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Ant-Man fic: Rolling with the Punches (1/2)

December 16th, 2015 (07:02 pm)
apathetic

feeling: apathetic

Title: Rolling with the Punches

Disclaimer: I do not own Ant-Man.

A/N: This fills my confession in a desperate situation square for hc_bingo. Beta by sockie1000.

Summary: Getting what you want is never easy. Unfortunately, that’s a lesson Hope learns the hard way.



-o-

You need to know how to throw a punch, she explains. Too light and it’s a love tap.

Too hard--

And it kills them.

This is what Hope tells Scott during his three-day crash course in how to be Ant-Man.

This is what Hope learns the hard way in her yearlong process of becoming the Wasp.

She’s thrown a lot of punches.

He’s taken more than his share.

But it only takes one.

-o-

In all honesty, it frustrates her. Progress is slow on the Wasp suit, partly because her father is meticulous and they fight about everything. Scott is surprisingly helpful in this, both with his knowledge of electrical engineering and his simple ability to alleviate tension with a stupid joke.

When they finally do get the suit to work, Hope finds it full of kinks and harder to manipulate than the Ant-Man suit. She’d been fairly adept with that one, but the added element of flying and the other modification have put her almost back at square one with her training. She fumbles like a novice sometimes, and when Scott pokes fun at the number of times it takes her to fly through the lock on the door, it’s all she can do not to haul off and punch him right then and there.

Because Hope’s been ahead of the curve most of her life, especially where Scott is concerned. She’s the expert; he’s the beginner. She doesn’t like to think of herself as vain, but it’s not an easy pill to swallow when Scott can do things she struggles to do.

“It’s all in the timing,” Scott tells her. “You’ve got to feel it.”

She clenches her jaw.

“Clear your mind,” he coaxes.

“Oh, shut up,” she says. “That’s exactly what I told you.”

“I know,” he says. “And it works.”

“So why do you think you need to sit there and lecture me?” she says with a glare.

“Because look at you,” he says, gesturing to her. “You’re so tense.”

“That’s because I’m running around taking instruction from an overgrown ant,” she reminds him.

“While dressed as an oversized wasp,” he returns. Then he almost smiles. “Come on, it’s not so bad.”

She blows out a terse breath and focuses her energy.

It’s not so bad, he says.

She thinks it might be worse.

-o-

Naturally, Hope is right. When her father catches wind that one of Cross’s scientists might have smuggled out some of the data prior to the incident, they have no choice but to take action.

“My suit’s not ready yet,” Hope says. “We need to make some more modifications.”

Her father takes a deep breath.

Hope’s stomach drops even before he speaks.

“You’re not going,” he announces.

Nearby, Scott visibly braces himself.

Hope gapes. “You can’t be serious.”

“You said it yourself, your suit’s not ready,” her father says.

“Besides, look at these specs,” Scott says, obviously trying to be helpful. “It’s an easy job. We don’t need a full team.”

The tension builds in Hope’s chest, and she feels her cheeks start to redden. “The whole point of this is that I’m not going to be an idle bystander,” she says. “This is as much my job as it is Scott’s.”

“Sweetheart--” her father begins.

She shakes her head, recoiling. “No--”

“Hope,” he tries again, with even more patience. “If your suit was ready, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“It’s close enough,” she seethes.

“We’re talking about the space between molecules,” her father says. “Close enough isn’t going to cut it.”

“I think you should listen to him,” Scott says quietly. “There’s always next time.”

Hope glares between them, two men who care for her and want what’s best for her. She chafes at the old fashioned patriarchal sentiment, but she can’t deny the simple fact that they’re right.

The suit isn’t ready; the science is too precarious.

And it is an easy job.

She crosses her arms over her chest and nods stiffly. “Fine,” she says coldly. “Next time.”

-o-

It doesn’t happen next time.

Or the time after that.

The suit still doesn’t work quite right, and Hope can’t pull off the transformation smoothly enough. She’s still at a deficit when she trains with Scott, and the fact that he can best her as often as she bests him is a sure sign that the balance isn’t right just yet.

It’s just that Hope is ready.

Even if nothing else is.

-o-

She’s up late one night. Her intention had been to go over the latest legal papers for the company, but the suit has distracted. There are a few modification she can make, a few minor calculations that will improve its functionality. It’s an easy fix, unlike everything else in her life.

When her father crosses by on his way to bed, he pauses behind her, putting a heavy hand on the back of the chair she’s sitting on.

“I thought you were looking at the latest deposition,” her father comments. He’s trying to sound benign.

Hope knows better. “The judge says every worker has a right to sue us for reckless endangerment,” she mutters, jotting down a new calculation. “Even those who we didn’t have to layoff afterward.”

“We can bounce back from this,” her father tells her.

“If our technology is good enough,” she murmurs.

“These suits are not for sale,” he replies.

“They’re also not much of a secret anymore,” she reminds him. “Either way, I’d rather focus on the problems I can fix rather than the ones I can’t do anything about.”

He sighs, drumming his fingers on the back of her chair. “We’ll get there, you know.”

She doesn’t look up.

“It took me years to get the first suit right,” he says. “We can’t cut corners.”

She lets out a breath. “I know.”

“Your mother was meticulous about these things,” he explains fondly. “I always thought we could make it up as we go, but she knew better.”

Hope focuses on her breathing but her eyes are blurring as she looks at the numbers on the paper in her hands.

“You’re the best of both of us,” he tells her finally. “You’ll see.”

-o-

Hope doesn’t see, though. All she sees are setbacks and missed deadlines. The company is hemorrhaging money now, and the suit shows no signs of significant progress. No matter how hard she works, how hard she trains, how much she gives, it never seems to be quite enough. She pushes her mind and body as far as it can go, and someone it’s not enough.

All the pieces of Hope’s life are finally within her grasp.

She just can’t get them to fit together.

-o-

Scott wraps himself around her, stroking the straight locks of her black hair in the night. He’s smiling at her, happy as he’s ever been.

