“Just gimme the chicken soup,” Scott said, once Agent Woo ran out of breath.
Woo blinked and handed over the plastic soup container. It was lukewarm to the touch and smelled rich and oily and herby in a way Scott didn’t recognise. Strange wrinkly red raisin-like things floated on the surface among odd white shards, and the chicken was a weird charcoal colour through the clear plastic lid. “Err. Is this really chicken soup?” Scott asked, trying his best not to sound suspicious and failing.
“It’s obviously chicken soup,” Woo said, a little defensively.
“Not like any that I’ve seen.”
“Oh, that’s right. White people.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Scott scowled.
“Chicken’s the most common type of poultry in the world. Prevalent in many cultures. The UN estimates that there are 19 billion chickens at any one point of time on Earth. Statistically, that means there are probably hundreds of chicken soup recipes, many of which are more than just boiling chicken, celery, salt and pepper with water or whatever your idea of chicken soup is. At the very least—”
“Okay, you’ve made your point.” Woo often scared Scott just by opening his mouth. Scott lifted the lid and took a cautious sip. Okay. Definitely not the kinda soup he was used to but it was not bad. It was good, actually. “I like it.”
“Thanks. It’s my dad’s recipe,” Woo said. He looked weirdly nervous, which was getting unsettling. Scott usually only encountered Woo in an unflappable state of being. Sometimes mildly exasperated. On rare occasions, confused. Never nervous.
Scott finished the soup and handed the container back. “And you’re carrying around some soup… why exactly?”
“Because you were sick?”
“That was…” Scott caught himself quickly before he said something he shouldn’t have. “That was uh, days ago? I’m fine now?”
“Oh. Right. I didn’t know that.”
“You could’ve called,” Scott said. He leaned his hip against the doorframe, stifling a yawn. He’d been sleeping like the dead since the harbour incident. Hadn’t been as bad as going subatomic, but it’d still been a strain and recovery had been slower this time around.
“Isn’t that a bit intrusive? Since you’re no longer under house arrest?”
“And showing up at my house isn’t intrusive?”
“Ah, right.” Woo looked more nervous, shifting his weight on his feet. “I’ll go. Sorry.”
“Wait,” Scott found himself saying, which somehow meant inviting Woo into his house and fixing them both some coffee. He’d left Marc Ant-ony safely upstairs with an instruction to stay put in the guest room before coming down to answer the door. That meant sitting with Woo in the kitchen with bad coffee, trying to figure out what the hell was up.
“So am I in trouble?” Scott asked.
Woo frowned at him. “Are you?”
“Am I what?”
“In trouble, though it wouldn’t surprise me honestly.”
“I’m totally not in trouble. I think. Though now that you’re here I’m starting to wonder whether all those weird memes are true.”
“What’s a meme?”
“Oh my God.”
Woo looked genuinely hurt. “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, Scott.”
Youth pastor, right. “You seriously haven’t heard about it? The joke about how the FBI’s spying on everyone through their webcams?”
“Firstly, yes, webcams are easy to hack—”
“I knew it!”
“—but secondly,” Woo said, raising his voice a fraction, “the FBI doesn’t have the budget or the manpower to spy on everyone. For goodness’ sake.”
“Wow. You’re a fed. That means you’re a supercop,” Scott said, fascinated. “You’re telling me that you never swear?”
“I just did?”
“‘For goodness’ sake’ isn’t swearing. It’s G-rated. Hell, if there was a rating lower than G it would be it. V-rated, maybe. For vanilla.”
“Oh, you mean vulgarities. I don’t see why you’d have to be vulgar to work as a federal agent,” Woo said, puzzled.
“Never mind.” Scott gave up. “Seriously, why are you here?”
“I came by because I thought you were ill and would like some soup, that’s all. I’m not here in an official capacity.”
“So I’m not in trouble.” That was a relief.
“Why?” Woo smiled, amused. It was also weird look on him. During Scott’s house arrest, he’d pegged Woo as the missing link between humans and androids, near-robotic in his doggedness. Amusement looked… wrong. “Is there something I should know?”
“What is this, an interrogation?”
Woo’s smile faded. He exhaled. “Okay. I’m upsetting you by being present and it’s completely understandable given our shared history and your background.”
“What, are you trying to say felons automatically dislike all feds? I wonder why,” Scott said dryly.
Woo stared at him. “Probably because incarceration tends to promote a sense of resentment and self-pity instead of self-reflection,” Woo said.
“I was being sarcastic.”
“I wasn’t. You lack remorse. Means you’re very likely to re-offend. If you haven’t already. You are, in many ways, an extremely lucky person.”
Scott grit his teeth. “I lost my wife. Nearly got kicked back into prison.”
“The word there is nearly. Look at it this way. You broke all sorts of international laws and you were pretty much given a slap on the wrist. You’re on national news—and all over YouTube—in the harbour as a giant in a helmet. Pym tech. The ‘Ant Man’ suit, right?”
