[personal profile] hat_writes_stuff
Title: Pay It Forward
Author: Almighty Hat
Fandom: Marvel Cinematic Universe (Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier)/Marvel 616 (Scarlet Spider)
Characters: Aracely, Bucky, Kaine
Word Count: 4,368
Rating: PG for memories of violence and some language
Pairing(s): None
Warnings: There are three people in this. None of them are okay. Two of them once woke up buried in piles of corpses, one of them has spent the last seventy years getting mindwiped more often than bathed. Just... be aware of that. And of SPOILERS FOR CA2: THE WINTER SOLDIER.

Author's Notes: So I saw CA2:TWS on Friday, and gushed about it to Celaeno that night, so she saw it Saturday afternoon, and then this happened:

Celaeno: The thing I imagined there was post-movie, he and Kaine having a grump-off in some coffee shop. Why? I don't know. But it was the mental image I got.
Almighty Hat: ... Primus on a pogo stick, Bucky and Aracely. I think I just hurt something in my brain.

Sunday morning I had a first draft written.

This is not my fault. This is a crack premise that invaded my brain and refused to let go until I took it seriously. There is no way to make the timelines work out seamlessly, because comics, but this is definitely after Aracely and Kaine leave Houston for Mazatlán, but before they fall in with the New Warriors because I don't know what's going on there yet.

The viewpoint character is a mind reader. This occasionally makes the narrative weird. Also, coherent continuity is something that happens to other people.

Summary: Aracely hears people's thoughts.

Kaine really doesn't want to be a superhero.

Yasha only has maybe a week and a half's worth of memories, but he'd really like to keep them this time.



One thing about hearing people’s thoughts was that it was constant. You got used to it if you were around people a lot; walking down a busy street was basically being surrounded by hundreds of ever-shifting life stories, fading in and out of range. Thoughts were shaped by all kinds of things, from society to subspecies, but usually the things that stood out in a crowd were people planning to make trouble or do something drastic. (Like suicide. Or sudden marriage proposals. They didn’t feel the same, but anything that called for that much focus made the mind of the person gearing up for it get tight and narrow.)

Kaine always felt-- or sounded, whatever-- a little different, but Kaine was different. He’d never been a teenager, or a child. He’d never been a baby at his mother’s breast, he’d never worried about people judging him in the showers after gym class, he’d never fought with his voice changing, he’d never even had that awkward ‘growing into your superpowers’ phase (that Aracely was still going through). Kaine was a clone, and the guy who’d made him hadn’t bothered implanting any false memories of anything like a normal past or development or psychology, so Kaine was still sort of figuring out how to cope with how weird and random and disappointing and awe-inspiring life could be, all without the practice in believing in things like justice and mercy and patience and Santa Claus that other people got before their brains were finished developing.

Aracely tried to help, in her way; she wanted Kaine to stay Kaine, so she didn’t try to make him normal or anything, but she also really wanted Kaine to be okay. He wasn’t, always. Sometimes he got so angry at himself and just didn’t know what to do with all the feelings. (Then he got angry at the feelings.)

But to Aracely, he felt-or-sounded different, strange, unusual, one highly unique mind in a crowd of usually-pretty-similar minds.

If the man sitting on the sidewalk hadn’t felt just as strange, she might have walked past him.

He was white. His left arm was in a sling, which looked new-ish but had also seen better days (like his clothes). His brown hair came down to his jaw, and he hadn’t showered or shaved in a while. His eyes were down, his expression hard to read from Aracely’s angle, and he didn’t move while she stopped to wonder if anyone had told him that he’d probably get more mileage out of his HUNGRY ANYTHING HELPS sign in Mazatlán if he’d written it in Spanish instead of-- or at least as well as-- English.

Or if he’d thought to put out a cup or a paper plate or the baseball cap he was hiding in instead of just propping the sign against one leg.

But his thoughts…

People were full like just-opened soda cans, thoughts bubbling away like carbonation. Kaine’s thoughts echoed in his head, so loud they could even be painful, because (to mix a metaphor), his can was half empty, acting like a metaphorical aluminum echo chamber. But it was the bartender’s half empty-- Kaine’s half-emptiness was because he hadn’t ever been filled all the way up.

