Title: They Look Like You
Author: marcicat

Fandom: Marvel MCU, Amazing Spiderman
Rating: T

Characters: Flash Thompson, Taina Vasquez, Bucky Barnes, Marta Farrell, Robert Farrell (Rocket Racer), Ava Ayala (White Tiger), Peter Parker, Sharon Hawkins, JARVIS, Ms. Vasquez (Taina’s mom), Pepper Potts, Gwen Stacey

Summary: The odds of Flash finding Bucky Barnes before the team of elite superheroes who were all searching for him were low. The odds of Bucky Barnes finding him were significantly higher.

Author’s Note: Title is from the song ‘Nothing More,’ by The Alternate Routes. Follow up to “Heroes Don’t Look Like They Used To.”

Character notes: Virgil and Richie are Static Shock and Gear; Sharon is Virgil’s older sister. Robert Farrell is Rocket Racer; he really does have six younger siblings. Ava Ayala is White Tiger. Relative ages and timelines have been adjusted where necessary.



His phone buzzed as he was counting back his drawer, and he hurried through the last of his closeout. He’d already gotten check-ins from Sharon (the boys were fine, no property damage) and Rob (he’d stopped a mugging, and ran into the Winter Soldier again). He couldn’t think of anyone else who’d be awake at five a.m.

It was from Taina, who definitely shouldn’t have been awake. Stormy weather in the north, the text read. (Taina loved Spiderman and hated fighting, and had the misfortune of living in the apartment directly below his. Which meant he got to do a lot of easy babysitting, and she let him know whenever he should plan to steer clear of “home” for a while.)

You safe? He could get away with loitering in the back for a few minutes after his shift, as long as he was loud about clocking out and quiet about hanging around.

Safe. Going to work with Mom.

So whatever was happening was loud enough that Ms. Vasquez didn’t think Taina should be alone. At least that explained why she was up. Which was great, except now he wasn’t going to be able to drop in at their place for breakfast.

He was still debating options when the floor manager stuck her head in the break room. “Oh good, you’re still here,” she said, and he closed his mouth on the ‘I was just leaving’ he’d been about to offer. “There’s a guy up front, just came in. Real serial killer vibe. Looks like he’s one out of stock item away from a violent episode. We could use some extra presence, if you want overtime.”

“Yeah, of course.” He frowned. “You know I’m not going to be much help if he’s on something.”

“Yeah, but you’re good with kids. He’s got a little one with him.”

That got him moving. It was easy to spot the guy, but it wasn’t until Flash came around the end of the aisle that he could see the kid. And recognize the kid, seriously, had they not gone over stranger danger a thousand times? “Marta?” he said, not sure whether it would be better or worse if he was wrong.

She looked up from the box of gum she’d been poking at. It was definitely Marta — she waved. “Flash!” To the man next to her, she added, “I told you he’d be here.”

Marta was the youngest of seven, and way too young to be wandering around the neighborhood on her own. He checked her wrist automatically — at least she was still wearing her Iron Man ‘bracelet.’ He’d feel a lot better about it if she wasn’t also holding hands with a stranger.

Flash eyed the man carefully. He was just standing there, staring back at him without saying anything. Serial killer vibe or not, the first priority was getting Marta out of any potential danger zone. “Hey Marta,” Flash said. “Why don’t you come over here?”

Marta tugged on the man’s hand to get his attention. “He’s in the phone, see?”

She held up what looked like Rob’s phone. The man looked at it carefully, then back at Flash. Then he nodded, and Marta ran over and nearly took him out at the knees with her enthusiastic hug. “We came to get you breakfast!” she exclaimed.

Okay. That — made no sense. “What? Marta, what have we said about talking to strangers?” He shot a quick glance at the stranger in question, but he was still just standing there. It didn’t look like he was taking offense. Of course, it didn’t look like he wasn’t taking offense, either.

Marta shook her head. “He’s not a stranger. I’ve seen him lots of times.”

(Since Marta also used this reasoning about cab drivers and pizza delivery people, he wasn’t entirely convinced.) And he was well aware that the floor manager was expecting him to help these people buy something or politely usher them from the store, not stand around chatting with them.

Marta added, “He helped Robbie, last night. And then Sharon said you needed breakfast, and Robbie was still sleeping, so he said he’d come with me to help me find you.” She waved the phone again, which he was guessing meant Taina had texted Sharon, who texted Rob as the next closest to his job. Why Marta had taken it upon herself to commandeer both the phone and a stranger’s help…

She gave up on the phone and held up both arms to be picked up. When he got her propped up on his hip, she put a hand up to his ear and whispered loudly, “He wanted to meet you.”

Flash took an involuntary step backwards and almost ran into a display.

