn’t bother him much until Rob started following him to the bathroom.
“Oh for the love of-!” he cried in exasperation. “I promise not to get in any fights while I pee, okay?”
“I’m just trying to look out for you, man.”
“I can look out for myself,” James huffed.
"Yeah, that’s kind of the problem,” Rob muttered at his friend’s receding back.
Peggy touched his arm gently.
“It’s okay. I think he’ll start behaving himself after what happened.”
After James’s stint in detention was over, he started hanging around after school in the library. It was as good a place as any to do homework and it got him off the Helicarrier for a few more hours every day. It was also a good place to hide from his classmates because even if someone obnoxious did show up they had to keep their comments to themself as the librarian could be very strict. Peggy volunteer tutored freshmen in history, her best subject, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Rob had computer club on Wednesdays, and they both had robotics on Mondays, but when they weren’t busy, his friends would join him in one of the less frequented areas of their large school library to work and hang out away from spiteful comments and potential fights.
It was Thursday and the boys were working without Peggy. They’d been laboring over research papers for English for almost an hour. Rob closed the large and extremely boring looking book he’d been pouring over and sighed. James looked in time to see his friend lean back in his chair and stretch, his AC/DC t-shirt riding up to show surprisingly toned stomach muscles. James felt an odd thrill in his own stomach at the sight.
Rob tended to hide it behind baggy clothes and books, but he was built like his father. He was a few inches taller than James and a little bit on the stocky side. He had a sturdy build without being heavy, though his floppy red hair tended to detract from what might have been a very masculine look. He also, apparently, worked out.
Rob finished his stretch and glanced at James, who quickly pretended he hadn’t been looking. His friend sighed again and looked at his watch.
“I gotta go.”
“Why?” asked James. They usually waited until Peggy was done with the rug rats before heading out.
“I’m supposed to go with my dad tonight. Happy’s picking me up a little early because of something. I don’t remember.”
“Oh. Right.” James rubbed his forehead. He couldn’t keep track of anything any more. “Are you at his place this weekend?”
“Yup. Assuming he doesn’t fly off to the save the world again.” Rob shook his head.
"Do you not wanna go?” James asked, a little uncertainly.
“What? No, I mean, I like my dad and everything’s been pretty much fine with him since he got out of rehab again, but he is still Iron Man and all that.”
“I know that feel,” said James. “Well, not the rehab bit.”
“Yeah, your dad can’t even get drunk.”
James chewed his lip, uncertain what to say. When he and Rob had both been seven, the Avengers had been sent on a mission that had gone wrong, horribly wrong. The team had made it back, but only just and some of the civilians they were supposed to have been rescuing hadn’t been so lucky. Neither had Maria Hill. Tony had blamed himself for what had happened and things had gone downhill fast. From what James had been able to find out by listening in doorways, Tony had indeed fucked up, but he didn’t know most of the details since the files were classified. What it came down to was that Tony had started drinking again after the botched mission, dropped out of the team, drunk even more, and, well, it hadn’t been pretty. Pepper had divorced him and gotten sole custody of Rob. She’d barely allowed Tony to see their son again until he’d gone through rehab - several times. After that, things had picked up again somewhat. Tony had never gone back to the team, but eventually he’d put the suit on again and now Rob stayed with him on Thursday nights and every other weekend and Tony did his best not to be saving the world on those days.
Rob packed up his bag and swung it onto his back.
"I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, see you.”
James watched Rob go feeling suddenly very confused. He was still staring stupidly after his friend when Peggy came up behind him.
“Hey,” she said.
“Oh! Hey, Peggy. How were the little beasts?”
“Eh, fine. Where’s Rob?”
"He had to go. He’s at his dad’s place tonight and Happy’s picking up him early or something.”
Peggy pulled out her laptop and opened a list of books she needed for a research paper of her own.
“You okay?” she asked after a minute.
“What? Fine.” James gave his head a little shake.
“Okay,” said Peggy sounding doubtful.
James’s phone buzzed quietly and he pulled it out, glancing at the text on the screen.
“My ride’s here. I gotta go.”
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Oh, James,” she called quietly after him.
“Do you have plans this weekend?” she asked.
“Uh, don’t think so. Unless the world needs saving and I get confined to the Helicarrier,” he said with a smile.
“I still can’t believe you live on that thing.”
“Anyway, it’s my birthday on Sunday and I was thinking maybe you, me, and Rob could hang out at my place, watch a movie, have dinner, that sort of thing.”
“I’d love to.”
That night, Steve made dinner, which he did occasionally, usually if he’d been spending a lot of time with the Avengers lately and felt he needed to make it up to James.
“We’re not doing anything Sunday are we?” James asked as he started in on the shepherd’s pie. Steve might not cook often, but when he did, it always looked like it belonged on the cover of a magazine and tasted as good as it looked.
“I don’t think so. Why?”
“It’s Peggy’s birthday. She wanted to hang out with me and Rob.”
“That sounds nice. I’m glad you’re making friends.”
“So I can go?” asked James.
“Of course. You’re seventeen; I’m hardly going to stop you from hanging out with your friends.” Steve smiled. “I’ll take you.”
“Really?” James asked, frowning slightly. When he went somewhere, it was usually with a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. His dad seemed to think it was safer for him to keep his distance in public.
"Sure. I’d like to meet Peggy’s family and maybe I’ll see Pepper; it’s been ages.”
“Rob’s with his dad this weekend,” James mumbled.
“He probably won’t bring him, though. Carpool isn’t really a Tony sort of thing,” James said, trying to sound casual.
“I guess not.”
There was a slightly uncomfortable pause before Steve said, “So school’s getting better?”
“I guess. People seem to be getting a little bored with me, but it’s still... annoying.” That was putting it lightly, but James didn’t really want to go into it. “Hey, Dad?” he asked after a moment of silent chewing.
“What do you get your friend for their birthday?” James hadn’t picked out a present for a friend since Rob had turned eight.
Steve thought for a moment.
“Well, what does she like?”
“History,” said James uncertainly. “And robotics.”
"Hm, you know, I’m really not sure.”
James decided to ask around so after dinner he started hunting down his honorary family members.
“What should I get my friend for her birthday?”
Bruce considered the question.
“Something genuine,” he said at last.
"Something that you share, a common passion.”
James honestly wasn’t sure what he had in common with Peggy besides a mutual ability to put up with Rob so he thanked Bruce and moved on, trying not to be bothered by not really understanding what their friendship was built upon.
“It’s my friend’s birthday on Sunday. What should I get her?”
“Bruce said something genuine. I don’t think that’s very genuine.”
“It’s genuinely useful.”
James deiced to try someone else before Natasha started suggesting weaponry as good presents.
"What’s up, kiddo?” asked Clint dropping down from his loft bed/nest.
"My friend’s birthday is Sunday. What should I get her?”
“Does she like the Avengers?” he asked.
“S.H.I.E.L.D. issue underwear,” he replied without hesitation.
“Clint, that’s terrible!”
James rolled his eyes and went to find Phil.
“Your friend Peggy?” he asked.
"Well, you can get her pretty much anything you can think of. Everyone on this boat thinks of you as their kid. If S.H.I.E.L.D. can get a hold of it, so can you.”
James thought about this for a moment.
“I’ve got an idea. Will you help me?”
That Sunday, Steve and James took the “fast way” down from Helicarrier. Thor was around for some training and team building (i.e. movie night) later that day and was glad to give the Rogers family a lift.
It had taken Steve a surprisingly short time master driving in modern-day Manhattan, but quite a long time until he was willing to let James ride on the back of his bike. It might be more exposed, but with their heads firmly encased in their helmets, they could be anyone. They arrived at Peggy’s apartment exactly on time (Steve was nothing if not punctual) and Peggy met them at the door.
“Hi, Peggy,” James said, still trying to fix his helmet hair.
“Hey,” she replied brightly.
“Peggy, this is my dad, Steve. Dad, this is Peggy.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Steve smiling and shaking her hand.
“You too.” James could tell Peggy was trying really hard to act normal even though she was meeting the man from her family stories and WWII books. “Um, come on in,” she said. “Rob isn’t here yet, but you know him, he’s never on time.” She headed for the kitchen. “Mom! James and his dad are here!”
Peggy’s mother appeared. She was a smiling woman, who looked at lot like her daughter. She had dark eyes and hair that she’d pulled into a bun, though a few curling tendrils had escaped around her round face. She was very pretty in her business causal clothes, which she’d covered with an apron patterned with bright flowers. She looked like she’d walked out of a parenting magazine, but James knew she also worked long hours as some kind of business higher up.
“Hi, you must be Steve,” she said, throwing a dishtowel over her shoulder and holding out her hand like Steve was just another parent.
“Yes,” he replied, shaking her hand and smiling back.
“It’s nice to meet you.”
“Um, listen, Nancy, I’d love to talk to you if you’re not too busy,” he said a little awkwardly.
“I’m just finishing up some snacks for the kids, but if you want to come into the kitchen, we can chat.”
Peggy and James watched their parents vanish into the other room. Peggy looked at her friend.
“If our parents hook up, I will never forgive you,” she said darkly.
“I seriously doubt Dad’s going to go for his old girlfriend’s granddaughter. That’s weird – even for him.”
They both laughed and then James held out a small, rectangular box, wrapped in colorful paper.
"Happy birthday, Peggy.”
"Thanks. Should I open it now?”
“If you want to.”
“Okay.” She sat down on the living room sofa, tore off the paper enthusiastically, and opened the box. “Oh my god,” she whispered.
“It’s real,” said James, grinning.
“What do you mean real?”
“Well, it’s not the main one they used; it was Eccleston’s back up.”
Peggy lifted the sonic screwdriver from the box like it was the Holy Grail.
