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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Ant-Man fic: Rolling with the Punches (2/2)

December 16th, 2015 (07:04 pm)
exanimate

feeling: exanimate

Continued from Part One.



-o-

She punches hard, pounding her fist right into Scott’s chest above his heart.

He jerks limply, before going still.

She punches again, harder this time, more centered. She punches until her knuckles bruise, until she can feel the impact all the way down her spine.

She punches until Scott’s body convulses, arching off the ground as he sucks in a ragged, water-logged breath.

He’s alive.

She blinks in shock as he gurgles on water.

He’s alive.

She lets her fist go, just long enough to take him in her arms. He’s still coughing, and he’s shivering now even as she pulls him closer. He doesn’t say anything as Hope drops her head against his, and they sit entwined together, taking gasping breaths in tandem.

“You’re okay,” she says, her fingers clenched in the front of his suit. She can feel his heart beat against her skin; she can feel his hot breath on her cheek. She closes her eyes, finding her next breath hard to take. “We’re okay.”

-o-

Okay is relative.

It’s also a massive overstatement.

Waterlogged, singed and exhausted, it’s all Hope can do to keep the two of them from falling back into the water. It seems typical that Scott’s the first one to speak.

“Ugh,” he says, trying to clear his throat again. “Maybe we should have looked into water insects.”

The quip is to the point and so utterly Scott that Hope actually laughs. The short bark of relief is as much a sob as it is anything else, but that’s okay.

Scott’s okay.

He’s breathing and cracking jokes.

He’s okay.

He’s also still pale, though, and he looks up at her with a furrowed brow. “I’m taking it that ants can’t swim?”

She lets out a breath, shaking her head. “Ants can survive in water pretty well.”

“But full grown men dressed in ant suits?”

“Yeah, not so much,” Hope agrees.

He swallows hard, wincing as it goes down. For a moment, he seems to focus on his breathing before he cranes his neck to look at her again. “You going to tell me what happened?”

She offers him a critical look. “You don’t remember?”

“I remember training,” he says. “And I sort of inferred the rest from the fact that I’m soaking wet. But I’m not quite connecting the dots.”

With a ragged inhalation, Hope has to summon her willpower. Sometimes the toughest fights aren’t physical at all. She appreciates her father’s predicament better in that moment. It’s not that she wants to lie.

It’s just that the truth is so complicated.

But she won’t do that to Scott.

She won’t do that to herself.

“I punched you,” she tells him flatly.

His nose wrinkles. “What?”

“I punched you.”

That only seems to confuse him more. “I’m sort of hoping that’s a euphemism.”

“For what?”

He shrugs one shoulder meekly. “Anything.”

“Well, it’s not,” she says.

He nods, as if that makes sense taking a few more labored breaths. She can feel his heart rate start to slow down somewhat although he makes no move to sit up on his own. “Wow,” he says finally. “This is awkward.”

“And dangerous,” she says. “We need to get you to a hospital.”

At this, he looks more than a little disconcerted. “Hospital?”

“You have water in your lungs,” she says. “And you probably have a concussion.”

“I hadn’t noticed that yet,” he says. “But I was too distracted by the fact that I think my ribs are broken.”

“We need to have you monitored,” she says, shifting his weight so he’s sitting up a little more on his own. “And check you for brain damage.”

“Ha, ha,” he says, gingerly sitting without her support. “That’s real funny.”

“I’m not joking,” she says, getting to her feet and bending to scoop him up.

“Wait,” he says, swaying a little as she hoists him up. “You’re not?”

She grunts but doesn’t reply, starting them across the strip of beach. “I can’t fly like this,” she says. “We’re going to have to take the long way around.”

He staggers against her but his feet are moving. “Seriously, Hope,” he says. “You’re not kidding? You have to be kidding.”

She grits her teeth and wishes she was.

-o-

Getting Scott off the beach is hard enough, but when she remembers that they flew here, the matter is infinitely complicated. In frustration, she sets Scott on a park bench and calls her assistant to arrange for a private car.

With that in order, she looks at Scott again.

“We have to get you out of that,” she says.

He’s upright but listing to the side while breathing heavily. “Normally, I’d oblige--”

She shakes her head abruptly, moving closer to him. “No, you have to get out of that,” she says, efficiently starting to undo the suit.

He yelps. “Whoa, hey, I like it when you’re forceful, but come on--”

With the suit loosened, she starts to pull it off, peeling it carefully away from his body, mindful of his injuries. “The hospital might cut it off.”

“But, I mean--” he starts, inhaling sharply as she lifts him up a little to maneuver it over his hips. “But the suit--”

She is shimmying the material down over his feet before looking at him plainly. “It’s just a suit, Scott,” she says. “It’s just a suit.”

-o-

When Scott’s suit is secured, she removes her own. It’s a quick run back to find his helmet, and by the time the car arrives, they look like they simply had a mishap while out for a morning jog.

The driver is helpful, which makes Scott apologetic and self deprecating, and Hope is entirely exasperated with the entire ordeal.

She keeps herself on an even keel, though, sitting next to Scott in the backseat with one wary eye, passing the trip with her hands fisted at her sides as she forces herself to breathe.

“This is unnecessary,” Scott tells her.

“You’d be more convincing if you didn’t look like a drowned rat,” she returns.

“Drowned ant, maybe,” he says.

She sighs.

“Come on, it’s a little funny,” he cajoles.

She’s about to smile, but Scott’s complexion goes suddenly pale.

“Oh, shit,” he says.

Then he throws up all over himself.

With a nod to the driver, she says, “Drive faster pleased.”

Scott winces, looking at his ruined t-shirt forlornly.

She raises her eyebrows. “You were saying?”

-o-

By the time they get to the hospital, Scott has thrown up twice, and Hope is mentally cataloguing the many symptoms of a bad concussion and trying to remember if vomit is a confounding factor in secondary drowning.

She answers the doctor’s questions in a perfunctory fashion, going so far as to provide proof of Scott’s insurance and arranging to transfer his medical files while the nurses take Scott’s vital and get him comfortable on a bed.

“I am concerned about his lungs,” the doctor tells her. “We’ll send him to radiology, and then also to CT.”

“So you’re worried about water in the lungs?” she asks.

The doctor shrugs. “We need to rule it out and watch his condition,” he says. “Complications are necessarily common, but it’s not something we want to take chances with. The CT is mostly a precaution, but he’s exhibiting signs of a severe concussion.”