“I don’t want trouble,” the man said quickly. He didn’t move, but suddenly he looked less threatening, and Flash narrowed his eyes. They couldn’t stay in the store much longer without someone else getting involved, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to go anywhere else while he had Marta with him.

“What do you want?” he asked.

There was silence for a few seconds, and then the man said, “To meet you, like she said.”

What could he even say to that? ‘You’re crazy,’ seemed like a decent option, but not exactly tactful. Finally he just said, “Why?”

“I was curious.”

Flash stared at him. The man stared back. It hit him all of a sudden — Marta said he’d helped Rob the night before, and Rob had had said he’d seen the — and he actually felt his eyes widen. “Holy sh—“ He remembered just in time that Marta was there, but she caught his slip, and she giggled.

“That’s what Emma said,” she told him.

“Emma knows you’re here?” Too bad she hadn’t mentioned that at the beginning.

But Marta shook her head. “She’s at practice. Robbie’s in charge. She said it before.”

Which meant they were pretty much back at square one, except that now he knew it was the Winter Soldier in front of him, instead of some random stranger. “The Avengers are looking for you,” he said, because it was the first thing that popped into his head.

He’d sort of thought the guy would disappear in the blink of an eye or something, but he was still very solidly there. While Flash watched, he rocked back on his heels and stuck his hands in his pockets. “Yeah,” he said. “I noticed.”

And that was it. There was an awkward moment where they both just looked at each other, and then Marta poked his shoulder. “Can we get breakfast now?”

“We need to get you home,” he said.

His phone rang, and he didn’t even need to check to know it was Rob. “Please tell me Marta’s with you,” Rob said.

Flash nodded, even though Rob couldn’t see it. “She’s fine; I’ve got her. She’s here.”

“Oh, thank god. I woke up to a note and Claire sitting in the kitchen with half a set of wrist bracers and a timer counting down.”

That was pretty clever, actually. He wondered whose idea that had been. “We’re on our way back. Apparently we’re bringing breakfast.”

“Flash…”

“I got this. I get paid tomorrow, it’ll be fine.” He glanced at the Winter Soldier, who wasn’t even pretending not to listen in. “Everyone else okay?”

“Yeah, we’re good. I wouldn’t mind another 12 hours of sleep, though.”

“You and me both.” He hung up and set Marta back down. She might be the smallest, but she was already getting too heavy to hold for long. “Okay, do you remember what you guys had for dinner last night?”

“Peanut butter sandwiches!”

Well, that took out Plan A for breakfast. Luckily, Rob and Emma had a mealtime rotation that was pretty easy to remember. “So it’s oatmeal today, right?”

Marta nodded. “Can we have chocolate chips?”

“Only if you eat a banana too.”

“Half a banana.”

She was still little — half a banana was probably a full serving of fruit for a kid, right? “Okay, half. Good bargaining.” He held out a hand for her to shake on it.

It was impossible to forget that the Winter Soldier was standing right there, but he didn’t say anything else, just shadowed them through the store. (The floor manager gave him a skeptical look when he stepped up to the register, but he just shrugged. Hopefully his expression was enough to convey ‘everything’s fine here, nothing to worry about, please don’t call the cops.’) Flash was trying to figure out what they’d do if he wanted to join them for breakfast — accelerated metabolism, maybe he could call in a favor from Pete — when they made it back to the Farrells’ apartment.

They stopped outside the door. Marta immediately let go of his hand to look for her key, and he stepped back. “You coming in?” he asked quietly.

The Winter Soldier shook his head. “No.” He hesitated, like he was trying to decide if he should say something else, and then he added, “I had a sister.”

And then Marta got the door open and dashed inside, and Flash looked in after her, and when he looked back, the hallway was empty.

***

“‘I had a sister?’ That’s all he said?”

“I know, right? It was weird.”

Ava frowned, and tapped her claws on the table. Quietly. It was a library, after all. “Well, did he?”

It was the first thing he’d checked. “The internet says yes. Or at least, it says Bucky Barnes had a sister. Get this: her name was Rebecca P. Barnes.”

“Like the scholarship? You think it’s named after her?”

He shrugged. “I guess. Pretty weird coincidence if it isn’t.”

“It’s a pretty weird coincidence if it is, too, don’t you think?”

Honestly, he thought their lives were filled with coincidences much weirder than that. “You’re the one going to college; I’ll take your word for it.”

She rolled her eyes. “You keep saying that like it’s a sure thing.”

He leaned closer, because there was someone sorting magazines that kept making shushing gestures in their direction, and said, “Hey. We’re going to make it happen, okay? If you want it, we can do this. You did the hard part and got accepted, let the rest of us pitch in for the next part. May already volunteered for paperwork duty. And I sent you a couple more links last night, did you get them?”