“He’s your favorite, right?” asked James, praying he’d remembered properly.
She nodded mutely before whispering: “How did you get this?”
“I’ve got connections.”
Peggy put it back in the box, which she set carefully down on the coffee table, and then flung her arms around James.
“Thank you so much! It’s amazing! I can’t believe you got me the real sonic!”
“Back-up sonic,” he corrected quickly.
“It might still have his DNA on it,” she breathed reverently.
“Okay, that’s just creepy.”
“Do you want a drink or anything?”
“I’ll be right back.”
Peggy hugged him again and then went into the kitchen. Almost the moment she had gone the apartment’s buzzer went off.
“That’ll be Rob,” she called. “Could you get it, James?”
James went to the door and opened it to see his friend and, to his great surprise, Tony.
“Oh,” he said blankly, looking at the man he hadn’t seen since he was seven.
“Hey, James,” said Rob, looking slightly pained and clutching a mid-sized box topped with a large bow.
They all stood there awkwardly for a moment.
“Come in?” said James uncertainly, stepping aside.
Rob followed James inside and Tony brought up the rear. James had never seen Tony Stark look uncomfortable before in his life.
“It’s good to see you again, James,” he said stiffly.
“Um, you too.”
Before they had time to say anything else, Steve appeared on the scene and the temperature in the room seemed to drop about twenty degrees.
They looked at each other coldly, separated by their children. James was pretty sure they hadn’t been in the same room together since Tony had quit the team and he doubted they’d spoken since then. He knew they shared some intel back and forth, but that was about it as far as written communication went. He remembered when Tony and his dad had been best friends and even after so long it hurt to see them speaking to each other like strangers. Rob was staring at the floor, looking like he wanted nothing more than melt into it before things got any worse and James’s tense body language echoed the sentiment. There was no way their friendship was going to bring about a Parent Trap happy ending.
Thankfully, Nancy had followed Steve.
“Hi, I’m Nancy, Peggy’s mom,” she said, smiling and holding out her hand. “You must be Tony.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said, shaking her hand, charismatic smile in place at once.
“You too. Can I get you anything?”
“No, I’m afraid I’m gotta run. Call me when you’re done, okay?” he told Rob.
“Good to see you, James, Captain.” His voice caught the tiniest bit on Steve’s title, but he just smiled around and took his leave.
Nancy only let the awkward pause exist for a moment before turning to James’s tense father.
“You were in the middle of a story, Steve.”
“Right, of course.”
The two adults went back into the kitchen. Once they were gone, Peggy turned to James and Rob, her eyebrows raised.
"Okay, what did I miss?”
“Our dad’s haven’t really talked since we were little,” muttered Rob. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s fine.” Like her mother, Peggy was good at fending off awkward pauses. “Come see what James got me. You won’t believe it!”
After a couple of hours, a good portion of which was spent with Rob explaining how the robot he’d build for Peggy worked, Steve finally left and Nancy served pizza, followed by cake and ice cream. The trio was having a good time and James tried not to think about how long it had been since he’d been to a birthday party of someone anything like his own age. The team celebrated birthdays of course, but the youngest member (counting by time actually spent living and not from date of birth) was his own father. It was such a good feeling, hanging out with his friends, eating the fantastic snacks Peggy’s mom had made, and laughing at the kind of jokes teenagers made rather then the kind of jokes that S.H.I.E.L.D. agents made.
When it came time to pick a movie, Rob and Peggy were both horrified to discover that James knew nothing about The Rocky Horror Picture Show. After explaining the interactive nature of watching the film, Peggy popped the movie in and James watched, helpless to understand his friends’ shouting at the TV and trying not to let his eyes fall on Rob when it was time to do the “Time Warp.”
After the movie was over, Rob went to the bathroom, leaving James and Peggy alone. Peggy fixed him with a stern look that did not fit her sixteen years of age.
“What?” asked James, suddenly uncomfortable.
“Do you like Rob?” she asked.
"What?” James yelped.
“Do you like Rob?” she repeated. “And I don’t mean as a friend.”
James stared at her in horror.
“I’ve seen the way you look at him.” She elbowed him in the side. “You totally like him. You should go for it.”
“I thought you liked him,” James said uncertainly.
Peggy burst out laughing.
“Rob? Are you kidding me? I mean, he’s a great guy, but he’s so not my type.”
“What is your type?” he asked.
“I mean, some guys are okay, but I usually like girls more.” Peggy shrugged.
Talking about being gay was something James wasn’t exactly comfortable with, having grown up as the military brat of a guy from the 1940s.
"What?” she asked as James’s silence stretched.
“You have a problem with me being bi?”
“No, of course not. It’s just not something I’m used to talking about it at S.H.I.E.L.D.”
“They repealed that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law before we were even born.” She shook her head.
“Yeah, but it’s still the military and, well, my dad’s not exactly up to the times.”
Peggy pursed her lips and thought about this for a moment before pressing him again.
"So what about Rob?”
“I dunno,” James mumbled.
“So you do like him!” she cried triumphantly.
“That’s not what I said!” James hissed.
Peggy just shrugged and gave him her best “I’m a girl and therefore I understand feelings” smile.
"All I’m saying is that if you like him, you should go for it.”
“You think he likes me?”
“I think that if you don’t make a move, no one will,” she replied cryptically.
James sighed, but couldn’t ask her any further questions because there was a full-out scream from the bathroom. Before Peggy could do anything, James was tearing into the bathroom, ready for a fight. However, all he found when he crashed through the door was Rob standing by the sink, his eyes huge and fixed on the shower curtain. Peggy appeared at James’s tense shoulder and she followed Rob’s gaze.
“There you are,” she said in a tone reminiscent of a scolding mother. She went over the shower, stretched on tiptoe, and plucked the rat from the curtain rod. “I was wondering where he’d gotten to.” Peggy stroked the rat and then placed it on her shoulder. “I’ll just pop him back in his cage real quick.”
“That’s your pet?” demanded Rob, one hand on his chest. “I nearly had a heart attack.”
“You’re fine” Peggy rolled her eyes as she left.
“Jesus, Rob,” James said. “I thought someone was attacking you.”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to send you into battle mode, America.”
James took a quick step towards his friend, eyes suddenly narrow and cold.
"Don’t call me that,” he said, his voice low and dangerous.
“Sorry,” Rob muttered again.
James huffed and stalked back to the living room.
Peggy and Rob joined him there shortly.
“Oh man, it’s late,” Peggy noted, stretching. “You guys want to crash here tonight?”
“Sure,” said Rob, shrugging. “I’ll just text Dad.”
"I should check with my dad,” James said, pulling out his phone. Steve still wasn’t great at texting. “I’ll be right back.” James stepped into the kitchen to call.
“You ready to come home? It’s pretty late.”
"Yeah, I know. I was actually wondering if it was cool if I just stayed here tonight.” He chewed his lip a little, not at all sure what his dad would say.
“You want to stay over night at a girl’s house?” Steve confirmed.
“Dad,” James said, rolling his eyes. “It’s Peggy. We’re just friends. Anyway, Rob’s here too.”
“It’s a school night,” Steve reminded him.
“I know. But I’ve got the stuff I need; it’s still in my backpack.”
“You won’t stay up too late?”
Steve hesitated and then sighed.
“Alright. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Dad,” said James with a smile.
“I love you.”
“Love you too.” James hung up and returned to the living room. “My dad says I can stay.”
“Cool,” said Peggy.
"You know, this is the first time I’ve spent the night at someone’s house,” James said.
"Seriously?” she asked.
"Well, since-.” He glanced quickly at Rob. He’d spent nights off the Helicarrier with him at Pepper and Tony’s place when there still been a Pepper and Tony. “A long time,” he finished.
James shifted uncomfortably. He knew he’d had pretty much the weirdest childhood ever, but he still didn’t like it when other people pointed this fact out.
With tension suddenly bubbling to the surface, they didn’t stay up much talking. Peggy found pillows and blankets and the three of them bedded down in the living room to sleep. Peggy and Rob’s breathing became slow and even fairly soon after they’d all said goodnight, but James lay awake thinking.
What Peggy had said made sense. He hadn’t really thought about it openly with himself before, but all the signs pointed to a pretty serious crush on Rob. However, maybe Rob didn’t see him that way. Maybe Rob wasn’t even the friend James thought he was after what he’d said in the bathroom. But James found the idea hard to believe, as much as the words had stung. He knew Rob had just been joking. Rob was a joker; it was just part of who he was. And James liked who he was. He really, really liked it.
James rolled over in the blanket taco he’d made for himself and wondered what to do. Should he follow Peggy’s advice and make some kind of move? It all seemed awfully sudden, but the more he thought about it the more he felt sure he did like Rob that way and that he had liked him that way for a while now. James had never really given much thought to his own sexuality, having never had a real chance to try it out. Sure, he was a seventeen-year-old boy, but he just did what his body compelled him to and tried not to think about it too hard. But Rob. Rob was something different, something new. What if he did make a move and Rob rejected him? Would their friendship survive it? James could really not afford to lose friends. But what if he made a move and Rob didn’t reject him? Then what?
James fell slowly into a sleep punctuated by weird dreams that he couldn’t quite hold on to. When he woke, it took him a minute to remember why he hadn’t been able to get to sleep the night before. Then he felt very nervous, but also determined. He’d grown up with the Avengers, goddamnit; he knew how to handle tough situations head on. How hard it could possibly be?
James didn’t get a chance to talk to Rob alone until Tuesday afternoon. He spent almost all of the intervening time coming up with about seven and half thousand different ways to talk to Rob about his feelings. None of them seemed any good at all and the more he tried out different speeches in his head, the worse he felt. Peggy noticed how distracted he was, but had the good grace not to say anything; she just flashed him encouraging smiles behind Rob’s back. Rob seemed too clueless to notice anything was wrong, for which James was very grateful.