“I wasn’t there. I was in my house when you kicked the door in.”
Woo rolled his eyes. “We’re not stupid, Scott.” He paused, flushing. “Ah, sorry.” He whipped out a phone and keyed something in.
“Sorry about what?”
“I’ve been trying to cut all ableist language from my vocabulary. Part of being a better youth pastor. And a better person. I’m logging all the times I slip up for later reflection.” Woo put his phone away. “Where was I? Yeah. Lucky. Lucky no one’s burying you in lawsuits for property damage and endangerment. That you’re not in jail. You obviously broke the terms of your house arrest. It’s on video. On the internet. You’ve got the technology to grow into a giant. It’s not beyond the boundaries of logic to imagine that you’ve also got the technology to get home before we ‘kicked the door in’. You don’t have a watertight alibi.”
“So why am I not in jail?” Scott asked warily. He’d gotten away with it. He was so sure. “Should I be talking to you without a lawyer?”
“Because you’re lucky,” Woo said, getting to his feet. “Imagine a black ex-felon getting just a short stint of house arrest after all that you pulled in Germany. Or if your assigned case officer, meaning me, presented said video evidence of you in the harbour at your parole hearing.”
“Because it’s circumstantial.”
Woo snorted. “We’ve got an audio match of your voice on those videos, wiseass.”
Sweat prickled down Scott’s back. “So why’d you let me off the hook?”
“Because I think you’re trying to turn your life around. I don’t like vigilantes,” Woo said, pushing his hands into his coat, “but people could use superheroes. Within reason. See you around, Scott.”
“Wow,” Scott said, as he walked Woo to the door, “that’s some turn around from me violating Section something of the whatever treaty.”
“The Sokovia Accords. And what can I say? Maybe you grew on me.” Woo grinned sharply and ambled off to the unassuming sedan parked at the road.
“What the hell,” Scott said, still shell-shocked as Woo drove off. “Was that a dad joke?”
He was in a seedier part of the city, all sturdy concrete blocks and old shops slowly getting pushed further out by gentrification. Scott had been called out to consult on a warehouse security system that had turned out to be a dud, and he wasn’t in the best of moods when he walked past a fenced concrete yard just in time to see Woo on the sidelines, shouting encouragement at a scrum of kids jostling over a battered soccer ball.
“What even the fuck,” Scott said.
Woo flinched and spun around. He looked oddly underdressed out of a suit, diminished somehow, in an old white shirt, jeans, and worn sneakers. Woo blinked in recognition. “Scott? What are you doing here?”
“Could ask you the same.”
“I’m the coach,” Woo said, bewildered, as though he’d thought Scott somehow privy to this detail of his life. “Of my church’s football team. Remember? I told you before.”
“Right, right,” Scott said, who didn’t in fact remember. “Uh. Client.” He gestured vaguely behind his shoulder.
“That’s good.” Woo beamed. “Congratulations.”
“Actually, we didn’t get the job.”
“Oh.” Woo started to say more, only for one of the kids to shove another kid to the ground. Woo blew his whistle without even looking and turned. “That’s a foul! Hey. Remember what I said about fair play. Ellie, don’t you have something to say to Joon?”
Ellie scowled and muttered something under her breath. Woo shook his head and replied in a language Scott couldn’t place. She yelled something back and he walked over, bending down. There was a long discussion: Woo patient, Ellie gradually backing down. Eventually, she shook Joon’s hand and Woo retreated to the fence, giving the signal to play on.
“That’s not Mandarin is it?” Scott asked, shuffling closer.
Woo glanced at him, amused. “No. Korean.”
“You speak Korean?” Scott asked, then tried to swallow his tongue. Thanks, Captain Obvious.
“Yeah. From my Mum’s side. My dad’s from Hong Kong, mum’s from South Korea. So yeah, I do also speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien. Spanish. French. And Arabic, though I keep having to take refreshers.”
“Oh, right.” Scott cast around for something less embarrassing to say. His ears felt hot. “Um. So your church. It’s around here?”
“Yeah. Next block down that way.” Woo perked up again. “If you’re interested, there are regular church services on Sunday and events all week.”
“I’m probably gonna be busy, thanks,” Scott said hastily. “Hey, er, I’ll probably get goin—” There was another scuffle on the pitch. Woo waded back in, separating arguing kids. A couple of kids were ‘sent off’, glowering at each other as they sat down at a side. Woo beckoned at Scott. “What?” Scott said.
“C’mon. Now we’re shorthanded. You know how to play football?”
“Soccer,” Scott said. Some of the kids, including Ellie, rolled their eyes. “Hey, this is America, kids. And we didn’t even get into the World Cup.”
“South Korea got into the world cup,” Ellie said, and stuck out her tongue.