She was already gathering up her papers so they could move further into the building. “Flash, I think there’s a limit to the number of scholarships any one person can apply for.”

He was pretty sure there wasn’t. “I’m pretty sure there’s not,” he said. “But let me know.”

“It’s too bad I can’t list ‘part time superhero’ on my extracurriculars. Oh, free chairs.” There were a couple of arm chairs pushed together next to the stacks, mostly out of sight. The library was a popular spot for students looking for a nap, but in the summer it was both easier to find a free spot and less diligently patrolled by staff. (Still: buddy system.)

He couldn’t resist a sigh of relief when he sank into one of the chairs and closed his eyes. “Thanks, Ava. I owe you one.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He heard her shifting the other chair around, and opened his eyes when she stuck her feet in his lap. She handed him a folder. “Pretend to read that. I’ll cover for you. It’ll take me a while to get through the latest batch of these applications, anyway.”

He woke up when Ava poked him in the arm. It felt like he’d been asleep for a while — maybe an hour? There were no windows close by, so it was hard to tell. “Yeah?” he said.

“Someone texted you,” she said.

“What?”

She pushed his phone towards him. “I drew the line at actually reading the message. What does it say?”

He picked up the phone, but didn’t actually look at it. “It says ‘if you were going to ask, you should have just checked it yourself instead of waking me up.’”

Ava rolled her eyes. “Very funny. What if it was personal? I don’t know what it is you’ve got going on with Peter and Gwen these days.”

It was a little too true to be funny. “Yeah, well, most of the time we don’t either,” he muttered, swiping to unlock the phone. “It’s from Sharon, anyway.”

“Is everything okay?” Ava leaned in closer and peered at the screen.

He read it out loud, just in case she couldn’t see it. “‘Everyone is fine. Call me from somewhere quiet.’” That was vague. And the library was safe, but not exactly free from potential eavesdroppers. He looked at Ava. “Do you have anywhere near here?”

(Technically, all the kids were supposed to be working on their own system of bolt-holes around the city. And technically he was supposed to be working on not calling them kids. The reality was that Ava was good at making friends, and most everyone was just tagging along on her goodwill. Except Pete, but he still wouldn’t talk about how he got the freaking unions on his side, so who knew, really.)

“There’s a coffee shop,” she said, nodding, and they headed out.

Ava waved at the woman behind the counter when they walked in, and she gestured them over to the side of the dessert case. “Oh, I’m glad you’re here. Your friend came in earlier — he looked tired, so I sent him back, but then some people came looking for him, and —“ She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I think one of them was Captain America. What if I lied to Captain America?”

“Our friend,” Ava repeated, and the woman nodded. Ava looked at him like maybe he could intuit more from that phrase than she could, and he shrugged.

Still. “I’m sure Captain America would understand if you were trying to protect someone,” he said.

The woman nodded again. “Of course he would. He’s a good man. Taller than I expected, though, and he didn’t take his hat off when he came inside. You’d think he would, wouldn’t you?”

She didn’t seem to actually expect a response, but she pressed a bag of scones into Ava’s hands as they headed towards the back. Ava handed them to him and moved forward cautiously. Everyone should have been covered by Sharon’s all-clear message, so who was in there?

Whatever he was expecting, it wasn’t the Winter Soldier, calmly reading a magazine with his feet up on a stack of cleaning supplies. “Figured someone would show up eventually,” he said.

Flash stared. “What are you doing here?”

And he just held up the magazine, like that was answer enough all on its own, which it absolutely wasn’t. Sometimes — frequently — he wondered how this had become his life. Ava poked him in the side, and he gestured between them. “Ava, the Winter Soldier.”

“James is fine.”

It was practically chatty compared to when they’d met earlier in the day, but he wasn’t going to question it. “Sure — James, Ava.”

Ava waved. The Winter Soldier nodded. “White Tiger,” he acknowledged. The two of them stared at each other.

He hadn’t moved since they walked in, but Flash edged sideways as he pulled out his phone, just in case a clear line to the door would reduce their chances of seeing the guy snap. The call picked up almost immediately. “Sharon, it’s Flash,” he said.

“We have a small problem.”

His eyes automatically went to the Winter Soldier, but there was no way she could know he was there. “Okay.”

“Virgil and Richie were fixing the wifi over at Dinah’s, and — not even kidding — Black Widow walked in and started asking about that guy, you know, the usual. Except then she asked about Static and Gear, and then she asked if anyone had seen you.”

His mind had been stuck on how thrilled Richie had probably been that Black Widow knew his name, and it took a second to catch up. “Wait — me?”

“And me, and Emma too. They really want this guy, Flash; it’s making me nervous.”