The two boys were working in the library while Peggy was tutoring her freshman and James was so absorbed in worry that he didn’t notice Rob’s pencil had been silent for several minutes before his friend spoke.
“I’m sorry about calling you that the other night,” he said.
“What?” asked James looking up.
“I’m sorry I called you America,” Rob clarified.
“Oh. It’s fine.” James shrugged. He’d been so focused on his confusing feelings that Rob’s insult had slid from his mind. “No big deal. Sorry I snapped at you.”
Rob nodded, unconsciously twisting a stay lock of red hair around a finger.
“You’ve just seemed a little, I dunno, distant.”
“Have I?” asked James, his voice almost squeaking.
“A little,” Rob confirmed. “Is something up?”
“I guess I’ve just been thinking.”
“About what?” asked Rob, looking nervous, like he thought James was about to drop him.
“Look,” James said, licking his lips and trying to pull up his best Avengers confidence. “I don’t really know what I’m doing here, but–.” He leaned towards his friend before realizing that they weren’t sitting close enough together for this to end well and that he really was about to kiss one of his only two friends and that it was probably a really, really bad choice, regardless of what he’d thought in the past day. James jumped to his feet and took a few steps away from the table.
“Are you okay?’ asked Rob, also standing.
“Fine,” James muttered, pushing his glasses up.
“You sure?” Rob took a few steps closer and James found himself trapped with his back only a foot or so from the shelf of books behind him.
“So what were you saying?”
James licked his lips again, took a deep breath, and made a move. Praying that Rob would stop him in time, James grabbed his friend’s shoulders, stretched up, and kissed him, just for a moment.
He felt like his might throw up from nerves as he pulled away, but other than that it really wasn’t very exciting. No sparks flew, no angles sang. He was very aware of his lips, but the contact had been so brief that he couldn’t really gauge if it had been pleasant or not.
“Oh,” said Rob after a moment of silence.
“I’m sorry,” James blurted out, trying to escape.
But before he could get very far, Rob grabbed him by the arms and held him still.
“Hey,” he said. “It’s okay.”
“Define okay,” James said slowly.
“Good like you’re not mad or good like you’re glad that I–?” James couldn’t even say what he’d done.
The two boys stood in awkward silence for a moment and then Rob carefully slid an arm around James’s waist, moved the other hand up to his friend’s shoulder, and kissed him again.
This time James got a better impression of it. It was a little messy. Rob was enthusiastic, probably a trait he’d inherited from his father, and at first James was hesitant to respond in kind, but he quickly realized he wanted to. Less thinking, more kissing, he told himself sternly. He didn’t need to analyze the situation, just enjoy it.
He was finally starting to properly relax when they heard footsteps approaching and pulled away quickly, diving back towards their books. A girl James recognized as a freshman came around the corner into the aisle of shelves their table was at the end of and the boys stared intently at their work, occasionally catching each other’s eye and then looking away again quickly to keep from giggling.
When James’s phone buzzed to tell him the S.H.I.E.L.D. car was there to pick him up, he sighed.
“I’ve gotta go,” he said quietly, getting up and starting to pack.
“Okay. I’ll, um, I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” said Rob getting to his feet as well.
They stood facing each other for a moment before James gave Rob a quick kiss and fled.
“How was school?” asked Steve, still as if it was the greatest thing that had ever come out of his mouth. The guy was way too into being a dad in James’s opinion.
“Fine,” said James with a shrug.
“Nothing interesting happened?”
“Dad, it’s school; it’s pretty much the same every day.”
“Well, how was Peggy’s party then? Sorry I didn’t have time to ask about it last night.” There had been some serious Nick-Fury-is-angry-at-you-for-no-good-reason type training Monday night so Steve hadn’t been around.
“It’s fine. The party was really fun,” James replied earnestly.
“I’m glad you had a good time.”
“How was talking to her mom?” he asked, a little cautiously.
“She’s a very nice woman.”
James raised his eyebrows to say that his dad’s reply so did not answer the question.
“It was a little strange,” he admitted. “Peggy was so young when I knew her. It’s odd to think about her like that.”
“Someone’s grandmother?” James asked.
“Yeah.” Steve ran a hand through his hair. “She got married quite late, apparently, for the time.”
“She waited, didn’t she?” he asked quietly.
“I’m sorry,” said James after a moment.
“Hey,” said Steve, frowning and crossing to his son. “You don’t be sorry for this. I might have lost one life, yes, but that one I gained?” He placed his hands on James’s shoulders. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
“Thanks, Dad,” said James, not able to meet his father’s eyes as he wondered what he’d say when he found out about Rob.
Though neither of them ever said it outright, James and Rob were soon as good as dating. They never really went on any dates, however. Mostly it was stolen glances and kisses behind school buildings when no one else was around. Peggy thought it was adorable, but she did her best to keep her thoughts to herself. In fact, the only times she really mentioned it were if the boys were making her feel like a third wheel, which they always apologized for. She was the only person they’d told about their relationship and she, of course, kept the news to herself. In fact, she often served as patrol for them, giving them pointed glances when they got too couple-y in public. All things considered, it was pretty good. They avoided the teasing of being a gay couple at a fairly conservative school and enjoyed the kissing and tried not to wonder if it would be better in the open.
“You know, English isn’t my best subject, but I’m pretty sure this is ironic,” said Rob one afternoon as they snuck out behind the library.
“What?” James asked.
“Us doing this after everything that went down between our dads,” he explained.
“We’re not our dads.”
“But we can’t pretend they don’t influence us.”
“Yeah, I guess. So what are you saying? Our getting together is like some kind of reverse physiology?”
“No,” said Rob. “It’s just kinda funny is all.”
James thought for a moment.
“What do you think your dad would say?” he asked.
Rob made a face.
“Probably ask why it took me so long to get with someone. What about your dad?”
“Oh god, I dunno. I mean, he tries to be really accepting, but the guy’s still from the freaking forties and then he caught the tail end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“The tail end of what?” asked Rob.
“It was this law that meant you couldn’t be out if you were in the military,” James explained.
“Yup, but still, “gay” is not really something Dad’s good at dealing with. Not that it comes up a lot, but I just feel like–. I dunno.”
“What? You think I should tell him?”
“Well, at some point, yeah.”
“Have you told your parents?”
“No,” he conceded. “But it’s not like it’s been that long. And it’s not like they ask.”
“We’ll figure it out. We don’t have to do anything yet.”
“I mean, it’s not like it’s a problem,” he went on. “I just don’t want to freak out my dad, you know?” James took off his glasses and cleaned them on the bottom of his t-shirt.
“Yeah, I know, but your dad loves you. He’s not going to disown you or anything.”
“Neither will your dad. I mean, he’s not exactly straight or were those just rumors?” There’d been a lot of print a few years back about Tony being bisexual.
“Some of it was true.” Rob thought for a minute and had to admit to himself that his parents were, all things considered, pretty chill. “Hey,” he said, smiling and pulling James to him. “Don’t look so down. You’ve got me.”
James didn’t realize until he got home how good it was that his dad had been working out when he arrived. He stood before the bathroom mirror and frowned at the mark on his neck, wondering what to do. He poked at the small bruise. It didn’t really hurt, but it was pretty noticeable. He tried to think of a good cover story. PE accident? He certainly didn’t want his dad to think he’d been fighting again. Maybe he could slap a band-aid on it and tell his dad that he’d had an unfortunate encounter with some kind of spinney plant.
Usually, if he came up against something he couldn’t ask his dad about, he’d ask one of the other Avengers, starting with Bruce. Somehow he didn’t think Bruce had a lot of experience with hickies. He didn’t even what to think about the idea of Phil getting them. Thor was around for a few days, but he wasn’t good for advice on the simplest matters. Natasha would probably just say he should tell his dad. Maybe Clint would know. Natasha seemed like the kind of person who’d leave marks on her lover.
James peered down the hall to be sure it was empty and then darted off. After knocking on a few air vents, a ceiling panel popped open and Clint dropped down, landing easily and straitening up as if nothing had happened.
“What can I do for you, kiddo?”
“Um,” said James fidgeting.
“You got a little something on your neck,” he said with a smirk.
“Yeah, I know,” said James in clipped tones.
“I bet your dad will have a thing or two to say about that.” Clint’s smirk widened.
Clint seemed to consider James for a moment.
“Are you going to help me or not?” James asked with a sigh.
“Yeah, come on, kiddo.” Clint grinned and led James back to his room. “Let’s see,” he said as he rummaged through disorganized shelves. “Here we go,” he said at last, holding up a small jar. “Come here.”
James approached Clint and he tugged the kid’s head to one side, exposing his neck.
“Hold still,” he instructed as he dabbed some sort of cool, sticky cream onto the bruise. “Let that sit. Don’t touch it,” he scolded as James reached up towards his neck.
“What is it?”
“Basic fast-acting healing cream. S.H.I.E.L.D. issue.”
“They’ve invented healing cream and they’re keeping it to themselves?” It was just the sort of thing those military bastards would do.
“It’s not really a solution to injuries,” Clint explained. “It just does surface healing. Basically, you slap some on, give it twenty minutes, and it makes it look like you didn’t just get the crap beaten outta you.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Element of surprise,” said Clint with a shrug. “You don’t want your enemy to think you’re hurt or know where your weakness are.”
“So,” said Clint, sitting down backwards on his desk chair. “Who’s the lucky girl? Or guy,” he added quickly.
“I assume that was the good kind of bruise.”
“Um, yeah,” said James, feeling himself flush a little.
“I’m just looking for a name.”