“Ellie, young lady, what have I told you about being rude?” Woo frowned at her. She growled something at him in response that made Woo sigh. Scrappy kid was going to get herself sent off too. Hoping to distract Woo before she did, Scott threaded over noisily to the door in the fence.
“Okay, I’ll play. Fifteen minutes.”
An hour later, Scott walked some of the kids home with Woo, tired out and liberally scraped. “Sorry about that,” Woo said, as they were walking the last yawning kid home. “Josh plays rough.”
“Falling on concrete didn’t help.”
“The church can’t afford to rent any football pitches nearby,” Woo said, apologetic.
“No… hey, I didn’t mean to criticise or anything,” Scott said, his ears turning red again.
“Besides, I’ve got good memories of that yard,” Woo said, a little wistfully. “I used to play football on it all the time as a kid. Whenever I could afford the time. Did it defensively at first. Then I really got into it.”
Woo nodded. “When I was growing up there weren’t that many Asian kids in my school. I’d get picked on. People would call me names because of my eyes, the stuff my Mum packed for me for lunch, stuff like that. Playing football meant making friends with the older, bigger kids. Meant the others stopped trying to trouble me.”
Scott didn’t remember much from high school. He’d made a point not to attend very much of it. “Don’t Asian kids do very well in school?”
“Firstly, that’s a generalisation,” Woo said, after a pause. “Secondly, grades aren’t everything, and they definitely don’t stop bullying. Ongoing issue. But yes, I did work my ass off in school. My parents wanted me to be a lawyer. We didn’t have much growing up and they thought the whole magnet school, Ivy League thing was the ticket to a better life.”
“You’re not a lawyer now,” Scott said, then chewed on his lip. Another Captain Obvious comment. He tended to make a hell of a lot of those around Woo.
“Yeah. Did my time. Harvard, then a stint in a firm. I didn’t really burn out, more like wake up one day and decide that it wasn’t for me. I resigned and joined the FBI’s entry program.”
“Harvard.” Scott whistled.
“Not the best of my ideas. I’m still paying off that debt. It made my parents happy, I guess.”
“So how did a guy who went to Harvard end up having to babysit someone like me?” Scott asked, grinning.
Woo started to answer, but the kid was hopping up to the door of a ground floor flat. As he fumbled with the keys to the door, it opened. Someone familiar stepped out. “Mister Goh,” Scott said, startled. It was the client.
Goh stared at Scott in surprise, then at Woo. He said something to Woo in Mandarin. Woo laughed and shook his head. They started chatting as the kid looked embarrassed and stared hopefully at Scott for an intervention. Not that Scott even knew what to do or say right now. Scott didn’t even really remember the kid’s name—he’d only had a rushed jumble for an intro before he’d been put on the boy’s team. Eventually, Goh said something to the kid, who muttered a response and ducked into the house.
“Well, if Mister Lang here is your friend…” Goh said, smiling at Woo. Scott tried to keep a wooden expression. Waited for Woo to start one of his fussy spiels, correcting Goh on everything down to Scott’s exact violation of the Accords.
“It’s a new business, but he’s been trying his best,” Woo said earnestly.
“Yes, yes. Of course. All right, Mister Lang. Give me another call tomorrow and we’ll work something out.” Goh patted Scott on the shoulder and waved them off.
“Wow,” Scott said, once they were a safe distance away. “He was such a hardass when I tried to talk to him earlier.”
“Can’t blame him. His wife’s very ill. Until Obamacare, they couldn’t get insurance. Now the health insurance market's so volatile that they’re worried all over again. His business is just one bad bet from going under.”
“We’ll do our best for him, we really will.”
“And I believe you,” Woo said comfortably.
“Thanks uh… thanks, Agent Woo. I really mean it. Thanks.”
“You probably should call me Jimmy. Same time next week?”
Maybe one more week.
“What? What? Did you just jump to the worst case scenario immediately or something?” Scott yelped.
Ellie sniffed. “He’s a fed. Feds die a lot in the movies.”
“Jesus, kid.” Where kids were concerned, Scott was used to Cassie—sweet, mature, exuberant. The kids in Jimmy’s soccer practice were what Jimmy liked to call ‘situationally disadvantaged’ and what Scott tended to think of as ‘one foot into the school-to-prison pipeline’. He should know. He’d been one of them himself, years back.
“So are you now our new coach or what?” Ellie demanded. She was radiating bluster, but her hands were clenched. She was worried.
“Look, I’m sure he’s fine. He’s a Special Agent. Like, uh, like James Bond,” Scott said, groping for context.
Ellie made a face. “James Bond is MI6 agent!” Josh yelled from the cluster of kids.
“Don’t you even watch movies? Or are you too old?” That was Susie.
“Scott’s too boring to be the coach!”