“Give me a minute. He’s — well, he’s here.”

That got all eyes on him, and Sharon said, “Be careful, okay?”

“Yeah.” He tucked the phone away carefully, and handed the bag of scones to the Winter Soldier. Couldn’t hurt to start by offering food. “So what’s the deal, anyway? You’re avoiding the Avengers, but you’re still here in New York, so you’re not trying very hard. Or you’re just messing with them, or us, which was fine, except the Avengers just brought the kids’ families into this.” To Ava, he added, “Black Widow just showed up at Dinah’s asking about Sharon and Emma.”

Ava looked startled, but the Winter Soldier shook his head. “You really think the Avengers would hurt kids?”

“I’m a lot more worried about what comes after the Avengers,” Flash said.

“Hydra.” For the first time, the Winter Soldier’s expression could be considered mildly concerned.

He’d been thinking more along the lines of social services, but Hydra would also be bad. “Why are you here?” he said instead.

The Winter Soldier still didn’t move, except to put the magazine down. He took a breath, and let it out slowly. Carefully. Finally, he said, “You’re all — easy to make the right choices around. Rogers, the Avengers — I’m not so sure. I can’t leave. But I can’t be there either.”

“Even injured?” Ava said. “Because we don’t have a medical team on call, and it kind of looks like you need one.”

Which would explain the not moving, he guessed. The Winter Soldier shook his head again. “It’ll heal on its own.”

Ava looked at Flash, and he looked back at her, and he was pretty sure they were thinking the same thing, so he said, “Okay. Do you need a place to stay tonight?” They could step it up, handle a little increased scrutiny. He hoped. And it wasn’t like any of the rest of them had needed to prove their worth.

“Just like that?”

Ava shrugged. “It’s not like there’s a rule book. Show up, stay in touch, ask for help when you need it, offer help when you can give it. We’ll do what we can.”

***

The text came hours later, when his sleep schedule was scrambled enough that folding laundry at three in the morning seemed like a good idea. He was the only one in the house, anyway — Mrs. Parker was at some kind of conference, and Pete was taking advantage of it to do a longer than usual patrol.

Are you harboring the Winter Soldier?

The sender was listed as JARVIS, all caps, no phone number. He wondered if it was really the Avengers’ AI contacting him via text, then wondered who would risk that kind of impersonation. He wasn’t going to bother asking how JARVIS would have gotten his contact information.

He wrote: Personally? No.

Then he looked around, like secret agents might have been waiting to burst through the door. Nothing happened. So he added, How do I know you’re really JARVIS?

The response came quickly. The first set of Iron Man wrist bracers you purchased were given to your downstairs neighbor, Taina Vasquez. She has never used them in an emergency capacity, though we have exchanged greetings on several occasions. You do not have a set yourself. Why?

All true. Getting kind of personal, though. It’s complicated, he wrote back. Why do you want to know? And then he waited. He folded more laundry.

When the reply came, it wasn’t what he was expecting.

Your phone could be modified to allow a similar functionality.

He frowned at the screen. Why?

There’s value in an emergency contact, as you know, and it seems unlikely that you would utilize the 911 system.

You have associates with whom members of the Avengers might wish to communicate, if there was a way to do so.

The first two sentences came rapid fire, and he was still considering how to reply when a third message arrived.

In addition, you have effectively set up the Avengers as backup for your associates, and it would be fair to return the courtesy.

Well. Yes, he had. They had, anyway; it wasn’t like he’d made the decision on everyone’s behalf. No matter how unofficial or unsanctioned a superhero might be, he was pretty sure the Avengers weren’t going to ignore it if one of them sent out an SOS. He was less confident that any of them would be suitable backup for the kind of situations the Avengers found themselves in.

JARVIS wasn’t wrong about communication, though. Trial period? he sent back. No stress level monitoring.

Agreed.

And that was that, it seemed like. He stared at his phone for a while, wondering if another message would come through, or a JARVIS app would appear, or something. Nothing happened, and finally he shrugged and stuck it in his pocket. Might as well try sleeping again.

He woke up to sunshine and a text alert chime, and grabbed for his phone. Next to him, Peter groaned and pulled a blanket over his head. “Seriously?” he said, muffled by a pillow. “I came in through the window and tripped over the laundry basket, and you didn’t even twitch.”

Flash didn’t bother to hide his smile. “You were fine. Maybe if you ever did laundry, seeing the basket wouldn’t be such a surprise.”

The blanket came off. “Hey, I do laundry.”

He glanced over, just to be sure Pete could see his skeptical expression. “Sure.”

“I do! Sometimes.” There was a pause. “Maybe not that often.”