James chewed his lip. He really wanted to tell someone about Rob. Nothing like this had ever happened to him in his life and it was driving him crazy not being able to talk about it. However, Clint was pretty much the biggest gossip on the Helicarrier. He was always hearing things what with all the time he spent in the ceilings and walls and he rarely kept what he heard to himself.
“You can’t tell anyone,” James said at last. “Especially not my dad.”
“Not a word.”
“Promise?” James pressed.
“Cross my heart,” said Clint solemnly.
James took a deep breath and muttered, “Rob.”
“Wait. Not Rob as in Robert Stark as in Tony’s kid?”
“Yup,” said James, definitely blushing now.
“Shit, kiddo,” said Clint, leaning back. “I’m impressed.”
“I mean, Starks are pretty notorious.”
“Rob isn’t really like that.”
“So question,” Clint said.
James raised his eyebrows.
“Do you not want your dad knowing you’re hooking up with–?”
“We’re not “hooking up,”” said James quickly.
“Whatever. Do you not want him to know that it’s a boy or that it’s Tony’s boy?”
“Both,” James mumbled after a moment.
“So you won’t tell him?”
“I promised, didn’t I?” He smiled at James. “You know, I’m not sure which is weirder.”
“Well, I figured it was that Peggy girl so now I’m trying to decided if it would be weirder for you to be with your dad’s 1940s girlfriend’s great-granddaughter or your dad’s ex-teammate’s son.”
“I think Peggy would be weirder.”
“Yeah, but from what I hear Steve and Nancy are friends now. And Steve are Tony aren’t exactly, well, talking.”
“But that’s grown up crap. You don’t need to worry about it.” He grabbed a chewy bar from his desk and tore the wrapper open with his teeth. “So,” he said around his first bite. “Did your dad tell you about the last mission?”
“No,” said James, a hint of sulking in his voice.
“Well, let me tell you, then. We kicked ass.”
“You always kick ass. You’re the Avengers.”
Clint grinned and then launched into the story. Steve often avoided telling James similar tales as if he thought it would give his son ideas. And it wasn’t allowed, strictly speaking. The Avengers mission reports were almost always classified. By the time Clint was wrapping up his story of danger and adventure in which he had totally saved the day regardless of anything Natasha might tell James, the cream was ready to come off. When it was gone, so was the mark.
“Of course, the damage to the tissue is still there, more or less, but now your dad will never know.”
“No problem. Tell you what,” he tossed the jar to James, “take this one. I’ll get another in medical.”
“Now get outta here before you dad yells at me for keeping you from doing your homework.”
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.
James thought it would take him ages to get to sleep, but the next thing he knew the morning light was sliding through the blinds to play in Rob’s strawberry-blonde hair. James fumbled for his glasses and pushed himself up to a sitting position. Rob rolled over, not even half awake, and nuzzled his face against James’s hip. James sat very still, looking down at him. Rob was strong and masculine, but, at the same time, incredibly beautiful. In sleep, all the tension had gone from his body and he looked so peaceful and innocent. One corner of his mouth was just the tiniest bit raised, the hint of a smile. James gently ran his hand over Rob’s naked torso and in the early morning quiet he could hear the sound of skin moving against skin as he touched arms, back, side, neck, face, wherever he could reach. Rob’s skin was soft and warm and the whole moment seemed beautiful to James, almost sacred.
Then his phone buzzed on the bedside table.
James sighed and glanced at it. It was his dad, who’d worry if he didn’t answer. He frowned, grabbed his phone, and got up. Rob made a low sound in the back of his throat.
“I’ll be right back,” James said quietly before hurrying in the hall to talk to his father. “Hey, what’s up?” he asked as soon as the door was shut behind him.
“James. I need you to come home, now.” Steve spoke low and quick and it made the hairs of the back of James’s neck stand up.
“What’s wrong?” he asked at once.
“We’ve got a mission, a big one, and I want you safe. Go to the roof of the building; a helicopter will pick you up.”
“It’s bad,” James said. It wasn’t a question.
“What about Rob?”
“Is Pepper back?”
James peered through the open door to Pepper’s room.
“No, she’s still away.”
“She’ll probably stay with Rhodey for this one, then.”
“Should I bring him with me?” asked James, turning back towards the room.
“No. No need to panic civilians. Just tell him set up the security system. If Tony built it, he should be safe.”
James didn’t point out that he himself was a civilian and just said, “Okay.”
“The chopper should be there in about five minutes. I’ll see you back here before we take off.”
“Is it in New York?” James asked.
“Not yet. And we should be able to stop it.” James could hear the solider in his father’s voice.
“Okay. I’ll see you soon.” James hung up and went back into Rob’s room.
“Sup?” he mumbled sleepily.
James hesitated for a moment. The one of the first duties of a solider was to protect civilians and while he was not technically an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. he had been raised as one.
“Nothing you need to worry about, but I have to go,” he said as he tugged his clothes back on and found his bag.
“Why?” Rob asked, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.
“I just have to. My dad wants me home. I’ll see you later, okay?”
James kissed him quickly and Rob made to pull him back for a longer kiss, but James slipped away.
“Go back to sleep.”
Rob nodded and nestled back into the blankets.
James went into the hall and found the central control for the apartment’s version of JARVIS.
“JARVIS?” he said quietly.
“James Rogers,” the computer replied, matching his low tone.
“Will you take instruction from me?”
JARVIS computed for a moment.
“Possible. What are you instructions?”
“I need you to set the security system on high and tell Rob when he gets up. But let him sleep for now.”
Again, there was a pause before JARVIS spoke again.
“Tell him-,” James began uncertainly. “Tell him I said not to worry and that I’ll call him later.”
“Just lock up behind me.” James shouldered his bag and then headed for the roof.
He only had a wait a minute before the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopter appeared in the sky and landed in front him. An agent opened the door and James got in, taking the headset offered to him.
“It took two of you to come get me?” he asked.
“Captain Rogers was very insistent,” explained the agent who was piloting as the other agent took the co-pilot’s seat.
“So am I allowed to know what’s going on?”
Neither agent spoke.
“Guess that’s a “no,” huh?”
The rest of the ride back to the Helicarrier was spent in silence. When they landed, James was met with a shock. Across the deck, the team was assembled. Everyone was in full uniform and ready to fight expect for Bruce, who hadn’t hulked out yet, and Thor, who James could only assume had taken off already. And standing with them, armor glinting in the morning light, was Iron Man. That was when James understood just how bad it was. He jumped out of the helicopter and ran over towards the team.
“James.” Steve strode away from the group and caught his son by the shoulders.
“Dad, what’s going on? Why is Tony here?” James asked, fear in his voice.
“He’s just here to help.”
“Why do you need his help?”
Steve didn’t answer.
“Is it really that bad?”
“Yeah, it is,” said Steve quietly. “Listen to me, James,” he went on, bending down a little to get on James’s level. “You stay on the Helicarrier; you stay in your room and you keep everything locked. I’m not having anything hurt you. There’ll be agents all over the place, but if anything does happen, you take the escape pod in my room and go.”
“Where?” James asked, suddenly feeling small with fear.
“It’s preprogrammed to take you to a safe house. But you’ll be fine.”
“What is it? What are you fighting?”
“Cap!” called Clint. “Let’s go!”
“I have to go. Be careful.”
“You be careful! You’re the one about to–.”
Steve pulled his son into a tight hug.
“I love you.”
“I love you too, Dad.”
Steve let go and looked at James for a moment before turning away and jogging back to his team, pulling his cowl up as he did. James watched them vanish into a quinjet, which leapt into the sky moments later.
“Come on, you should get inside,” said one of the agents from the helicopter.
James nodded and followed her through a door off the deck. He went down to the rooms he shared with his father, fear making him walk quickly and feel sick. It had been a long time since his dad had told him to take that much precaution before going on a mission, even one in the area. And if his dad was scared, if Captain America was scared, it had to be bad. Really bad.
“Yeah, James?” James had personalized the AI to be more casual than most of the other JARVISs.
“Lock down these rooms, security to max.”
“Are you sure you shouldn’t wait for your father?”
“No, he won’t be back for a while.”
“Alright. Security to maximum.”
“Is the escape pod ready to leave?”
“I can set it on stand-by.”
“Do that,” James said, starting to pace. “And get me a live feed of anything important.”
“Escape pod is on stand-by. Could you be more specific about the feeds?”
“Central control bridge. The main take-off deck. Wherever Phil is.”
Marvin computed for a moment.
“I can get you a feed of the main take-off deck, but the central control bridge is restricted and I cannot locate Agent Coulson.”
“Fine, give me what you got,” James snapped.
“TV or window screen?”
The large window that gave the Rogers’s living room a view of whatever the Helicarrier was over glowed and became a huge screen, dominated by a live video feed of the take-off deck. James watched a few agents hurrying back and forth, but not much seemed to be happening now that the team was gone.
“Can you get me a location on any of the Avengers?” James asked.
“I’m not allowed that information. You know that.”
James ran a hand through his hair.
“Get me local news channels. Mute them.”
Many windows of news shows popped up on the screen and James squinted at them.
“What are we looking for?” Marvin asked.
“Whatever the Avengers are fighting. Scan for the word “Avengers” and the faces of the team.” James watched the screen for all of five minutes before becoming frustrated. “Damnit!”
“Anything I can do?”
“Not unless you can tell me what’s happening, why they think they need Iron Man.”
Marvin was silent for a moment.
“Were all the Avengers present? Were they missing a team member?”
“Yeah, they were all there,” said James without thinking. “Wait,” he corrected himself after a moment. “Thor wasn’t there. He’d probably gone ahead or something.”
“Without the team captain?” Marvin inquired.
“Yeah, that doesn’t make sense.”