“I heard that, Brittany,” Scott said, raising his eyebrows. “Also, that might be true but remember what Jimmy would say, there’s ‘no call for that kind of hurtful language, young lady’.” Brittany giggled. “Hey, uh. Tell you guys what. How about we take a break from football? I’ll show you some magic.”
Jimmy was a no-show. They did play a desultory game of football at the end when Scott ran out of tricks, but nobody was really enthusiastic about it. Scott walked the kids home and checked his phone afterward. Nothing. And he didn’t have Jimmy’s number anyway. Nothing on the news. Scott spent the rest of the week distracted. Since the weekend was a Cassie-less one, he worked Saturday, woke up early on Sunday, and found himself heading over to the concrete block church near the football yard, half an hour before service.
The priest was an old Chinese man who looked mildly surprised as Scott let himself in. “You’re very early, sir,” he said, frozen in the middle of leaving ancient-looking bibles on benches.
“Um, I’m not really here for the service. Do you know Jimmy Woo?”
“He’s one of the youth pastors here, yes. Why?”
“I’m Scott. He didn’t show up for the football thing on Thursdays so I thought maybe something might’ve come up.”
“Ah, is that so? I hadn’t heard. I suppose I’d better try and call him. It’s very good of you to check on him. I’m Thomas.”
“Nice to meet you, Father.”
“Eh, no need for all that,” Thomas said, starting to set down the stack of Bibles in his arms.
Scott took them from him. “Lemme help you with that.” He set out books as Thomas patted himself down for his phone, looked vaguely puzzled, then ambled off to the back of the church. A phone began to ring outside the door, and Jimmy let himself in, limping as he checked his phone and hung up. He stopped and stared.
“Scott? Uh. You’re very early. Service doesn’t start for another half an hour.”
“You’re alive!” Scott gawked. “What the hell happened? You’re hurt.” That was disorienting, somehow. His stomach knotted.
“It’s not that serious.” Jimmy was dressed for church, and the suit and tie gave Scott another ugly turn. He’d gotten used to seeing Jimmy in faded jeans and a shirt. Even though it hadn’t really been that long. The suit and tie woke him back up again. What was Scott doing? Making friends with an FBI agent? This agent?
He vaguely remembered, after, setting down the Bibles and escaping, ignoring Jimmy’s startled questions, called to his back. Took the subway and got off at a random stop, sat in a nearby park and called Luis. “I’m a jackass,” Scott said.
“And I’m in church,” Luis hissed back. “Is this important?”
“Not really I guess.”
“Uh. Okay. Sec.” There was a muffled noise. Eventually Luis said, “Right, now I’m skipping church for you in front of everyone, my pastor’s known me all my life and he’s gonna beat my ass after this, grown up or not, I mean, he always told my momma that I was gonna do her wrong, that I was gonna go to jail, maybe life made him a little right, maybe a lot right, but he said, my soul still can be saved and—”
“Luis, it’s okay. You can go back to church.”
“No man, you sound pretty down. You all right?”
“I made friends with a federal agent.”
“What? With the popo? Aww hell Scott, you know better than that. I thought I taught you better than that. I mean, when I was a kid I had this uncle, Santiago, except nobody called him Santiago, everyone called him Nacho because it was a joke, he really liked nachos, and now there’s this famous football player called Nacho so it’s not funny anymore and the joke’s on us—”
Scott let Luis’ stream-of-consciousness chatter wash over him and calm him down. He lay on the park bench. Maybe he was overthinking things.
Hope eyed him, expressionless. She always scared him when she did that. As though Hope was sizing up whether to talk to Scott or punch him in the face. “So you’re telling me that you’ve somehow started… befriending the FBI agent in charge of your case… when you were under house arrest?”
“Amazing, so you’re actually capable of making good life decisions.”
“It’s good?” Scott asked, bewildered.
“By his own statement the fact that you’re even a free man right now depended on his assessment of your character…” Hope trailed off, frowning. “Unless you think. Is he trying to get something out of you?”
“No? No. Don’t see what he would want. Also, the second time we met again—unofficially—it was pretty random. He’s been running that football game out there for years.”
“Okay then.” Hope relaxed. “As long as you’re careful and keep your mouth shut about my father’s tech, this could be a good thing. And he’s no longer on your case, is he? You’d just be making friends in high places.” Hope smirked. “Maybe he’d even be a good influence.
“An influence on what?”
“Your capacity to continue making good life decisions.”
“Hey, hey.” Scott tried not to sulk. “If not for me and my life decisions, we wouldn’t be sitting here, right? All’s well that ends well and stuff.”
“We could’ve gotten to this point with considerably less chaos. What with me losing control of my family’s company, having to route assets to untraceable shell accounts, my parents and I still having to lie low—”
“Okay, okay. You’re right. I shit the bed for all of us.”
Hope grimaced, having never liked what she called ‘colourful imagery’ and what Scott called ‘keeping things real’. “Good. I’m glad you recognise that. I do think this is one of your better ideas. If you’re careful. Which, on hindsight, you’re not good at.”