The man sitting on the ground, with his sling and his sign?

He was half empty, too, his thoughts sharp and hard and pointed and few, but he was the drinker’s empty.

He was half empty like somebody had poured most of him out.

Aracely crouched in front of him. “Hi,” she said, in English because the sign was in English. “You’re hungry?”

The poured-out man looked up at her, his thoughts desperate and reaching. His eyes were clear and alert, maybe a little more green than blue-- and Aracely knew anyone who couldn’t hear his thoughts would be confused by how they looked hard and dangerous and wide and childlike at the same time.

She wasn’t afraid.

Kaine had eyes like that sometimes, too.

The man nodded, once-- yes, he was hungry. She hadn’t asked because she needed to know, but because he needed to be asked.

“I’ll buy you lunch. I know where to find a good taquería from here. Okay?”

The man nodded again-- he was confused. He wasn’t sure what he was doing or why he was doing it, and Aracely suspected he wasn’t a hundred percent sure where he was, either.

“My name’s Aracely.” What’s your name? was the wrong question. “What do I call you?”

Winter Soldier, he thought, flipping through several translations of it. He translated ‘Jacob’ a lot, too, and it took him a moment before he blinked those round, clear eyes that looked like they’d seen too much and forgotten too much more. “Yakov,” he decided, even though his accent was American. Flat, clean American, like a TV news reporter, at least to Aracely’s ears. “Or Yasha.”

“I like ‘Yasha,’” Aracely decided, straightening and offering her hand to help Yasha stand up. “Do you like Yasha better, or Yakov?” she asked, as he took her hand.

“Yasha and Yakov are the same man,” he said, then added, “I think.” With a Russian accent, it would’ve sounded like a grammar thing (if English were Aracely’s first language, which it wasn’t). Without a Russian accent, it just sounded a little sad and lost, like he wasn’t actually sure whether or not Yakov and Yasha were one person or two (and who even knew who the Winter Soldier was).

Yasha, with his mind all poured out, only had Aracely to help him.

Kaine would be pissed because he was trying to stop being a superhero, but with great power came great responsibility, and when she’d been alone and hurt and unable to remember anything at all, someone had helped her.

(Besides, Mazatlán was warm and beautiful and much less eventful than Houston had been; Kaine was bored. He’d only be mad Aracely was collecting an amnesiac probably-Russian definitely-killer for a little while, until he started focusing on Fixing It, or found someone to punch.)

So Aracely gave Yasha her brightest, kindest smile, the one that made normal people smile back even when they weren’t sure they wanted to and made Kaine put pre-emptive money in the Swear Jar. “Maybe we’ll figure it out over lunch.”

--


Yasha ate like he hadn’t eaten in days, and drank whatever was put in front of him like he was the only white boy in Mexico who’d never heard of Montezuma’s Revenge, and Aracely mostly just let him eat, talking about whatever fell out of her mouth-- how she used to live in Houston but she was born in Mexico, how Mazatlán was much nicer than Houston anyway, how she lived with her uncle, how her uncle was white like Yasha (well, she wanted him prepared), how ‘Yasha’ was a fun name to say which was why she liked it, how it was okay he could have another plate she had money and she’d feed him until he was full (which he took full advantage of. The last time he remembered eating was three days before, and he couldn’t remember ever having eaten anything before that. Aracely was just relieved he seemed to like tacos), how she’d never seen anybody eat so much, not even her uncle Kaine and he had a really high metabolism and worked out a lot, and then when her phone chirped, Yasha froze like a paused video.

So Aracely brightly said, “Ooh! Text message!”

She pulled it out of her pocket, and made sure both her hands were where Yasha could see them as she swiped along, home screen to new alerts to text messages. He judged her phone a little in his thoughts, mostly noting that it was pretty high-end for a burn phone, so Aracely mentioned how much she liked the plan they used because it worked really well in both the US and Mexico.

Kaine wanted to know where she was.