“Thor was on the Helicarrier this morning,” the AI said, helpfully.
“So it’s an enemy that he’s either very interested in fighting or not at all interested in fighting.”
“Likely,” Marvin agreed.
James thought for a moment.
“Loki,” he breathed.
“Loki has not been recorded on Earth since before you were born.”
“So maybe it’s someone else, but maybe it is him.” James took off his glasses and cleaned them with a huff of breath and the edge of his t-shirt. “Tell me when it’s ten.”
“What happens at ten?”
“I don’t feel bad about waking up Rob.”
James paced and watched the news feeds and paced some more. He tried to eat breakfast, but he was too worked up. If Loki really was out there...
“It’s ten am,” Marvin announced at last.
“Good, call Rob.”
“Calling Rob Stark, cell.”
The phone rang and rang, but no one answered.
“Hang up,” James said before the leave a message beep. “Can you get me Pepper Potts’s home number?”
“Good. Call that.”
Again, no one answered.
“The JARVIS unit at that number has a recorded message. Should I play it?”
“Yeah, sure,” said James, distracted by worry about Rob.
“Here’s the message.”
There was a brief pause and then a woman’s voice played, low and cold in a way that made James’s skin crawl and his stomach turn over. The accent was American, with a hint of something that might have been Boston. However, the unsettling sound of the voice was nothing to the words it spoke.
“Tony Stark,” the recording began in a tone that suggested a smile. “Now, I’m sure you’re busy off saving the world and won’t be getting this message until much later when dear little Pepper plays it for you in tears, but I thought I’d leave you the memo anyway. I, along with some associates, have taken your son, Robert, and I am going to kill him. No, I don’t want ransomed money or anything like that. I just want to make you suffer, like you made me suffer. By the time you hear this, the boy will be dead, but if you want to collect the body...” The voice went on to give an address in the city and tossed out a few more causally chilling threats, but James wasn’t listening.
As soon as the message ended, he pulled himself together and started thinking.
“This is my fault,” he muttered, trying to not lose it completely. “This is all my fault. If I’d just taken him with me.” He took a deep, steadying breath. “Marvin, where’s the escape pod programmed to go?”
“I’m not supposed to tell anyone that information.”
“Inside the city or not?” James pressed.
“Shit. Okay, find me a way off this thing.”
“Off the Helicarrier?” asked Marvin.
“Yeah. How do I get my feet on New York soil?”
“Besides reprogramming the escape pod?”
“Can I do that?” James asked, already heading into his dad’s room.
“Will any kind of alarm go off if I take it?”
“No. The pod was programmed under the assumption that it would only be used if the Helicarrier was taken by enemy forces.”
“Good.” James slid a hand behind his dad’s bedside table and hit the button. A panel in the wall slid open and the escape pod appeared. “How to I reprogram this thing?”
“Where do you want it to go?”
“The address on that recording. Well, not exactly there, but near there. A block down or so.”
“That was easy.”
“Your father trusts you for some reason.”
James rolled his eyes. Trust Tony Stark to design the world’s smartest AI to also be the world’s sassiest AI.
“Just tell me when it’s ready.”
He went into his room to get ready himself before realizing he had no idea how to get ready for an unauthorized rescue mission. But he figured the first step had to be clean clothes. After a quick deliberation, he settled on loose-fitting jeans he could move in and a baggy, black t-shirt. The shirt covered the fitted, bulletproof vest that Steve had had custom-made for him, though it didn’t hide it completely.
While he knew how to use one quite adeptly, James wasn’t technically allowed to carry a gun, but he wasn’t technically allowed to commandeer an escape pod for an illicit rescue mission either, so he grabbed the gun his father kept in his bedside table. Steve didn’t really want it there, but Natasha had insisted and no one liked to disagree with Natasha. He found the real shoulder holster Clint had given him several years ago because James had wanted to use it for a Halloween costume and found that, thankfully, his dad’s gun and extra rounds fit into it. He loosened the straps a bit and put it on.
James found his S.H.I.E.L.D. issue stunner in his own bedside table and checked that it was still charged, which it was. As a civilian, James wasn’t legally allowed to own or carry S.H.I.E.L.D. weaponry, but Steve had made a convincing argument that had gone something along the lines of “I am Captain America and you will do what I tell you to.” James slipped the small weapon into its holder, which he put onto his belt along with a flashlight, tiny binoculars, and the traveling version of Marvin. He ran the wire from the little computer pack up the back of his shirt and into his right ear.
He topped the outfit off with a black leather jacket Clint had given him that had the Avengers “A” embossed on the back, barely visible. He strapped the slim throwing knife Natasha had taught him how to use to his right calf. James then switched his sneakers for steal-toed combat boots, which covered most of the knife, and tapped up his hands like he did before punching practice.
When he caught sight of himself in the mirror, he almost looked badass expect for the glasses, which, he thought, would probably not be practical when it came to a fight. If he lost them, he was screwed. He ducked into the bathroom and replaced them with his contacts, which he wore often enough on weekends that they didn’t bother his eyes. Now he was ready to go. Natasha would be proud.
“How are we doing, Marvin?” he asked, striding back into his father’s room.
“Reprogramming is just about done.”
“Great. Are we set to go mobile?”
“We can be.”
“Good. Do it.” James stuck his head in the escape pod. “Does this thing have a first aid kit?”
“Yes, do you need it?”
“Reprogramming is complete and we’re mobile,” said Marvin into his ear.
“Any word on the Avengers?”
“It looks like the fighting is moving towards the city pretty rapidly, but none of the stations have a clear picture of what’s going on,” the AI reported.
James quickly went into the kitchen and wrote a note on the white board they kept on the fridge.
Someone kidnapped Rob. The message is on Pepper’s JARVIS. I know you’ll understand that I had to go. With luck, you’ll never see this note, but Rob and I are together and I can’t let anyone hurt him. You raised me to be the guy who doesn’t let the people he cares about get hurt and I hope you’re proud of that.
“Alright, Marvin, let’s roll,” James said, striding back to the escape pod.
“Roger that,” said the AI.
James climbed into the small vessel, which was already booted up and ready to go. He took a deep breath and hit the eject button.
It was a bit of a wild ride. The escape pod was not so much a ship as a flying hamster ball and when it landed on the roof of an abandoned warehouse the only thing that kept it from rolling all the way off was the ledge and even then it almost bounced right over.
“Marvin, get us out of this fucking thing.”
The door slid open above James and he scrambled out, grabbing the little first aid box and taking it with him. If Rob was hurt, which he probably was, there was no point trying to get him back onto the pod. James quickly spotted a ladder off the roof and headed for it. It was an easy climb down and when he reached street level, he stashed the first aid kit. It would just get in the way if, or more likely when, it came down to a fight.
“Which way to that address?” James asked, quietly.
“About a block to your left.”
Despite it being before eleven in the morning, the area was strangely deserted.
“Where is everybody?” he whispered.
“I’m not sure. The area is owned by a real-estate company and none of the buildings are for sale, but none of them are in use either.”
James moved quickly and quietly until he heard Marvin’s voice in his ear again.
“It’s the next building.”
“You think?” James muttered, ducking behind a dumpster when he spotted a sniper on the roof. “Any idea of the layout in there?”
“Damn. Okay. There’s expecting Tony Stark so the back entrance is probably our – my – best bet. Tony would just blow the roof off the place.”
James backtracked around the building next to his target. Back pressed to the dirty wall, he grabbed his binoculars and peered at the warehouse where Rob supposedly was. He could feel his heart hammering against his ribs and he forced back the fear that his boyfriend was already dead. He focused on the side door. It was open a crack and unguarded as far as he could tell from the outside, though there was probably someone just on the other side waiting to jump on any intruder. He glanced up at the roof and saw that the sniper was looking in the opposite direction.
“Are you sure you don’t want back-up?” Marvin asked in his ear.
“I can do this,” James whispered, more to make himself feel better then to shut up the AI.
He took a deep breath and darted across the alley between the buildings. He could feel himself shaking as he pressed against the wall beside the door, which opened inward. He pulled out the stunner, no point in making a ton of noise right off the bat, and held it ready to strike.
“If they don’t kill me, Dad will,” he muttered and slid through the door.
The huge, armed guard on the other side looked so surprised to see James that he’d stunned him before he could even raise his gun. James caught the man on his way down and, while he couldn’t support his weight, he at least slowed the man’s fall and quieted the sound. He then quickly rested the large automatic from the man’s unconscious body and slung it over his back.
James took a moment to look around. He was in a dingy hall that ended in silver double doors, which presumably led to the central room of the warehouse where James figured they’d have Rob. Several more doors led off the hall into rooms James guessed were meant to be offices. He began moving down the hallway, quietly as he could, stopping to listen at each door. As he got closer to the double doors, he could hear low voices, but they were the only sound besides his own footsteps and frantic heartbeat.
When he reached the metal doors, James pressed his ear to them, listening hard. He could hear a man’s voice, low, rough, and annoyed.
“Can’t we just get the man to pay us?” he was asking.
“No,” snapped a second voice, the woman from the recording.
“Well, if we’re going to kill the brat, why not just do it now?”
“We have to give him time,” the woman said.
“Time to what?”
“To get close. If we do this right, the body will still be warm when Stark gets here.”
There was a sigh from someone.
“Have you gotten that thing to work yet?” the woman asked irritably.
“Almost,” said another man, perhaps a little younger than the first and certainly more nervous.
“Good. I want to know what those so-called heroes are up to.”
There was the sound of static and then a tinny voice that James couldn’t quiet make out, but figured was a TV reporter. Even though he couldn’t understand the words, the tone was clear: fear.
James waited, trying to see if anyone else was going to speak.
