In retrospect, leading with it was probably a mistake.
“Never mind,” Scott says. “Never mind, it—you're back now, everything is fixed, it's fine. Everything's fine. There's just… some stuff I need to talk to you about.”
“You had a thing? With an FBI agent?” Hope looks like she can't work out whether she's angrier that Scott maybe-sort-of-cheated on her—does it count as cheating when one of them’s nothing but a pile of ash, Scott's not clear on the ethical parameters there—or whether it's just that he kind of fell into bed with the long arm of the law.
“Jae’s not—well, he is, but—look, it's complicated. It just sort of, it happened, okay? It was a weird time for everyone.”
“Yeah, so I hear.” Hope takes a deep breath, pinches the bridge of her nose. “Okay. Fine. Tell me how you managed to sleep with Agent Woo, and we’ll go from there.”
“Yeah,” Scott says. “Okay,” and wonders where, exactly, to start.
He’s not sure how long he’s down in the quantum realm. Time moves differently there, although it takes a while to notice; he doesn’t get hungry. He doesn’t get tired. It might have been hours or years, decades or minutes or seconds. Is this what it was like for Hope’s mom? How long did it, will it take?
When he’s yanked back out, it’s sudden and unceremonious: blinking in the sunlight, the weirdness of being in his own body and his own size, breathing air, and then Cassie’s taking him out at the kneecaps, wrapping her whole body around his legs and saying Daddy, Daddy in a tone that doesn’t sound excited but kind of like it’s right on the edge of sobbing, and all Scott can think is oh shit, what happened?
“Oh shit, what happened?” he says, because he’s never been good at keeping his inner voice inner, and when he catches his breath and looks around he only then notices how Hope and the Pyms aren’t there, that there’s nobody on the rooftop besides him and Cassie and Agent Woo standing in the background looking kind of uncertain. “No, seriously, what happened? How long have I been gone?”
“The year is 2040,” Cassie tells him solemnly, still not letting go of him. “Our president is a plant.”
“Oh my god, I knew I shouldn't have let you watch Ghostbusters. Where is everyone? Where’s Hope?”
“They’re gone,” Cassie says. “They’re all gone,” and that’s more than a little ominous, especially since she’s saying it like she’s serious, like she’s not kidding around with him anymore.
“Some, uh, a few things happened while you were… wherever you were,” Agent Woo says then, stepping forward. “You’re lucky Cassie still had my number and knew enough about this thing to get you back out.”
“It’s a quantum tunnel,” Cassie says. It sounds like this might be about the fiftieth time she’s said it, and then she flashes Scott this little grin that just confirms it. “We’re lucky Agent Woo put a tracker on your van, Daddy.”
“You put a tracker on the van?”
“It's not technically illegal,” Agent Woo says immediately, which makes Scott think that it is, actually, absolutely illegal. He squints at Agent Woo, whose expression goes from defensive to uncomfortable to shifty in all of about four seconds before he crumbles under the extremely mild scrutiny. “Okay, you got me, it is illegal. But I wasn't gonna, you know, harass you. I just sort of got used to knowing where you are.”
“That's kind of creepy, dude,” Scott mutters. It's hard to be mad about it, though, when Agent Woo just rescued him from dodging tardigrades in the quantum realm forever.
“Yeah, well,” Agent Woo says. “Wait until you hear what happened while you were gone.”
“Okay,” Scott says ten minutes later. “Right, okay. Okay. I think I’ve got it. The Avengers lost a fight with some aliens, and now half the population’s just… gone?”
“Gone,” Agent Woo confirms. He tentatively pats Scott’s shoulder; it’s a little weird, but no weirder than aliens disappearing half the world, Scott guesses. He lets his head fall back against the side of the van, exhales and closes his eyes for a minute. Cassie’s still glued to his side, and Scott figures there’s something going on there beyond him having disappeared for a bit, since at this point she’s kind of used to all his Ant-Man nonsense. He glances at Agent Woo, tilts his chin towards Cassie and raises his eyebrows. Agent Woo nods. Well, shit.
“And what about the Avengers? Are they all gone too?”
“Well, the last anyone heard, Tony Stark vanished off-planet on a spaceship, so nobody really knows what’s going on there. Word from Wakanda is Steve Rogers made it, but nobody’s really sure how to reach him. Most of the diplomatic lines are down.”
“I, uh,” Scott says. Rubs the back of his neck. “I might be able to help with that one, at least. We’re gonna have to go back to my apartment, though.”
The phone is just where Scott left it, sealed in a zip-loc baggie behind the loose tile in the bathroom, and Scott pulls it out, sits back on his heels and powers it on. Doesn’t even need charging; that’s the beauty of Nokia bricks, he guesses, they’ll just keep on keeping on even after the world’s gone to shit.
“I can't believe you had a burner phone for Steve Rogers the whole time,” Agent Woo says, sounding kind of crestfallen. “That's cold, Scott.”
“Look, if I’d told you, you would have taken it, and I would have gone to jail, and Cap would have trashed the line and dropped off the grid, and it wouldn’t have done anyone any good,” Scott tells him. “So really, it’s good I didn’t tell you, right?”
“I thought we were friends,” Agent Woo continues, and Scott rolls his eyes.
“No you didn’t.”
“No, I didn’t. But I might have. And here you are, keeping secrets from me all along. Well, more secrets. Relationships are built on trust, you know.”
Scott doesn’t bother to respond to that, just hauls himself to his feet, shoos them all out of the bathroom. “Yeah, look, let’s give him a call anyway, see what the plan is. Hey, Peanut? You think you could go make us a couple of sandwiches?”
“There’s no bread,” Cassie says doubtfully, screws up her face. “It all went bad like a week ago.” Scott ruffles her hair a little.
“Should still be a couple loaves in the freezer, I remember putting them there three months ago. Go on, we’ll be right here. You can keep an eye on us from the kitchen. Peanut butter for you, cheese and pickles for me and Agent Woo, okay? Extra pickles on mine.”
“Gross,” Cassie announces, but she goes. After a couple of minutes, Scott hears her banging around in the fridge, digging for the jar of pickles.
“So,” he says quietly. “Maggie and Jim, huh? You’re sure they’re gone?”
“Cassie said neither of them came home from work. She couldn’t reach their cells.”
“How long? It’s been, what, two weeks, you said? So, uh… how long?”
“She called me three days after the event.”
“Shit,” Scott mutters. “Shit. And you…”
“We’ve been hanging out since then,” Agent Woo confirms. “She’s a good kid.”
“Thanks,” Scott says. Drags his palm over his jaw, wipes his thumb over the corner of his eyes. “Seriously.”
“Scott, come on. I told you I’m a youth pastor, right? I wouldn’t leave her on her own after she asked me for help.”
“I know,” Scott says. “Still, though. Thanks.”
“Yeah,” Agent Woo says. “Of course. Now call Rogers, would you?”
Steve sounds tired—no, he sounds exhausted, bone-deep, cored through by whatever he’s seen. “We’re in New York,” he says, voice rough around the edges. “The ones of us who’re left, anyway. Me’n Nat and Rhodey. I don’t know where Tony is—Thor went looking for him, but who knows… shit, anyway. You said you wanted to help?”
“Any way we can,” Scott agrees. “Sounds like you could do with it.”