“I’m gonna text him back,” she said, “because he’s my uncle and he loves me and legally, he’s responsible for me but just between you and me? He mostly needs somebody to make sure he doesn’t spend all his time in his own head.”

Kaine’s head wasn’t a good place for Kaine to spend all his time.

Aracely texted him the name of the restaurant and that she was buying a nice homeless guy lunch. She made sure Yasha could see the message, noted the touch of confusion when he realized she was calling him ‘nice’ as well as ‘homeless,’ and when he felt semi-secure about the message, she hit send.

Kaine showed up ten minutes later, pretty much vibrating with emotions he didn’t want to have. He made straight for their table, which had four chairs, took a long, long look at Yasha while thinking very violent thoughts (Yasha looked back at Kaine, thinking similar thoughts, but Yasha seemed to think about how to take people out and/or down the first time he looked at them, and really Aracely was pretty sure Yasha and Kaine would both be very surprised if they got in a fight), and said, “What the hell, Aracely,” before he actually sat down.

“This is Yasha,” Aracely said, simply, “Or Yakov, he says he likes either, but I like saying ‘Yasha’ more. He’s nice, and his sign said he was hungry so I decided to buy him something to eat. Yasha, this is my uncle, Kaine. He’s not really a jerk, he’s just freaking out because I’m a teenager and he doesn’t trust my judgment a lot all the time.”

“Aracely, why didn’t you just give him some money?”

“Because he didn’t have a hat or cup or anything out, and because I liked this idea better.” Because Yasha was empty and hurting, because having a full stomach would help, some, because he wasn’t really sure who he was-- and because as messed up as she and Kaine were, Aracely was positive they were better than whoever Yasha had been around before.

“I’ll leave,” Yasha said, looking at Kaine with mild acceptance. “I’ve eaten.”

“Do you still have room for more?” Aracely asked him, and Yasha nodded, confused. “Then you can finish your plate, okay?”

“Then leave?” He didn’t sound like he wanted to leave-- or stay. Yasha sounded like he didn’t want anything, like he was just trying to get the order of what he was supposed to do clear in his mind.

He sounded like that because that’s what he was doing. Yasha’s mind was very clean, in the way a house that has been robbed was very uncluttered.

Kaine looked at Yasha for a long moment, hard and thoughtful and worried. “Aracely. What did you do?”

“He was like this when I found him,” she promised, “I swear.”

“Like what?” Kaine asked, and Yasha focused on his plate, used to people talking over him.

The restaurant got louder. People were afraid of long silences, and talked more, laughed louder, to fill them. Waiters were afraid to interrupt their conversation, so they waited to see if Aracely, Kaine, or Yasha would raise a hand to signal them over. Everyone was afraid to look too closely at the young girl sitting there with two white men.

Aracely had been practicing with fear. It was more versatile than most people thought.

“Hollow,” Aracely told Kaine, “like a Halloween pumpkin,” so actually hollowed, maybe even carved up to look like something else, and she felt Kaine pick up on the distinction, “and hurting. And amnesia, too, he doesn’t remember very much at all.” She couldn’t tell how much of a life Yasha was missing, but he had a lot less building up the mind he thought with than most men his age. Or most men who looked his age, anyway.

“How do you know that?” Yasha asked Aracely, and it was the first time he’d sounded dangerous. Kaine’s shoulders tensed, but Aracely just smiled.

“I read minds,” she told him. “It’s okay. I’m very good at keeping secrets, and I didn’t look too much at what you were thinking about, just what would make you not want to hurt me. You spent most of lunch thinking about the food, anyway.”

“How much do you know about me?” Yasha asked.

“Less than you know,” she said, shrugging. “A lot less. I know you know how to say ‘Winter Soldier’ in a lot of different languages.”

“… ‘Winter soldier?’” Kaine echoed, not getting the capitalization right at all.

“Araña Escarlata,” Aracely explained, and Yasha the Winter Soldier tilted his head.

Kaine’s eyebrows went up. “You think he’s…”

“He has two names, a nickname, and no last name,” Aracely said. “I think you two could be friends.” They had a lot in common.