“This is ridiculous,” said the first man. “They could be ages.”
“Then we will wait ages. This has to be perfect. And it will be. Because who will possibly know we took him? With the Avengers busy, there’s no one to save him. Could we have been handed a more perfect plan? Everyone gets what they want.” She gave a throaty laugh.
James had had quite enough. He took a firm grasp on the large gun and prepared to kick the door open.
There was small cough behind him.
James spun around and found himself face to face with a man even larger than the one he had stunned earlier. The man was hulking and grinning and holding a handgun aimed right between James’s eyes. Most seventeen-year-olds, even the one who could have gotten as far as James had, would have surrendered or been shot dead, but most seventeen-year-olds haven’t trained with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers. In one automatic motion James dropped to the floor, twisted, and stunned the man in the leg. The gun went off before James had fully hit the ground, but after he’d dropped and the bullet exploded into the door instead of his face. The man didn’t yell as he fell to the floor, but it hardly mattered; James had been given away.
He heard scrambling on the other room and tried not the panic as he got to his feet. He kicked the man’s gun down the hall and stamped on his right hand for good measure like Natasha had taught him. He heard the man’s hand break and this time, he did cry out, though only a little and as James swapped the stunner for the large gun he saw the man pass out. James the spun back around and kicked the door open.
He didn’t have much time to take in the details of the room. The room was huge and empty, lit from large, high windows that were coated in grime, leaving the room in only a pale half-light. Three people were facing him, all armed, two men and a woman. Behind the angry looking trio was a chair; its back was to the door, but James would recognize that hair anywhere. Rob was tied to the metal-framed chair and his head was slumped forward as if he weren’t conscious. James took the picture in for half a moment and prayed Rob wouldn’t get caught in the crossfire like his parents had been.
For the barest instant, the three in the room just started at James and then the woman, who stood in the center, laughed. James couldn’t really blame her. He was a seventeen-year-old dressed up like a super spy or something and toting a gun that was far too big for his narrow build. Even though he didn’t blame her, he did take advantage of her. Before they’d realized he was a threat, James had put a bullet in the right shoulder of the larger of the two men, who had the biggest gun.
The big man cried out, dropped his gun, and staggered backwards. The smaller man yelped and fumbled with his handgun. The woman raised one dark eyebrow and shot James in the stomach like it was nothing to put a bullet in a kid. The force sent him sprawling backwards into the door and hit his head, but he stayed conscious. He heard the woman huff, thinking she’d gotten him. He’d lost his grip on the large gun; the shoulder strap was still on, but he couldn’t grab it without giving away that he was just had his breath, not his life, knocked out of him. He reached into his jacket, gasping as if it hurt him. The woman stepped forward and James whipped out the handgun and shot her in the knee.
She screamed the toppled to the ground.
“Shoot him, you idiot!” she shouted at the remaining man, who was backing into a corner.
James rolled up onto one knee and had fired at the smaller man when another shot rang out. Either the first man was a shitty shot or felt bad about killing a teenager because his shot just grazed James’s left arm, causing him to drop the gun from the searing pain, but not doing any lasting damage. James’s shot had only clipped the smaller man’s right shoulder, but he dropped his gun anyway. He must he a new recruit. James glanced at the first man, who was shooting left-handed now, his right arm hanging at a slightly unsettling angle. James spun on his knee to face the man and pulled the knife from his boot with his good arm. Before the man could even see what James had, the blade was embedded in his other shoulder.
There was another gun shot moments later and pain exploded in James’s brain so extreme that he could hardly process it. He’d never been truly shot before and it took him a moment to figure out that the woman had got him in the thigh, a potentially lethal wound. While he’d been busy with the men, she had hauled herself over to the chair, which she’d somehow turned around. She was leaning on it heavily and pointing her gun at James. Rob was awake now, eyes wide with fear above a duct-taped mouth.
“I will kill you both,” the woman said, eyes cold.
“Who are you?” demanded James through gritted teeth as he forced himself to his feet, his back against the wall for support.
“Just another person whose life got destroyed by the great Tony Stark.”
“That doesn’t really narrow it down.” Did they seriously have to do the whole hero/villain banter thing right now?
“Stark killed my lover.”
“On purpose or accident?”
“Then he probably deserved it. Now can we get on with this?”
“She did not deserve to die, child!” the woman spat.
“And you think killing an innocent kid is gong to fix that? You’re crazy.” James hoped he was keeping up with conversation, but it wasn’t exactly easy to focus while he was slowly bleeding out from his leg.
“He promised me Stark would suffer as I suffered.” She turned her gun to point at Rob’s temple.
“Not going to happen,” James growled, wondering who “he” was.
“Stop me,” she hissed.
At that moment, the doors opened again and the first man James had stunned stumbled through, clearly not entirely recovered. James flung out an arm and caught the man in the stomach. He doubled over and James, still leaning on the wall, drove his fist into the man’s throat. Before the door had fully closed, James caught a glimpse of the second man, who still seemed to be passed out on the floor. James didn’t blame him; getting most of the bones in your hand broken must hurt like a bitch, not to mention the stunning.
“Don’t make me kill you,” he muttered as the man’s knees hit the floor. “I don’t even have my driver’s license yet.” The man gasped and slumped, clutching at his throat. James glanced up at the woman. “You should really get better help.”
“Who are you?” she asked, her eyes wide after watching a teenager who was quickly bleeding out take down her hired thug with his bare hands.
“I’m just a kid from Brooklyn,” he said, shrugging.
“If you want this boy to live, you’ll put your gun down.”
“Alright,” said James, calmly as he could, wishing he still had the knife.
James pulled the strap off his shoulders and began slowly lowering the gun to the ground. Bending down was hard with his injured leg shaking so badly, but he managed it by letting the wall take most of his weight. What had Clint taught him to do in this sort of situation?
“Just take your gun off him, okay?” he said, trying to sound the right amount of scared.
“Fine,” she replied and trained the gun on him instead.
James kept lowering his weapon until it was almost on the floor.
Then he shot the woman in the foot.
She screamed again and fired without even looking, but James was already rolling, the big gun going with him. He couldn’t roll onto his feet like he’d trained to, but even with his leg at a painful and useless angle he could still cover her with his larger gun. Her men were all down for the count and James suddenly knew with a terrible thrill that he could kill this woman. But he didn’t.
“Put the gun down,” he said, sounding alarming like his dad, even inside in own head.
To his slight surprise, she did.
She did that too and Rob got shakily to his feet, duct tape still over his mouth and terror plastered onto his face.
“Bring him here.”
She took Rob’s arm and led him over to James while he pushed himself up as much as he could.
“Step away from him,” James said in a voice clenched down on pain.
“Fine,” she said and did so.
Then she launched herself at James, knocking him onto his back. Before he could do anything, her hands were at his throat.
“You’re not going to take this from me; you’re just a kid.”
James spluttered and scrambled, his good arm pushing against her and the other reaching down towards his belt, but she was strong and one of her legs kicked out and knocked Rob to the ground as well when he tired to pull her away. James gasped, trying to speak and the woman laughed.
“What’s that?” she asked, lessening her grasp slightly so he could speak.
“Sorry,” James hissed and pressed the stunner into her stomach.
So I've never really written a major fight scene like that before and I know it was pretty flawed, but I hope you'll forgive me.
Rob scrambled forward and tugged the unconscious woman off of James.
“Are you okay?” he gasped.
“Not really,” James admitted through gritted teeth. “Go zap the other three,” he said handing the stunner over. “And there’s one more in the hall. Make sure you get ‘em out.”
Rob shakily took the weapon and made sure the rest of their attackers were unconscious. Now that the fighting seemed to be over, James was quickly losing the adrenalin that was keeping him from passing out. He struggled out of his jacket, pulled off his t-shirt, and began tearing it into strips.
“Marvin,” he muttered.
“What do I do about being shot in leg?”
“I can call 911?”
“James?” said Rob, fear in his voice.
“Hold that though,” he told the AI. “What is it?”
“Look at this.”
Rob was squatting by the small TV James had heard the man messing with earlier.
“Can you bring it here?” he asked.
“It only got reception here. I remember them saying.”
James clenched his jaw and dragged himself across the floor, pulling his leg along behind him. As he scooted passed the first man, he pulled his knife from his shoulder, wiped it on his jeans, and stuck in back in its sheath. He made it to the TV and stared at the tiny, black-and-white screen, trying to make out the reporter’s voice over the static and pain. On the screen, minuscule figures were fighting for their lives. Buildings were exploding; people were running, screaming, down the middle of a road filled with abandoned taxis.
“It’s them,” Rob said.
“I know. And it’s also not that far from here. Jesus, that’s a fucking neighborhood.” James ran a shaking hand through his hair, the other clamped over his leg.
“My dad’s with them.” There was something like wonder in Rob’s frightened voice.
Then there was a shot of a man in a costume that made the stars and stripes get-up look mundane.
“No,” James whispered.
“Loki.” James bit his lip. There’d be no help for them anytime soon. Both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the regular cops and paramedics would have their hands more than full with the kinds of damage Loki was surely inflicting on the city. “We’ve got to get out of here. Are you hurt?”
Rob shook his head, but then he coughed and clutched his stomach as scarlet appeared on his lips.
He grimaced and pulled up his t-shirt. The wounds weren’t bleeding much anymore, but James could now see that the navy cotton was tacky with blood. Several long gashes ran across Rob’s middle and James felt sick. He also felt light-headed from blood-loss.
“Did she do that to you?”
“Marvin,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “Contact S.H.I.E.L.D. for me. Tell them that there are injuries at this location, potentially fatal if not treated, and that we have known criminals of some variety or other, but they’re out.”
“Should I tell them the message is from you?”