“Man, I don’t know what we need at this point,” Steve sighs. “But yeah, okay, come to New York. Clint’s on his way, I’ll give you our address.”
“They’re in New York,” Scott tells Agent Woo once he rings off. “Some place called the Sanctum, it’s run by wizards or something, I dunno.”
“Wizards,” Agent Woo says. “Cool. You can show them your close-up magic tricks.”
“Shut up,” Scott says, no heat in his voice. “Hey, Peanut, you got those sandwiches ready?”
“You have to have the crust pieces,” Cassie announces, handing Agent Woo a plate. “Here you go, Daddy.”
“You gave me all the crusts? Aw, come on, Cass, that’s cold. I thought we were friends.”
“Did you?” Cassie asks, bland, munching on her sandwich, and Scott can’t help but grin at her, ruffle her hair again.
“Here,” he says. Switches one of his sandwiches with Agent Woo, takes a bite. “Okay, so. Who wants to go on a road trip to New York?”
They pack up the car: bottled water, granola bars, a cooler full of food that’ll survive the drive. Peanut butter sandwiches, mostly, a couple cans of tuna, one tin of fruit cocktail which has been in the pantry long enough Scott doesn’t actually remember buying it.
“I can’t believe you don’t have a survival kit,” Cassie says, judgmental as only a ten-year-old can be. “Daddy, we live in San Francisco. You know you’re supposed to have an earthquake emergency bag with food and stuff.”
“I’m a superhero,” Scott tries to argue. “Superheroes don’t need earthquake emergency bags.”
“Yeah,” Cassie says, rolling her eyes, “well, Mommy and Jim have one,” and then she gets all quiet again and Scott can’t do anything but hug her tight.
It’s a good point, though. Maggie and Jim do have an earthquake kit, a good one, and in the end they swing by their place, pick it up along with more food and a duffel bag of clean clothes for Cassie. Then they’re on the road out of town, the I-80 straight up through Sacramento and into Nevada. Cassie falls asleep just out of Reno, curled up in the backseat.
“We should be able to make Salt Lake City,” Agent Woo says, glancing at the gas indicator. “Hopefully there’s a gas station still running there, or somewhere along the way.”
“Hopefully,” Scott agrees. “Let me know if you want me to drive for a bit.”
“Yeah,” Agent Woo says. “Sure.” There’s a brief silence, just the two of them and the road and the sky overhead, and Scott chews his lip.
“So, um, Agent Woo, you got a family?” he says. Fiddles with the radio dial; there are no channels broadcasting, just dead air, and it leaves this uncomfortable feeling at the base of Scott’s skull.
“Nope,” Agent Woo says. “My mom’s real cut up about that, believe me. Also, you know you don’t have to keep calling me Agent Woo, right? You can, uh, you can call me Jim.” He glances in the rear view mirror, flicks on his indicator to change lanes even though the road is deserted; habit, Scott thinks. It’s weirdly endearing. “Or Jimmy.”
“Jimmy? Gross, are you kidding?”
“What? No, I mean—I just kind of thought, given the whole… end of the world thing, it’s kind of weird if you’re constantly calling me Agent.”
“No, I mean, it’s not that. It’s just, Maggie's new husband is Jim, I can’t go calling you Jimmy, it’ll mix up my whole brain.”
“Right, okay,” Agent Woo says, appearing to accept this even though it is, frankly, an admission of exactly how butt-fucking-dumb Scott actually is. “Well, you could go with Jae?”
“Jae. J-A-E. Jae-Yeong, technically, but Jae is fine. Jimmy's the name I use with white people who are allergic to learning how to say it right.”
“Jae,” Scott repeats. “Yeah, okay. Cool.”
(“Wait,” Hope says. Narrows her eyes. “Why is it such a big deal if you mix up Jim and Agent Woo?”
“No, uh, no reason,” Scott says, voice going up about an octave, because that’s sure a smooth way to handle this extremely simple question. Hope looks at him, unblinking, and raises one eyebrow.
“You totally had a thing with him, didn’t you. With Jim.”
“No!” Scott yelps, which absolutely just confirms the whole thing, and Hope can clearly read him like a goddamn book because she just points a finger at him, bites her lip like she’s trying not to laugh.
“You did! You had a thing with your ex-wife’s new husband, oh my god.”
“It wasn’t just—it was Maggie too, okay? Look, Maggie and I agreed we were going to work on co-parenting, and with the whole house arrest thing that meant they had to come over, we did, like, a weekly family dinner, and let me tell you, it’s pretty fucking awkward to sit down for lasagna with your ex-wife and her new husband.”
“Noted,” Hope says, dry. “So how do you go from pretty awkward to whatever it was that went down?”
“Well,” Scott says, “mostly, if I’m being honest, it was the wine.”
It was the wine. A couple of bottles of mellow Californian red, and Cassie was over at Annabel’s house for a sleepover but Maggie and Jim had come over anyway—it’s in the calendar, it’s nice to see you, you need the company—and one thing had led to another, dinner conversation turning somehow to Jim’s college boyfriend, Maggie’s research on modern relationships, and then they were all pleasantly tipsy, crammed in on the couch to watch some shit on Netflix, when Jim had just kind of shrugged, put his hand on Scott’s thigh, and things had really escalated from there.
“Modern relationships,” Hope repeats. “You had family dinners so you could work on your co-parenting, and you wound up having a threesome with them.”
“Well,” Scott says again. Shrugs a little. “Yeah, I guess. Functional co-parenting is important for stability, you know? And it’s nice, getting on better with them.”
“You—wait, how long was this a thing? Was this still happening when we—”
“No! No. It was just. A couple of times. Like three or four times. Six times max. It’s chill. It’s fine.”
“Okay,” Hope says. Makes a face like she can't decide whether she's mad or impressed or maybe even a little bit intrigued by the whole mess that is Scott's love life when she's not around. “...Okay.”)
Scott sleeps for a bit, switches into the driver’s seat somewhere in the middle of Nevada. There’s an open gas station about fifty miles outside of Salt Lake City, and it seems weird to just pull in, fill up the tank like they’re on a normal road trip. Off to camp for summer, or something; Scott’s not sure.
“You folks know what’s going on?” the clerk asks when they go inside to pay; the credit system’s down but Jae pulls out his wallet, peels a few notes off a wad of twenties.
“Not a damn clue,” Scott tells the clerk, at the same time as Jae says, “can’t discuss it, sir, I’m sorry.” Jesus Christ, he is such a goddamn agent. Even in jeans and a button-down plaid, it’s like he’s still wearing the g-man suit spiritually, or something. Scott can’t work out whether to be annoyed or impressed.
“You don’t know anything,” he says, as they get back in the car, Jae tossing him the keys so he can drive for a bit. “You don’t have to do the silent serious government agent act if you don’t know anything.”
“Yeah, well, even if I did, I couldn’t discuss it. That’s the rules, man. You learn that day one.” Then Jae’s tearing open the pack of powdered donuts, huffing out this cute little sigh of exasperation when he gets a drift of sugar down the front of his shirt. Tries to dust it off his jeans, and it just makes it worse. Scott laughs, can’t help it. Reaches for a donut.
“And where do you learn to buy gas station donuts while telling the clerk you can’t disclose your big government secrets, huh?”