And why not? Scott has everything he wants -- and then some. Since getting released from jail, he has a nice place to live and regular visitation with his daughter. He has a mentor who is invested in his well being and success, and a job that gives him superhuman abilities to save the world. As a formality, he’s on the payroll of the company now, a position that came with a signing bonus, good benefits and virtually no office responsibilities. He’s already fielding calls from the Avengers, and he’s got a girlfriend he’s crazy about.

“I love you, you know,” he says to her.

She looks at him, brows raised.

He nods, earnest. “I do,” he says. “I love you.”

She rolls her eyes. “You’re sentimental.”

“Um, maybe,” Scott says. “But it’s true.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” she tells him.

He laughs, almost in disbelief. “I got to admit, that’s not really the response I was hoping for.”

“And what did you think?” she says pointedly. “That I would giggle like a schoolgirl?”

“No, though that is an appealing image,” he says. “But I was sort of hoping, I don’t know, for some kind of reciprocation.”

She stops at that, because she’s not sure what to say. She’s not sure what she thinks.

He’s serious.

That revelation is like a punch to the gut.

“Oh,” she says finally for the lack of something better to say.

He pulls away a little, and now his smile is deflective. “It’s okay if you’re not at the same point,” he says. “I just -- I don’t know. I love you, and I wanted you to know is all.”

She’s hurt him somehow, in a way he won’t articulate and a way she can’t fully grasp. Because Hope sees relationships as power struggles and balancing acts, and Scott seems incapable of thinking anything through to its proper conclusion. Hope plans; Scott acts. Maybe that’s why Ant-Man is a recognized hero and the Wasp is still a work in progress.

“Hey,” she says, reaching out and touching him lightly. “I know.”

She pulls him closer again, pressing her lips to his. He closes his eyes, leaning into her.

“I know,” she breathes, running her fingers through his hair and arching her body as he kisses down her throat. “I know.”

-o-

Between the company’s endless litigation and the modifications needed for the Wasp suit, one might think Hope would have less time than ever. The opposite seems true, however. With so many problems just beyond her reach, she finds herself struggling with bottled up energy like never before. She’s restless, and though she’s always been physically active, she pursues her workouts with a new kind of tenacity.

It’s the only outlet she has, after all. She has no other way to purge her growing frustrations except through the punching bag hanging from the ceiling in the basement. She likes various workouts, but there’s something about driving her fist into the bag that’s just appealing.

And Hope needs that. Hope needs something. Because it’s not just the current litigation. It’s not even the Wasp suit that’s putting her life on hold.

It’s everything.

It’s been years, she realizes.

Years since she’d had a job that meant anything. Ever since her father had hired her at the company, it was a roll she’d taken very seriously. Despite all obvious nepotism, she’d earned her way to the very top with every fiber of her being. Her dedication had been paramount, and when she’d voted her father out of the company, her intentions had been mostly business related.

The personal punch of firing her own father, however, had an appeal she would never deny.

Not that any of it had paid off. She’d loved it at first, but when Cross started to unravel, her hopes for advancement had been pushed back. It was an internal struggle, balancing her hopes for the company against her growing concern over Cross’ intentions. Eventually, she’d wanted to quit when working for Cross started to make her feel nauseous, but her father had convinced her to stay in order to keep tabs on exactly how out of control Cross was getting.

In any other company, Hope could have made it to the top and then some.

Instead, she’d wasted years to do the right thing. She didn’t regret that -- stopping Cross had been important -- but it couldn’t escape her notice that her company was in shambles and her career was inevitably stalled.

Years, Hope thinks, as she punches at the bag. She spent years in limbo thanks to Cross’ growing insanity.

Years in limbo while her father told her that her mother died in a plane crash. She spent years not knowing how to grieve her mother and not knowing how to trust her father.

Years.

She punches harder.

Years.

She punches faster.

So many years.

She punches until her knuckles split open and the color is worn away on the punching bag. She hasn’t missed her mark all morning.

Still, no matter what she does, it feels like she’s hitting air.

-o-

During the next field test, everything is ready. Hope has checked and double checked everything, and so far, all previous issues seem to be resolved.

In all, Hope has reason to feel optimistic.

The suit fits good, and Hope shifts comfortably in it. She flexes her fingers, rocks on her toes.

Scott smiles stupidly at her. “Have I told you before that I think wings are a good look on you?”

Hope rolls her eyes, but she smiling herself as she puts the helmet on.

Her father clears his throat with a look at Scott before making his way toward her. “Remember to watch out for any lag time,” he says. “If it’s slow, you’ll be off.”

“It shouldn’t be,” Hope says, adjusting her helmet and securing it. “We fixed that.”

“Still,” her father says, giving her one last look.

Still, Hope thinks, refusing to look away.

Her father steps back; Scott rocks on his heels. Hope takes a breath.

She flicks her wings experimentally, feeling the energy in the suit surge.

She lets out the breath.

And hits the button.

-o-

It’s always a bit of a rush, changing size. It’s a physical change on the molecular level, so it’s bound to have some physiological effects. Scott found it disorienting at first, almost like a punch to the gut; her father tells her his first times made him nauseous.

Hope, though.

Hope’s always found it a thrill.

A buzz of adrenaline, vibrating through her. Hope has spent most of her life feeling like parts of her were missing, but here, like this, she finally feels complete.

For one, beautiful moment, it works.

It works.

And then the electricity crackles and a shock goes down her right arm. There’s a pitching noise in her ear, and she barely has time to reverse the effect and throw her helmet on the ground before smoke fills her nostrils.

She’s panting, Scott and her father on either side. They’re talking to her, asking if she’s okay, but Hope’s too busy looking at the badly charred helmet, smoking and ruined on the floor.

Her father and Scott, they’re scared for her.

Standing there, Hope is scared that she’s back at square one all over again.

-o-

The damage is extensive.