… Kaine didn’t have a nickname, though.

Kaine was also thinking he should tell Yasha to run, escape now while he had the chance, which was both a really bad idea (Yasha would panic very calmly and probably kill a lot of people on his way out) and pretty uncharitable toward Aracely. She kicked Kaine under the table. “Stop thinking sarcastic things.”

“No. Can anyone hear us?”

“They’re afraid to eavesdrop, so don’t yell.”

He nodded. “What brings you to Mazatlán, Yasha? Quietly.”

Yasha looked at Kaine, his thoughts working (deciding quickly that detailing his transport was not the answer Kaine wanted). “Do you want to debrief me?” Kaine’s eyebrows went back up, and Aracely giggled. Yasha glanced over at her with a tiny, tiny smile and rephrased, “Do you want me to start from the beginning?”

“Yes,” Kaine told him, “Quietly.”

Yasha closed his eyes for a long moment, and took a deep breath-- took himself back to the beginning of what he remembered.

It wasn’t very far back at all, and that broke Aracely’s heart.

The Winter Soldier opened his eyes.

“My targets were sabotaging the SHIELD Insight helicarriers,” and Kaine’s jaw tightened and his thoughts got ugly but he didn’t say anything, “and my mission was to stop them. Two of the helicarriers were compromised, but not irreparably. I focused on defending the third. My target was a man. We fought. He dislocated my right elbow and damaged my left arm. I shot him three times. He achieved his objective, and the helicarriers opened fire on each other. I failed my mission.” His eyes drifted back down to his plate, then closed. He had so many feelings-- all the feelings-- but they had no framework, no way for him to express them. He knew the words, but not how to apply them to himself. His expression wasn’t hard or impassive or anything, it was open and lost.

Yasha opened his eyes. “And he knew me.”

“… He knew you?” It was good, Aracely thought, that Kaine picked up on that. That was important. That said a lot about Yasha.

Yasha nodded. “The helicarrier was under heavy fire. I was trapped under debris, and when my target’s objective was achieved, he freed me.” Saved me, he thought. But he didn’t say that out loud. “I attacked, but he wouldn’t fight me. He refused to fight me-- he knew me. He dropped his helmet and his shield, and even when I told him he was my mission, he refused to fight.”

Because he knew Yasha-- not because Yasha knew him.

Because Yasha? Didn’t know him, and that somebody knew him was new and terrifying and wonderful all at the same time, and Aracely really wasn’t trying to hear everything, but Yasha didn’t have a lot of background thoughts to think to distract her.

“Did you kill him?” Kaine asked, quietly, and not judging nearly as much as he could have been-- thinking more about Aracely’s safety than whether or not Yasha was a murderer.

“… I would have,” Yasha said. “I was going to. He was going to let me. Then the floor was blasted away. He fell, into the river. I held onto the helicarrier and watched him fall into the river.

“He didn’t come back up.

“I don’t know why I dove in after him,” Yasha admitted.

“Because he knew you,” Aracely said, softly. Because Yasha was disconnected from everything, and people needed other people. Even poured-out people like Yasha. Even partly-developed people like Kaine. People needed other people. “The mission was over--” the other guy had won (and Aracely knew who he was, she knew Kaine suspected because all over the news, but she didn’t even dare think of the name)-- “and he was drowning.”

“I took him downstream,” Yasha agreed. “Upstream would have been clearer, but my elbow was dislocated and my arm is damaged, and the searches would be focused downstream. I left him where he’d be found. He was breathing, and his pulse was stable.”

“Then what?” Kaine prompted. What brings you to Mazatlán, Yasha?

“I found a secure location to wait for extraction, but my handlers didn’t come.”

“You know why not?”

Yasha locked eyes with Kaine, and Aracely bit her lip, because it could all fall apart any moment. “They didn’t create me,” Yasha said. “They bought me. And they lost.”

Kaine nodded, then asked, “Are they coming for you?” Aracely would have never thought of that.

“Anyone left has bigger problems than one mislaid asset.”