“Oh, that was my first SO, back when I was right out of the Academy. SHIELD, not the Bureau. He was the ultimate, truly, but every time we stopped for gas he’d buy some shitty snack just in case. It wasn’t until we were stuck in a blizzard in Idaho and his stash of Little Debbies in the glovebox kept us alive for like a day and a half that I appreciated the habit.”
“Huh,” Scott says, contemplating the idea of surviving on stale snack cake. “Sounds better than surviving on quantum energy.”
“Yeah, that fake cream filling, it just lasts and lasts.”
“Daddy, I want a donut,” interjects Cassie, and when Scott glances in the rear-view mirror she's sitting up in the back seat, rubbing her eyes with her knuckles but otherwise looking pretty good for a kid whose world got entirely upended by aliens a week ago.
“Here you go, kiddo,” Jae says amiably, wrapping a donut in a paper napkin and passing it back to her. She shoves about half of it in her mouth before making eye contact with Scott, and apparently his don't embarrass me with your bad manners in front of the FBI expression is clear enough, because she pauses, makes a face.
“Thanks.” It comes out muffled through all the donut, but Jae just gives her a thumbs up, offers Scott another.
It takes them way, way too long to drive to New York. Scott remembers doing it one time as a kid, a family vacation; they'd done it over a couple weeks, including camping in Colorado, visiting Scott's grandma in Iowa. This time there's no camping, no spare beds in grandma's guest room, just driving across the endless middle of America playing I-Spy and looking out for open drive-through places. Scott and Jae trade out on driving and sleeping every few hours until they can't take it anymore; they make reasonable time through the first night and second day, driving across Wyoming and Nebraska, even though they have to stop every time they pass a rest stop with bathrooms since Cassie point-blank refuses to pee on the side of the road.
“We should find a motel,” Jae says just as they're coming up on Des Moines. “Stop for the night. My back can't handle much more of me sleeping in the passenger seat.”
“Is it, you know, safe to stop?” Scott asks. “Like, I've been meaning to ask, is it some kind of Left Behind scenario, did the world get all, you know, terrifyingly post-apocalyptic, or is it just kind of trucking on? So far it doesn't seem to be that much like The Road, we haven't even stumbled on one group of baby-eating cannibals.”
“Mostly safe,” Jae says. “To begin with there was some looting, some rioting, and then a lot of panic-buying, everyone was weirdly desperate for toilet paper and bread flour. Mostly just scared people freaking out. But the initial shock has worn off, I think the people who are left are just trying to figure out how to keep going.”
“Still gotta pay rent even if half the planet is gone, I guess. They didn't deploy the military? The National Guard?”
“Who knows. They're just as messed up by it as the rest of us. Hey, how about this one? Looks kind of decent, not too shady.”
“Yeah, we might not even get bedbugs.”
“Gross. Ew, that's awful.”
“Hey, I said we might not,” Scott says, and parks the car.
The motel is a little run-down but still doing okay as far as Scott can see; the lights are on and the parking lot is almost full. The woman in reception looks them up and down, raises her eyebrows.
“Been seeing a lot of folks driving through,” she says. “Which way are you going? East or west?”
“East,” Scott says. “Trying to get to New York. Can we get two rooms, please?”
“I only have one left,” she says, perhaps a little apologetically. “Twin beds, though. And I can get a cot in for your daughter.”
“Oh,” Scott says. Nearly cracks his jaw in a yawn; fuck he's tired. “Okay, yeah, I guess that's fine.”
They tuck Cassie into her roll-out bed and she's out like a light. Scott feels like he could do the same, but he's also super aware he hasn't showered in a couple days.
“You go first, man,” he says, and Jae looks up from his phone.
“Oh—are you sure?”
“Yeah,” Scott says. “Go on. Don't take too long, though, or I'll eat your last Snickers.”
“You do that and I'll take you back into custody,” Jae says. “Don't think I left my handcuffs at home.”
“Dude,” Scott says, delighted, and Jae flushes bright red.
“I didn't—I mean—”
“Go and get in the shower, man,” Scott says, taking pity on him, and Jae goes.
Maybe it's the exhaustion or maybe the narrow motel bed actually isn't that bad, but Scott sleeps a solid nine hours without stirring once. When he pries open his eyes, Jae is up: out of bed, anyway, in his boxers and undershirt, his back to Scott as he sorts through his duffel for a change of clothes. Scott sort of—well, he sort of just lies there feeling cozy and enjoying the view, if he's being really honest with himself, turns out that under those boxy suits and dad jeans, Jae has a pretty good ass and very nice shoulders—and then Jae turns around, notices that Scott is awake.
“Oh,” he says, in a half-whisper. “Sorry, man, I was trying to be quiet, I didn't mean to wake you up. Cassie's still asleep.”
“It's cool,” Scott says, yawning. Glances down at Cass, just a little tuft of dark hair sticking out from underneath a nest of blankets. “What time is it?”
“Just after nine,” Jae says. Stands there a minute before he seems to realize he's in his boxers and that if Scott squinted hard he'd probably be able to see an outline of junk. “Shit, I, uh… I'll just go change in the bathroom, okay.”
“Yeah,” Scott says belatedly, as the bathroom door closes. “Okay.”
It's not, obviously, the dude thing that gives him pause—the thing with Maggie and Jim might have been the result of house arrest and smooth Californian cabernet, but Jim wasn't the only one with a boyfriend in college—and it's not even really the FBI thing. It's just—look, it might be the end of the world, and they're going through a really intense experience together, after having gone through two years of a reasonably intense experience together, and it might be some kind of transference thing, trauma bonding, thrown together under weird circumstances and living out some kind of apocalyptic romance trope, Scott just feels like he's being sensibly cautious here.
(“So, not because your girlfriend was lost in the Snap and you felt like you should do your best to get her back before observing how cute Agent Woo’s ass is,” Hope says, dry as dust.
“I mean,” Scott says, backtracking, “obviously that was my main consideration.”)
They luck out and find an open McDonalds on their way out of Des Moines, treat Cassie to a pile of hotcakes since it's not like healthy eating habits are exactly high on their agenda right now. From there it's not so bad: five hours to Chicago, another five to Cleveland. At least it's not raining, and the roads are pretty clear; they don't even have to pay tolls.
“Can't help but notice you're not exactly observing the speed limit,” Scott says slyly, and Jae just flips him the bird. “How long from here? Another seven, eight hours? You think they'll get mad if we show up banging on their front door at two in the morning?”
“Maybe,” Jae says. “I dunno, you know them better than me. Should we find somewhere to stop for the night?”
“Fuck it,” Scott decides, “let’s just keep going, I've got the impression someone will be awake. And if they're not we can just sleep in the van on some Manhattan sidewalk, see whether a millionaire will come out to yell at us.”
Natasha is awake, thank God, because Cassie needs to pee again. She levels a long stare at Scott and Jae before stepping aside, holding the door open for them.
“Hi it's very nice to meet you where's the bathroom please,” Cassie says, all in one breath but extremely polite for a ten-year-old who's been in a car for the last three days. That's my girl, Scott thinks, watches her fondly as Natasha shows her down the hall.
“Here,” Jae says, “let me help with that,” and lifts one of the duffel bags off Scott's shoulder. “What is this place, some kind of occult private museum slash magicians’ mansion?”
“This is the Sanctum Santorum,” a young man says, appearing in the corner. “The private residence of the Sorcerer Supreme.”