Hope takes a measured breath.

On the bed, Scott is making a nurse laugh while she straps an oxygen mask to his face. The heart monitor by his bed is keeping a normal rhythm, but every time he moves, he swings the pulse-ox monitor on his finger precariously.

“If you’d like, you can wait with him--”

Hope turns her attention back to the doctor. “What?”

“While we prep him for the tests,” the doctor says. “It shouldn’t be a problem--”

But Hope is already shaking her head. “No, I wouldn’t want to be in the way.”

“He’d probably be more comfortable--”

“Thank you, doctor,” she says, ignoring the gesture with the remaining fortitude she possesses. “You’ll be able to find me in the waiting room.”

She’s curt but professional all the way out into the hall.

In fact, she holds it together remarkably well until she makes it to the bathroom. There, she closes herself into a stall and clasps her fingers into fists. She wants to lash out, she wants to be angry -- but there’s no one here to hit.

There’s no one here but her.

There are tears on her cheeks, and her chest feels tight. Her vision is hazy at the edges, and she focuses on her breathing.

In and out, in and out.

She flexes her fingers and releases them to the same cadence.

In and out, in and out.

She’s a smart, capable woman. She’s a business executive with advanced scientific and technological knowledge. She’s the Wasp.

For the first time in her life, she has everything she wants.

And somehow she’s still holding nothing at all.

-o-

Hope allows herself about five minutes in the bathroom. Then, she washes her face and straightens her hair. Picking up her phone, she ignores her messages and flips through her contact list instead.

She hesitates on the name before finally selecting it.

Holding a nervous breath, she wiggles her toes while the phone rings.

“Hello?” comes the voice.

“Hey,” she says, trying to keep the tremor from her voice. “Dad.”

“Hope?”

“Yeah,” she replies and falters, pressing two fingers between her brows. “Um. Something happened--”

She doesn’t know how to explain it. She doesn’t even know where to start.

She doesn’t have to, though.

“Tell me where you are,” her father says, his tone brokering no nonsense. “And I’ll be right there.”

-o-

By the time her father arrives, she’s composed and sitting in the waiting room. She does not entertain the pretense of looking at a magazine, but she flips absently through the messages on her phone without actually reading any of them.

Her father looks harried when he comes, and he sits closer to her than necessary in the chair by her side. “Are you okay?” he asks. “Tell me you’re okay.”

She presses her lips together into a fine line. “I’m fine.”

“You’re sure?” her father asks, giving her a careful once over. “Because if you need a doctor--”

“I’m fine,” she says again.

He doesn’t look like he believes her, and before he can flag down a nurse to presumably force her into an examination room, she swallows hard and continues.

“It’s Scott,” she says.

Her father visibly stops at that. There’s a flicker of relief, even as fresh concern settles over his face. “Bad?”

“They think he’s okay,” she starts.

“They think?” her father asks.

She collects a breath and wishes this were easier. “We had an accident while training,” she says. “He took a hit to the head and went into the water.”

“But the helmet--”

“He wasn’t wearing the helmet,” she says, the guilt twisting through her gut.

At that, his brow knits together thoughtfully. He’s still looking for the right question to ask.

“It was a punch,” she says. “I punched him.”

He’s not surprised by this, but he’s also not sure what to do with it. “Well, training in the suits is necessary--”

“I lost control,” she says. “Maybe of my emotions; maybe just of my force -- it doesn’t matter. I took the punch, and I did this.”

It hurts as much as it feels good to say, and it’s a masochistic kind of confession that she needs and hates in equal measures.

“It takes time to regulate your power,” her father says cautiously.

“Too little, and it’s a love tap, I know,” she says. “But too much--”

Her father shakes her head. “No one ever said this sort of thing was easy or safe for that matter,” he says. “Scott knows that.”

“I know, I know,” she says, slumping in her chair. “But it was my punch. It was a cheap shot.”

“It was an accident,” her father tells her in a measured voice.

“He has a serious concussion and broken ribs,” she says. “They’re watching him for secondary drowning and pneumonia.”

Her father sighs. “Why do you think I didn’t want you involved?” he says. “The suit -- it’s dangerous. It has to be dangerous. That’s part of what makes it powerful.”

She’s still waiting for him to blame her. Hell, she wants that. The blame would make it easier to understand. Fault would make it easier to pinpoint and fix.

But it’s not easy. There’s never been anything easy in Hope’s life, so there’s no reason to think it would start now.

Her father settles back a little in the chair. “I thought it wouldn’t be as hard if someone else got in the suit.”

Someone else; someone expendable. As if Scott’s well being is an acceptable risk.

He purses his lips. “I was wrong,” he says heavily. “About a lot of things.”

It’s a confession she’s wanted for most of her life, but now that he’s made it, she finds that it doesn’t mean as much as she thought it would. It doesn’t change the choices they’ve made, and it doesn’t make the loss any less painful. It doesn’t change her stalled career or the ruined suit. And it sure as hell doesn’t bring her mother back.

Or make Scott better.

“Yeah,” she says. “Maybe we both were.”

-o-

After years of not talking, they are at least both used to silence. While there’s a lot of things she wants to say to her father, that’s not something she wants to talk about now.

There’s always time for recriminations later, she figures.

Maybe acceptance and absolution are a bit more important after all.

-o-

The doctor has a positive prognosis. Although Scott does have a concussion, his lungs look relatively clear. They want to keep him overnight for observation, but he should be able to go home tomorrow, as long as he takes it easy.

“If he has any family--” the doctor suggests with a shrug.

“I thought you said he’d be fine,” Hope says.

“Oh, I think he will be,” the doctor says. “But most people like having family nearby in times like this. I just thought…”

Hope sighs, remembering to smile. She nods. “Of course,” she says, sounding apologetic.

“If you want to see him, we’ve got him moved to a room,” the doctor says.

“Thank you,” Hope says as the doctor excuses himself.

She watches him leave, and her father is lingering a step behind her. “We going to go see him yet?” he asks.

“I need to call his ex-wife,” she says instead.

“Avoiding issues doesn’t make them go away,” her father say. “I can tell you that from experience.”

She gives him a hard look. “Who do you think Scott wants to see? His daughter or the person who put him here?”

“You think those two are mutually exclusive?”