All the circuitry in the helmet is fried. They’ll have to rebuild most of the elements from scratch, and rewire most of the connections to the rest of the suit. They will have to reinstall microchips, most of which will have to be reprogrammed with new and yet undetermined specifications.

Hope listens to the litany of problems with a clenched jaw before turning coldly on her heels and stalking out of the room. She only makes it to the staircase before she stops, throat tight and eyes burning.

It’s too much.

It’s too much.

Angry, she realizes her fist is already in a ball, and she tightens her fingers before throwing the hardest punch she can at the wall. The concrete doesn’t give, though, and Hope bites back a cry of pain as she turns and presses herself against the unyielding surface instead.

“Hey,” Scott says.

She looks up, startled to see him standing across the room.

“You know, it could be worse,” he says gently.

“How?” she asks hoarsely. “How could it be worse?”

“That thing could have fried your brain and not the wires,” Scott says.

She looks away with a bitter smile. “At this point, I’m not sure that would be worse.”

He knows better than to argue. “Is that why you punched the wall?”

Her hand is limp at her side, and when she looks, she can see that the knuckles are mottled and distorted. “I didn’t mean to.”

It’s a feeble excuse, and Hope knows it.

Scott steps closer. “Honestly, I’ve felt your punches,” he says. “I think I feel worse for the wall.”

She can’t help it; she laughs. With her good hand, she presses two fingers between her eyes to alleviate the pressure.

He’s next to her now, a cautious hand on her shoulder. “We’ll figure it out, okay?” he says. “It took me six years in prison to figure my shit out, but I got there.”

“You’re a slow learner,” she points out.

“And you just broke your hand,” he returns without hesitation.

She has to chuckle because he’s right about that much. Lifting the damage hand, she winces as she examines it more closely. “Yeah, probably.”

“Do you want me to take you to the hospital?” he asks.

“Yeah,” she agrees with a tinge of resignation. “Probably.”

-o-

It’s a straightforward break, that’s the good news.

The bad news is that it will take over a month to heal.

The doctor chides her lightly. “No more punching walls, okay?” he says. “Next time, try a pillow.”

He’s joking, and Hope smiles appropriately. Her hand is bandaged, and they gave her something for the pain. None of that changes things, though. Not the things that matter.

There’s no point in telling anyone that she threw the punch without thinking, not for a lack of self control.

But for the enduring belief that she wouldn’t hit anything anyway.

-o-

Scott drives her home and reheats some leftovers for dinner. They eat quietly before her dad joins them. He looks at her hand but doesn’t say anything, and Hope knows better than to ask about the suit.

Afterward, Scott finds a reason to make himself scarce, and Hope sits at the dinner table, making the ants line up rows of sugar just because she can.

“You know,” her father starts. “When I first made the Ant-Man suit, I thought I could change the world.”

Hope doesn’t look at him, focusing on the marching line of ants.

“I thought a lot of what Cross believed, minus the megalomania,” he continues unprompted. “And I won’t lie -- it was such a rush. That feeling of doing things other people couldn’t, of being an actual hero. There’s nothing quite like it in the world.”

She turns a cold look at him. “If this is a pep talk, you’re failing miserably.”

He shakes his head. “No pep talk,” he says.

“Then what?” she asks, a cutting accusation in her tone. “A reprimand?”

“A reminder,” he says gently. “That the world got along pretty well without Ant-Man. That heroes will come and go, just like villains. That no matter what that suit can do, you’re still the same person inside.”

The words fall heavily over her, and her concentration stumbles. The ants pause, break and scurry away, their task only half finished.

Her father stands up, sighing wearily. “It’s just a suit, Hope,” he tells her. “It’s always been just a suit.”

-o-

She listens through the floorboards while her father gets ready for bed. The bathroom door squeaks upstairs, and she hears the water run. There’s movement across the floor before the house is plunged into stillness.

Still at the table, Hope doesn’t move. In the quiet, she can hear the ants scurry in lines across the table. She exerts no control over them, and she watches while they methodically take apart the wall of sugar she just had them build. They’re trying to hoard it for themselves, naturally.

It’s remarkable to watch, really. How well they work, how seamlessly they flow together without her influence.

Hope is a giant to them, watching over their small movements with god-like authority. She could squash them all in a minute, if that’s what she wanted.

It’s funny, though. Sitting there, watching them, she’s never felt smaller.

-o-

Hope finds herself in the basement. Though one hand is bandaged, she still runs her fingers along the suit, noting the new flaws there. Her father has laid out the helmet, dividing it into several sections and revealing the intricate wiring inside.

To say it’s a mess is an understatement. If this were an automobile, they wouldn’t be trying to salvage anything.

But this isn’t an automobile. This suit is Hope’s legacy, her only connection to the mother she lost. It is the promise of a relationship with her father.

It’s the thing she’s always wanted, even when she didn’t know it existed.

To be part of something. To be in a family.

The thought of it makes her ache, and she has to cradle her hand close to her for a moment.

This is more than a suit for Hope.

Break it down, and it’s wires and fabric. Put together, though -- and that’s the beauty. When this suit works, there are no more barriers. There are no more half-lived dreams.

She needs this suit.

And she refuses to let anything stand in her way of getting it.

-o-

When Scott shows up in the morning, Hope is on her second pot of coffee and popping another dose of painkillers. She’s amended all the sketches and drawn up new program schematics to fix the failings in the previous version.

“We have to be more careful with the way we cross the wires,” Hope says, pointing to a vulnerable section along the neck. “The energy from the neural pathways is going to make a surge that shorts out everything around it if we’re not careful.”

Scott wrinkles his nose as he studies it. “Huh,” he says.

She waits for more. “Huh?” she finally prompts.

“I just usually prefer to start my day with breakfast,” he says. “Not advanced electrical engineering.”

She sighs, pursing her lips. “Why else are you here?”

He makes a face. “To see you?”

She glares at him. “Wrong answer,” she says, pushing the papers back toward him. “I’ll make another pot of coffee and you tell me what you think.”