“I think I’m getting a mixed review here,” Scott said.
“Just be careful.” Hope smirked. “If you even know what that means.”
“Sorry about running off on Sunday, I, uh.” Scott had come up with a workable excuse, but it faded away under Jimmy’s earnest stare. “I uh, kinda. Are you okay? You’re.” Scott made a vague gesture at Jimmy’s favoured leg.
“Oh, that. Got shot. It’s not that serious.”
“What? Not that serious?”
“I could walk myself to an ambulance. Some of my colleagues weren’t that lucky.”
“Jesus, what happened?” Scott began, then said, “Oops sorry for the name in vain thing.”
Jimmy shook his head. “I head the FBI’s new Powers division in San Francisco. Means we cover every incident caused by someone using special tech, magic, mutant abilities… anything too weird for the police to handle by themselves.” He gestured at his flank. “Occupational hazard.”
“Powers division? So you guys totally had better things to do than babysitting me.”
“Well yes…? We don’t have the resources to devote an entire FBI team to just one person under house arrest,” Jimmy said, bewildered.
Scott hadn’t known that. “Right, right.” The awkwardness eased as the game got started. Jimmy was clearly still in pain and kept having to sneak glances at his phone, so Scott performed what Jimmy vaguely called ‘coaching’ with the kids and what Scott called ‘riot control’. During the break, Scott asked, “You guys didn’t get him?”
“What?” Jimmy guiltily palmed his phone away.
“You guys didn’t catch whoever it was that shot you?”
Jimmy started to answer, paused, looked at the kids, then grimaced. “No comment.”
“Aww, c’mon. What happened?” Scott asked, wheedling.
Jimmy stared soberly at him. “No comment, Scott. Seriously. Keep your nose clean. You will go back to prison if you break the Accords again.”
“I thought my case officer had a good opinion of my character,” Scott said, as lightly as he could.
Jimmy watched the kids clustered around Ellie’s phone, giggling at a video of something. He didn’t smile, but the corner of his mouth twitched. “No comment.”
“Thought you liked superheroes,” Scott said. Jimmy said nothing. Somehow that hurt. Scott understood and it still hurt. “I’ll walk the kids back after this,” Scott volunteered stiffly. “You probably should take it easy.”
“Thanks,” Jimmy murmured. He started to say something, hesitated, then sighed. “I used to believe in all superheroes. When I was a kid, I’d spend all the money I could save on comic books. Batman, Superman, the works.”
“So what happened?”
“I grew up and realized how destructive all of you really are.” Jimmy forced a smile. “Even with the best of intentions.”
“You mean Hope van Dyne refused to help you,” Ghost said. She settled down in the front passenger seat and strapped up.
“Uh, that too.” Hope had given Scott a serious earful, at that. Something about having learned nothing and letting sleeping dogs lie. Scott hadn’t really been paying attention.
“Ooh, we’re all going back to jail,” Luis said sadly from the back of the van.
“Stay positive, Luis!” Scott told him. “Didn’t you always want to be a superhero?”
Luis was unimpressed. “No suit? No powers?”
“Not all superheroes wear capes. Some superheroes have no suits. Some superheroes have no powers. Some superheroes hack the FBI frequency to listen in on their radio chatter,” Scott said.
“If we get arrested, I’m leaving you both behind,” Ghost said, looking out of the window as Scott started up the van.
“Awesome. Good team,” Scott said, and pulled on his helmet. Game on.
“Kimchi fried rice. You’re looking at the extent of my culinary ambitions.” Jimmy was holding a paper bag in his arms. He followed Scott into the house, setting the bag down on the kitchen table, looking pointedly at the scarf Scott had hastily thrown on, at the stiff way Scott was holding his arm. “Fell down the stairs?”
“Funny you should say that actually!” The ring of bruises Scott had around his neck was starting to purple. Would’ve been worse if Luis hadn’t intervened with a baseball bat. And if Hope hadn’t gone all helicopter mom-friend and showed up to check on everyone. Assassins were bad enough. Super-powered assassins with some kinda weird time shift ability were just cheating.
Jimmy exhaled. “Told you not to get involved.”
“Actually, all you said was ‘no comment’. And. Involved? In what?” Scott asked glibly. When Jimmy merely stared at him, Scott muttered, “Also nothing was destroyed. Nothing seriously anyway? Or. So I heard. Hypothetically though, I thought performing a citizen’s arrest usually gets some kinda ‘thank you’ from the cops.”
“The nerve,” Jimmy said, though his mouth twitched, as though he was trying to swallow a laugh.
“No handshakes? No key to the city? Not even a kiss?” Scott grinned.
“People shouldn’t be rewarded for breaking the law.” Jimmy’s ears were starting to turn red though. Aww. That was cute. “Why did you even intervene? We could’ve handled it.”