She rolls her eyes, getting out her phone. “I’m going to make that phone call,” she says. “But you can do what you want.”


-o-

It takes some work to track down Scott’s ex. Well, it takes some work for Hope’s assistant, but Hope dutifully mans her phone in the waiting room nonetheless. Her father disappears for a bit, and when he comes back, he looks at her phone curiously.

“It takes thirty minutes to make one phone call?”

She drums her fingers on the chair. “It takes twenty years to tell me the truth?”

“That’s not going to get old, is it?”

She sits back, stretching her legs a little. “Did you see him?”

“Yep,” her father says, settling back with his arms crossed over his chest.

“How is he?”

“Ridiculous and goofy,” he replies. “So, fine. Asking about you, though.”

“His daughter should be here soon,” Hope reports. “His ex-wife is bringing her over. I promised to meet them out front.”

“That’s nice of you,” his father says.

“Oh, shut up,” she mutters.

“What?” her father says. “It is.”

She willfully ignores him, avoiding his eyes and getting to her feet. “I should go,” she says abruptly. “They’ll be here soon.”

-o-

Hope is early, of course, but she commands enough presence that no one looks twice at her standing outside the entrance. She recognizes Scott’s daughter immediately -- they’ve met a few times in passing -- and Cassie pulls at her mother’s hand to get to Hope more quickly.

For all that Cassie is anxious, Maggie looks reluctant, which is probably a natural reaction when one’s ex-anything is in the hospital. Hope holds no ill will against Maggie, given that she thinks leaving Scott was probably a sane and reasonable choice at the time. Moreover, while she is fond of Scott, she also knows that most of the problems in their relationship were probably his fault.

Becoming a convicted felon will do that.

Even so, she’s surprised by the trepidation on Maggie’s face. She’s worried, and she’s doing a bad job of controlling it, even for her daughter’s sake.

It hardly seems right, for the ex-wife to be more demonstrative than the current girlfriend. Sometimes Hope has to remind herself that that’s what she is.

At least, in theory. When she’s not punching him out.

“Don’t worry; he’s really fine,” she assures Maggie and Cassie with the biggest smile she can muster. “This way.”

-o-

Cassie chatters the whole way up, and when they get to the room, she doesn’t need an invitation. She scampers to Scott’s bedside before Maggie can stop her, and Hope is still pointing to the door when Cassie jumps into the bed. Hope sees Scott wince, bracing his broken ribs, but he’s all smiles when he takes Cassie into his arms eagerly.

“She’s crazy about him,” Hope observes.

“Well, yeah,” Maggie says. “He’s pretty easy to fall in love with. A little harder to work through in an adult relationship, but part of that was prison.”

“I think it’s great,” Hope says. “It would be easy to make him the bad guy.”

Maggie snorts. “Scott? The bad guy? Not even the press wanted to make him the bad guy, even after he was convicted.”

“It’s a little different when it’s personal, though,” Hope offers amicably.

“Yeah,” Maggie says, tilting her head as she watches Scott poke playfully at Cassie’s side. “I couldn’t be the wife that sits by him during all the trials. I wasn’t going to give interviews about how he was misunderstood or how he’d learned. If I did that, I would have hated him, and Cassie would have, too.”

“You don’t owe me an explanation,” Hope says.

Maggie looks at her, a bit more curious now. “So you’re Hope, then.”

Hope blinks, a little surprised. “Excuse me?”

“The infamous Hope,” Maggie says with inflection.

“He’s mentioned me,” Hope says.

Maggie nods. “Once or twice.”

“Ah,” Hope says, shifting on her feet. “Well, he can be prone to exaggeration.”

Maggie leans against the door for a moment, watching as Cassie asks about the wires and monitors in Scott’s room. “Well, according to him, you’re a superhero.”

Hope’s heart skips a beat, and she feels a flush rise in her cheeks. “What?”

“You,” Maggie says. “The superhero.”

Hope is at a loss, and she scoffs in disbelief. The Wasp suit isn’t technically top secret, but it also isn’t officially anything. There’s no formal contract binding any of them to keep quiet, but Hope had only assumed. “The Wasp suit -- it’s still in development.”

At that, Maggie appears confused. “The Wasp? What?” she asks, shaking her head. “No. I mean, he’s never mentioned that. It’s just the way he talks about you and all that you do. The things you do for the company, and everything you did to protect the public. The way you’re working with your father. The things you’ve done for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if you walked on water, too.”

This time, Hope can’t come up with a reply. She hardly knows what to make of it.

Just then, Cassie turns back. “Mommy, come here!” she calls. “Daddy’s bed can go up and down!”

“Oh, wow,” Maggie says with forced enthusiasm as she enters the room. “That’s so neat.”

Hope watches, slack jawed and fists loose at her sides, while Maggie sits gingerly at the edge of Scott’s bed and Cassie makes the bed rise and fall. Scott makes an exaggerated response, and Cassie laughs so hard that even Maggie is chuckling, too.

For a long moment, Hope stands there, watching. She thinks about joining them, but she wouldn’t know what to say, what to do. She’s still not sure where she fits in.

Nonetheless, she knows Scott will invite her. Cassie might try to drag her in. Maggie wouldn’t object, that’s for sure.

That’s probably why Hope’s gone before the they have the chance.

-o-

By this time, it’s evening, and Hope hasn’t eaten since they left late that morning. Although the idea of food is mostly unpalatable to her, she’s a reasonable woman.

Besides, sitting in the cafeteria means she isn’t sitting in the waiting room with her father. Or, worse, at Scott’s bedside with his ex-wife and daughter.

She buys herself a chicken salad, but finishes it off with a chocolate chip cookie just because. After buying an oversized fountain drink, she sits at a table by herself, taking her time in finishing it.

It’s been a crazy day, but to be fair, Hope’s had a crazy life. Between losing her mother and growing up to vote her father out of his own company, it’s hardly been the typical anything. She couldn’t have known then that it all came back to the suit.

Her father had made the Ant-Man suit to change the world. Her mother had donned the Wasp suit to save it. Those suits have torn her family apart as much as they have put her family back together. She owes everything to the suits, just as much as she should blame them for everything that’s gone wrong.

It’s the suit, after all, that took her mother away. It’s the suit that drove Cross mad. It’s the suit that divided her against her father, and it’s the suit that’s brought them back together.

It’s just a suit, Hope.