“You don’t think they’ll be afraid you’ll talk?”

The smile Yasha gave Kaine was a terrible smile. It was small and sad, hollow and fragile as one of those mirror-glass Christmas ornaments that practically popped if you dropped them or just put the hook in wrong. “I don’t know anything.”

“… At least you don’t know so much they have to kill you,” Kaine admitted or agreed or something.

Aracely promised herself she would keep them both if she could, these men who didn’t have enough of life filling them up, these men who felt just as keenly as anybody, but then didn’t know what to do when they felt. Yasha could help her with Kaine and Kaine could help her with Yasha and neither one of them would ever really realize that she just wanted to help both of them.

That she just wanted them to be okay.

“He was right,” Yasha told Kaine. “The man on the helicarrier. The name he had for me was real, I checked it out. I don’t remember being that man or using that name, but he has my face. The man on the helicarrier was right.”

“Is that why you ran?” Yasha looked surprised, but Kaine just looked at him. “I know what running looks like.”

“I’m compromised,” Yasha said. “My handlers know how to fix that, but I think I want to be compromised. He knew me-- and now I’ve seen proof he knew me.”

“So you’re laying low,” Kaine concluded, “because if anyone connected with your handlers spots you…”

“They’ll wipe me,” Yasha agreed, “and I won’t know that anyone knows me anymore.”

“Wipe you,” Aracely echoed, and listened to the hollowness of Yasha’s mind. No childhood, no hometown, no best friend, no past, no connections, barely any humanity. “Wipe you,” she breathed.

Somebody’s baby started crying.

“Aracely,” Kaine said, somewhere between warning and comforting. Kaine wasn’t good at comforting, so Aracely appreciated the effort.

“We have to help him, Kaine.” He resisted, a little. “We have to. We both know what it’s like to--” to have nothing in your mind, no understanding, no idea where you were or what was going on or who you were or why you were buried in this heap of corpses, sick and suffocating and terrified, and okay so Kaine knew what the emptiness felt like because he hadn’t been given anything but language and locomotion and the things that would make him not-a-nuisance to the Jackal and Aracely knew what the emptiness felt like because of traumatic amnesia but people did that to Yasha, deliberately, over and over, all the time, the shape of it in his thoughts so familiar and routine even though he couldn’t actually remember it happening. “Kaine--”

Yasha reached across the table, grabbed hold of Aracely’s wrist.

His grip was not unbreakable. She didn’t pull away, just looked into those water-colored eyes that didn’t hold enough.

His sign had said hungry anything helps.

“I want to help, Yasha,” she said. “I want to know you, too.” She wanted to feed him, food and experience and happiness and sarcasm and heroics and comfort and tragedy and loss and faith and hope and humanity and reality. “So does Kaine.” He just didn’t know how to say it, if he even realized he was feeling it.

“Aracely,” Kaine said, quietly. She listened, but didn’t take her eyes off Yasha. “If he wants to leave, you have to let him.”

“If he wants to leave, I will.” She could tell if he really wanted to leave.

“If he says he wants to leave, you have to let him.”

No fair. “But he can stay until then.” It almost sounded like asking permission instead of stating a fact. Almost.

“He can stay,” Kaine said, “Until then. If he wants to. If you want to,” he told Yasha, “you’re welcome. We’re crazy and stupid, but you’re welcome.”

Kaine didn’t expect Yasha to want to stay. He expected Yasha to look at the mind-reading Mexican teenager and her white ‘uncle’ and disappear, maybe find a way to blackmail them later if he needed something. He expected Yasha to act like the operative he sounded like most of the time.

But Kaine also expected he’d be disappointed when Yasha said no. Kaine wanted Yasha to stay. (Kaine wanted Yasha to stay so that if anyone came looking for the Winter Soldier, they’d have to get through the Scarlet Spider, too. Kaine wanted to do very, very terrible things to the people who had wiped Yasha, who had made being known something rare and significant.)

Yasha was unfamiliar with wanting anything.

“I didn’t expect this,” Yasha said. “I don’t have a plan besides fighting to keep what I remember.”