The text was a welcome one. “The store manager can get me an extra shift today. I’ve got to go now, though, or I’ll be late.” He was already texting back his agreement, and another message to Taina to let her know not to expect him.

“Right, I’m awake.” Peter rubbed his hands over his face, then through his hair — if anything, it stood up even more afterwards. “You want breakfast first? There’s like a gallon of trail mix in the kitchen.”

“I’m not taking your trail mix. I’ll get something on the way.” It didn’t take a genius to figure out that whatever else the spider bite had done to Peter, he needed to eat a lot. Gwen was constantly plying him with energy bars and stuff.

Peter groaned and flopped back down on the bed. “Please take the trail mix. It has raisins.” The face he made on the word raisins was priceless.

That made him pause. “Is it from Gwen?”

“Yes?” There was the slightest hesitation before he said it; something was definitely up.

“Gwen doesn’t know you hate raisins? Everyone knows you hate raisins. I know you hate raisins.”

Peter groaned again. “For the record, I told Gwen this would happen. She made it for you; you’re just kind of… hard to track down, sometimes. So it’s here.”

He wasn’t sure what to say to that. With everyone else it was easy, but with Peter and Gwen he always felt — off balance. Like they were going to look around one day and realize he was still the same person who’d bullied underclassmen and almost flunked out of school, and it would all be over. Finally, he managed, “Well, thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

He took the trail mix. He even made it to work on time. And he made it through about thirty minutes of his shift before he was forcibly reminded of Sharon’s phone call from the day before, when Captain America walked in.

He wasn’t subtle, even without the uniform. There was no point in running, and — he kept reminding himself — he hadn’t done anything wrong. Captain America strode up to the counter, where Molly was giving him an unimpressed look. “Hi,” she said. “Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for a friend of mine.” It didn’t seem to bother him that everyone in the store was listening in. He handed Molly a photograph, presumably of the Winter Soldier. “Have you seen him?”

Molly took the picture, and narrowed her eyes as she studied it. Unless it was an incredibly bad picture, there was no way she wouldn’t recognize him as the man from the day before. But she shook her head and handed the picture back. “Nope. Sorry. He’s cute. Looks like the type that can take care of himself, don’t you think?”

Captain America swapped the picture for a piece of paper, which he set on the counter. “I’m worried about him. He’s been seen in this area. Do you recognize any of these names?”

That made Molly cross her arms. She didn’t even glance at the paper. “Look, I don’t know what kind of a place you think this is, but there’s still such a thing as privacy. Store policy says we don’t give out customer information without a compelling reason.” Her expression said that so far, his explanation had been far from compelling.

Flash wondered what it took to ruffle someone like Captain America. He seemed totally calm when he tapped the paper. “This one works here. Is he here today? Can I talk to him?”

Molly looked at the name, and sighed. “Flash!” she called. “Visitor.”

Showtime. He headed for the register. Luckily, Molly didn’t seem inclined to leave, so that meant at least one witness, no matter what happened.

“You’re Eugene Thompson?” Captain America said. He didn’t look surprised to see him.

“Flash,” he said. “Yeah. And you’re Captain America.” Because really, the guy could either get the benefit of everyone ignoring his celebrity status, or he could get the benefit of the authority granted him by being a superhero, but it didn’t seem fair to get both.

“Yes.”

Up close, he didn’t look quite as composed. “Look,” Flash said, suddenly unwilling to stonewall completely. “I don’t have anything to say that’s going to be news to you. Yeah, I’ve seen the Winter Soldier. He knows you’re looking for him. I don’t know where he is now.”

“He knows we’re looking for him? How did you find that out?”

Flash raised his eyebrows. “Because when I said, ‘The Avengers are looking for you,’ he said, ‘I noticed.’ It seemed pretty clear.”

“You spoke to him?”

Molly was looking back and forth between them like it was a particularly interesting tennis match. He tried to ignore her. “Yeah. Not extensively, or anything.”

“What else did he say?”

He hesitated, but ultimately shook his head. “I’m pretty sure if he wanted to say it to you, he would have. He seemed —“ If he said ‘fine,’ it would be an outright lie, but now that he’d started the statement, he had to finish it with something. “— okay.”

He could feel his phone buzzing with an onslaught of incoming texts — someone must have passed the word along — but he was trying to do the polite thing and ignore them. And then someone got creative, because the store phone rang next, and Molly only listened for a few seconds before handing it to him with an amused, “It’s for you.”

“Hello?”

“Are you in danger?”

It sounded like JARVIS. He frowned. “I — don’t think so? Why?”

“Very pleased to hear it. If you would pass the phone to Captain Rogers.”