“So, magicians’ mansion. Hey, man, I'm Jimmy Woo. This is Scott Lang.”
“Chao,” the guy says. “I was Master Wong’s apprentice.”
“Right,” Scott says. “Not sure who that is, but… I guess we'll learn, huh? Hey, is there somewhere we can put our stuff? A guest room, maybe? Or does the Sorcerer Supreme not have guest rooms?”
“We have guest quarters,” Chao says, bowing slightly. “Follow me.”
The Sanctum is real fucking weird. Real fucking weird.
“Daddy, look!” Cassie says. “A real suit of armor! In the toilet there was a spiked ball on a stick, Natasha says it's a mace.”
“Don't touch that,” Chao says, when Scott reaches for a set of daggers. “Or that. Actually, just… don't touch anything.”
“This place is a nightmare,” Jae mutters, “the violations on weapons permits alone,” and Scott elbows him.
“Who's this,” Natasha says, fixing Jae and Scott with another long not-quite-glare.
“Agent Jimmy Woo,” Jae says. “You can call me Jimmy, or Jae.”
“He's my FBI parole officer,” Scott says. “On account of how I was on house arrest the last couple years. How come you and Steve didn't have to do that, huh?”
“We were international fugitives,” Natasha says, bland. Tilts the corner of her mouth up in a smirk. “Steve grew a beard. I dyed my hair blonde. It was such a powerful disguise your friend here at the FBI just couldn't catch us.”
“Hey,” Jae protests, “you weren't my case, okay? As if I would want to arrest Captain America.”
“Who's arresting me?” Steve asks, standing in the doorway with his arms crossed, and Scott takes a private minute to appreciate the situation because holy shit, Captain America grew his hair out and got a beard, it's some kind of gay lumberjack fantasy, he's even got his sleeves rolled up and his shoulders got even broader somehow, what the fuck—
“Not me,” Jae says. “It's an honor to meet you, Captain. Mr Rogers.”
“Just Steve is fine,” Steve says. Smiles a little. “I hear that Mr Rogers is someone else entirely. Hey, Scott.”
“Uh,” Scott says. “Hey. How's it going?”
“Not great, if I'm being honest with you, my best friends disintegrated in front of me and now we're trying to figure out how to put the world back together, so, you know, it's a lot.”
“Yeah,” Scott says. “Yeah, that's the mood, huh?” and on that depressing note he decides it's time to put Cassie to bed.
It's late, obviously, it's super fucking late, but he sort of feels like he needs the brief now instead of waiting until morning. Apparently everyone else has the same idea, because when he finds his way back to the weirdly-normal suburban-style kitchen on the second floor, the others are all sitting around the table like they're waiting on a serious discussion.
“Hey, man,” Scott says to Clint, “long time. How was lockdown for you?”
“Oh, y’know, I got a lot of work done on the farm. Taught Lila archery, that was kind of fun. You?”
“I got really good at Rockband,” Scott says. “And mostly managed to keep the business going, although honestly that was mostly my buddy Luis doing the office work.”
“And you learned close-up magic tricks,” Jae says, “don’t forget that one.”
Scott doesn't bother to dignify that one with a response, just takes the cup of cocoa Barton offers him, leans into the conversation.
“Okay,” he says, “so. What's the deal?”
The deal is: nobody really knows what the deal is.
“Well, this sucks,” Barton says. “I was hoping we could find a quick fix for the world ending.”
“Right?” Scott agrees. “What, we can't just snap our fingers again, put it back together?”
“Well, we could. If we had the Gauntlet. And we already tried getting it, which went about as terribly as you'd expect.”
“Okay, well, while we work on the big plan, can we think about some of the smaller ones? Like, we clearly can't all stay here, it's got major haunted mansion vibes and my kid is going to stab herself with a cursed dagger within three days tops.”
“Fuckin’ word,” Clint says, “we've been here forty-eight hours and you know how many times I've had to stop Lila from breaking something Chao tells me is one, ancient, two, esoteric and three, extremely valuable slash priceless?”
Didn't you have three kids? Where are the others? Scott almost says, like the world's worst person. Holds it in just in time. Jesus, his wife and two of his kids, that's rough beyond rough. Scott is gonna hug Cassie so hard in the morning.
“I know you don't like it,” Natasha is saying to Steve, “but you can't just pretend it's, like, the restaurant you used to go to with your ex. It's an entire compound. We need it.”
“Yeah, okay,” Steve says, “thank you, I know. And I wasn't avoiding it because of Tony—I mean, that's just—I was a fugitive, Nat, come on. They would have arrested me if I'd tried. Jimmy here would have arrested me.”
“Please exclude me from this narrative,” Jae says, “I already said I wasn't going to arrest you. You're all tired, you've all got a lot of feelings, that's good and healthy, we can process them together, but what exactly are you talking about?”
“We're going to head upstate to the Avengers facility,” Steve says, “it's better for us to set up base there,” and Scott pretends for a hot minute like he doesn't know where that is before admitting he's been there before. He leaves out the fighting the Falcon thing—Sam and Barnes are both gone, and he can see the grief carved into Steve's face—but Jae nudges him, leans in close to whisper into Scott's ear.
“I'm gonna want to hear that story later,” he murmurs, and Scott nudges back.
“I'll tell you in the car tomorrow, if you promise not to arrest me.”
“Let's just assume that arresting you is off the cards completely for the foreseeable future, okay? World's ending, you're off the hook.”
The Avengers compound is also super weird, but in a less mystical-wizards way and more in just a “so this is how superheroes live off-duty” kind of thing. There's a lot of Ikea, and supposedly a lap pool.
“So this is how superheroes live off-duty,” Jae says. “Are you gonna go and find Captain America’s room, sniff his pillows?”
“What the fuck,” Scott says, “come on, man, I told you it was just a hero-worship kind of awkward thing, don't make it creepy.”
“It's a crush,” Jae says. “Admit it.”
“Okay, okay, fine, it's a crush. Can you blame me? You've met him now. He's, like…”
“Oh, he's terrifyingly hot,” Jae agrees. “The sadness beard? That's powerful. I don't know if I'd rather fuck him or be him.”
It's oddly easy to settle in at the compound. Scott finds a couple of bunks next door to each other, sets up Cassie in one room and himself in the other.
“I know it's weird,” he says to Cass. “But this is where we're gonna live for a while, okay? While my friends and I try to fix things for everyone.”
“Yeah, I know,” Cassie says. “It's okay, Daddy. Can I go play with Lila now? She's going to teach me how to shoot arrows.”
“Sure,” Scott says. “Okay, yeah, off you go. Don’t aim at anyone’s face. Come find me or Jae if you need anything, okay?”
“Okayyyy,” Cassie says, sing-song, and then she's off, running down the hall and shouting for Lila to wait up.
They develop a routine: Natasha and Steve and Rhodes taking point on superhero shit, while Clint and Scott and Jae trade out on kid duty.
“He's good with kids, he's a youth pastor,” Scott says to Clint, smirking at Jae, and Clint nods, looking Jae up and down.
“Yeah, I can see that, you've got real youth pastor energy. Like you're gonna sit down on a backwards chair and tell me the real superhero was Jesus all along.”
“You're making fun of me,” Jae complains, “that’s hurtful, man,” and Clint cracks up.