“No, they might tell Dad and he can’t afford to be distracted right now. Knowing I’m in danger could get him killed.”
While he waited for Marvin to relay the message, James finished ripping his shirt into pieces and began trying to staunch the bleeding from his leg. It didn’t work very well. Rob quickly moved to help, suppressing the occasional cough. They ignored their attackers. There wasn’t much they could do for them in any case.
“James?” said the voice in his ear.
“The message went through, but they’re pretty busy at the moment.”
“I know, but it’s all we can do.”
“You could tell them it’s us,” Rob said. “They’d come get us.”
“What? Because we deserve to live more than other people because of our dad’s? That’s fucked up.” There was fire in James’s eyes, blazing past the pain.
“So?” Rob said, his voice unusually high. “I don’t want to die!”
“You’re not going to die,” said James, with as much patience and calm as he could muster.
“No one’s going to die.” James squeezed his eyes shut against the pain.
“You got shot in the leg! She could have hit your femoral artery.”
“I already got kidnapped and sliced up today because of my dad. You’re not dying for yours.” Rob glared at him.
“Shut up. I fucking rescued you,” James shot back, but his voice was weak.
“And now I’m rescuing you,” said Rob stubbornly. He stumbled over to where James had dropped his jacket, grabbed it, and brought it back. “Put this on.”
James was too weak to protest any more and let Rob help him into the protective leather.
Before Rob could do anything else to help James, however, there was an almighty crash from outside. While they’d been talking the sounds of explosions had been getting louder, but they hadn’t paid it much mind. Now they realized the fight was almost on top of them. Rob turned huge, terrified eyes to James, who was fighting too hard to say conscious to think about much else.
For a moment, there was nothing in the wake of the first crash, but then there was the sound of a door slamming open, running footsteps, and the metal doors burst open.
The two boys were huddled on the floor. Rob was kneeling with one arm wrapped around his injured stomach and the other another James’s shoulders, supporting him. James was sitting with this bleeding leg at a painful angle, his face pale and his body shaking. Loki stood in the doorway, smirking like he already ruled the world.
“Perfect,” he said after a moment.
“Marvin,” James whispered.
“Don’t bother,” said Loki, walking casually over to the boys. “I’ve disabled your tech with this.” He pulled a small, blinking box from his pocket, some sort of signal scrambler.
“How did he find us?” Rob squeaked.
“It was a trap,” James murmured. “The whole thing was a set-up, wasn’t it?” He looked up at the god.
Loki’s smile grew a little wider.
“You got Rob kidnapped and made sure I was the one to hear the message because you knew I’d come after him.” James’s mind was racing. How could he have been so stupid? There were no coincidences when Loki was around.
“How–?” Rob whispered.
“Because if your boyfriend there is anything like his father, he’d do the noble and stupid thing. Which he did. Good people are so predictable,” said Loki.
“How did he know?” Rob asked.
“It didn’t even take twenty-four hours of surveillance. You two are hardly subtle.” Loki looked a little disgusted.
“So now what? Grab us and use us as bate for our dad’s?” James glared at Loki with what little strength he could muster.
“It won’t work,” he said at once.
Loki went over to a large crate by the wall and ripped off the side with his bare hand as if it had been paper. Inside was some sort of alien technology James had never seen anything like. Loki pulled it from the crate and began doing something to it. The machine itself was a disk large enough for a man to stand on, silver with gold worked in here and there and glowing, deep-green lights. Some kind of control or steering mechanism was mounted on a waist-height pole on one edge. Loki fiddled with the control and two panels unfolded on either side and then the whole contraption lifted a few feet off the ground and the panels were revealed to be what looked like large baskets. James could practically hear Rob’s mind buzzing as he tried to figure the thing out.
“Time to go,” said Loki.
He grabbed Rob roughly by the shoulder, hauled him to his feet, and dragged him over to one of the baskets. He picked the teenager up as if he were a child and set him in into the sidecar thing before handcuffing one wrist to the control stick. He then returned and did the same thing to James, after making sure the boy was unarmed. James held his breath and prayed that Loki wouldn’t find the knife. He didn’t.
After he had secured both boys, he stepped onto the disk himself and they rose higher into the air. The baskets James and Rob were in expanded down more as they moved away from the floor, forcing the boys’ arms up. James could hear Rob whimpering slightly and knew his injured stomach must be hurting him badly. Loki steered the alien flyer towards one of the windows, raised a hand, and the glass shattered. They soared out through the hole and up into the sky.
The rush of wind kept James from passing out, but it was a near thing. He knew that if he didn’t get proper medical attention soon, he was very likely to die from blood loss. Below him, New York was falling into ruins. He could just make out various Avengers fighting monsters and old enemies and god knew what else. Loki had really pulled out all the stops and rounded up everyone who was itching to take a swing at the team.
“Stop!” Loki shouted and, though some weird god magic, it seemed everyone heard him because everyone stopped and looked up. “The fighting does not have to continue,” he announced, slowly lowering the flyer towards where the team was assembling to face him.
“You ready for peace then?” demanded Iron Man.
“I think you are.”
“Oh? And why’s that?”
“I believe the saying is, I’m going make you an offer you can’t refuse.” Loki bent down and hauled Rob up by the wrist so he was standing in the basket, fully visible to the Avengers below.
“Rob!” James screamed.
“No!” Tony shouted. “You let him go, you bastard. He’s got nothing to do with this! Your fight is with us.”
“My fight is with all of you pathetic little monkeys.”
“Let my son go!”
James could see the repulsors glowing on Tony’s suit, but Steve grabbed his shoulder.
“No, he could kill them.”
“I’m glad one of you is thinking straight, especially since–.” He let his voice trail off as he hauled James upright as well.
“So here’s my offer,” said Loki, the son of an Avenger in each hand. “The fighting stops, the boys live, and you surrender your sorry little world to me. Or the boys die and we keep fighting until I take your sorry little world from under your cold, dead bodies.” Loki smiled. “So? What will it be?”
There was a terrible moment of silence.
“Alright,” said Steve. “Alright. Just give us our children.”
“No!” shouted James. “Dad, no!”
“Be quiet, James, please.” The strain on Steve’s face was painful.
“You can’t do this!”
“James, shut up,” Rob hissed.
“Put down your weapons,” Loki said, sounding horribly pleased with himself. “And restrain your Hulk.”
Steve slowly lowered his shield to the ground. Tony powered down the suit and retracted the faceplate. Clint put down his bow and Natasha set down her guns.
“Friends, we cannot-,” began Thor, but Steve cut across him.
“That’s my son, Thor. Put the hammer down.”
To everyone’s slight surprise, Thor did as Steve said and then put a restraining hand on the Hulk’s arm.
“Good,” said Loki. “Very good.” He bent and undid Rob’s handcuffs. “Now, here’s one of them.” He dipped the flyer down briefly and shoved the terrified teen into his father’s arms before pulling the craft up again.
“Give me James,” Steve said, voice harsh and cold.
“I still need insurance.”
Loki pulled James closer to him and James tried to think. It was his life or lives of millions. How could father do this?
“It is incredible how weak love makes you. Pathetic,” spat Loki.
“You can’t do this, Dad,” James managed to force out.
“Loki, please, my son.” Steve’s eyes were bright and he was afraid.
“It’s my life or the lives of everyone in the city,” James pressed. He was shaking against Loki, adrenalin the only thing keeping him conscious.
“Everyone on this planet,” Loki corrected.
“You can’t let him.”
“I have to, James. I’m sorry.”
“I won’t let you.” His voice was barely audible now and Loki laughed again as James slumped forward, apparently unconscious.
“James!” shouted Steve.
“It might be too late for him after all,” Loki mused without much interest.
James could feel Loki’s arm tight around his waist and the handcuff was cutting into his bound wrist, but his other hand, as he’d hoped, had fallen freely near his ankle. It wasn’t hard to slide the thin blade up the sleeve of his jacket.
“Look at this place. Its heroes have fallen to their knees before me because of two, worthless lives. It boggles the mind how easy you people are to control. So bow, bow to your new god. There is no one left to save you.”
Tony held Rob to his chest and the Avengers stood, weaponless and finished. For the first time ever, they were totally, utterly defeated.
“There’s me,” muttered James.
Loki let out an incredulous laugh and hauled James upright.
“Look who’s not dead,” he noted.
“Still kicking,” James whispered, grabbing at the front of Loki’s ridiculous garment to hold himself up with the hand that was also concealing the knife. It wasn’t easy, but Natasha had taught him well.
“Not for long.”
“One life for all of their’s, right?” James asked, gasping for breath.
“What?” Loki frowned. “Yes,” he answered, almost cautiously, though still with that slight smile.
“One life, coming right up,” James said and drove the knife hilt-deep into the side of Loki’s neck, just above his collarbone.
James knew perfectly well that a knife wound wasn’t going to kill the Asgardian, but it would sure as hell incapacitate him for a bit.
Loki’s eyes went wide with shock and then he toppled sideways off the flyer.
“Brother!” shouted Thor, running forward to catch Loki.
Loki nearly took James with him, but his cuffed hand was clutched tight to the controls and he managed to stay on the disk.
“James!” Steve shouted as the flyer started for the ground.
Before he could make a move, however, Rob was shoved into his arms and Tony was in the air. He grabbed the flyer by the controller and lowered it carefully to the ground. Once the bottom touched the pavement, the thing powered off automatically.
“Here,” said Natasha, rushing forward. She quickly picked the lock on the cuffs with a small pin she pulled from her hair.
“Oh my god, James,” Steve whispered as his son collapsed forward into his arms, unconscious at last.