He did, and he couldn’t hear anything from JARVIS’s end, but Captain America’s expression went from suspicious to startled to sheepish in about five seconds. After a minute or so, he handed the phone back to Molly. “I apologize,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking; I’ve been — if you see him — you can call us anytime, all right?“ He stopped there, and then just turned around and left the store, and Flash wasn’t completely sure what was going on, but it kind of seemed like JARVIS had just stepped in to save him from being interrogated by Captain America. Which was unexpected.

He turned to Molly. “That was weird, right?”

“That was weird,” she agreed. Then she sighed. “You might as well take your fifteen now; no one’s going to do anything but gossip for a while anyway.” He headed for the back, phone already out. Weird news was still news, and he had a lot of people to contact in fifteen minutes.

***

“I can’t believe we’re stuck here cleaning the fridge while Clair gets to eat dinner with the Winter Soldier!”

Flash sighed. Taina had already expressed some variation of that sentence at least three times. She and Clair Farrell were in the same grade, and what one knew, the other either already knew, or would find out in about 30 seconds. He said, “No visiting after dark; you know the rules. Why do you want to meet him so much, anyway?”

“Because he’s awesome! And everyone else has met him.” Taina waved a tub of butter at him, and he checked the expiration date. (They were on ‘what’s that smell’ duty while Taina’s mom was working, and the fridge was the most likely culprit.)

“Gwen hasn’t met him. And Pete was unconscious the whole time, so he hasn’t really met him either.” He thought about it for a few seconds. “And Sharon; Sharon hasn’t met him. So it’s not like you’re the only one. Plus we don’t know if he even showed up, just that he was invited.”

“We should have invited him here,” Taina said. “We’re having spaghetti; everyone likes spaghetti.”

It had been a long day. He felt a twinge of guilt as he said it, but Taina was pretty much the only one who had a parent to punt hero-related questions to, and sometimes he took the out. “You can ask your mom about it.”

“Yes! And ew — I’m pretty sure it’s this.” She made a face as she handed off a tupperware dish. Mystery smell resolved. He put it in a separate bag before adding it to the trash.

By the time Ms. Vasquez got home, everything else was back in the refrigerator and they had water boiling on the stove for the spaghetti. She swept inside with her usual jumble of keys and bags, but left the door open. “You might as well come in,” she called.

Flash could feel his eyebrows go up when the Winter Soldier walked in behind her. Taina’s mom caught his expression and gave him a ‘what can you do?’ look over the hug she was getting from Taina. “He was outside,” she said. “How’s everything been going here?”

Taina launched into a description of her day, and he stepped around the kitchen island so he could talk without interrupting her. The Winter Soldier looked incredibly awkward, standing in the tiny entranceway. Flash stopped what was hopefully a non-threatening distance away. “You okay?” he asked.

The Winter Soldier — James, he reminded himself; he’d asked to be called James — shrugged. But he also took another step inside, which was probably a good sign. “I came to check in,” he said. “I was waiting for you to go home.”

“Upstairs, you mean?” It seemed — slightly — less unbelievable that the Winter Soldier meant check in with Flash as opposed to Taina. (After all, she was the one who’d sussed out four superheroes’ secret identities all on her own; Flash had only gotten one, and it was pretty hard to miss when one of your classmates took on a supervillain in the school hallway.) James nodded. “You would have been waiting a long time,” Flash told him.

That got him a look, and he wasn’t sure whether it was a ‘I’m over 90 years old; don’t tell me about a long time’ look, or a ‘yeah, which is why I’m here now’ look. “I want to talk to JARVIS,” he said.

“Flash, James, are you staying for dinner?” Ms. Vasquez was already setting four plates out, and behind her Taina was nodding emphatically.

“You need to talk to him right now?” Flash asked. “Taina makes a mean spaghetti.”

They stayed for dinner. Emma texted him an all clear for the Farrells, and he breathed a little easier. Taina pelted James with questions — what’s your favorite color, your favorite animal, do you like dogs, what about zebras, that sort of thing. He seemed surprisingly willing to answer, but Ms. Vasquez still shooed Taina off to the other room after the meal was finished. “Go,” she said. “Twenty minutes, then we’ll have cookies. The boys will wash the dishes.”

James startled a little at that, but he took the offered dish towel without complaint. Flash wasn’t great at silences, but he fidgeted through it until James said, “Why do they do it?”

It figured he wouldn’t stick with easy questions. “The ones in costume, you mean?” The only reply was another look, but it was pretty clear what this one meant.

“Well. Because they can. Because it feels better to help people than to hurt them. Probably a lot because they’ve got family that believes in them, and living up to that is pretty powerful motivation.”

James frowned. He said. “Not that. I — get that part, or I did. But they’re —“ Since Flash had already guessed wrong once, he kept quiet while James struggled to come up with the words. “Networking,” he finally said.