“Hypothetically speaking, someone who performed said citizen’s arrest—”
“You were upset when you saw that I got hurt,” Jimmy cut in, frowning as though he was working it through in his head.
“Well… yeah? You’re a… look. In the beginning. I kinda hated you,” Scott confessed, “and every time you guys combed over my house because I put even a toe out of line I hated you a bit more. Didn’t help that sometimes Cassie and the others were there and you and your thug friends freaked them out. Made it so fucking obvious that I was a felon and I was lucky that they somehow still wanted to stick with me.
“But I got over it,” Scott said when Jimmy tried to get a word in edgeways, “because yeah, I knew you could’ve done worse to me if you’d wanted to. Bugged the house, rigged it with cameras. You told me at the start that you’d respect me and my privacy if I respected the terms of my sentence and you’ve always been fair to me. More than fair. If I’d had someone who was out to get me as my case officer I know I’d be back in jail by now.
“And you’re legitimately a good person. Maybe one of the few people I know who are. Other than Cap, even. Ellie and the football kids would sooner shank me than look at me but they adore you. Not because you’re great with kids, you’re terrible with kids, but because you genuinely care about them and their community aaand, I’ll stop now.”
Jimmy stared at him for a long moment, then he said, “Cap?”
“Oh, um. Cap, as in, Captain America. Not because I’m name dropping or anything. Just. Short form. Is he even still Captain America? I mean. Trump. When I mentioned the election Cap kinda looked visibly pained, like I’d punched him in the kidneys or something. Hell, Nazis are back in America even. That’s got to shit him.”
“… Did you just compare me to Captain America?”
“Well um. Maybe? Not sure how good you are with shields. Or with pissing off the UN.”
Jimmy started to laugh. It welled out of him in uneven chuckles, then he was grinning and leaning a hip against Scott’s table, folding his arms. He had a nice mellow laugh, a big-hearted sound that again reminded Scott of Steve Rogers. A sound that only good people could make, maybe, one with no artifice. Scott smiled and was sorry when it died down.
“Still want that kiss?” Jimmy asked, and he sounded like he was joking, only—only he didn’t look like he was. His shoulders were drawn up, and he was a little nervous, a lot serious.
Ah, what the hell. Jimmy blinked as Scott leaned in and pressed a playful peck on his mouth, like he hadn’t thought this was something that was gonna happen. Scott ended up shoved against his fridge with Jimmy’s hands clenched in his shirt, moaning as Scott rucked up Jimmy’s jacket and licked into his mouth and scattered magnets everywhere.
“Pretty sure this is unethical,” Jimmy kept muttering, as though he was trying to convince himself to stop.
Scott kept upping the ante each time Jimmy said it, just because, grinding against him, kneading his ass. His arm and bruised ribs ached but he didn’t care. Jimmy finally shut up, his words stuttering into gasps. It was exhilarating, having Jimmy melt against him and whine, Jimmy, who’d gone to Harvard, who headed an entire FBI division, who hardly ever had a hair out of place, who seemed to know everything, all the time. Scott’s life had always been an accidental series of encounters with people who were better people than he was, than he deserved. It’d never felt like he was pulling off some kinda heist until now.
Fatherhood was a cosmic experience that still blindsided Scott at the best of times, that squeezed out his heart and shattered it while expanding it all at once. He’d betrayed it anyway. Hadn’t even really learned his lesson. With Jimmy, it wasn’t like that, not even like it’d been with Maggie at the start. Scott could see how things had started with Maggie, where it’d gone wrong, how it’d ended. With Jimmy, he felt like he was missing a step, like he’d lucked into this. Scott held on to what he could get. Life had made Scott good at only one thing and it was theft, and he’d always been shameless.
“I think that went well,” Jimmy said afterward, as he drove Scott home and Scott was curled traumatised in the front passenger seat.
“Your parents hate me, what do you mean it went well,” Scott said, staring at Jimmy in disbelief. “I just got cross-examined for longer than I was cross-examined in court. For actual crimes.”
Jimmy sighed. “They don’t hate you. That’s just how they are.”
“Really? You’re like some kinda supercop. You’re like James Comey, but Asian. And I guess you haven’t helped cause the apocalypse. Yet.”
Jimmy shuddered. “Uh, that’s still a sore point in the Bureau. Lots of divided feelings.”
“You’re the boss of some sort of agency in charge of checking on superheroes. There’d be a movie about your life someday. You’d be played by, uh...”
“Scarlett Johansson?” Jimmy smiled faintly.
“Hah! Worse. Wait. Did you tell your parents that I’m an ex-con?” Scott asked suspiciously.
“I never lie to my parents.” Under Scott’s unblinking stare, Jimmy squirmed a little. “Though yes, fine, I didn’t tell them everything.”
“Relax. The Q&A is just them being curious. You have a job and you look reasonably presentable—”
“That’s it? That’s all they want?”