She fiddles with the straw on her fountain drink, spinning the ice cubes absently.

It’s just a suit for Scott, too. A suit that gave him a chance to redeem himself, to build a new life. A suit that risked his daughter’s life as much as it gave her back to him. The suit nearly took everything from him, but she saw him up in that hospital room. He’s happy. He has everything he wants.

The suit is a blessing and a curse, the best and worst thing for all of them. The suit can be your dream come true, but it can also be the nightmare you never escape from.

There’s no way of telling which way it’ll go.

Maybe it’s not the suit. Maybe the suit is nothing but a chance, an opportunity.

It’s up to each person who wears it what they’ll let it become.

Heroes and villains.

Good and evil.

Success and failure.

Reason and insanity.

Reconciliation and division.

Life and death.

It’s always been just a suit.

Scott’s accomplished a lot as Ant-Man, but she knows that’s not what he’s proudest of. Her father, for all his inventions, never put the suit first.

Hope’s never understood that -- not really -- but she thinks maybe she wants to.

She really wants to.

-o-

It’s not an hour later, when her father finds her. She’s still at the cafeteria table, sloshing the melted ice around in her cup. No matter how she feels about being found, she refuses to acknowledge it. At best, she extends her father a cursory look.

He doesn’t wait for an invitation to sit down. “I just met Scott’s ex,” he says, settling down in a chair across from her. “She’s a remarkable woman.”

Hope nods absently.

“And that little girl,” he continues with a little chuckle. “She takes after her father.”

Her father is fishing for a reaction, and Hope doesn’t have the energy to provide it.

When it’s clear he’s not going to get her to talk about that, her father shrugs. “Sort of makes you wonder, though. Why he thought anything was worth risking them.”

“People will do a lot of things for the right cause,” Hope comments.

“The trick is knowing which causes are worth it,” her father says. “But I’m not really in any place to judge.”

Hope arches an eyebrow and takes a sip of the watery soda. “You sure about that?”

“I’ve never judged you, Hope,” he says.

“But you’re always offering me advice I’m not looking for,” she says.

“Advice I wish I’d taken when I was your age,” he says. “Everyone makes mistakes. The hardest part is admitting it.”

Stubbornly, she keeps her eyes from him and takes another noisy suck of soda.

Her father recognizes a fight he can’t win. “Anyway,” he says. “Maggie and Cassie had to take off.”

“Scott needs his rest,” she comments.

“He’s asking for you.”

The flat tone elicits more of a reaction than she intends, and she inadvertently looks at him before turning her gaze away again.

Her father sits back. “I just thought you should know.”

There’s a lot of things Hope should know, and it’s much easier to think about the things people have kept from her rather than the things she’s willfully ignored. She’s promised herself that she’d never be her father, but here she is. Trying to avoid one mistake and creating countless others.

And that’s the thing. Hope should know better. Because she knows what it’s like to be the victim and then shut out for a loss you can’t understand. She knows what it’s like to pay for someone else’s guilt.

She knows.

She knows it’s not just about admitting the blame, but accepting it. Her father said her mother died in a plane crash because he felt guilty for losing her. Hope doesn’t want to see Scott because she knows she’s the one who put him there.

She is her father’s daughter, after all.

Putting her drink down, she scoots her chair back. “I sent both suits back to the house with my personal driver,” she says. “I trust him, but we’ll probably still want to make sure they’re secured.”

“How damaged are they?” her father asks.

“Damaged enough,” she says. “Mine worse than Scott’s, but the good news is that we needed to address the waterproofing issue sooner rather than later.”

Her father nods. “You want me to head back, then?”

She gathers a breath, getting to her feet. “I need someone back there,” she says. “Since I’m going to be here for a while.”

He smiles, just a little, inclining his head. “You got it, sweetheart.”

-o-

The thing about Hope is that she knows how to hold a grudge, and she’s an expert at avoiding people when she puts her mind to it. But she’s a person of dedication, so when she changes her mind, it’s a clear, definitive thing.

She’s spent the day avoiding her feelings when it comes to Scott, but this time, she marches up to his room with no detours and walks inside without knocking. Maybe she’s afraid of what he’ll say; maybe she’s afraid of how she’ll respond.

In any case, she’s not going to avoid it any more.

On the bed, he’s dozing, so she pulls up a chair, letting it scrape against the floor before sitting down.

He opens his eyes, a little startled at first, but he quickly smiles when he sees her. “Hey,” he says, and he still sounds tired but his voice isn’t as raspy. “You’re here.”

She nods. “I’m here.”

Sitting up a little, he’s still moving tenderly.

“You wanted to see me?” she asks. Part of her wants to lead with an apology, but that hardly seems appropriate. She knows well enough that apologies can be nothing but empty words. It’s action that counts.

That’s Scott’s right to decide.

She threw the first punch.

Now she’ll have to take whatever he doles out in return.

“Uh, yeah,” he says. “It’s been kind of crazy and all, but I haven’t seen you around much. I thought you might stay when Maggie brought Cassie--”

“It was a family moment,” Hope says. “I didn’t want to interrupt.”

He gives her a funny look at that, but he seems to shake it away. “Right, um,” he says. “I just, I don’t know. Sort of missed you.”

“Well,” Hope says, clasping her fingers in her lap. The hint of intimacy isn’t something she knows what to do with at the moment. She’s never been good at the messiness of relationships; she prefers things to be all or nothing. It’s simpler that way. “Here I am.”

“Yeah,” he agrees without sounding convinced at all, chewing his lip. “Here you are.” He pauses, chuckling to himself self-consciously as he rubs at the back of his neck. “You know, they keep asking me what happened.”

Hope doesn’t let herself flinch. Scott is less direct than she is about these sorts of things, but it’s clear where this is going. “What did you tell them?”

“Well, I didn’t tell them that we were practicing our superhero powers in our superhero suits and got a little carried away about it,” he says, forcing a laugh. His smiles fades a little. “But, honestly, the details are still a little fuzzy.”

“That’s probably natural--”

“I keep thinking you’ll tell me, is all,” he says, the tone of his voice growing heavier even as he tries -- and tries hard -- to maintain some type of levity. “I keep thinking, you’ll show up, and you’ll explain it all.”

“I already told you,” she says. “I punched you.”

“Well, sure,” he says. “But I mean, there’s got to be more than that.”

“Why?” she asks. “I lost control, and I punched you.”