“You know even with a broken hand, you’re kind of terrifying!” Scott calls after her as she goes to the kitchen.

Hope pours a generous cup to empty the pot before starting another one. “Just wait,” she calls back. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

-o-

The more Hope looks at it all, the more problems she sees. There’s always something missing, always something that’s not quite good enough.

After a week, her father rubs his forehead, shaking his head. “It’s science,” he says. “But that doesn’t make it perfect.”

“But it needs to be,” she says.

Leaning against the table, her father looks her squarely in the eyes. “And if it can’t be?”

Hope doesn’t look away. “It will be.”

-o-

Determination has always been one of Hope’s most promising attributes, and it doesn’t fail her now. Although she suspects Cross kept her around more for personal reasons than professional ones, she also knows that the quality of her work never gave him reason to question it. At his right hand, Hope had been in charge of the vast majority of the company’s dealings, and she’d been good at it.

She’d been really good at it.

And she’s better at it now.

In a few short weeks, she has developed a new prototype, updating all the systems on the suit for superior performance, higher safety standards and far more versatility.

It’s coming together.

It’s only taken most of Hope’s life, but she thinks she might be getting there after all.

-o-

“You’ve been getting calls, you know,” her father says. “About the company.”

Hope blows her hair out of her face, squinting at a tiny circuit. “Yeah.”

“They need you there,” he says.

Hope shrugs. “We’ve got a great legal team.”

“What about rebuilding?” her father posits.

She looks at him. “What do you think I’m doing?”

He hesitates. “The company--”

“The company needs this,” she says shortly. “Almost as much as I do.”

-o-

The next day, she hires a second assistant. Then she puts in the paperwork to put her father back on the board. She’s not relinquishing her seat, but she has no problem sharing the load. She can’t be the executive director and the Wasp, when it finally comes time for that.

Hope knows what her priorities are.

And she knows what she’s willing to compromise.

-o-

She finds Scott in the bedroom upstairs, already in his sweatpants and t-shirt. He groans when he sees her.

“Come on,” he complains. “I haven’t had more than four hours of sleep in a week. I’ll rework the wiring matrix tomorrow.”

Chewing her lip, she comes inside.

“Please,” he whines. “Just one night of sleep. Just one full night.”

She shakes her head. “Not tonight.”

He moans melodramatically. “Hope, please--”

She closes the door.

He stops, waits.

She smiles.

“Wait,” he says. “Really?”

“Unless you think it can wait until tomorrow--”

He’s already across the room, though, pulling her up into his arms.

“Oh,” he breathes, half-carrying her to the bed. “Sleep is so overrated anyway.”

-o-

Scott falls asleep with his arms around her, and for a while, she lays and stares at the ceiling. It’s quiet like this; peaceful.

Turning her head, she watches Scott as he sleeps. It’s funny to see him like this; he doesn’t look like Ant-Man at all.

No, here, he’s just Scott Lang. Ex-con, devoted father and caring boyfriend. Part of her wonders, though, if they’d still be here together if not for the suit.

It’s not a question she knows how to answer.

-o-

Hope disentangles herself gently but methodically, laying Scott’s arm on her vacant pillow. Consciously, she pulls the comforter over him a little more before slipping into one of his t-shirts and a pair of gym shorts.

She pauses at the door, watching as he snuffles in his sleep.

By the time he starts snoring, she’s already downstairs again and back to work.

-o-

Hope works all night. She’s still working when her father brings her a cup of coffee. She’s still hunched over her work station when Scott brings down lunch.

She’s so close -- she can feel it -- and the need to continue is as painful as it is exhilarating.

Her father started this a lifetime ago with her mother at his side.

It’s going to be her turn to finish it.

No matter what.

-o-

Rebuilding the circuitry isn’t easy, and it’s not like the tedious work goes quickly. But the excruciating minutes are worthwhile to Hope as they flow together like ants in a line.

There’s a bigger picture here; the biggest picture of all.

And that’s all Hope needs.

-o-

As her hand heals, she has the cast removed. She does her exercises regularly, flexing her fingers and stretching the flaccid muscles. It feels weak at first, but with consistent work, she can feel the strength returning a little more every day.

After several weeks, she lines herself up in front of the punching bag and forces herself to breathe. She lets her stance relax, balling her fists and focusing herself.

You need to know how to throw a punch, she still hears herself say.

Too soft, and it’s a love tap.

She lets her fist fly, a straight jab into the middle of the bag.

Too hard--

The bag swing in response, creaking on the hook as it rocks back and forth.

She smiles.

Her fingers are a little tight, and the impact sends a tingle up her arm. But the punch feels good.

She lines herself up for a second swing.

The punch feels really good.

-o-

“We’re pushing it,” her father says, shaking her head.

Hope sighs. “That’s the point.”

“No, the point is to do this right,” her father returns.

“It is right,” Hope argues. “But we’ll never know until we try. You let Scott try with way less.”

“Whoa, hey,” Scott says, holding up his hands. “I’m so not getting involved here.”

“The suit was ready, though,” her father insists. “Even if Scott wasn’t.”

“Oh, please,” Hope says. “You could have easily gotten him killed the first time he tried that thing on. You didn’t prep him at all. You just let him go and hoped it wouldn’t kill him.”

“Wow, that’s so encouraging,” Scott says.

Her father works his jaw. “The suit was safe,” he says, more forcefully now. “And I had tabs on Scott the entire time.”

“Which is why we had to literally break him out of jail and peel him off the street after he passed out,” she points out, folding her arms over his chest.

“You’re the one who got him arrested!”

Scott stands up. “You know, I’m starting to feel a little awkward--”

“No, no,” Hope says, holding her hand up to Scott. “You’re staying.” She looks at her father. “And you’re going to let me do this. Because we’ve done more with far less.”

“When the stakes were high enough,” her father counters.

“And what? When the parts were expendable enough?” Hope asks.

Her father stiffens but doesn’t deny it.

