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you&i'll be safe and sound (epilogue)

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The best part of any trip, as far as Mercedes is concerned, is the moment the teacher says okay everyone, free time here: meet back at the door at whatever-o'-clock. Freedom might be a little bit contained by whatever the building is, but the Smithsonian's pretty big, it has a cafe and a cafeteria and a gift-shop and, you know, museum exhibitions. And that means Mercedes can duck LeAnn and Hannah, leave them at the gift-shop and wander around by herself.

That isn't actually allowed, but nobody's going to tell on her. It's not that she doesn't like LeAnn and Hannah, obviously, it's just that her friends' interest in actual, you know, history is a bit low. They're here for the trip. Mercedes is here because she actually thinks all of this stuff is really fucking neat. But that means she can leave LeAnn and Hannah where they can shop or get some food, and she can go wander around, and if they get caught on either end they can just say they're waiting for the others to get out of the washroom. Or if that won't fly, that they accidentally lost one another just now, and were starting to look.

It also means Mercedes doesn't have to argue with either of her friends when she heads to the Captain America exhibit. She can just grin to herself. Secret jokes are more fun than the other kind - actually, just secrets are fun, and she's got a few.

Technically, this was supposed to be a temporary exhibition, but people keep coming and paying money, so they've held it over, and over, and over. Mercedes kind of knows it by heart from the last time, when everyone thought it was new and exciting and stuck around here, but that's okay. She knows her favourite movies by heart, too, and she still watches them.

They're supposed to write a report about a display or exhibit, and after a wander-through, smiling to herself, Mercedes decides to sit down in a corner near the uniform display and start on hers while she can see stuff. If she gets a bunch done now, then maybe when they're supposed to be working on them at the hotel later she can nap instead, before the classical music concert they're going to tonight. It's not like her, LeAnn and Hannah went to sleep before one in the morning last night and it's always kinda embarrassing to be one of the kids that falls asleep at the concert, even if half the music is boring as death.

She's sitting and writing notes, notebook on her knees, when she hears a familiar voice say, "I think I want my coat back." It's quiet, the kind you use when you're only talking to your friend beside you, and Mercedes only hears it because of one of those accidental echo-things, where you stand at just the right spot and it bounces the sound-waves of your voice the right way (there was a neat set-up explaining that at one of the other museums they went to today, so she remembers) so that if someone else is standing in just the right spot, they hear it pretty clear.

She looks up, and grins. She thinks about standing up, saying something, waving to catch their attention, but she actually kind of likes the idea of eavesdropping. She can tell James when she runs into him back home, and he can look all annoyed.

"I don't think it'd fit you anymore," Steve says (Mercedes decided a bit ago that since they're neighbours she can call him that, unless she does it out loud and someone objects). They're both standing in front of the display, James with his arms folded, Steve with his hands in his pockets. Steve has a hat on. Mercedes wonders if that works on normal people. She can tell if a face is the same even under total pancake makeup designed to make them look different, so she knows she's not normal about this stuff, but she wonders. It seems like it'd be too little, but then LeAnn and Hannah walk around the building all the time and they still argue with her about it.

Who knows?

"No," James says. "And besides the real one died in some fucking HYDRA incinerator God knows where. Still. I liked that coat."

"It's a decent replica," Steve allows.

"And yours better be a decent replica," James adds, "because if the paramedics left anything intact on the old one we have a belated conversation that needs having."

"It is," Steve says. "Actually I think it's a pretty obsessive replica. It took them a while to do it, I get the feeling they hunted down the original patterns."

"Dedicated of them," James says. "And if you ever need to steal one again, it's right there."

Then he drops into a language Mercedes doesn't know, and they move on. She thinks about popping up to point out that you can get replica coats from the gift-shop, in different sizes (along with Dugan's bowler-hat, Falsworth's beret, Dernier's jacket, Morita's hat and Jones' scarf, along with everything else that you could normally buy from exhibits), but she decides she likes her feeling about her little moment of secrecy better.

By the time she meets up with her friends at the cafeteria, she's most of the way done the draft of her report and there's just enough time for her to grab something to eat before they have to meet back at the door. She doesn't tell Hannah and LeAnn about their neighbours, because she's tired of arguing with them about whether it's true or not, but she does point out she'll basically get to rest when they get back to the hotel and gets the expected ugh, why didn't we think of that! and then her friends triumphantly showing her what they picked up at the gift-shop she didn't have time to visit.

Of course over half the class - a lot of it the boys - is late for the meet-up, the chaperone parents are grumpy, the bus is waiting and after a few minutes Mercedes drops her backpack because it's starting to hurt her shoulder. After ten minutes she and her friends are sitting down, Mercedes braiding Hannah's hair and LeAnn doing twists in Mercedes', when LeAnn looks over and says, "Hey, Mercy, there's something on your backpack? Except, like, I didn't see anyone go near it."

Mercedes puts in the elastic to keep Hannah's hair in place and turns around, frowning.

There's a bag draped across her backpack. Inside is a little box from the gift-shop with one of the necklaces that has the Captain America wings as a pendant, and one of the replica blue coats. She's already grinning when she pulls it out - she's not even going to pretend to be surprised it's the right size - and a note falls out.

In messy printing, it says, Nice try, kid. Next time you're being sneaky, try to remember not to giggle.

Mercedes grins wider, pulls off her other coat and stuffs it in her backpack, and then bugs Hannah to do up the chain for the necklace around Mercedes' neck.

*******

They come like sacrifices in their trim,

And to the fire-eyed maid of smoky war

All hot and bleeding will we offer them.

- Hotspur, Henry IV Part 1