“But not without...reason, right?” he asks -- he almost hopes.

“You think there’s a good reason for knocking your boyfriend out and letting him drown?” she asks skeptically.

Vexed, he swallows hard as if something that obvious hasn’t actually occurred to him yet. “Uh, well, I was sort of hoping, yeah.”

“There’s not, though,” she says, because this isn’t a bush she’s going to beat around. That’s not fair to Scott. “I was upset that I couldn’t get my suit to work right; I was upset that you worked your suit perfectly; I was upset that you wouldn’t fight me the way I wanted. And I lost control. You took your helmet off, and I took a punch I never should have taken. I didn’t mean to hurt you, but I still threw the punch. I threw the punch.”

It’s more than she intends to say, perhaps, but it’s all true. It’s nakedly, painfully true, and she hates herself with every word.

For his part, Scott seems confused. She wonders if this is how she looked when she was seven, when her father sat her down to tell her that Mommy wasn’t coming home. She wonders if the lie started out as a way to soften the truth for her own sake and grew in time to protect him instead.

All these years, she’d thought honesty would be better.

Looking at Scott, she can’t be so sure.

It takes him a moment, but finally, he nods. Then, after several more seconds, he nods again. “Well,” he says, suddenly sounding hoarse again. “That must have been one hell of a punch, then.”

It’s a joke.

He’s joking.

Hell, he’s made himself the damn punchline.

She’s been the one throwing punches, but that one still catches her in the gut. It’s not because it’s true -- no, Scott lacks the pointed inflection of her own confession. And he’s hurt, but not in the way she expects.

Because there’s no blame. There’s not even any surprise. In fact, he’s so matter of fact about it that Hope doesn’t even know what to think She’s confessing everything to him -- her fears and her guilt and her inadequacies -- and he’s lying there like none of it makes any difference.

The punch doesn’t bother him.

The concussion; the drowning; the broken ribs; the hospital stay. None of that matters to him.

“Look, Scott, I’m sorry--”

He shakes his head. “No, no, I had it coming,” he says. He snorts a little. “I mean, I surely had it coming. I probably even asked for it, didn’t I? That’s something I would do.”

“That’s not really the point--”

“Hope, come on,” he says. “We were there to train.”

“Train, yes, but hurt each other?” she asks. “I don’t think so.”

“But you’re still learning the boundaries of the suit and what it can do,” he argues.

“I knew that I wasn’t throwing a love tap, okay,” she says, her voice starting to rise.

“Because that’s what we’re supposed to do,” he says. “We’re not going to get better if we don’t push each other.”

The pressure is building in her chest again, so much that she worries she might explode. “You need to stop absolving me!”

“Are you angry because I’m not angry?” he asks, sounding confused.

“I’m angry because you’re not letting me address the actual issue!” she returns.

“And that would be…?”

“That I threw one hell of a punch.

“I’ve taken worse, Hope,” he says, quieter now. “And knowing this line of work, I’ll probably take worse in the future, too.”

“But not from people who care about you,” she says, too invested to stop herself now. She’s losing control again, and she’ll do whatever she can to avoid hurting him again, even if she throws herself down in the crossfire. “Not from people who love you.”

It’s out of her mouth before she can take it back, and the moment she says it, she knows the argument is lost. He’ll never blame her now; not when she’s just given him the thing he wants most.

“Wait,” he says, face lighting up. “You love me?”

She sighs. “I didn’t say that.”

“Yes, you did,” he says, sitting up a little more. “You said people who love me.

“It’s not like that--”

“But it is,” he says, even more insistent. “You said you love me.”

“Well, fine,” she says, shrugging her shoulders in futility.

“Fine?” he asks, and of course, it’s now that he’s incredulous.

“Fine, I love you,” she snaps. “Okay? I love you. Happy now?”

He stops, his expression fading a little at the obvious irony. “So why are you yelling at me, then?”

“Because,” she says, with a vacant, hopeless gesture. “Because I punched you, and you’re acting like it was no big deal. Because I lost control, and you’re acting like that’s just totally normal. Because I couldn’t get the suit to work, and I couldn’t get my focus in line, and I nearly got you killed. Because this is a partnership, because this is a relationship, and I just want to pull my weight in this.”

“What makes you think you’re not pulling your weight?”

Look at my training,” she says. “I’m way behind you.”

“Yeah, because your suit is much newer, less tested and far more complex,” he says.

“You picked it up in three days,” she says.

“Because your dad fine tuned it for years,” he says. “It’s apples and oranges. Or, you know, wasps and ants.”

She rolls her eyes, and tries to stay mad until she remembers she’s the one at fault here.

“Besides, a partnership isn’t about all things being equal,” he continues gently. “And a relationship? You talk like you’re never going to need me to do anything, and that’s just not the point. It’s a give and take. You’re not supposed to do everything. If you could do it the same as me, then we wouldn’t really need each other, would we? And what kind of partnership would that be?”

He’s more right than she wants to admit. He makes way too much sense.

But Hope’s stubborn. And she’s hurt and she’s scared and she wants more than she has, and she doesn’t know what to do with that.

She doesn’t know what to do with herself.

“I still made a mistake,” she says, quiet and taut.

“And I’ve made mistakes basically every day of my life,” he says. “But I’ve been given a second chance. What makes you think I won’t give you the same courtesy?”

“Because I punched you in the face and made you drown,” she says.

“Yeah, that’s not so good,” he agrees. “But it did get you to tell me that you love me.”

Her lips start to twitch in the start of a smile. “Confession in a desperate situation,” she says. “Doesn’t count.”

“Oh, it counts,” he says.

“No, it doesn’t,” she says.

“Totally counts,” he says.

“Okay, I think we’re done talking now,” she concludes.

“Because what else is there to say?” he says triumphantly.

She points to the door. “I’m going to go--”

He reaches for her. “No, no, Hope, wait,” he says, taking her by the hand.

She stops, long enough to look at him.

“Seriously,” he says. “That was one hell of a punch.”

She sighs. “Scott--”

“Not the whole concussion one,” he says. “But the confession in a desperate situation.”

She can’t help but start to smile.

“You, saying you love me,” he says. “That was a shot I wasn’t expecting, I got to be honest.”

She almost grinning now, fingers clasped around his.

He pulls her closer, pressing a kiss to the top of her knuckles. “But the thing is,” he says. “It’s the best damn punch I’ve ever taken.”