Scott shuffles, ducking his head down.

Hope shakes her head, drawing a breath. “I’m ready,” she says. “The suit’s ready. I’m not seven years old anymore, Dad.”

Her father is staring at her hard, his expression set and stony. “I know that,” he says finally.

“Then let me do this,” she says. “Trust me to do this.”

-o-

Her father doesn’t like it. Scott is anxious.

But Hope knows this will work.

Hope knows it.

-o-

After the first successful field test, Scott scoops her up and kisses her. “Did you see that?” he asks. “Did you see that?

“See that?” she grins at him. “I did that.”

He puts her down, kissing her. “This is cause for celebration,” he announces. He turns toward her father. “Don’t you think? Celebration?”

Her father huffs. “As long as it doesn’t involve you kissing my daughter, I’m in.”

“No, no, no,” Hope says, heart still pounding in exhilaration. “No celebration. Not now.”

Scott hesitates. “But, um,” he says. “This is sort of the right time to celebrate.”

“It’s finally working,” Hope says. “No kinks; no problems. Now’s the time to work.

“So,” Scott says, hedging. “No celebration.”

She eyes him seductively, but shakes her head. “No celebration.”

Scott sighs in true melodramatic fashion as his shoulders slump. “Man,” he says, dragging his feet back to the work station. “I really wanted the celebration.”

“Welcome to my world, kid,” her father says, clapping him in the shoulder in commiseration.

“Oh, please,” Hope chides, already removing her helmet. “When it’s time to celebrate, you’ll know. For now, though -- we need to work.”

-o-

And they do work.

Hope fine tunes the suit and trains her body. They start a rigorous schedule of field tests, pressing Hope’s agility and response time. She hones her senses, learning the rhythms of the suit. It’s nonstop, all day, every day.

Hope survives on adrenaline and caffeine.

For her, it’s more than enough.

-o-

When Scott is passed out on the couch with the latest blueprints spread over him and when her father has retired to bed, Hope goes through her training routine in the basement. Stretches and weights; cardio and abs.

Her favorite is still the punching bag.

She punches, hard and fast, delivering her fist with enough force that the rafters shake. She’s stronger than she was before.

Stronger than she’s ever been.

-o-

“Come on,” Scott says, knitting his brows together pleadingly. “Please.”

“Why do we need to go out for dinner?” she asks. “We have more than enough food right here.”

“Yes, but eating right here isn’t exactly a proper date,” he points out.

“We have really good food,” Hope says. She shrugs. “And we could light candles or something.”

He stares at her, as if he hopes she’s joking. “With your father sitting right there, glaring at me,” he says. “Sounds real romantic.”

She rolls her eyes. “We’re creating a suit that can save lives and change the world,” she says, as though she’s talking to a child. “Romance can wait.”

He looks upset by this, more than she expects. “You know, in my experience, just because something can wait, doesn’t mean it should,” he says. “But, then again, I have a pretty crappy track record when it comes to impulse control.”

She’s hurt him, and it occurs to her that she’s failed to acknowledge just how much this means to him. Just how much she means to him.

They are in a relationship, after all. And Hope knows enough about broken relationships to know that communication is a critical element for success. That’s the problem, though. She’s never thought about success in terms of her relationships.

She’s framed success in terms of this suit.

She wants the Wasp to be successful.

Hope and Scott -- well, they’ve been an afterthought.

“Hey,” she says, touching his arm gently. “We’ll get there.”

He looks at her.

She smiles. “I promise.”

He swallows, and for a second, it looks like he might not believe her. But then he nods. “You promise.”

She leans forward, pressing her lips against his before giving his hand another squeeze. “I promise.”

-o-

There will be time for romance, Hope tells herself.

There will be time for mending fences and making peace.

There will be time for family, for hobbies, for lazy Sunday afternoons and rainy mornings.

This comes first, though.

This has to come first.

-o-

Hope works; Hope trains. She gets better in the suit.

She gets better.

-o-

“Well, I think if we improve the trigger mechanism, we can shave a few milliseconds off the transformation time,” she says. “It’s a minor fix--”

Her father groans, rubbing his hand over his face. “Minor enough to wait for the morning.”

“What?” she asks. “It’s not that late--”

“Yes,” her father says, getting to his feet. “It is.”

“This will take a half hour -- an hour tops,” she says.

“An hour of sleep we both need,” he tells her.

“We need to get this done,” she says. Then she glances around. “Besides, isn’t Scott coming back?”

Her father looks surprised. “Scott has his daughter for the night,” he says. “Don’t you remember?”

She blinks, trying not to look as surprised as she is. Scott tells her these things -- she knows that. She just doesn’t remember all the details. “Oh,” she says finally. “Right.”

“Yeah,” her father says knowingly. “Anyway, this isn’t anything that can’t wait until the morning.”

He’s on his way out, and Hope should let him go. It would take nothing to let him walk out like everything is fine.

Except this: “It’s just,” she starts, chewing her lips. “I think I’ve put things off long enough. Don’t you think?”

He pauses at the doorway, looking back to her. “That’s not fair, Hope.”

“No,” she says. “But it’s not wrong.”

Her father draws a weary breath, taking several steps back to her workstation. “You know before,” he says. “When you asked me to trust you.”

She tilts her head.

“It was never you I didn’t trust,” he says. “It wasn’t that I didn’t trust you to know the truth about your mother. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust you in the first suit or in this suit. It’s that I stopped trusting myself.”

She watches him as he exhales heavily.

“I believed this suit made me invincible, and it cost me everything,” he says. “I was scared of making all the same mistakes.”

“But we’re not making those mistakes,” she says emphatically.

“No,” he agrees. “But we’ll make different ones. With this kind of thing -- with this kind of power -- you always make mistakes. Someone always gets hurt.”

“We can’t hide from that,” she says. “Because that’s not living.”

“Maybe not,” he agrees. “But neither is this.”

He nods then at the room. At all the plans and the blueprints and the suit Hope’s worked so hard on.