Jimmy shrugged. “They’d previously given up on me and I’m their only child. Resigned themselves to die without ever seeing grandchildren. So.”
“… When I mentioned Cassie by accident I thought they were probably gonna flip, but they did suddenly become a hell of a lot nicer to me,” Scott said, now incredulous. Jimmy’s mum had even asked Scott to bring Cassie along ‘next time’. “Is this a cultural thing?”
Dating Jimmy had made Scott abruptly aware of something Jimmy tended to vaguely call ‘cultural things’, which to Scott was a parallel and impenetrable world full of landmines and approaching life in ways Scott didn’t understand. Though he tried. And usually fucked up. Jimmy had kept a completely straight face when Scott had tried greeting Jimmy’s mum in Korean.
“Yeah,” Jimmy said, then, in the vague way he got when he was about to say a not-quite-lie, “you did great.”
“Am I the first person you’ve brought home to meet them?”
“No, of course not. I’m in my forties.”
“Everyone else was worse than an ex-con?”
Jimmy actually took his eyes off the road, which was a milestone event in its own right. He shot Scott a brief, sober glance. “You’ve done your time. That’s the whole point of even having sentencing. You do your time, pay your debt to society, and then everyone moves on.”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
“I know. And I hate that it doesn’t. People deserve second chances. Forgiveness shouldn’t be a virtue. It should be built into the system. It’s not right that people struggle to find work after release from jail. Especially if they were in prison for nonviolent crimes. Or for things like being unable to afford paying small fines. It’s frustrating. Creates a cycle of poverty.” Jimmy paused. “Sorry. Ranted.”
Scott wanted to say something mature. Intelligent even, though maybe that was a long ask. Instead, what came out of his mouth was, “Damn, you’re sexy.”
Jimmy started laughing. He actually laughed so hard that he had to pull up at the curb and catch his breath, and was still chuckling when Scott unstrapped himself and tried to climb into Jimmy’s lap. “Okay, that’s enough,” Jimmy said, grinning.
“You think that was a joke?” Scott smirked. “I’m serious. I’m gonna suck you off right now.”
“What? Scott—we’re nearly home—Scott,” Jimmy yelped, indignant. They scuffled in the driver’s seat and Scott nearly banged his head on the window. Jimmy might look like a mild-mannered accountant when he was dressed down, but he had absolutely no qualms about pinning Scott in an arm lock against the wheel.
“Even that is sexy,” Scott said, with his cheek mashed against the door and the gear stick jabbing into his kidneys. Jimmy closed his eyes. Counting to ten? Maybe Scott had pushed too hard this time. Before he could apologise, Jimmy hauled him over for a kiss, and hello, that definitely wasn’t a second gear stick against Scott’s thigh.
“Home,” Jimmy growled, in a tone Scott had never heard from him before, that made Scott shiver and flush and scramble meekly back into his seat.
Jimmy lived in a small apartment that probably cost him an arm and a leg in rent. Scott had no complaints, if only because it was close by to Jimmy’s parents’ place compared to Scott’s, had really fast lifts, and a minimal distance to cover from the door to the shower. Jimmy was laser focused today where he was usually handsy and willing to let Scott lead. Scott made a point of being playfully obnoxious in return, refusing to help, mouthing at all the skin he could get. It didn’t get prep sped up—Jimmy was meticulous that way—but Scott was shoved down on the bed after, kissed breathless.
“So that’s how I can rile you up,” Scott said, grinning smugly. “Just offer to suck you off in the car? Done. We’re never going to have a PG-13 car trip ever again.”
“Don’t, just, no,” Jimmy said, sounding horrified and fascinated and turned on all at once, which was also kinda hot.
Jimmy bit Scott on the throat, working in his teeth. Scott pushed into the sting and whined and scraped his nails down Jimmy’s back. Spread his thighs and bucked against Jimmy until Jimmy got a condom on with shaky fingers and dripped lube everywhere. The breach always hurt no matter how much prep they did, but Scott groaned and squeezed his thighs over Jimmy’s hips and hauled him deeper. Ran his hands greedily down the hard muscle knotted down Jimmy’s back, always hidden away under neat suits or old shirts. Jimmy shivered and said something torn against a moan.
Deeper. Nails raked down Scott’s ribs, digging against his thighs. Jimmy was pressed all the way in, too big, immovable. He licked the sweat off Scott’s throat as Scott whimpered and begged and twisted his fingers over the back of Jimmy’s throat, in his hair. Now when Scott kissed Jimmy he could taste it. The wave-pattern close to the edge of a well-made blade, the weighted balance of a gun. Under Jimmy’s pedantic fussiness, his buttoned-down obsessiveness with the letter of the law, the dad jokes, and the Sunday School Pastor was a hunter.