“Nah, I'm making fun of Steve,” he says. “What, you never saw the school PSA videos he made? Oh my god, you gotta see them. Nat showed them to me and they're just the dumbest thing I've ever seen in my life.”
It's all fun and games giving Jae shit, but he's actually the best kid-wrangler among them, in that he somehow manages to keep Cassie and Lila on track in online school instead of just saying fine, let's go shoot some arrows or build an obstacle course. The superhero shit is simultaneously easier and harder to manage; there's a lot going on, and they can only do so much, can only be one place at any given time even when there are ten or twenty or a hundred different fires to fight.
“I don't even know if we're making any difference,” Steve sighs, defeated, and yeah, the thing is even if they're putting a dent in the chaos of a post-Snap world, they're no closer at all to figuring out a permanent fix.
“People are beginning to say we should all move on,” Jae says one night, passing Scott a beer as he sits down on the couch. “Just accept the new normal, hold big public memorial services for the people who disappeared, and go on with our lives now instead of waiting for them to come back.”
“Fuck,” Scott says. “I guess that makes sense, but… would you want to just move on?”
“I lost my mom,” Jae says. “I went to check on her and she was just… dust, in her favorite armchair. At least when my dad died we all got to say goodbye, you know? With this she's just gone, poof, and nobody can even tell me if it's permanent or fixable. Maybe people out there, the public, maybe they could move on if that's the message they hear enough, that it won't get fixed, that they're not coming back. But I don't think I can. Not when I'm in the room with people who might have the only chance to make it right.”
“Jesus,” Scott says. “Jae, Jesus, I'm sorry.”
“Yeah, it sucks,” Jae says. “But it sucks for everyone, you know? Nobody hasn't lost someone they care about. Cassie and Lila told me I can be in their No Moms Club.”
“Fuck, that's bleak.”
“It's a good club to be in, though,” Jae says. “Great membership, very exclusive. Of course I had to accept that I was the secretary, the president and vice-president roles were already taken, but… you know, it's a good extra-curricular, it'll look great on my resume.”
“God,” Scott says. “Our poor fucking kids. How the hell are they gonna grow up.”
“Weirdly,” Jae says. Shrugs. “It's all weird, man. But they know we're doing our best.”
“I hope so,” Scott sighs, and drains his beer.
It's two months before Cassie has her first real meltdown, which honestly is about seven weeks longer than Scott would have expected, and also seven weeks longer than it took Scott to have his first real meltdown when he went into house arrest.
It starts small: green beans for dinner, and she decides she doesn't want them, has never wanted to eat a damn green bean in her life. “No,” she snaps, “gross, no, I don't want them, I hate green beans,” and Scott frowns at her.
“Just eat the meatloaf then, bud.”
“I don't like it,” she says, “it's disgusting, I don't want it.”
“Hey,” Scott says, because it wouldn't matter if it was his cooking but Clint made the meatloaf tonight. “Don't be rude. If you don't like it I'll make you a cheese sandwich.”
“No,” Cassie says. “I don't care, it's gross.”
“Okay,” Scott says, “bedtime for you, Peanut, if you can't be polite and you don't want a sandwich. Go brush your teeth and I'll come tell you a bedtime story in a bit.”
“Fine,” Cassie says, visibly sulking, and slams the bathroom door down the hall.
She's still cranky the next morning, won't get out of bed when Scott goes to wake her up for school.
“Come on, chicken nugget,” he says, “time to get up, I'll make you oatmeal.”
“I don't want to,” Cassie says. “And I don't want oatmeal.”
“I don't want Cheerios either,” Cassie says. “I don't want anything.”
“Pancakes,” Scott suggests, gently rolling her out of bed despite her efforts to burrito into all the blankets. “And online school is waiting for you, sweetheart.”
“I don't want to do online school,” she wails, “online school sucks, I hate it, I hate the stupid teacher and I hate doing social studies and I miss Beth and Annabel and Millie. And I hate this dumb place, I want to go home, I want to go home. I want my mom.” And then she's bursting into loud tears, the kind that Scott knows just have to work their way out, and all he can do is sit down on the floor with her.
“Oh, Peanut,” he says. “It's rough, huh?”
“I hate it,” Cassie says again, shoulders heaving, and Scott feels his whole heart split in half. He'd always wondered, before having a kid, whether parents saying they'd die for their kids was overstatement, hyperbole, some kind of performative exaggeration, but right now there's literally nothing he wouldn't do to make things hurt less for her, to bring Maggie back, and the fact that he can't do a single fucking thing makes him furious at the whole world.
“You want a hug?” he asks, trying to hold it together—the last time there'd been a meltdown like this, about something much dumber and less high-stakes like not being allowed a sleepover on a school night, she'd resisted, told him sulkily that she was a big kid now and didn't need a hug, Daddy—and Cassie sniffs loudly, throws herself into his outstretched arms. “Thank god,” he says, “because I really needed a hug too, and it'd be embarrassing for me to just sit here like an idiot.”
“It's okay,” Cassie mumbles, face wet against his shoulder, and Scott pats her hair.
“Hey,” he says. “It's not okay. None of this is okay, sweetheart, I want to go home too. I want your mom back. And I want your school back, and your friends, and my friends, it all sucks. It's the worst.”
“It fucking sucks,” Cassie agrees, through sobs, and Scott feels like maybe he's a bad parent for ignoring the swearing but she's not wrong, it fucking sucks, and if there's ever a time for a ten-year-old to use swears he's pretty sure it's exactly now.
“Yeah,” he says instead. Kisses the top of her head. “Yeah, it does.”
“And nobody would believe me that I live with Captain America now,” Cassie sniffles, wiping her snotty nose right on the chest of Scott's favorite t-shirt, “and then Steve came by and said hi over my shoulder to the class once and now Dylan keeps telling me that he's a fascist traitor to America.”
“Jeez, Dylan, read the room,” Scott mutters. “Okay, look, one-time offer. I tell your teacher you're not feeling well, and we blow off online school for the day, make ourselves really small and spend all day watching movies on your laptop?”
“Yeah,” Cassie says, muffled. “Okay. Can we watch Star Wars? And The Emperor's New Groove?”
“Yeah, I think we can make that happen.”
“And can Jae come hang out with us too?”
“You'll have to ask him,” Scott says. “But I think he'll probably say yes.”
“Uh,” Jae says. “Yeah? Sure, kiddo, if your dad's okay with that.”
“Yeah,” Scott says, “of course, man. Cassie's in charge of the movie choices, though.”
“Dope,” Jae says, “I'll make popcorn.”
He pulls Scott aside while Cassie is arranging the laptop for best big-screen movie vibes. “Will, uh. Will it hurt?”
“Will what hurt,” Scott says, baffled.
“You know. Shrinking. Will it hurt? I didn't want to ask in front of Cass in case she thinks I'm a wimp.”
“Oh my god. No, dude,” Scott says. “It doesn't hurt, you think I'd let Cassie do it if it did? You think I'd do it?”
“Okay,” Jae says, “okay, okay, I figured that was—you know, no dumb questions, this is a safe space, don't look at me like that.”
“You're too fucking cute,” Scott mutters, before he can help it, and Jae's already blushing but that makes him go bright red all the way to his ears.
They actually manage to get through practically all of Star Wars—original trilogy, plus the new one—which is basically on par with Scott's life in college, except for how they're obviously not hot-boxing a dorm room this time around.