-o-

Scott is released the next day with strict orders to take it easy. There’s no training, not for a few weeks and maybe more until his concussion has healed. He spends the first week on bed rest, and Hope caters to his whims as best she can. By the end of that week, Hope is surprised that he’s the one tired of the situation.

She’s reluctant to let him start working in the lab again, but she can’t really stop it. He ends up there when she’s not looking, and her father is his most willing accomplice. When he starts wanting to work out again, she draws a firm line and goes so far as to take down the punching bag in the basement.

“You need to recover,” she lectures him.

“I’m fine,” he whines, like he’s truly five years old.

“You’ve never been fine,” she says.

“So, there’s no more possible damage to do!” he objects.

“Go to bed, Scott.”

“But I don’t want to.”

She holds firm. “Go to bed.”

“But Hope--”

She arches her brows. “Go to bed,” she says. “And I’ll meet you there soon.”

“Really?” he asks. “Because, I -- really?”

She smiles.

He takes the stairs two at a time.

“Careful!” she calls after him. “Scott, honestly--”

She hears his bedroom door close, and she shakes her head.

Before following after.

-o-

The hardest part is that no one acts like anything has changed.

Scott’s more invested in work than ever, and her father devotes all his free time to fixing her suit. They fall into familiar patterns; they talk about the same things. Life goes on just as it had before.

Which doesn’t explain why it all feels so different to Hope. The only logical conclusion is that everything may be the same.

But Hope is very, very different.

-o-

“No, we can’t change those wires,” Scott insists. “Not if we want to maximize the speed of the conversion.”

“Speed isn’t as important as integrity,” her father argues.

“Well, what if we change the wing dynamic?” Scott suggests. “We’ve had problems with that anyway.”

“The original suit was just like this--”

“Yeah, but this isn’t the original suit,” Scott says. “If you change one element, you’re changing everything.”

“Not everything.

“Okay, so we’re going to be literal,” he says.

“I’m just saying, if it’s not broken--”

“Except it is broken--”

“Not by design--”

“Hey, come on,” Hope interjects. “We’re on the same team here.”

They stop to look at her.

“Besides,” she says. “Dinner’s ready.”

Scott cocks his head. “You cooked?”

“Yes,” Hope says. “I cooked.”

“Color me impressed,” he says, making his way to the kitchen.

Her father follows, pausing for a second. “You cooked?”

“It’s packaged ravioli,” she says. “Just boil and add sauce.”

“Good,” he says. “You had me worried there.”

She huffs a laugh, following behind him. She stops, though, at the rack where the suit is laid out. There’s still a lot to be done, and she sees several quick fixes she could do right now.

But dinner’s on the table.

She hears her father and Scott scooting chairs on the hardwood floor in the living room.

Smiling, she turns off the light and follows them up.

-o-

Scott picks up his training more slowly this time, even after the symptoms from his concussion fade. There’s no way to know for sure what sort of physical strain the suit adds to the brain, and Hope refuses to risk it.

“But I haven’t worn it in a month,” Scott says. “I miss it.”

She gives him a look. “You miss it?”

“Well, it’s kind of addictive,” he says. “Besides, I promised Antomy Junior we’d fly down the street. There’s this girl ant there -- very cute -- and I think they have a little something-something going on--”

“Do I need to remind you how short the lifespan of an ant is?” she asks.

“No,” he says, furrowing his brow petulantly. “Although that is all the more reason to give Antomy Junior this opportunity. To continue the direct bloodline.”

She shakes her head. “No.”

“But--”

“No,” she says again, firmer this time. “You are not risking your health to pimp out an ant.”

“When you say it like that, you make it sound so dirty,” he whines.

She smiles at him. “And when you say it like that, you make it sound so pointless.”

“You’re a cruel, cruel woman, Hope,” he mutters.

Patting him on the shoulder, she brushes the top of his head with a kiss. “I think I just know my priorities.”

-o-

They make progress on the suit. Scott’s health improves.

“Give it another week,” her father says. “And this thing will be airborne.”

Frowning, she looks over the suit again. “Are you sure?”

“For all the trouble the short out caused, it helped us break through all the problems we’d been having,” he says. “Once we punched through those roadblocks, it’s been smooth sailing.”

“We don’t know for sure yet,” she says with hesitation.

“Like I said,” he replies grinning. “Give it a week.”

-o-

It doesn’t take a week.

Three days later, Scott drags her out of bed.

“Come on, come on, come on!” he says with the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas day.

“But I was sleeping,” she mumbles, following him groggily to the basement.

“No sleeping,” Scott says. “Why sleep -- when you can fly?”

It’s a grand reveal to the lab space, where the Wasp suit is hanging up in pristine condition. The revamped designed is even more streamlined than before, and when she gets closer, she can see that the finishes have been expertly completed.

“But -- how did you get this done?” she asks, looking from Scott to her father, who is seated across the work station.

“Pulled some late hours is all,” her father says. “We were motivated.”

“More like inspired,” Scott says. “It’s brilliant. You’re going to be brilliant.”

She runs her fingers along it, noting the careful craftsmanship and the design flourishes. Her father has been improvising, and Scott’s ingenuity is visible in every crease.

“But you need your rest,” she says, looking back at Scott.

“I’ve gotten plenty of rest,” he says. “Honestly, I’ve been super bored lately. And besides, this is your suit. It’s your suit! I know how much it means to you.”

“We both do,” her father adds gently. “It’s about damn time you got what you wanted.”

She turns back to it, not sure what to say.

“So, what do you say?” Scott asks, nudging her. “Ready to take it for a spin?”

-o-

It’s like climbing into her own skin. Sure, she’s been in the suit before -- and the Ant-Man suit for that matter. And she’s been awed by how it works and impressed with its flourishes, but this.

The improvements are noticeable, and refined design fits her like a glove. It feels better -- no stiffness or limitations -- and it’s so much like a dream, that Hope thinks she may actually be asleep.

It’s fabric and wiring, technology and innovation. It’s almost impossible to tell where the suit begins and she ends.

In awe, she rolls her shoulders, flapping the wings experimentally. A tingle shudders down her body, and there’s a light, fluttery feeling in the pit of her stomach. She clasps the helmet on and then wriggles her toes, standing taut and at attention, fingers almost clenched in fists at her sides.

There’s no denying it: the Wasp is ready.