It’s just a suit, Hope.

As if all her success is just as hollow as her failures.

“Anyway,” her father says, moving back toward the door. He stops at the door, nodding once more to himself. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

-o-

She stays up, but she can’t bring herself to work. Instead, she runs her hands over the fabric of the suit, memorizing every swath of fabric and every inch of wiring.

Her legacy.

Her dream.

Her future.

It has to be more than a suit for Hope.

It has to be.

-o-

“We need to go farther,” she announces after successfully passing through the keyhole on the door upstairs.

“What?” Scott asks. “Like the front yard?”

“No,” Hope says, rolling her shoulders and flapping her wings. “Farther.

“We haven’t confirmed the range of this suit yet,” her father reminds her, almost in warning.

She looks at him with a smirk. “Then it’s about time to find out.”

-o-

They go farther.

They go faster.

Mostly, they go.

-o-

It’s not without its caveats, of course.

For all that Hope has trained, it’s still a different experience wearing the suit, especially over longer periods of time. The strain on her body is considerable, and she finds that Scott still outpaces her. The wings give her added flexibility in the air, but the mental and physical stamina needed take some getting used to.

She knows these things, and logically, she understands that she’s exactly where she needs to be. She’s doing everything she can -- and then some.

It’s something she can’t shake, though. It’s hard.

Getting in the suit is supposed to make things easier.

And Hope just has to worker harder all the time.

-o-

So she does.

Hope works harder.

She gets in the suit every day; she trains her mind to call insects to her with more ferocity. She practices flying fast; she practices flying tricks. And in the basement, she wields her fists against the punching bag until a fist is the most natural position for her fingers.

-o-

“Reaction times are crazy in these things, right?” Scott asks with a laugh as he darts around her at ant size.

Grimacing, she works to keep her balance, fluttering around to square up with him. “Yeah, crazy,” she grunts.

Scott does a roll, going big and then going small. By the time she manages to keep up, he’s already out of her reach, running up the trunk of a tree overlooking the bay before landing on his feet, fully sized once again.

It’s a pretty view, she has to admit, not that she wants anything to do with it. It’s isolated and hard to get to, which makes it a perfect place to spar.

At least, that had been her intention.

So far, they haven’t done much of anything resembling an even fight.

Annoyed, she expands to full size herself. “You’re not even trying,” she tells him.

“Sure I am,” he says. “I’m breathless. Can’t you hear that?”

“Well, then you’re out of shape,” she chides. “I mean, in the fight.”

“It’s not fighting,” he says.

“Fine, sparring,” she says. “You’re not actually trying to hit me at all.”

“Because you’re my girlfriend,” Scott says. “Generally hitting your girlfriend is a bad thing.”

She draws her lips together, shrinking down and charging at him. Using her wings, she gets in the air quickly, chopping him on the back of the neck before pushing off his shoulder and springing back to full size as she lands on her feet.

It’s a good move, one she’s been working on.

Scott falters and almost falls, bracing himself against a tree set near the edge of the cliff. “Hey!”

Hope’s stomach sinks, and she feels a little sick. It’s a move she’s practiced, and Scott barely registers it. He’s more annoyed with her than scared -- like she’s nothing but an insect.

Balling her fist, she takes to the air, darting high before going small and whizzing by his face. She runs along his shoulder blades before harnessing her strength and kicking him across the cheek.

This time he stumbles and falls.

But when Hope regains her full size, he’s back on his feet.

“Seriously,” he says, reaching up to take off his face mask. “I’m not that bad of a boyfriend, am I?”

“Maybe you are,” she says. “If you won’t help me.

“Hey, I’ve been out here with you every day for weeks,” he says. “And before that, I spent every day and every night in the lab -- with you.

“So you should understand why it’s so important to train,” she says.

“Train, yes,” Scott replies. “Beat each other senseless, not so much.”

“But I’m not,” Hope says. “And that’s the problem. None of my punches are doing anything.

Scott’s brow furrows. “Wait, you’re trying to hurt me?”

“I’m trying to see if I can hold my own in a fight,” Hope argues. “You wouldn’t want me to go out there when I can’t even defend myself?”

Scott’s mouth is open and for a moment he’s speechless. “That’s -- wow,” he says. “That’s really something.”

She groans. “I need your help.”

“No, you want me to be a punching bag,” Scott replies.

“Never bothered you before,” she says, putting her hands on her hips.

“Oh, I see,” he says. “What, then. You want my expert advice? You want me to remind you that it’s all in the punch?”

“I know that,” she half growls. “But I need you to actually engage--”

“Engage?” he asks, incredulous. “I’ve been trying to engage you for the past two weeks and you keep brushing me off. I mean, most people come to a scenic oceanside cliff for a picnic, not to punch each other in the face.”

“That’s not what I mean--”

“Oh, I know that,” he says. “And here I thought you were giving me love taps because, I don’t know, maybe you loved me?”

“You’re not being fair,” she says, feeling her frustration mount.

“Right, because I’m the sane human being who wants to have a relationship with my girlfriend that doesn’t involved punching her.

“This is why we’re here, Scott,” she says, starting to yell now. “We’re here to bring these suits to life. We’re here to make these suits work. Everything else -- that’s just a distraction.”

He goes still, working his jaw.

Her shoulders falls when she realizes what she’s said. “Scott, that’s not--”

“No, that’s cool,” he says.

“Scott, I didn’t mean--”

“You did, though,” he says, putting his mask back on.

“Scott--”

“So come on,” he says, gesturing for her to come at him. “Let’s see what kind of punches you can really throw.”

She sighs, heavier than before. “Scott, please--”

“You asked,” he says. “So far be it from me to deny you anything.”

Before she can reply, he shrinks down. She barely has time to react before he’s running up her arm and the first punch hits her hard in the stomach. When he’s full sized again, he pulls her by her arm, jarring her forward and flinging her to the ground.

Sore and breathless, she knows he can throw a punch.