“This is fun,” Jae says, climbing up onto the laptop keyboard so he can jump on the space-bar and make the next movie play. “I guess I never thought much about what it'd be like to get this tiny. Oh hey, look, a normal-size popcorn. Do you think it'd be good?”
“I dunno,” Scott says, “do you want to try eating a piece of popcorn bigger than your head?” and yeah, turns out Jae does, just for the novelty. It doesn’t exactly go well, but it makes Cassie laugh so hard she shoots some popcorn out of her own nose, so Scott counts it up as a win.
They unshrink in order to eat a whole tray of chicken nuggets, bowls of ice cream with Reese's Magic Shell sauce, and then tuck themselves back under the blankets on the couch to finish off the day with some old Disney. Cassie falls asleep halfway through the Lion King, and Scott is way too comfortable on the couch to put her to bed, just lets her snore on his shoulder until the movie is done.
“I guess I should do something with this little sleepyhead,” he murmurs. Doesn't want to get up: he's gently aware of Jae's proximity, and Cassie has taken up more and more of the couch as she's fallen asleep so that Scott is now pressed up against Jae's side all the way from shoulder to knee.
“Yeah,” Jae says, “I guess so,” and there's a long pause before Cassie snores extra-loudly.
“Okay,” Scott says, laughing, the moment broken. “I'll be right back,” and scoops her carefully into his arms so he can carry her to bed.
“You're a really good dad,” Jae says when Scott gets back, and Scott sort of writhes in this awkward half shrug. “No, you are. Come on, man, I watched you for two years of house arrest, you had her every weekend, afternoons after school. You're a great dad.”
“For a criminal,” Scott says, and Jae laughs a little. “I just, I worry, you know? How she's handling this whole thing. Whether we'll get her mom back, whether she'll—I just don't want her to forget Maggie.”
“She won't,” Jae says, quietly sure, and pats Scott on the knee, and that's what does it in the end, that's what makes Scott twist to face him, lean into the heat of him and take Jae’s jaw between his palms and kiss him right on the mouth, the kind of kiss that is definitely not buddies and which Jae reciprocates immediately, lips parting to exhale in a slightly-surprised-definitely-good-surprised noise that could probably be classified as a moan and which goes straight to Scott's dick.
(“Oh my God,” Hope says at this point, and she's somehow found a bag of microwave popcorn, is clutching a fistful and gnawing at it even though Scott's pretty sure it's super stale. “Jesus Christ, Scott.”)
So that's how that happens. Scott kisses Jae, and Jae kisses back. For a while they just make out, PG-13 action on the couch in the middle of the goddamn Avengers base, and then Jae does this thing with his teeth on the delicate skin behind Scott's ear and suddenly it seems incredibly fucking important to be in bed, and ideally with way fewer clothes on for both of them.
“Bed,” Scott says, “we should, you know, get in it. Your bed, not mine, Cassie’s bunk is right next door to mine.”
“I only have a twin,” Jae says, and Scott shrugs, his hand already on Jae's belt buckle.
“Same. I think we all only have twin beds, clearly nobody ever considered that the Avengers might fuck.”
“Is that what we're going to do?” Jae asks, goes breathless halfway through because Scott's just gotten his pants undone and is stroking his fingers up the hard line of Jae's dick. “Fuck, okay, yeah, that's… we should, my bed, yeah.”
Scott skips over the next bit during retelling Hope, but—god, they get into bed somehow, stripping off clothes as they go. Scott gets his hand on Jae's dick properly about twenty seconds before Jae pulls Scott's jeans down and slides his fingers into Scott's boxers, and from there it's genuinely difficult to make it to the bed because god, that's—
“If you keep touching me like that I'm not gonna be able to follow through on what I was planning to do next,” he tells Jae, and Jae pauses, goes still, his fingers still wrapped tight around Scott's dick and thumb rubbing slow circles under the head.
“What, uh. What were you gonna do next?”
“Push you back onto your bed and give you a hopefully more-than-adequate blow job,” Scott says, and Jae bites his lip, pulls Scott down into bed and on top of him.
“Yeah,” he says, “do that,” and in the end Scott's pretty sure it's significantly better than adequate for the both of them.
They fall asleep together in Jae's bed, even though it's absolutely not big enough for both of them. Wake up before their morning alarm, somehow, and Scott takes a minute just to mouth kisses along the nape of Jae's neck, the slightly-surprising Golden State Warriors tattoo on his shoulder.
“Good morning,” Jae says through a yawn. Scott closes his eyes, wraps an arm around Jae’s ribs.
“Hey,” he says, “hi. Here's an idea, let's not get up.”
“It's my turn to supervise online school,” Jae says. “I have a professional responsibility to uphold, Scott.”
“Wow,” Scott says, “wow, you have a hot guy in your bed—who, I might add, is your former house arrest parolee—and you're worried about your professional reputation? That ship has sailed, bud.”
“I don't care about the FBI,” Jae says, laughing, “but I do care about my students. And really? A hot guy?”
“Hey, I'm above average,” Scott protests, “if you stop comparing me to Steve I'm definitely above average for a regular guy.”
“No, you were right the first time,” Jae says. Rolls onto his side and skims his palm down Scott's thigh. “And you've convinced me, Lila and Cass can have a snow day.”
“Too late,” Scott groans as the alarm goes off. “Okay, I'll go make coffee and some oatmeal for the kids, if you want to jump in the shower?”
“This is worryingly domestic,” Jae mutters. “Most of my other boyfriends were like, sorry you can't shower or sleep over but I called you an Uber, great to see you, we should do this again and then it would always be a fucking Uber Pool.”
“Jae,” Scott says, “babe, we've been living together for two months. I learned how to make japchae the way you said your mom used to make it because I like how happy you get when someone else cooks it for you. You teach my kid social studies and tell her to eat her mashed potato and peas or she won't get any ice cream, and then you give her ice cream anyway. We're well past worryingly domestic. Also, those don't sound like boyfriends, they sound like assholes who wanted one-night-stands without the effort of finding someone new to have sex with.”
“Hmm,” Jae says. “You might be right. Okay, shower. Go make coffee, I'm going to need it today. These beds are way too small for two people to share all night, I swear your elbow lodged so hard in my back that I'll be permanently crippled.”
“It was good though, right?” Scott asks, as Jae is dragging himself out of bed. “Not the elbow thing, I mean, sorry, that sounds terrible, but—”
“Yeah,” Jae says, shutting him up with a long kiss. “It is.”
They manage to keep the new development on their… whatever-it-is under wraps for a whole three weeks, which is frankly incredible given how deeply everyone is up in everyone else's business in the compound, and also because it's way too easy to fall into habits like calling each other babe exclusively and making out every time they're alone in a room. Then Steve snaps them together on the couch after they'd assumed everyone else was already in bed, and an embarrassing situation is made either worse or better—Scott can't decide which—by Steve rolling his eyes at their stumbled apologies and saying, “wow, okay, to be honest I just assumed this had been going on from the start, you had that bickering couple thing going on and all.”
“Do we?” Scott says the next morning, still mulling on it, “do we have, like, couple energy? Does everyone think we were already dating?”
“Would that be a problem?” Jae says. “I mean, it'd reflect badly on my professional standing if all my coworkers think I was at your house all the time because we were secretly fooling around, obviously, but I don't see how it'd be an issue for you.”