When James woke up, his first thought was that he had to be on a hell of a lot of painkiller. He felt numb and vaguely floaty. He looked around and recognized his environment as the medical ward on the Helicarrier. There was a curtain around his bed and his dad sitting in a chair next to him. Steve was wearing S.H.I.E.L.D. sweats and looked like he hadn’t slept, shaved, or showered in several days.
“You’re awake,” he said, getting to his feet. “Thank god. How do you feel?”
“Okay, all things considered. Guess I’m totally grounded, huh?” He gave a feeble laugh.
Steve’s face split into a smile. If James could joke, he’d be fine.
“What happened?” James asked.
“We won. Thor’s taking Loki back to Asgard.”
“Since that worked so well last time.” James looked around, but the curtain blocked his view. “Is everyone okay? Is Rob okay?”
“Everyone’s going to be fine,” his dad assured him.
“What about those people at the warehouse?” James asked, fear suddenly clenching his stomach. If he’d killed them...
“They’re going to pull through. They’re in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody now.”
James let out a sigh of relief.
“How long was I out?” he asked, pushing himself up into a sitting position.
“Almost two days,” replied Steve, helping James sit up.
“James,” Steve scolded.
“Sorry. But seriously? Two days?”
“You woke up briefly a few times, but the doctors thought it was best to keep you under to give your body some time to heal.”
There were footsteps and then a slightly uncertain and very familiar voice called, “Steve?”
“He’s awake,” Steve replied and moments later Rob pulled aside the curtain.
For a second James and Rob just stared at each other, both grinning like idiots and then Rob took a few long steps forward, bent down, and kissed James with almost rough need as if Steve weren’t even there.
“I thought you were going to die,” he whispered, pressing his face into James’s neck to hide the beginning of tears. “I thought you were going to die.”
“Takes more than an angry god to do me in,” James assured him, stroking his red hair with the hand that didn’t have an IV drip in it. “Promise.”
Steve cleared his throat slightly.
Rob pulled away from James quickly, blushing and not looking at Steve.
“Can we do this later, Dad?” James asked tiredly.
Steve opened his mouth, but stopped himself.
Soon enough, James’s bedside was surrounded by Avengers, including Tony, and S.H.I.E.L.D agents, even Pepper was there.
“You saved the world, kiddo,” said Clint. “Guess love’s worth more than Loki thought, huh?”
“I guess so,” he said, smiling uncertainly at the “L” word. “Am I going to be okay?” he asked the room at large.
“Most definitely,” Coulson said. “S.H.I.E.L.D. has patched up a lot worse than what happened to you.” He rubbed reflexively at the old scar on his chest.
In a lull of the near-constant activity around James, Tony and Pepper got a moment to speak to him alone.
“That was a stupid thing you did, James,” Tony said.
“I know,” said James, not at all ashamed.
“Thank you,” he said after a moment. It was not often that Tony Stark said those words.
“You saved Rob’s life. I should have been there,” said Pepper. “But you were there instead.”
“Rob tells us you’re a thing,” Tony went on.
“Look, I haven’t even had that talk with my dad yet.”
“Yeah, have fun with that.” Tony rolled his eyes.
“Thanks,” said James.
Later that same afternoon, Steve and James were alone after Rob had been dragged off for another check-up on his injures.
“So,” Steve began in his best fatherly voice. “How long have you and Rob been, um–?”
“A couple of months,” James admitted.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, not angry, simply curious.
“I thought you’d be mad,” James muttered, not meeting his dad’s eyes.
“Why would I be mad?”
“I dunno. Gay wasn’t really a thing in the forties.”
“Lots of people were gay in forties, James” Steve told him. “It was just harder back then, a lot harder.”
“Oh.” James thought for a minute. “So you’re okay with it?”
“Are you happy?” Steve asked.
“And is Rob happy?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Then of course I’m okay with it.” Steve smiled at his son. “I want you to be happy, James, and being with someone you care about is one of the best ways to do it.”
Sometimes it was kind of gross how great of a dad Captain America was, but sometimes it was amazing.
Steve smiled at his son.
“That was a dumb thing you did, but I’m proud of you,” he said.
“For getting with Rob or saving the world?” James teased.
“Well, I meant saving the world – and saving Rob. You could have been killed and I’m not saying you’re doing it again, but you did some quick thinking and you saved a lot of lives.”
“I guess all that training paid off, huh?”
“I guess so.” After a moment, Steve got to his feet, stretching and tried. “I’m going to go get us some dinner. You feel up to eating?”
“I’ll bring you whatever looks good.”
Shortly after Steve left, Coulson appeared at the gap in the curtain.
“Can I come in, James?”
Coulson came and stood next to the bed for a moment before speaking.
“Did you talk to your dad?” he asked.
“And how was that?”
“I’m glad to hear it. I think you and Rob are good for each other. Not quite the way your fathers used to be, though.” He smiled and there was a hint of sadness in his expression.
“What do you mean?” James asked.
“Well, Tony helped your dad find his footing when he was first learning the modern world and your dad grounded Tony in the team when he needed to be part of something bigger than himself. They were at each other’s throats a lot, but, at the same time, they were exactly what the other one needed. For a while, anyway.”
James nodded, listening.
“I was wondering how long it would take you to tell your dad about Rob, though. How much longer were you planning to wait?”
James stared at him.
“Of course I knew. It’s my job to know everything about everyone.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He gave a slightly annoyed sigh and thought about Coulson’s question for a moment. “I don’t know,” he said eventually. “I didn’t want to disappoint him, I guess. But I don’t know how much longer I could have kept it a secret.”
“James,” he said after a moment. “Even if you hadn’t just saved the world, you’ve done nothing in your life to make your father anything but proud.”
“I got detention for fighting,” James offered.
“Everyone makes mistakes. He was asking more than he knew of you by sending you to that school and you’ve succeeded there – more than succeeded.”
“Thanks,” muttered James, feeling embarrassed.
“There’s nothing you could do to make him love you any less.”
James could think of a few things – like becoming a super-villain – that might, but it seemed very unlikely, so he just nodded.
“You still look worried,” Coulson noted.
“I guess relationships don’t seem to last very long when one or more parties work for S.H.I.E.L.D.,” he said.
“First of all, you don’t work for S.H.I.E.L.D. – yet.”
James laughed a little.
“And second, that’s not always true. Look at Natasha and Clint. And I’ve been seeing Greg for years.”
“Wait,” said James, sitting up straighter. “The mysterious cellist has a name?”
Coulson looked evasive.
“Don’t tell anyone,” he said after a moment.
“Anything else I can do for you, James?”
“I don’t think so. Thanks for talking to me, though.”
James was released from medical just in time for his final exams, which both he and Rob got extensions on because of “extenuating circumstances.” James was very glad to be out of the stuffy ward and away from the smell of bleach. He sunk onto the deck one afternoon to get some long-awaited fresh air and spotted his dad and Tony talking. Tony was in the suit with the faceplate open, clearly about to take off. James quickly hurried into hidden earshot.
“Look, Rogers, I know I don’t say this often, but I’m sorry.”
Steve looked at Tony for a long moment.
“Thanks,” he said at last.
“And, um, if you ever need an extra person, I’d be honored to be on call for the team.” Tony raised his eyes to Steve’s uncertainly.
“Training on Monday at six,” was Steve’s reply.
Tony nodded once and took off. James smiled to himself. It’d do Tony a world of good to be back on the team and maybe it meant Rob would be on the Helicarrier sometimes too.
It was hard to return to his normal life, but James was a high school student no matter how many lives he’d saved and even though he had extra time to catch up, he still needed to pass his finals or he’d have to repeat junior year, which he really did not want to do. Peggy helped them as much as she could, but she was still a sophomore and even though she was very smart, she hadn’t been in most of their classes.
The boys were studying together in the library when Rob set down his pencil and looked up at James.
“Thanks,” he said.
“For saving my life. I never said thank you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said James shrugging. “I wasn’t going to let anything happen to you. I–. I love you,” James muttered, blushing.
“I love you too,” he said and then went back to his work.
James had to do physical therapy on this leg before he could go back to his usual training routines and he still wasn’t allowed to train with the team. Other than living on the Helicarrier, however, James spent the summer almost like a normal kid. He went to the beach with friends where he tried not to be embarrassed by the scar that Rob claimed made him look manly and mysterious. They watched movies and stayed up late talking. He and Rob went on dates, just like a real couple or something. Sometimes, he’d have dinner at Rob’s place with either Pepper or Tony, depending on the week, and both made appearances on the Helicarrier, though Tony’s were more frequent. Rob was given a low-level pass onto the Helicarrier and Peggy was even permitted to visit on occasion. Rob and James had scars to show for what had happened in May, both physical and mental, but together they were able to hold up.
One afternoon, James was training alone, slamming his fits into the punching bag that his dad could easily knock down and then pick back up like a pillow. Today, however, James didn’t feel bad about the fact that he’d never send the damn thing flying into the wall. He might not be a super solider, but, at least for that one day, he’d been a hero too. He heard quiet footsteps enter the room behind him, but he kept on punching, throwing in the occasional kick even though the ones with his injured leg hurt a little as the scar pulled.
Whoever had entered the room just watched James for a minute before coughing slightly. James stopped his abuse of the bag and turned to see his visitor. It was Director Fury.
“Oh,” said James, who’d been expecting his dad, maybe one of the other Avengers. “Director Fury. I’m–. I’m sorry.”
“Not a problem, James.”
“What can I do for you, sir?”
Fury seemed to size James up for a minute before speaking.
“I’m here to talk to you about the Young Avengers Initiative.”
So I know that totally sounds like sequel bait, but since I haven't actually read Young Avengers yet there won't be a part two to this story. However, I might do a prequel about James getting adopted and some of his and Rob's early childhood as well Steve and Tony's friendship and then falling out.
Anyway, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it.