Gritting her teeth, she decides to show him that she can throw one, too.

-o-

For most people, a physical altercation with a loved one would be disconcerting.

For Hope, at this moment, it was enlivening.

There is no one who could match her but Scott.

And there is no one who could match Scott but her.

They need each other. They would hone each other, like iron sharpening iron.

As she makes her first pass at him, she realizes everything they can be.

When he deflects her, she knows they’re not there yet.

Flitting after him again, she almost smiles.

They will be, she promises.

They will be.

-o-

Hope’s good, there’s no doubt about it.

The problem is, Scott’s better.

It’s the qualities of their suits; it’s the amount of time they’ve had to work; it’s a lot of perfectly reasonable things.

All of which drive Hope crazy.

She flies harder; she spins more precisely.

And she still can’t land a punch.

Everything misses or deflects, and he’s too damn fast.

She’s losing her cool with it all when he executes a perfect move, going big and going small before elbowing her in the stomach and twisting around to hit her.

Right in the face.

She sees it coming but she doesn’t have time to react. The force of it hits her square in the chin, sending her tumbling back. Full sized as she is, there’s little time to pad her fall, and for a second, she sees stars.

Then, she hears a curse.

“Hope, shit,” Scott says. “Hope, I’m sorry--”

She blinks again, and the darkness recedes a little. There’s rushing in her ears, and it’s more than the sound of the ocean below them.

“You wanted me to fight, so I fought, and it was stupid,” he babbles. “I get my love taps all confused, and I didn’t -- shit, Hope, I didn’t--”

She can see him now, looking more than a little concerned as he crouched on the ground in front of her. He’s got his mask off.

“I knew this was a bad idea,” he rambles on. “There’s got to be a better way to train, we’ve got--”

He’s apologizing, she knows.

But she’s not mad at him for punching her.

No, she’s mad at herself for getting hit.

As far as she’s concerned, he can keep his apologies.

She just wants one good hit in return.

To prove to both of them that she can.

-o-

You have to know how to throw a punch, she explains. Too light and it’s a love tap.

Too hard--

And it kills them.

This is what Hope tells Scott during his three-day crash course in how to be Ant-Man.

This is what Hope learns the hard way in her yearlong process of becoming the Wasp.

She’s thrown a lot of punches.

He’s taken more than his share.

But it only takes one.

-o-

Her form is perfect; her timing is impeccable. She shifts flawlessly from small to big, maximizing the inertia behind her movement. And for the first time in her life, her focus is uncompromised, pushed through the cusp of her frustration to sheer determination.

In short, it’s the best punch she’s ever thrown.

She feels her knuckles against Scott’s skin, bone crunching bone with unyielding force. The reverberation pulsates down her arm as she follows the movement through and lands gracefully on her feet, poised and ready for more a few short feet away.

Except there is no more.

Not with a punch like that.

Scott’s expression goes blank before his eyes roll up in his head, and there’s just a split second before he goes down hard.

Not to the ground, though.

At the edge of the cliff, he topples noiselessly over the side before Hope can even realize what’s happening.

Just like that, it’s the best punch she’s ever thrown.

And the worst.

-o-

Hope’s heart stutters. “Scott,” she breathes, rushing to the edge of the cliff. “Scott!”

It’s not a terrible fall -- certainly nothing that Scott can’t survive -- and it’s mostly unimpeded.

It’s also empty. There’s nothing but the waves, lapping at the rocks below.

“Scott!” she yells again, her chest starting to feel tight. Her breathing quickens as she checks the communication circuits in her suit before calling out again. “Scott!”

She hears something this time, but it’s not from the communication link. It’s closer but fainter.

Turning, she looks.

“Scott!”

She hears it again, the sound tinny, almost like an echo.

“Scott!”

Then she spots it, lying by the tree where she’d fallen.

The Ant-Man helmet.

Scott’s helmet.

She turns back to the water, the horrible realization clenching like a fist in her gut.

With the helmet, there is some supplemental life support. That’s how Ant-Man is able to go through various terrains and rise to high altitudes where breathing may otherwise be impossible. It’s not completely impenetrable, but it’s designed for resiliency, knowing just how dangerous the job could be.

Without the helmet, though--

She looks down again, where the empty waves seem to taunt her now.

Without the helmet, she has no way of talking to Scott.

And Scott has no way of breathing underwater.

-o-

This is exactly the kind of situation Hope has trained for. This is what the suit is made for.

Only Hope’s not ready at all.

She hesitates at the cliff, taking to flight jerkily as she lowers herself to the water. It’s only when she gets there that she remembers that for all the modifications they’ve planned for, full underwater submersion isn’t one of them. The wings are water resistant, sure -- but they haven’t been designed or tested for extended underwater use.

There’s a good chance that if Hope goes under, she’ll ruin the suit.

Not to mention, she could get herself killed.

There’s not a lot of options, though.

It’s just a suit.

So Hope goes under.

-o-

Despite all her training, she’s never been underwater with the suit before, and honestly, swimming has never been her forte. Maneuvering is difficult, and in a lot of ways, the suit is more cumbersome than it’s worth. Her swings slosh the water, and it takes more than several tries to figure out how to leverage them to propel her in any kind of direction at all.

The main benefit, as far as she can tell, is that her vision is unimpeded. With her helmet, she can see everything under the water.

Everything except Scott.

There’s no sign of him, and Hope searches frantically for about ten seconds before she recognizes that panic is a sure way to get someone killed.

To get Scott killed.

She understands it all better now, why Scott passed out on that first flight out of the jail. It’s not just the adrenaline; it’s not just the nuances of the suit. It’s everything, the sheer weight of power and possibility pressing on the physical limits humans learn to take for granted. It’s the convergence of super human strength in a simple human body.

It’s overwhelming.

But if Hope loses control of this now, it’s not her own fate that hangs in the balances. She helped develop the Wasp to save lives.