Kaine’s thoughts rippled when he realized Yasha hadn’t been looking for someone to take him in-- that he hadn’t been looking for anything, running toward anything (even the man who knew him), only running from. All Yasha wanted was the little cache of treasure that he could call his memories.

“Maybe he can help us fight crime?” Aracely offered, and Kaine buried his face in his hands.

He was trying so hard to retire, but he also didn’t really want to (mostly because he wanted to punch people all the time and he felt better about that if they were unquestionably bad people).

“My arm is damaged,” Yasha informed them.

“Broken?” Kaine muttered from between his palms.

Yasha flexed his left arm, still bundled in a sling.

It whirred quietly, like a noisy CD drive.

Then it ground, like a CD drive with something blocking the moving parts.

“Damaged,” Yasha concluded.

Kaine and Aracely shared a look, and Kaine’s thoughts were full of swearing.

“What do you need to fix it?” Aracely asked. She didn’t ask if he knew how to fix it. If he didn’t know how to fix it, there probably wasn’t much they could do.

“Pliers,” Yasha said. “Screwdrivers-- probably small ones. Maybe a blowtorch.” He exhaled. “An extra pair of hands that can bend steel.” He didn’t expect to get that last one.

Kaine picked up Aracely’s butter knife and threaded it through his fingers, over-under like basket-weaving.

Then he made a fist, and the knife curled around his fingers like it was made of aluminum foil instead of stainless steel.

He let go, and carefully pinched the knife flat again. (It wasn’t perfect, but it looked like a knife instead of a squiggle.)

Yasha watched. “Araña Escarlata?” he asked.

“I prefer Scarlet Spider,” Kaine said, quietly. “… Actually I don’t prefer it, I hate that it’s Scarlet Spider, but if I have to be stuck with it, I’ll be stuck with it in English.” Because of Ben, who was Kaine’s brother, sort of, in a clone way.

“Winter Soldier or Zima Soldat, I don’t mind,” Yasha told him.

“Russian?” Kaine asked.

“Or I was,” Yasha agreed.

“I can make you a costume,” Aracely told Yasha, smiling warmly. “We’ll beat up the drug cartels and take their stuff.”

Yasha’s eyebrows went up, and he looked to Kaine. Kaine just shrugged. “You can’t eat altruism.”

-epilogue-


“Alphabet soup on the way in,” the Winter Soldier told the Scarlet Spider. He wasn’t sure which agency or agencies or from which country, but he was sure their names would be acronyms. Alphabet soup. “We need to move out.”

The Scarlet Spider tossed him a backpack full of money, because if you left a drug kingpin’s mansion full of assorted criminals webbed-up, tied up, shot up, or just plain gibbering in terror for the alphabet soup agents to collect, you were entitled to make off with (some of) the easy-to-spend evidence. The Winter Soldier caught the backpack easily and shrugged into it. “We’ve got what we need and these assholes are locked down.”

“One dollar,” the Winter Soldier said, smirking behind his mask.

“Take it out of the hundred thousand I just threw at you.” The Scarlet Spider pulled on his own backpack, and collected a third one. “Where’s Hummingbird?”

“Outside. She--” Both men froze for an instant as they heard a distinctly feminine shriek-- then bolted toward the sound. They were pretty evenly matched for speed, particularly indoors, with the Winter Soldier on the floor and the Scarlet Spider on the walls so neither got in the other’s way.

Hummingbird stood on a terrace, pointing down into the drug lord’s expansive gardens, practically vibrating with excitement. “There is a tiger cub!

Not a shriek of fear, then.

“No,” both men chorused.

“But--”

“No,” said the Scarlet Spider.

“Kitty!” Hummingbird protested.

“You don’t need a pet tiger, kolibri,” the Winter Soldier said, fondly.

“Regular kitten?” Hummingbird tried.

“We’ll talk about it,” the Scarlet Spider said, shoving the third backpack at her. “Come on.”

The Hummingbird floated. The Scarlet Spider clung to walls and trees. The Winter Soldier did not leave tracks.

They were not followed.
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