Standing there, though, Hope’s just not sure she is.

-o-

Her father has a checklist for her to try out, and Scott is there, cheering for her with every item. It’s a meticulous process to gauge the suit’s abilities and weaknesses, except that there are no weaknesses anymore.

Hope can do everything her father asks -- and then some.

That night, Scott breaks out a bottle of champagne, and they toast and drink until the hour gets late.

When Scott finally falls asleep on the couch, Hope starts to clean up, picking up the crumple napkins and collecting their notes from the tests earlier in the day. She’s tidying up the blueprints before folding the Wasp suit and placing it back on the table.

She hesitates at the couch, picking up Scott’s empty glass. He’s asleep on his side, his face smashed into the throw pillow. She sighs with a fond smile and considers rousing him to go to bed. But he’s sleeping so soundly that she can’t bring herself to do it. Instead, she snags the afghan from the nearby chair, draping it over him.

He snuffles in his sleep, repositioning himself slightly before curling up a little tighter and loosening again, settling back into sleep.

She stands there for a moment longer, just watching him sleep.

From the doorway, her father says, “Big day for all of us.”

Tucking her hair behind her ear, she turns back, picking up another cup from the coffee table. “They’re all big days.”

Her father looks at her, watching as she takes the dishes to the dining room table. “You did it, though,” he says. “The Wasp is ready.”

Carefully, she stacks the plates from dinner. “We all did it,” she says. “The suit is remarkable.”

“It’s not just a suit, Hope,” he says.

She looks at him, wondering if he remembers this conversation. The context is different; the meaning has shifted.

The impact is still the same.

“I always thought it’d mean more to me,” she says. She shrugs. “Getting everything I wanted.”

Her father takes a long, slow breath. “Getting what you want is never easy,” he says, inclining his head. “Unfortunately, that’s a lesson most of us learn the hard way.”

She says nothing to that, and he doesn’t continue. When she hears him leave the room, she finally turns back around to where the Wasp suit is folded on the table.

Going to it, she picks it up again, running her fingers over it.

Everything she wants.

She puts it back down, looking to Scott again. This time, she bends over, kissing his hair before heading up to bed.

Everything she wants.

-o-

It’s all easier suddenly. There is a breakthrough in the litigation, and the company starts to rebound. For the first time since Cross went crazy, all the PR spin is positive in the news cycle. This is a long time coming -- Hope’s been laying the groundwork for months -- but it’s paying off. The restructuring, the generous charitable partnerships, the new technological applications: it works.

And now just that, but with the suits, too. The Ant-Man suit only needs minor tweaks, and Scott’s starting to train again. The Wasp suit, however, is coming along in leaps and bounds, and there’s no question that Hope will be able to do everything Scott can do -- and then some.

Even her personal relationships seem to be functioning better. The tension is gone between her and her father, and Scott is just happy. These things are also long in coming, and Hope can see all the effort for reconciliation is truly coming to fruition.

It’s easier; it’s better; it’s good.

That’s really it, she realizes.

Life is good.

Nothing has ever made less sense to her.

-o-


At night, she pulls Scott to bed. Most of the time, he’s goofy and sweet, but tonight he props himself up on one elbow and looks at her.

“What?” she asks.

“Things are good, right?” he asks.

She gives him a funny look. “Of course things are good.”

“The company, the suit--”

“I told you,” she says. “Things are good.”

“And we’re good,” he says. “I mean, this thing between us, you and me--”

“Scott, we’re good,” she reiterates, a bit stronger.

“Because if we’re not, you can tell me,” he says. “It’s not like I don’t have experience with that sort of thing.”

“There’s nothing wrong,” she objects.

“You sure?” he asks.

“I’m very sure,” she says.

“Okay,” he says, then he hesitates. “Because it sort of feels like things aren’t good.”

“What could possibly make you think that?” she asks. “The company is good; our training is good; and I thought we’ve been really good.”

“No, those things, they’re all great,” he agrees. “But, I don’t know. It’s you.”

She lifts her brows. “Me?”

“Not like you,” he says. “But you. I’m worried about you.”

That’s not the answer she expects. “You’re worried about me?”

“Yeah,” he says. “I mean, things are all going perfectly, but you -- you just don’t seem as happy about it.”

She opens her mouth, not sure what to say.

“Like, I mean, you used to be really hard core,” he says. “You were go, go, go, and now that everything is working, I don’t know. You’ve changed. You’re not having doubts, are you?”

“Doubts? About us?”

“About us, about the company, about the Wasp,” Scott says.

She shakes her head. “I have everything I want.”

“Everything?” he asks.

“Everything,” she says.

“Then why aren’t we training like we used to?” he prods.

She scoffs. “You’re getting over a serious concussion and have broken ribs.”

“Uh, healed ribs now, according to the latest x-ray,” he says. “And I was cleared by the doctor three weeks ago for the head injury.”

“For normal activities,” she points out. “Shrinking your molecular structure--”

“That excuse isn’t going to last forever,” he says. “Sooner or later, we’re going to have to get back in those suits. And we’re going to have to push the limits.”

“We need to learn to control our limits,” she says. “We know what happens when we push too much.”

“That was an accident,” he says.

“That I shouldn’t have made,” she says.

“So, that is, then?” he asks. “You throw one wrong punch and now you’ll never throw another?”

She wrinkles her nose. “That’s not what I’m saying.”

“But that is what you’re doing,” he says.

“What?” she asks, indignant. “That’s not true.”

“I think it is, though,” he says. “Everything is going great, and the suit is great and you’re great, but you’re afraid to throw the next punch.”

“I am not afraid,” she says, hackles starting to rise. “I’m careful, like I should have been before.”

“You can’t act like the world is made of glass,” he says. “Like I’m made of glass.”

“It’s a matter of self-control,” she says. “I have to know how to throw a punch.”

He rolls his eyes. “It’s not about knowing how to throw a punch.”

“Oh, really?” she asks pointedly.

He is unaffected by her tone. “It’s about knowing when to throw a punch.”

She huffs. “You’re splitting hairs.”

“I’m serious,” he says. “It’s about knowing we can’t fight the people who love us, but we have to fight with them.”

“Uh huh,” she says coolly. “Maybe that’s why you’re the superhero.”

“I don’t need to be a superhero,” he says.

“Then why are you still here?”