Not this…

With her consciousness grounded, she thinks logically for a moment, considering the flow of the tides and the steady pull of the water. The suit would be heavy -- Scott wouldn’t be buoyant -- and the churning of the water would pull him closer to the shore.

At least, in theory.

She corrects her position, following the pull of the current before making regular visual sweeps. When she clears one depth, she uses her wings to take her down, treading water as she holds position again.

She’s moving her search area out when the first short happens. It’s a hiss and a pop in her ear, and she feels her suit start to list as she loses partial control of her right wing. The wing is at risk for further damage -- hell, the entire suit could overload at this point -- but Hope can’t risk it.

When the right wing stops working, the left starts to lag, and Hope smells something metallic and hot in the suit. She has to pull her way through the water now, swimming against the current with dead weight on her back. She can’t stop, though. Determination has always been one of Hope’s greatest assets, and this isn’t just a job. This isn’t even her family history.

This is Scott.

Someone who trusts her; someone who cares about her.

Someone who loves her.

Someone who wants to fight alongside her, even when all she seems to do is pick fights with him.

There’s a screech of static and Hope stifles a curse when smoke fills her nostrils. It makes a hazy fog over her display, and she realizes that she’s running out of time.

There’s too much stacked against her. The wall she’s punching is always too thick and too hard. If she keeps pounding against it, sooner or later, she’s going to break more than a hand.

But then, she sees him.

The suit is a smudge against the murky water, and he’s farther out to sea than Hope expected. Her eyes are burning as she starts to swim, straining hard against the water even as her throat starts to constrict.

She’s so close, though.

After a lifetime of coming up short, Hope’s not letting this one get away from her.

Her muscles are aching by the time she gets there, but she reaches out and locks her fist on the back of Scott’s suit and starts up toward the surface.

-o-

Breaking the surface isn’t as dramatic as Hope might hope, and she has to balance Scott in one arm before releasing her helmet with the other. Only then can she take a gulping breath of air, hacking it back out with the smoke in her system. The process is disorienting for a moment, but she’s not so absorbed in her own breathing to recognize the lack of Scott’s.

He hasn’t moved, and she tips him back against her to keep his airway clear of the lapping water.

“Come on,” she mutters to no one in particular. She kicks her legs, pulling with her free arm through the water. “Come on, come on, come on.

It’s the story of her life, to be so close to something and still be so far away. She drives herself through the water, giving everything she has until she thinks there’s nothing left.

And then, she’s there. The rocky outcropping is slippery and hard to hold, but Hope’s gloves are designed for extra traction, and she utilizes every last bit of it to pull herself up with Scott dragging limply behind her. She almost loses her footing, half stumbling away from the water, until she gets to the small patch of sandy beach at the base of the cliff.

The only good luck she has for the day is that it’s low tide.

But when she lays Scott out on the ground, she’s not sure luck is a word she should use. He’s more than pale with the faintest hint of blue around his mouth, and he’s still.

He’s too damn still.

“Damn it,” she says, almost choking on the word. She bends over, trying to feel for his breath, but, even while open, the helmet is in the way. Frustrated, she rips it off, tossing it to the side before she tries again.

There’s nothing to feel, though.

She tears off her gloves, putting shaky fingers at the pulse point on his throat, but his heart isn’t beating.

He’s not breathing; his heart isn’t beating.

Scott’s dead.

Scott’s dead.

The enormity of it overwhelms her, and suddenly, she’s seven years old again, trying to understand why her mother is never coming home. Death has haunted her her entire life, hanging over her and holding her back. It’s affected everything, from her career decisions to her relationship with her father.

But then she realizes something.

Her mother might not actually be dead.

They might be able to bring her back.

It’s a far off, nearly impossible chance, but it’s something.

It’s hope.

The ending of the story isn’t written yet, not for her mother, not for her father, not for her.

Not for Scott.

For the moment, Hope doesn’t need to save the world.

She just needs to save one man.

Any way she can.

-o-

Hope’s had the best schooling. She’s had years of on the job experience. She’s smart and qualified for nearly any job in the science, technology or business industries. She can carry on conversations about advanced scientific theories. She can understand intense technical tradecraft. She’s even been consulted as an expert in corporate business operations.

With all that she can do, though, she’s a damn novice as a field medic.

She knows the basics, of course. Anyone who’s ever watched television or the movies knows the basics, and she knows she’s drafted emergency protocol that dictates what to do in case of a medical emergency.

But she’s never done it.

Her fingers are shaking when she pinches his nose shut, and it’s almost hard to draw two breaths for him. Her heart skips a beat when she sits up to starts compressions, and the first few are too weak to make a difference. She pushes harder, feeling the suit give way along with Scott’s ribs. It’s a surreal feeling, and her breath catches in throat with a sob as she forces herself to keep going.

She needs to be faster, she tells herself. Faster, harder, better.

After 30, she breathes for him again, and starts the second set with renewed vigor.

She can’t stop. She won’t stop.

On the third set, her resolve starts to waver. Because Scott’s lips are cold, and his hands jerk with the force of her compressions.

She loses count between 15 and 30, and when she breathes for him again, she can’t stop crying.

For the next round of compressions, her arms give way and the tears are blinding her. Snot clogs her nose, and she can’t.

It’s not right, to have everything within her reach just to have it taken away. She can’t have come this far to lose it like this. This isn’t how it ends.

This isn’t what Hope’s life is supposed to be.

This isn’t it.

And just like that, her grief breaks hard, slicing through her chest with a sudden spark of rage.

This isn’t it.

She thinks it now with a vengeance, a determination born of the harshest desperation she knows.

“No,” she says, her fingers balling into a fist. “No.

-o-

You need to know how to throw a punch, she explains. Too light and it’s a love tap.

Too hard--

And it kills them.

This is what Hope tells Scott during his three-day crash course in how to be Ant-Man.

This is what Hope learns the hard way in her yearlong process of becoming the Wasp.

She’s thrown a lot of punches.

He’s taken more than his share.

But it only takes one.

PART TWO