Which wasn’t really where Flash thought he’d been heading with the question, but actually, that part he was clear on. “Yeah. They’re working on it. There’s not exactly a manual for this kind of thing.” He gestured with the sponge, and winced when he got soapy water all over his shirt. “But SHIELD shut the door in their faces — in hindsight, you know, not exactly a bad thing. And helping the cops didn’t work, because Spiderman tried that and got himself shot. And they can’t all team up together, because that would do nothing for their image, plus there’s the escalation issue.”

James didn’t say anything, but he looked like he was still following, so Flash kept going. “But you know who’s damn happy when Spiderman busts a car thief? The person whose car didn’t get stolen. And most areas are pretty protective of their local heroes. So yeah, they’re talking to kids about drugs, rescuing kittens from trees, all that stuff. And then for those people they’re not just a hero, but their hero. Community-supported hero-ing.” He thought for a second, then added, “Plus tons of people already knew who they were anyway, and this leverages that in a hopefully positive way.”

It had obviously been a while since James had done anything as mundane as drying dishes, and he stopped entirely at Flash’s words. “What?” he said.

From the living room, Taina yelled, “I figured it out!”

Flash rolled his eyes. “They’re kids, not trained espionage agents or billionaires. There’s not that many options for them if they want to do their thing and not get disappeared by someone. But the costumes are surprisingly practical, and then at least there’s plausible deniability.”

He felt like he wasn’t explaining it very clearly, but James nodded. “Escalation issue?” he asked.

Ms. Vasquez picked that moment to re-enter the kitchen. “Well, just look at the Avengers,” she said. “Not that we’re not all grateful they’re around to save the world, of course, but when’s the last time Thor stopped a mugging? The bigger the team, the bigger the threat. Do you know, I always thought that was why Iron Man went back to the West Coast after the Battle of New York. Then again, he’s back now, so maybe not.”

“Thank you for dinner,” James said. He set the dish towel carefully on the counter, then looked like he wasn’t sure what to do next.

“Oh, any time. You’ll stay for dessert though?”

“I should go.” He stared intently at Flash, and it took a second for him to figure out why. Right, talking to JARVIS. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and slid it across the counter.

“The contact’s in there as JARVIS; you can’t miss it.”

Taina joined them in the kitchen, and there were definitely cookies coming out. He grabbed one out of the dish as she pushed them not-very-stealthily in James’ direction.

“Won’t you need it?” The phone was already in his hand — along with a cookie, he couldn’t help but notice.

Flash shrugged. “I figured you’d want to talk privately. You can bring it back when you’re done. I’ll be at Ava’s later; everyone can reach me there if they need to.”

It wasn’t like the guy seemed to have any trouble tracking people down. Honestly, he sort of thought ‘talking to JARVIS’ was just a cover for ‘snoop through your phone to make sure you’re not an evil brainwashing trap,’ but maybe he was just being paranoid. Either way, he could live without his phone for a few hours.

***

Or not. He was pretty sure he’d fallen asleep on the subway, but he woke up zip-tied to an office chair. In his defense, he’d never been kidnapped before. And he was pretty sure the kidnapper(s?) would have taken his phone just like they’d taken the rest of the contents of his pockets. (He really hoped he’d get his wallet back.)

Now that he was awake, it seemed like he should work on a plan, but his brain was pretty stuck on the fact that he’d been kidnapped. And before he could really process that idea, a woman walked into the room. Lab coat, gun, tablet computer — seriously creepy expression. “Where is your phone?” she said.

“I lost it,” he answered. “Probably on the subway; turns out there’s all kinds of criminals on there these days.”

The woman made a dismissive sound. “Criminals. We’re scientists.” She checked her tablet. “And you’re lying. Where is your phone?”

“How is my phone going to help your science project?”

“These sort of things pay the bills. I suggest you tell the truth this time. Where is your phone?”

He narrowed his eyes. It always came down to threats, didn’t it. “I gave it to the Winter Soldier,” he said.

The woman’s gun hand twitched, but she checked her tablet and frowned. “Truth. How?”

Before he had to come up with an answer, the woman walked out. Okay. Weird. And while he had no personal experience with kidnapping, he he thought this was probably the part where he was supposed to escape. He just wasn’t sure how to go about doing that.

There was a loud thud from outside the door a few minutes later, after he’d managed to pull something in his shoulder and not a whole lot else. Bad guys? Good guys? Just an awkward stumble? “Hello?” he called.

The door opened, and it took a second for his brain to connect. Unless he’d hit his head, Pepper Potts had just walked into the room. It was like being rescued by a movie star. He hoped he was being rescued, anyway.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m Pepper. I’d like to get you out of here, and then have you sign a non-disclosure agreement.”

“There were scientists,” he said, just in case she didn’t know.