“Weren't you?” Scott says, “you're really telling me you were on my ass so much because you genuinely thought I was somehow evading the law like some criminal mastermind?”
“Well, in my defence, you actually were doing that, so I was absolutely right.” Jae's jaw is set the way Scott knows now that Jae thinks makes him look serious and determined, and he leans in, kisses the corner of his mouth.
“Yeah,” he says, “but you didn't know that. You just had a crush.”
“You're lucky you're so fucking cute, you know that?”
“Aw, babe,” Scott teases, “you think I'm cute,” and Cassie clears her throat from the kitchen doorway. Scott and Jae both freeze in place, Scott extremely aware of the incriminating placement of his hand in Jae's back pocket, and also the fact that they've just been making out against the fridge.
“Uh, hey, Peanut. Did you sleep well?”
“Gross,” Cassie announces, pointing at both of them. “I don't care if it's the end of the world, Daddy, you shouldn't kiss an FBI agent.”
“Sweetpea, the FBI doesn't exist anymore,” Scott says. Jae makes a face at him that Scott can just tell is something the lines of excuse me, my job still exists, and also, that's what you're leading with here? He wonders if kissing Jae would forestall it, but probably not.
“Okay, first of all, that's hurtful for you to say my job doesn't exist anymore, I still have pride in my professional identity. And second, what kind of dad raises their kid to be grossed out by the idea of kissing a law enforcement agent?”
“Look, Jim is a police officer,” Scott says, “apparently Cass just hates the FBI. What's up, Cassie-bean?”
“Nothing,” Cassie says, breezing by them now to boost herself up on the kitchen counter. “It's good you're looking for companionship, Daddy. We shouldn't be cutting ourselves off from the people we love who are still here with us.”
“Okay, you have got to stop watching Steve practise his therapy affirmations in the mirror,” Scott says. “That's it? Nothing else?”
“I want pancakes for breakfast,” Cassie informs them. “And I didn't learn it from Steve. It was Dr Phil.”
“Half the world is gone and we've still got Dr Phil,” Scott mutters, “we must be in the end times. I'm limiting your day-time TV, Cass, you're supposed to be doing online school.”
“Awwww,” Cassie complains. “It's so boring, though.”
“Can't be a superhero if you don't know how to do math,” Jae says, like that's going to convince her. Scott double-takes.
“What? Yes you can, you think I know math?”
“You're such a dummy,” Jae says fondly. “Don't you have an engineering degree?”
“From MIT,” Cassie says. “My dad pretends he's stupid but he's actually really smart. Can I have pancakes or not?”
“Sure,” Jae says. “With blueberries?”
“Yes please!” Cassie chirps. “Should I go see if Lila wants some too?”
“Hey, why not,” Jae says. “Ask Nat and Steve too, if they're up and around. They both live way too much on misery dinners.”
When Scott comes up with an actual, possible idea to fix the world, it surprises him just as much as everyone else.
They've sort of given up on finding a solution but they get together every few days anyway to chew over the problem, throw around increasingly dumb suggestions until they're all soul-crushingly depressed by it again and have to go drink beer and eat terrible snacks—Scott and Clint and Natasha’s preferred approach—or, if they're Steve, go punch a boxing bag until it breaks.
“So we can't fix it from here,” Clint says. “I think that's increasingly clear. How do we go back and solve it then? Didn't Chao say that they had a Time Stone?”
“Had, was the important point there,” Steve sighs. “By the time Thanos got to Wakanda he'd already added it to the Gauntlet.”
“Okay, so what's another way we can build a time machine?” Clint says. “Come on, there are like five thousand movies about it, surely one of them has gotta be accurate.”
“Just build a time machine,” Natasha says, grabbing a handful of chips from the bag Scott's got open. Laughs, a little hysterically. “What, like it's hard?”
“It's one time machine, Nat,” Scott says, “how much could it cost, ten dollars?” and Natasha laughs harder, sprays a few chip crumbs on him.
“Aw, man, Back to the Future made it look so easy. Are you telling me Hollywood lied to me? I'm devastated.”
“And Terminator wasn't a documentary,” Natasha adds, “although Barnes makes a pretty good go of it.” She shoves another fistful of chips in her mouth, chews thoughtfully. Frowns at the table, narrows her eyes like she's suddenly considering the suggestion seriously. “It's not like we can just turn back time,” she says, “to begin with we'd need access to a quantum particle generator,” and Scott pauses, potato chip halfway to his mouth.
“Huh,” he says. “Uh, about that.”
It's not a great plan, but it might work. Might work, and that's more than they've had in months: that's enough for everyone to start thinking in earnest, figuring out how it might work for real.
“Hey,” Jae says that evening, once Cassie is in bed. “We should talk.”
“Oh no,” Scott says, reflexive, “are you dumping me?” Fuck he's a moron, it's genuinely appalling that anyone would be willing to kiss him if this is what they have to put up with. Sits down on the bed next to Jae, leans in against him like maybe the physical contact will distract Jae from how fucking stupid Scott is forever. “That sounds serious.”
“No, I just meant—we should talk about what happens when they all come back.”
“You're still going with when and not if, huh?”
“We have to have hope, right? This is the best plan we've come up with so far. Anyway, it's just—look, Scott, I like you a whole lot, and I don't—there's nobody coming back for me, okay? Someone waves the magic wand tomorrow to un-Snap all the Snapped, you're gonna have Hope around again, and I know you and her were, like, something, and I don't want to be in the way of that, but it's just…”
“Oh,” Scott says, realizing. “Shit, yeah. Fuck, Jae.”
“I don't want us to not do this,” Jae says. “Just because she might come back. Does that make me a bad person?”
“I don't want us to not do this either,” Scott says. Takes Jae’s hand, tangles their fingers together. “I like you more than I thought I could ever like someone who spent two years trying to catch me breaking my house arrest. I don't want to quit on this just for the hope we might fix the world someday.”
“Can't wait on another Snap,” Jae says, “we gotta keep living our lives. According to Dr Phil, anyway.”
“You're the one who keeps letting Cassie watch it. I fucking knew it.”
“We eat snacks and make fun of him,” Jae says. “It's our routine now. Gotta have routine, that's another one.”
“You're a dick,” Scott says fondly. “What are we supposed to do with this, huh?”
“I dunno,” Jae says. Shrugs a little. “I guess I just wanted to raise it with you before I got too comfortable. Didn't want to find myself three years down the road saying I love you only to get dumped for your girlfriend when she comes back to life, although I gotta level with you that I hope we figure out this plan of yours in under three years.”
“Babe,” Scott says. Lifts Jae's hand to his mouth, kisses his knuckles. “I know I'm a dick but do you really think I'd do that?”
“Well,” Jae says. “Maybe. You do kind of have a track record of bad decisions, romantic and otherwise. I have a whole file dossier documenting it, gathering dust somewhere on my desk.”
“Hmm,” Scott says. “I want to argue with that, but—wait, you have a dossier on my love life? You're such a creep.”
“I was just... dedicated,” Jae says.
“Dedicated. To my job, okay?”
“Yeah,” Scott says. “Okay. Hey, Jae?”
“I love you too, okay?”
“Fuck you,” Jae says, “I said I might say that, in three years time, not now.”
“Well,” Scott says, shrugging, “I'm saying it now.”