Scott had seen it the first time Jimmy had come into Scott’s house and sized him up, a professional up and down before the we’re-all-friends-here smile had come up and Jimmy had offered to shake his hand. You didn’t rise high in the FBI without a killing instinct and ambition. Jimmy had enough of both to spare. He just hid it well when he wanted to. Scott breathed it in and whispered his challenge to the hunter with each gasp, sang to it with each keening moan as Jimmy rocked against him. He felt its response as Jimmy bit him again, working bites over his chest, saw its amusement in Jimmy’s eyes.
It never came out to play in bed. Jimmy’s self-control was far too good for that. But it was pulling at the leash today, closer than Scott had ever seen it. It got him fucked the way he was begging for, nailed into the bed until Scott was aching to come. Jimmy kissed him and jacked Scott roughly off without slowing down, bruising lust against his pleasure until Scott was shoving his wrist into his own mouth to muffle a yell. Jimmy laughed, low and husky, waiting him out. Then he pulled out and tugged Scott onto his front, stripping off the condom. Nuzzled Scott’s spine and bit down on the back of his throat as he thrust into his fist and came against Scott’s ass and the small of his back.
Jimmy was usually extremely meticulous at cleaning up, but today he just got them wiped down, disposed of the condom, and curled up under the sheets, grumbling as Scott plastered himself to his back. “You’re tired?” Scott said, teasing. “You’re younger than me.”
“I have work tomorrow.”
“So do I.”
“Not everyone gets to slink into the office at a time of their choosing,” Jimmy complained, which of course meant his phone going off just as he stopped talking. “Ah heck.”
“Heck,” Scott mimicked. Jimmy rolled his eyes and crawled over to the edge of his bed for his phone. He checked the screen, sighed, and started to get up. “Seriously?” Scott asked, forever amazed by Jimmy’s insane work schedule, which could only be called a ‘schedule’ because it vaguely adhered to normal time and space. Not that it respected either in any way. “It’s Sunday.”
“Things to do,” Jimmy said, in the vague way that meant that shit had probably caught fire somewhere in a spectacular fashion. He kissed Scott and said, “Get some rest. No vigilante stuff. I’m not joking.”
“Yeah, like I can still walk,” Scott said and smirked at the hungry look he got in return. He kissed Jimmy after Jimmy dressed hurriedly, and waited for the door to close. Then he dug his phone out from his pants and called Luis. “Superhero time,” Scott said.
“This is unpaid labour,” Luis complained, but Scott could hear him scrambling to get up.
“Thanks again. For coming to get me,” Scott said quietly. “Don’t even know how you found me.”
“If you don’t want to be found, you should use burner phones,” Jimmy said. He nudged a distracted kiss over Scott’s temple. “Sorry. Work. I would’ve come earlier but. I didn’t even know you were missing until Cassie called me.”
Paxton. Dave. Janet and Hank. Maggie. Hope. Scott sucked in a shaky breath. “Now what? I could… I guess I could try and call Cap. I don’t know if he’ll answer.”
“You do that,” Jimmy said, still distracted. Scott leaned up to look at him.
“You’re up to something.” He tried to peek at Jimmy’s texts.
“Up to what? No?” Jimmy angled his phone away.
“I want in.”
“In on what?”
“Whatever you’re up to.”
Jimmy shot him a cagey look. “It’s top secret so far.”
“Still want in.”
“I knew it!” Scott glanced down as Cassie stirred, and lowered his voice. “I want in.”
“Director Fury reached out to a few of us. This was a while ago. After SHIELD combusted and he started running under the radar. He was setting it up during your throwdown in Germany. Said he’d issue an activation when the time was right. Guess it was now or never.”
“Throwdown, really? Someone’s been keeping up to date with their urban dictionary.”
“I’m up to date aye-eff,” Jimmy said, and smiled sharply, the way he did whenever he was pleased with himself for Getting with the Times.
Scott winced. “Please never say that again. I think you just hurt my soul.”
“Anyway, I’ve been rounding up Fury’s contacts. Some old friends from black ops—think you’ve met one of them. Clint. One’s ex-USAF. Got a Chinese wizard, whatever that means, some associate of Doctor Strange. And I’m going to need you to help me get in touch with your friend, Ghost. If she survived.”
“Only if I’m in.”
“I was getting to that,” Jimmy said patiently. “Fury gave me this project to run. Which means,” he said, as Scott opened his mouth, “yes, you’re in, but only if you actually listen to me.”
Scott beamed. “All right! Wait. I listen to you all the time.”
Jimmy wrinkled his nose. “As if,” he said. Scott kissed Jimmy before he tried any further millennialisms and broke the world further than it was already was, kissed until Scott felt calmer, until he felt less like screaming.
“Ready when you are,” Scott whispered.
“I don’t think anyone can ever be ready for something like this,” Jimmy said, and handed Scott a new, sleeker phone from inside his coat. “Welcome to Atlas.”