He leans back, surprised. “For Cassie. For your dad,” he says. “For you.”

There are words in her throat, but she can’t get them out. Emotion threatens to choke her, and it’s all she can do to swallow it back.

He sighs. “I don’t think superheroes need special powers or special suits,” he says. He reaches out, running his finger through the fringe of her hair. “I think they just need the right cause.”

Part of her wants to be angry. Part of her wants to be indignant. Part of her wants to remind him that he’s the novice, that she’s the one who’s spent her entire life preparing for this.

But maybe that’s the problem. Maybe she’s wanted something for so long that she doesn’t even know what it is anymore. Maybe after a lifetime of determination, she doesn’t know how to understand a realized dream. Maybe she’s worked so long that she’s forgotten why.

It’s just a suit, after all.

And Hope has her priorities.

She smiles. “That’s surprisingly coherent,” she comments wryly. “That punch must have knocked some sense into you.”

He laughs. “You’re probably right about that.”

“Yeah,” she says, nuzzling closer to him. “I probably am.”

-o-

With how well everything has been going, it’s not really a surprise when something goes wrong. She knows immediately by the look on her father’s face.

Something has changed.

“What is it?” she asks.

Scott looks up from the calculations he’s working on.

Her father draws a breath and sets his hands on his hips. “Cross wanted to sell the suit to Hydra.”

“Yeah,” Hope says. “And we stopped him.”

“With Yellow Jacket, yes,” her father says. “But I worried that that might not have been the only piece of tech he tried to sell off.”

Hope frowns. “But I monitored all transactions--”

“Officially, yes,” her father says. “Cross had a large discretionary fund.”

“So wait,” Scott interrupts. “What are you actually saying?”

Hope clenches her jaw, fingers twitching into fists. “Hydra has Pym technology.”

Her father nods soberly. “And it’s up to use to get it back.”

-o-

The good news is that the technology hasn’t quite made it to Hydra yet. It’s still being held by one of their operatives, who appears to be holding out in an attempt to negotiate better compensation for his efforts.

The bad news is that the operative is a paranoid and well trained killer, who has good security and every reason to be watching his back. Extraction won’t be easy, nor will it be safe.

The worst news is that Scott’s still not field ready.

At least, that’s what he says.

“Your concussion is healed,” she says.

“But my time in the suit has been minimal,” Scott argues. His shoulders sag. “I haven’t even tried any combat maneuvers since we tuned it up.”

“The changes are minor,” Hope says.

“It’s too risky,” her father says. “We can’t send him into the field when he’s not ready.”

Hope scoffs. “We sent him in after Cross with three days of training. Three days,” she says. “We can’t just let this technology get to Hydra.”

“We won’t,” Scott says.

“So you’ll go?” Hope asks.

Scott looks to her father.

Her father clears his throat. “I think you’re forgetting,” he says. “There’s more than one suit.”

Hope is ready to argue, ready to protest, ready to fight.

But she’s not ready for that.

She closes her mouth, dumbfounded.

Scott grins. “It’s your turn, Hope,” he says. “It’s finally your turn.

-o-

Hope’s wanted this. She’s wanted this. It’s her legacy. It’s her destiny.

It’s hers.

Still, donning that suit for her first mission, it’s a strange sensation. She knows how important this moment is, she knows what it means for her.

Tonight, standing in her father’s living room, she’s still Hope Van Dyne.

When she comes back, though, she’ll be the Wasp.

-o-

It’s probably no surprise that the mission goes well. The mark has good security, and he’s a tough bastard, but Hope is smart and prepared. The suit makes it easy to get in and out, and she subdues the guards and eases her way past security like it’s nothing at all.

She’s about to leave when the mark sees her, and when he realizes what she is, he offers her a feral smile.

“A working sample will raise the asking price,” he says with a menacing growl.

Hope secures the samples, hovering with her wings, squaring her shoulders as the mark prepares to lash out at her.

She’s always known how to punch.

But now she knows when to punch.

And when she takes the mark down, it’s sure as hell not a love tap.

-o-

It’s a total success.

Back at the house, Scott is downright giddy. He celebrates like a schoolboy, acting like she’s single-handedly saved the world.

Her father is a bit more subdued, but when he embraces her, he leans close to whisper in her ear. “Just like your mother,” he says. “I knew you could do it.”

-o-

They celebrate late, but even when it’s over, Hope can’t bring herself to sleep. Instead, she walks through the lab, running her fingers over the Wasp suit, wondering what the problem is.

She always thought it’d be different. She’d always thought it’d be more. Even Scott and her father -- they think something magical has happened, that she’s achieved some important feat.

That she’s changed.

The thing is, Hope has changed, but it has nothing to do with the mission. It doesn’t have anything to do with saving the world or being a superhero. It has nothing to do with the suit at all.

It is just a suit in the end.

No, the change has to do with the forgiveness she’s offered her father and the memory she’s earned of her mother. It has to do with the career she’s reclaimed from Cross and the company she’s working to redirect. It has to do with the way she’s opened herself up to Scott and the way she’s allowed him to change her.

The change isn’t what she can do. The change is what matters to her most.

The change is that it really is just a suit.

And the rest of her life is hers to decide any way she likes.

-o-

Hope makes breakfast in the morning. She puts away all the Wasp and Ant-Man files, and she texts her assistant to hold her calls and meetings for the day. Before Scott and her father get up, she buys tickets for a baseball game and calls Maggie to see if Cassie is available for an afternoon game. Then she makes reservations at the best restaurant she knows -- a table for two.

It’s just one day -- work will have to start again tomorrow, and to be sure, there are a few things she’s anxious to look at -- but it’s just one day. The tension in her chest unfurls like a fist letting go, which is a sensation a long time in coming.

Since she was seven years old, in fact.

Today’s not so special, but it is still today. Hope’s spent too much of her life being put off by other people, and she won’t let it happen anymore. Not when she’s the only one left doing it to herself.

So she’ll continue to build a relationship with her father. She’ll restart her career and revitalize the company. She’ll let herself be in love with Scott and take all the baggage that goes with him.

And she’ll be the Wasp, when the situation calls for her. She’ll be there, and she’ll be ready.

Not today, though.

She smiles to herself, wrapping her fingers around her cup of coffee anxiously.

When Scott and her father finally do come downstairs, Hope’s ready for them. After all, Hope’s thrown a lot of punches in her life.

But it only takes one.