“Oh,” Jae says. Lets Scott kiss the corner of his mouth. “Right. Okay. That's—yeah, okay.”
Eight days later, Scott pushes a button and half the world reappears.
“I mean, technically you didn't reappear, we reversed the polarity of time and inverted entropy for a hot minute so that we could go back and get Dr Strange out of the time vortex, and then he was able to rearrange the quantum bits of the universe with me to stop Thanos ever disappearing you in the first place,” Scott says. “So technically none of it actually happened, and also, what happened happened, but without the bit where people disappeared and planes fell out of the sky and stuff. World's back to normal, etc.”
“None of that makes any sense.”
“Look, it was a different time, okay? It was tough for all of us, and it turns out Jae's really nice, and he's also really good at kissin—”
“No,” Hope says, “no, that bit makes total sense, actually, I can see it. It's your explanation of how you fixed it that doesn't make sense.”
“Time travel,” Scott says. “I can draw you a diagram, I sort of came up with the theory, but to be honest I wasn't sure it would work in actual life.”
“Scott, my dad is a quantum physicist and I've learned from him my whole life,” Hope says. “So, and I cannot stress this enough, I know that this is total bullshit, there's no such thing as a fucking time vortex. What the hell happened, really?”
“We built a time machine,” Scott says. “Powered by Pym particles. We were able to send ourselves back to the battle in Wakanda, just before Thanos snapped his fingers. I, um, distracted him while the others cut his hand off. And then we had the Gauntlet, and nobody had technically been Snapped, but Dr Strange had to do some kind of thing with Pym particles and the Time stone to reintegrate our future selves with our past selves, otherwise there'd be two inconsistent iterations of everyone who went back in time. Some kind of temporal version control, I guess, I genuinely don't know how that bit worked. But he made it so that our past versions still had our future version's memories, which I guess now are of the future, not the past. But a future that'll never happen because we prevented the Snap and destroyed the Gauntlet.”
“I don't get it,” Hope says, “this is a much cooler story, why did you try to spin me that nonsense about time vortexes and reversing entropy? Oh, wait. Wait. How'd you distract Thanos, huh?”
“I,” Scott says. “I, uh.”
“Out with it,” Hope says.
“I shrank myself real small and crawled up his nose into his brain and then I expanded myself really big really fast,” Scott says, tearing the metaphorical band-aid off what he hopes is forever going to be his grossest and least cool story about actually saving the fucking world, and Hope howls with laughter for a solid five minutes.
“Anyway,” Scott says eventually, “I told you it was complicated. But there it is.”
“Scott,” Hope says, gentler than he expects, “time travel is complicated. But you just told me you're in love with Jimmy Woo, and you, what, you want to pretend you never said it because in this timeline it never happened?”
“I don't want to pretend that,” Scott says. Bites his lip, because fuck, he did say that, didn't he, and he—god, he is, isn't he, but— “I don't want to pretend that, but I love you too, I think. We had something really good happening. I don't want to lose that, but you and Jae, you're not like two versions Dr Strange can just reintegrate into one love life for version control, you're two totally different people, and I'm just one dumb guy, so, like—”
“Who says we can't,” Hope says. “I hear you know all about modern relationships.”
“I'm sorry,” Scott says, on a roll now, “it's selfish, I didn't mean—wait, what? What? ”
“It's two thousand eighteen,” Hope says, clearly taking pity on him. “Non-monogamy is in now. I think we could make it work, if you want to. You're right, we had something good going on, and it sounds like you and Jae made each other happy in a way that wasn't just some complicated end-of-the-world shared experience, so… You wanna make it work, we can try.”
“Jesus,” Scott says, bewildered. “How am I supposed to figure that out?”
“You worked out time travel,” Hope says, “and the solution to half the world disappearing. I have confidence you'll figure this out too. And if all else fails you can just ask Maggie to send you her research.”
“Wow,” Scott says. “Okay. Wow.”
“But if he tries to catch me or my dad again I'm dumping both of you,” Hope says. “And I'll use the shrink ray on him and keep him in a little jar by my bed.”
“Noted,” Scott says, with what he feels is a healthy level of terror. “For the record, though, he told me I was off the hook on being arrested because of the whole end of the world thing, and I'm reasonably sure I can negotiate that to cover you too, so that probably won't be a problem. Probably.”
Call me, Jae had said while they were preparing for the mission, once you've figured it out one way or the other, and Scott doesn't want to just call him now, wants to see him in person so he can, hopefully, kiss his beautiful stupid face.
Scott had come hurtling feet-first out of the quantum realm with all of his future knowledge flooding into his head at once; sorry, Dr Strange had said, I'm just going to have to info-dump the whole lot in there and your brain will do what it needs to integrate, but you'll probably be a bit disoriented for a few minutes. A few minutes had been almost half an hour of Scott jibbering nonsense at Hope, and then just as she'd been about to hit him with a sedative or something, all of the new information had snapped hard and fast into place like a rubber band bouncing back after being stretched too far, and Scott had blinked, taken a breath and said, “wow, I think it worked.”
It takes him a little while to find Jae; the Snap—wait, the un Snap, the reversal of it all back to the minute before the moment at which it'd happened—had taken them back to their respective starting points, Scott in the quantum realm and Jae wherever Jae had been. At his desk, Scott thinks, probably at his stupid FBI desk with his stupid FBI file on Scott and his stupid terrible romantic decisions. Fuck it, Scott thinks, I guess I'm gonna go declare my love at the goddamn FBI office, and grabs his keys, gets in the van.
Jae is waiting outside the building. “The tracker on your van showed you were on the way,” he says, before Scott can say anything. “I figured—well, I figured that whatever you wanted to say to me probably didn't need to be in front of all my coworkers.”
“It could have been romantic,” Scott says, “an ex-felon you've been monitoring on house arrest showing up to tell you he's in love with you,” and Jae makes a startled little noise like whatever he was about to say has been disrupted by that.
“But you—and Hope, you—”
“Yeah,” Scott says. Takes a deep breath, reaches for Jae's hand. “About that. How, uh, how do you feel about modern relationships?”
“Modern, like, the thing you had with Maggie and Jim for a while?” Jae says. “Because I like Hope—I mean, she terrifies me, but I respect the hell out of her—but I'm not really heterosexual enough for that.”
“The vibe I got from Hope was less all-inclusive than the thing with Maggie and Jim,” Scott says. “So I think we can be flexible. Wait, how do you know about that? Did you surveil my co-parenting nights?”
“I told you,” Jae says, “I have a dossier on your love life.”
“You are so fucking creepy,” Scott mutters, “Look at this stupid government suit. I cannot believe I like you.”
“Didn't you use another word a minute ago? I'm pretty sure you did.”
“Nah, you'll have to wait three years for that.”
“Fuck you,” Jae says, “or will I have to wait three years on that too, because I dunno, Scott, that's a pretty raw deal.”
“No, I could probably be convinced on that one,” Scott admits. “Is it weird that I feel like I've missed you? Technically we saw each other like just yesterday.”
“Technically you haven't even kissed me yet,” Jae says, “if we're counting,” and okay, yeah, time travel is complicated and modern relationships are probably gonna be reasonably complicated too, even with a quantum physicist in the mix, but kissing Jae again for the first time: that's the simplest thing Scott's done for a long, long time.