She nodded. “A couple of AIM sympathizers, looking to leech off Hydra research. They’ve been dealt with.” Her hands glowed red, and Flash could feel his eyes going wide. The internet had gone nuts after Iron Man’s supposed death and resurrection, and he’d seen the rumors that Pepper Potts had powers beyond those of a CEO, but never any proof. Apparently they’d been right. She snapped the zip ties with a touch.

She didn’t offer him a hand to help him up, though. “I found a wallet that I assume belongs to you. Nothing else, though; I’m sorry. We can cover the cost of a replacement if they dumped your phone, or other electronics.”

Was it so unusual that someone wouldn’t have a phone with them? He shook his head. “No, it’s fine. I loaned it to someone. Thanks for getting my wallet back. And, you know, for the rescue.” (He wondered if they were going to walk out the front door. He wondered where they were.)

“There’s a jet on the roof; we’ll walk up from here and then leave by air.” She was already halfway out the door as she said it, and he hurried to catch up. They climbed the first few sets of stairs in silence, and he mostly focused on his feet and tried not to breathe too loudly.

He stopped when Pepper stopped, and looked up.  The Winter Soldier was on the landing in front of them.  There was silence for a few seconds.  Pepper's hands flared red again, and Flash looked back and forth between them.  He was starting to see why Peter was always cracking jokes.  The silence was just awkward.  Finally he said, "So, have you two been introduced?"

"You know him?" Pepper said.

"He has my phone."  

Without breaking eye contact with Pepper, James held out the phone.  "Thanks for the loan," he said. 

"You're welcome."  He considered edging around Pepper to reclaim his phone, decided it wasn't a good idea, and stayed where he was.  "I was kidnapped; Pepper rescued me," he said instead, hoping it would at least make a dent in the tension.

"I heard.  JARVIS was worried."

That seemed unlikely.  "About Pepper?"  Unstable super powers, maybe?  That might explain the low profile hero-ing. Or maybe she was just good at being subtle.

"About you."

Pepper shook out her hands and put one up to her ear.  "Maria, stand down.  We're good here."  She paused, then added, "No, he's here.  Yes.  Him too." She took the phone out of James’ hand and passed it to Flash, keeping her eyes on James the whole time.

He thumbed it on, and pulled up JARVIS’ contact. Thanks, he typed. On a whim, he added, Were YOU harboring the Winter Soldier?

Personally? No.

He couldn’t help smiling at his own words repeated back to him. He looked up again when James said, “Hydra was looking for me; AIM was looking for Hydra; so I was looking for AIM.”

“You were the anonymous tip,” Pepper said.

"Hydra was looking for me," James repeated.  "And they were tracking Captain America to do it, and he pointed them right at a kid."

Flash panicked for a second, thinking of Marta, before he realized they were talking about him.  Pepper said, "I suggest we discuss Steve's investigatory techniques later, and keep moving now.  Are you coming with us?"

He missed the reply when he yawned, and he could feel the adrenaline rush draining away.  It seemed like a long time since he'd slept a full night.  But James was pacing them as they started back up the stairs, and they all wound up on the roof together, stepping into a jet that he really wasn't awake enough to appreciate.  

"Where are we dropping you, or are we having guests tonight?"

“I promised a Tiger we’d go hunting tonight,” James said. “I could pass a message,” he added, and Flash nodded. There was no way he wanted to make his way back across town, especially if Ava was going to be out all night.

“Can you tell her I’ll crash with Gwen? I’ll check in tomorrow.” Pepper was giving him a weird look, and he said, “What?”

“Nothing, it just took me a minute to put two and two together.”

She didn’t offer any further explanation, and he dozed through the rest of the flight. When they reached the Tower, Pepper was the one who walked him down to the main elevators, where Gwen was waiting in pajama pants and a Spiderman hoodie.

“Congratulations on your first kidnapping,” Gwen said, but she was hugging him as she said it, and she added, “I’m glad you’re okay,” in a whisper before she let go.

“Me too,” he told her. “Nice sweatshirt.”

She laughed. “It’s yours, actually.”

Pepper knocked on the wall next to them, and they both turned to look at her. “Come find me tomorrow after you’ve slept, will you?”

“Non-disclosure agreement?” he asked.

She smiled. “Oh, I think we can do better than that. If you want, do some reading on the Maria Stark Foundation first.” She turned to go, but added, “Sleep well, both of you. See you tomorrow.”

“Is it weird that I totally want to be like her when I grow up?” Gwen said, after a minute.

He stepped back into hug range, and she wrapped an arm around his waist. “Sounds perfectly normal to me,” he said. “I think I do too.”

.

Profile

marcicatverse: (Default)
marcicat

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags