Jimmy hasn't cried yet.
Not because of any toxic macho bullshit; heaven forbid. He has simply come to the economic conclusion that crying would use precious energy that he has to preserve.
Half the population, gone. Half of his colleagues, his family, his congregation.
Half of the little league team he coached on sundays. More than half. Through whatever hellish law of numbers this new world worked on, more than three quarters of his team had been snapped. Three quarters of his children.
Childless himself and without a spouse, his house became a halfway home of sorts in the aftermath while he split his time between his now-increased SHIELD workload and his new second job as foster-father to a community torn apart.
He would cry, Jimmy told himself, the second there wasn't someone who needed a shoulder to cry on themselves.
Jimmy had imagined that the first six months would be the hardest: the most emotionally raw, where an entire universe mourned. Six months where people took to anger, took to desperation, took to a deep and irreparable hatred. There was no new school year, no holiday season, even corporations (cynical as the thought was) found it difficult to drum up enthusiasm to advertise their wares.
The paperwork was monolithic. An international drive towards databasing, to logging who, exactly, was left. A way for people to remember a friend from High School and to check whether they still existed at 3AM on a Wednesday morning.
International conferences debating the morality of telling, or not telling, those communities who had previously preferred no contact with the outside world. Scores of scientists submitting papers to observe them, petitioning the powers that be for permission to watch for their reactions. It was these months that got to Jimmy. The emotional turmoil threatened to overwhelm him, was truly a test to the human spirit, but it was the latter parts of the first year that really drained him.
Jimmy considered himself to be a lover of people. Cautious, for sure, and horrified by the extent of human violence, but a believer in humanity as a whole. He knew things had truly gone to shit when even he could no longer bear to hear his colleagues talk about another study they'd read, where scientists somewhere we debating the ethics of raising groups of snap-babies under observation: some raised out in the world, born into a world of trauma, and others in a pure lab environment, raised by Stark-tech AI that would never reveal their utopic upbringing.
"A quickly-evaporating, once in a lifetime chance to study the extents of nature versus nurture," Jimmy had overheard one of his colleagues crow.
And, if he had thought six months of temporary care over several children aged seven to seventeen would be tough, it was the long months after the initial shock of becoming a single-father that had been the worst. When the kids began to loathe him , began to take out their frustration on his house, his person, his sanity, because try as Jimmy might, not every family, biologically related or not, wanted or could afford to adopt an orphan.
And the kids could tell that Jimmy was running out of options. That this thing he had done out of kindness, out of desperation, out of pure misery, was showing the cracks of an ill-thought plan. Jimmy could not afford to keep five children under his care. Housing and food, sure. The most basic of pastoral care, at a stretch. He had enough in his savings to deal with their education, for now, but if things remained as they were there was no way he was putting all five through university, should that be their wish, and that was all before Jimmy thought about his now-depleted retirement fund.
The agency's union had negotiated for four-day workweeks so Jimmy did at least have three days of the week to split between the children, which might have been enough in normal circumstances, but these were far from normal. The children resented him for this, and Jimmy couldn't blame them.
They wouldn't have it better anywhere else , the voice in Jimmy's head had argued, but he squashed that dark voice before it could come anywhere near his mouth. The last thing his children needed was to know there was only worse out there. Let them think it was Jimmy's problem to solve, not an issue with themselves.
Whether because it was what she really wanted, or because she saw what Jimmy would be contending with, his oldest adoptee, Min-su, opted into one of the apprenticeship care-work jobs that had popped up. Desperate for bodies willing to be trained in social work, fees to learn had been scrapped. Though the pay remained terrible and the work itself bordered on harrowing, it was work in a sector nobody could imagine disappearing, which meant it was a solid option amongst a whole world-worth of bad. She had moved in with a group of her residency friends almostly immediately after her 18th birthday, and while she updated him a couple times a month with anecdotes and placations as to her comfort, Jimmy could tell he wasn't what she needed, so he broken-heartedly kept his distance (though remained ready should she ever call for a favour).
By the time his second-oldest got to graduating High School, the paperwork had gone through and she had inherited her parents' modest but sufficient fund for her college education. Jimmy had, after a months-long campaign, accepted some money from Jess, but only as contingency for some of the younger kids, whose parents had had less time to save for their future before their deaths. Jess's goodbye was more tearful than Min-su's, and Jimmy suspected that she had chosen Berkely not for its particular merits but to be nearby, should anything happen. Abandonment issues were trending topics amongst psychologists for a reason.
Five years, no time for a breakdown.
Maybe that is macho bullshit, Jimmy thinks, belatedly. Being hard-up for counsellors, SHIELD had reduced the mandatory hours an agent had to take with one, so he really hadn't had time to stop and think . One day, fairly soon, he was going to wake up and there wouldn't be a world-ending apocalypse to clean up, and he had to be ready for that eventuality. Taking a break, being alone with his own thoughts… the concept was terrifying.
Jimmy blinks as a glass slides onto the wooden bar before him. He is already protesting that the bartender has got the wrong person as he startles back to attention, the bartender smiling a cupid's smile.
"Gentleman across the bar paid for it."
Jimmy lets the words sink in for a moment longer than is perhaps comfortable for the bartender, before fully taking in the whiskey sour. "Oh." He blinks another couple of times, as if it might be a mirage, before his brain begins to fire again and he glances up to find his admirer.
An Asian man, round-faced, of a similar age to Jimmy, with clear eyes and a distinctly calm look about him. He certainly isn't a stunner, Jimmy thinks with some guilt, but he has an undeniable presence to him. The way he holds himself radiates the kind of assurance that comes from knowing you are the most powerful person in a room. Jimmy can't quite work out by the man's clothes if that power comes from money, connections or physical prowess, but he is undoubtedly a Somebody, which Jimmy can admit he finds attractive. Self-assurance is a quality Jimmy knows he lacks, and he always finds it looks good on other people.
Jimmy raises the glass at the man, levelling a bemused but grateful smile. If he is being honest with himself, he appreciates the attention; is flattered by it, more because it rarely happens to him than because he is interested in following up with it. This was supposed to be a one-drink-after-work-before-going-home-to-crash kind of drink, not a get-picked-up-at-the-bar kind of drink, and he isn't entirely sure he has the energy to entertain pleasant conversation, let alone maintain flirtation.
He does a mandatory test of the drink, hand curling around the glass to conceal the piece of paper he dips in to check for any kind of toxin: date rape, narcotic, the full range known to have been used to attack SHIELD agents, then masks his waiting for a clean result by giving the drink a casual swirl, as if letting the ice melt and dilute the drink. He'd done the same for his first drink too, even before the attention. You never could be too sure, even if the bartender of the random bar you'd picked out seemed innocuous enough.
Only after getting the all-clear did he take a sip. He savours the mouthful for a moment, noting that his admirer had opted for top-shelf whiskey when Jimmy's first drink had most certainly not been. That, at least, won the man another flicker of attention, and he catches the man's eye with a nod of the head to show his appreciation.
Whether it is Jimmy's inexperience with the scenario or not, he is slightly surprised to note that the man doesn't make any moves to join Jimmy after that. Was the etiquette that the one being propositioned made the first move? Well if that was the case, the man was going to be sorely disappointed. Or maybe, Jimmy thinks, cheeks beginning to burn a little, it wasn't a proposition in the first place, just a kind act from one lonely man to another.
It is highly unlikely that the man can read minds (Jimmy kept up to date with the list of known powered-people,) but if he can and he's heard Jimmy's internal monologue, that would be super embarrassing.
Broccoli. Dental dams. Chicken noodle soup. River, donkey, BOO, BAH, HAH!!, Jimmy thinks, as loudly as he can, watching the man. The man's blank expression says that either he isn't a mindreader, or he has a really, really good poker-face.
Jimmy drops his attention again so that he doesn't come across as needy or looking to start something.
Jimmy jumps, a voice way closer to him than should be possible, given his training. It's the man, now sitting on the stool next to him. Feeling (and probably looking) like a complete fool, Jimmy glances at the empty seat on the other side of the bar, and then to the man sitting next to him. Definitely the same man.
"Wow!" Jimmy says, then kicks himself. ' Wow'? It really had been too long since he'd interacted with humans outside of his very, very small circle. "You have got to teach me that magic trick. Teleportation, huh, what are you, a secret Avenger?"
"You could say that," the man says, and Jimmy is pleasantly surprised that he is running with the bit instead of running away at first sight of a dad joke. "Years of hard training in the most remote parts of Asia, but worth it to impress handsome men in Californian bars."
So it was flirtation , Jimmy thinks with relief. At least he hadn't fucked that bit up. "Oh! Right! Thank you for the drink. And the good stuff, too. You shouldn't have."
"It was my pleasure."
"No, no, I'm not being humble, you really shouldn't have bothered. I drink the cheapest stuff they have. It's practically rubbing alcohol. I could only tell it wasn't my usual because it didn't kick my throat in as it went down. Your fancy drink is wasted on the likes of me."
"You looked as if you needed it."
"Wow, that's your flirtation technique? Kick a man while he's down? Well I'll have you know that I'm down with the teenagers, and I know that that's called 'negging', and I won't stand for it."
That got the man to finally show a modicum of confusion, right eyebrow rising. "Negging?"
"Kick a man while he's down, and he'll be thankful that you fucked him. Or- rather- bought him a- I mean-" Adding insult to injury, Jimmy's traitorous body chooses the stammer to choke on his own spit, leaving him spluttering in a resoundly un-sexy way.
The admirer gives him a few hearty slaps on the back, strong but obviously holding back his full strength, and Jimmy dies an internal death as he struggles to return to a more normal resting heart rate.
"Well, now that I've thoroughly disgraced myself, I'll let you leave in peace."
The admirer laughs, and far from unkindly. "Can I get you another drink?"
"Absolutely not!" Jimmy relishes the half-second of disappointment on the man's face, before he pulls out his card, waving it at the bartender attempting to look like he wasn't eavesdropping. "Another round please, my friend!"
"No, no," the admirer tries, pulling out his own wallet, "Please, it's on me."
"Are you kidding?" Jimmy says, elbowing the man so he can get to the card-reader quicker, "You bought the last round. No, it's only fair."
"I initiated this," the man says, still valiantly attempting to wrestle his own money out, "I should pay."
"Hah!" Jimmy exclaims as he hears the payment go through on his card. "I win. Thank you, bartender! That was a cultural moment of bonding but apologies for the theatrics."
"Sure," the bartender says, smiling as he goes to make their drinks.
Jimmy takes a smug sip of his last round as his suitor begrudgingly puts away his wallet.
"So, friend, do you have a name?"
"You just go by Wong?"
"That's what people call me."
"Ohhkay," Jimmy says, lodging that for follow-up, "Well then, I'm Woo."
"You just go by Woo?" Wong asks, monotone sarcasm dripping from his repetition.
"In my job, yeah, mostly," Jimmy says with complete honesty.
"Teacher, Preacher or Cop?"
Jimmy raises one impressed eyebrow in a way he hopes disguises his lie. "Teacher."
"What do you teach?"
"Funnily enough, religious studies," Jimmy says, adopting the comfortable cover he's used over the years. "Intended to become a preacher, but ended up as a teacher."
"Maybe one day you'll quit to join the police."
"And prove you to be an all-seeing wizard? I've got to protect you from a witch-hunt somehow!"
"Do you enjoy it? Teaching?"
Jimmy takes in a long breath, and then sighs; fond but exhausted. "Kids are the best of times and they are the worst of times."
"Hm," Wong agrees, the humming half-laugh belying his apparent experience with teaching.
"You too, huh?"
"I am the librarian at a martial arts… institute," Wong says, getting most of the way through the sentence without the tell-tale hesitance of someone who is not-quite-lying, but not telling the full-truth either.
"Oh yeah? Which martial art?"
"How much do you know about them?"
"Probably more than your average white dude, but it's been a long time since my brown belt in Judo."
"It's a spirituality-oriented combination art. Some combat but mostly defence and scholarship."
"Huh," Jimmy says, noting that Wong hadn't give a name for it but choosing not to press it. "So, not one of the ones at the Olympics, then."
"No, not yet," Wong says, smiling and apparently relieved to be let off the hook. "But we have a lot of young recruits. Especially during the… troubles. Many orphans were dropped at the monastery." Perhaps catching the light in Jimmy's eye, Wong adds a hasty "Or so I was told."
Something jagged happens inside Jimmy, and he has to take a moment to recognise it as disappointment, verging on resentment. An initial excitement to find someone who may have spent the last five years living as he had, equal parts misandrist and optimist. But no, judging by Wong's addition, he had been snapped too. It was an ugly feeling, resenting someone who could not help not existing through tough times.
"It was... hard," Jimmy says, conscious he's about to lower the mood but incapable of stopping himself. "I took in five kids, mostly from the little league I used to coach. And I love them, love my family more than anything else in this world, and I wouldn't change my decision, and I love to be their teacher, or their father, or their brother, or their friend, whatever they've named me, but… the stress, the not knowing if I'm doing right by them, the fear that what I'm doing, or saying to them is going to ruin them forever. That part I do not find enjoyable in the slightest."
"Well, two in the house now. One in work with her own apartment, one in college, one decided that my home was not for her. I've got one in 7th grade and one who is about to be a…" Jimmy counts on his fingers, "Sophomore."
"That's a lot for one man. Assuming you're…"
"Single? Yes. Yeah, yes, single dad of five. But who am I to complain, you run a… you must have a whole army of kids."
"Sometimes up to several hundred," Wong admits, "But we are an institution with numerous educators and elders. You are not."
"No, no I am definitely not. Not that it's a competition." Jimmy sighs. "Sorry. This probably isn't what you signed up for when you bought that drink. I won't be offended if you try someone who isn't so sad and moan-y."
Wong gives a half-shrug, then adopts a sly smile, gesturing out toward the pretty-much-empty bar. "Not a lot of options around these parts."
Jimmy glances around, noticing for the first time how empty the place is. He had walked in in a bit of a haze, setting himself down at the bar without much of a recon attempt. It was quiet, and it served alcohol, and it wasn't too far out of his way home. "Bottom of the barrel, huh," Jimmy says, "Sorry you're stuck with me."
"Zi Jin," Wong says, extending a hand.
Jimmy blinks, then takes the outstretched hand. "Jimmy," he says, only half-kicking himself that he's introduced himself with his real name out of instinct. He can recognise honesty when he hears it, especially with a man who's so far only given him half-truths, so he rewards like for like.
"So, Jimmy," Zi Jin says, "Won't your kids be wondering where you've got to?"
"My kids!" Jimmy says, feigning melodramatic shock and fear— "No, no, a rare night to myself. My oldest is on a school trip to a planetarium, the youngest at a friend's birthday party. Sleepovers for both!" As the words leave Jimmy's mouth, he realises the implication of the statement: the adult equivalent of a teen's 'my parents aren't in.'
He begins to panic, but forces himself to swallow. What's the harm in seeing where the night goes? Maybe he gets a bit more smashed than usual and the day ends sloppier than Jimmy's had in a decade, or it's a couple more drinks with a new friend.
The bartender returns with their drinks, a third whiskey sour for Jimmy and a straight glass for Zi Jin. Jimmy looks at the drink and thinks, for a moment, what's the harm in not testing it, and I've had two already , but sloppy thinking like that is exactly what gets agents kidnapped, or worse.
Well, good thing he's been practising his sleight of hand like a man possessed. "Hey, want to see a magic trick?" Jimmy asks, pulling his practise deck out of his inner jacket pocket. Aware that he really looks like the washed-up middle-aged loner he feels, he brandishes the cards with a little flourish.
Zi Jin looks baffled but, to Jimmy's surprise, not turned off. "Why not."
Jimmy clears his throat and straightens his spine as he does one of his more impressive shuffles. He makes use of the bar, especially the area around his glass so his hand moving over it doesn't draw any undue attention, then he starts to do a trick he's done on his kids so often they groan when they see his arm move into position. He's taught all of them how to do this to their drinks, too, so he sees it kind of like a family trick.
In the midst of pulling cards from thin air, finding Wong's card amongst the pack and getting the bartender to reveal a card hidden amongst the bottles, he gets a clean read of his drink; just in time for him to take a celebratory chug as both Wong and the bartender begin their hearty applause.
"What sect are you in?" Wong asks, an indecipherable look on his face.
"You mean like the magic circle and stuff?" Jimmy says, chuffed that someone would think his skills were getting good enough to look trained. "Nothing like that, I just learnt it on the internet! It's been a bit of a saving grace for me through it all, you know? Something to do with my hands when I'm nervous."
"You're a self-taught sorcerer?"
"I wouldn't go so far as to say sorcerer!" Jimmy says, ego buffed by the praise. "My kids like to call me a clown, but I think that's offensive to clowns! Do you know how much training they have to go through? I'm just a hobbyist!"
"That explains why I haven't seen you at Kamar-Taj," Wong muses.
"Oh! Are you a magician too?"
"One only becomes the librarian of Kamar-Taj and master of a Sanctum if one is deemed a master of the arts."
"Wooow," Jimmy says, feeling that awkward mix of impressed and suddenly out of his league. Had he just performed a kid's trick to a professional? What if Zi Jin Wong is actually one of the greatest magicians in the world and Jimmy's just not heard of him? While he loves practising his magic, he's hardly done his research on the professionals. He kicks himself for not listening to Katy and Shaun, who'd recommended some reality show about stage magicians the last time he'd gone out for dinner with them. "Kamar-Taj, is that local?"
"No, it's in Nepal."
"Nepal?? That's a hell of a commute!" Jimmy says, before the more logical conclusion comes to him. "Unless… you don't live around here."
"No, just here on business."
"Oh. Right." Jimmy tries not to let his shoulders deflate in disappointment. He really isn't a one night stand kind of guy, and it's a bit of a let-down to know that this friend he's starting to make isn't someone he can casually grab a drink with after work. "How long's your trip?" he asks, hoping that maybe it's one of those jobs that lasts months rather than days.
"We wrapped it up this afternoon," Wong admits.
"So you're heading back to Nepal in the morning?"
"Oh, no, I live in New York. At the sanctum."
"I don't know New York that well, is that a district? Sanctum, that sounds fancy!"
"It's in Greenwich village."
Jimmy makes an apologetic face. "California born and bred, I'm afraid! Only had reason to be in New York a handful of times, and that was for work; definitely no time for sight-seeing."
"Next time you're there, tell me. I can give you the tour."
"That is very sweet of you!" Jimmy says, meaning it, but also starting to recede from the conversation. As nice as this man is, he's not about to start a long-distance relationship with someone who lives between Nepal and New York, both of which might as well be on the moon with how often he'd be able to travel there on his schedule. "I'll definitely give you a call if I'm ever in your side of the world!"
Wong clearly isn't going to need telling that this endeavour is a bust. He pulls back from their more flirtatious position, elbows and thighs no longer touching, and gestures to the bartender, who obliges and chucks the man a pen.
Zi Jin, New York, xx-xxx-xx-xxxx
Wong hands the napkin to Jimmy with a kind smile. "Guess I'd better be heading home."
"You're going home now? To New York?" Jimmy glances at his watch, noting it's closer to morning than he'd realised. "Talk about a red-eye."
"If I leave now, I'll be in bed before my students know I slipped out."
"Oh yeah? You don't have them mopping floors as the cock crows?"
"In Kamar-Taj, yes. But these New York kids, they spout this nonsense about human rights violations if they have to wake up before 8. It's all very annoying."
"But hey, I bet it means you get a lie-in now."
Zi Jin grins. "I've never missed so many sunrises on purpose before. It's glorious."
Jimmy full-out laughs at that, and he claps Zi Jin on the back: warm, thankful, friendly. If nothing else, the man's made his fairly despondent-looking night end with a pleasant buzz. "Well, it was nice to meet you, Zi Jin. I hope you get home safely."
"Likewise," Wong says, standing and giving Jimmy one last chance to change his mind… Jimmy considers it, but raises an apologetic hand in goodbye.
Jimmy watches Wong leave out of politeness. Wong takes one look over his shoulder, then his hands move and—
Jimmy's brain freezes as a portal appears before Wong, circled with bright red magic. He steps through, and then he disappears.
Jimmy gapes. He slowly, slowly turns to the bartender. "He— did you—"
The bartender looks back, confused by Jimmy's confusion. "Yeah, that's Wong. You know, like, the guy who's always behind Doctor Strange?"
Sorcerer , Jimmy's mind supplies. Then, You did close-up magic to a sorcerer. Then, sighing, he realises that he has a long night ahead of him as he looks up the protocols of what he's supposed to do when powered individuals reach out to him.
> [07:38 Jimmy Woo:] Hey! This is Jimmy, from the bar! Just giving you my number...
> [14:22 Zi Jin Wong:] Hey Jimmy :)
"Seven hours!" Katy repeats, wincing. "Nah, dude, nobody takes seven hours to send 'hey' and a smile."
"If he really wasn't interested," Shaun counters, not for the first time, "He wouldn't have given Jimmy his number in the first place."
"100% a last-ditch attempt at getting at that juicy booty," Katy rebuts, "Mystery guy wanted him to change his mind and have a midnight fuck, not to actually text him."
"Maybe he had an emergency," Shaun says, stealing Jimmy's phone again so he can stare at the text. "And look at what he was working with. Jimmy ends his with a dot dot dot. It's fucking ominous."
"Mmmm," Katy says, squinting at the text. "Alright, I will grant you that."
Jimmy doesn't raise his head from where it's cradled in his hands, elbows propped up on his knees. "So?" he prompts. It's been over an hour and his drunk friends are still debating the merits of deleting the contact versus replying to the text.
"Play hard to get!" Katy sings into the microphone of the karaoke machine, and Jimmy can hear the exact moment that she loses interest in his love-life, moving on to choosing her next song.
"I don't know, dude," Shaun says, handing Jimmy back his mobile. "What's the chance you guys will ever actually meet up?"
"Slim to none," Jimmy says.
"Then I'm sorry, man, I'd vote not worth it."
Jimmy sighs. It's logical, for sure. He hasn't told his friends about who , exactly it was who had propositioned him, or about the magic. They don't even know that Jimmy works at SHIELD yet. They still think he's their FBI friend, and he can't exactly tell two civilians that he's got the phone number of a known associate of Doctor Strange. Knowing them, (especially Katy,) they'd approve the relationship just so they could skip the line at Disneyland.
"Okay. Thanks guys." Jimmy stands, heart really not in it now, and slips out while Shaun and Katy are distracted by a new argument over whether they should sing songs from High School Musical 1 or 2 first.
Outside the bar he takes out his phone, finger hovering over the 'delete contact' button. Remove the reminder, remove the temptation?
Maybe one day I'll need a couch to crash on in New York , Jimmy thinks. Or there's another apocalypse and I need some help. It's good to have his number. For emergencies.
Convincing himself with the rationalisation, Jimmy heads home.
It is by complete and total coincidence that Jimmy is sent to New York the next month. There's very little need for a California-based Agent to be sent across the country for a case, but with the influx of new-old staff to brief, he's been tasked with teaching what is essentially a refresher course tutorial, helping agents re-integrate with a world that has been made unfamiliar to them. He's taught a few over the last year, and apparently his have been rated among the best by students, so now he's being sent on bigger ones out East.
Pathologically unable to show up to the airport less than three hours ahead of boarding, Jimmy wanders the shops, walking through the aisles of designer bags and forgotten-electronics, until he finds himself in a weird little shop selling Californian hippy-dippy bullshit in every manner of cultural appropriation. Dream-catchers to candles to CBD-infused creams, this shop has it all.
He takes a couple of photos of the more egregious examples to send to Katy and Shaun, knowing they'll get a good kick out of the 'ancient chinese remedies' being peddled by a couple sporting white dreads and tie-died, 'upcycled' qipaos.
Their tea section is crammed into a corner, behind a beaded curtain as if being protected like age-protected videos, and though it is a truly terrible assortion of blends, there are a couple that purport to be genuine silver needle.
He pays a frankly eye watering price for the tea, smiles a tight smile when they bow at him at the register, then he stuffs the box into the bottom of his overnight bag.
He uses the flight to go over his notes and to look up references to replace his heavily San Francisco-based case studies, re-watches Now You See Me 2 for the comfort of familiarity, then stares aimlessly out of the window for the last hour.
A New York-based Agent is waiting for him at the airport, and she deposits him at his hotel after a truly awkward hour's drive in which she flat-out ignores his every attempt to start a conversation. Guess I can't blame her , Jimmy thinks as he checks in, Can't be easy being used as a glorified Uber driver!
His hotel room is a step above grimy and several floors below luxury, but Jimmy's stayed in some truly abysmal motels along route 66 so it's practically a penthouse suite. He considers going for a walk to pick up some of New York's finest take out, but he thinks better of getting lost when he's already tired and orders some truly mediocre room service instead.
Sitting on his bed, in his pyjamas, towel around his neck, he finally picks up his phone. He scrolls through the contacts, landing on the number he's been thinking about all week. It's come to the point where he's memorised it now; could dial it from any phone even if he did delete it.
It's been a month. They met in a bar. Jimmy ghosted him . It would be all levels of weird to text him out of the blue, right?
Jimmy sighs and plugs the phone in to charge on the nightstand. He's here to teach, not to… what, have a hookup? Make good on the offer of a tour? Get an in with one of the most powerful and secretive sects in the magic world?
He flings himself onto the bed, aware that he's being petulant but allowing himself the brief act of childishness in the comfort of his privacy. He groans into the pillow and tells himself that he needs a good night of sleep so that his students can get him fresh-faced and ready.
He's still awake at a frankly ungodly hour of the morning, so it's no surprise that his presentation goes about as badly as it can. The USB with his presentation on it doesn't work, and of course the version he's saved to the cloud isn't updated with the New York specifics he edited on the plane, and it trips him up when his script doesn't match the visual prompts he's left himself. He laughs at himself a lot, until he realises that that probably doesn't instill a lot of faith in him, so halfway through he panics and turns on his 'stern dad' voice, and he sees the ripple of it go through his audience. Most of the people watching him are his age, with a maximum of a ten year difference between the oldest and the youngest, and not many of the highly-trained professional agents are used to being talked at like a fourteen year old who's been given detention for starting a food fight in the cafeteria. He tries to find a middle-ground way too late, slipping a couple of the jokes he can remember in, but by this point the audience has completely lost attention. Most of them are playing on their phones or, worse, staring at him, unblinking, arms crossed across their chests.
Great. Perfect. It's good to know, at least, that he'll never be invited back to New York ever again.
Just as he's about to make his conclusion and transition into the Q&A portion he makes eye contact with the agent who'd driven him from the airport, and the look she's giving him makes him feel like a worm on a dissection plate. She's gone from stony-faced to openly hostile, clearly planning every way she can murder him with the items she's got on her person.
Because, yeah, Jimmy knows that he wouldn't be best pleased to have to attend mandatory sessions where the topic is always "here's what you missed while we spent the last five years in hell." He's had students tell him that he's made them feel like it's their fault, that he sounds like he's trying to make them feel guilty, when their lives had been taken from them too.
All the words fall from Jimmy's head, until he's just stood on the podium, mouth open, unhearing.
Despite the cliff dive of an unresolved speech, someone in the back row starts to clap, and agents spring to their feet, clapping half-heartedly as they pack up their belongings and exit without waiting for the Q&A.
A handful of the more dutiful students remain, grilling Jimmy on some of his more contentious points. If he thought they might cut him some slack, being of the more pencil-pushing variety, he is provely sorely wrong.
An hour later he's on the street outside the lecture hall feeling like he's just been strung, drawn and quartered. He wipes a hand across his face.
> [10:46 Jimmy Woo:] it was so, so, so, so, so bad.
> [10:46 Jimmy Woo:] i'm ashamed to show my face at work ever again.
> [10:46 Jimmy Woo:] maybe i should quit and become a stage magician.
> [10:47 Katy:] yeah dude!! run away with the circus!!!
> [10:48 Shaun:] Hey, at least this abject failure happened on the other side of the country! What's the likelihood that you'll ever have to work with them again?
> [10:48 Jimmy Woo:] Small mercies.
> [10:50 Katy:] drinks on us when ur back homie xx
> [10:50 Jimmy:] "us"? I'll believe that when I see it.
> [10:50 Shaun:] Booking the karaoke now.
> [10:52 Shaun:] Text if you want a lift from the airport. x
Nearly 11 am. His flight isn't until late afternoon, the higher-ups giving him enough time to network after the talk. Now that that's clearly not happening, Jimmy thinks about the tea in his bag, and he opens Google maps.
He isn't really sure what he thought he'd find if he typed 'New York Sanctum' in as an address, but it certainly hasn't given him one. He tries the SHIELD database but either he's not got high enough clearance or SHIELD doesn't have the zip code to the sorcerer supreme's secret lair.
Once he gets to Greenwich village he walks around a bit, wondering if he'll come across some sort of dojo-looking building or a particularly magic-feeling area, which he doesn't. He tries to signal his presence, with his aura, unsure if that was something sorcerers could pick up on. It's nearing 12, now, and his body reminds him that he skipped breakfast and is operating on two (badly thought out) cups of hotel coffee.
Jimmy has just made the decision to google the best-rated pizza place nearby when he looks up and sees Wong open his front door.
"Oh wow!" Jimmy calls, all hesitancy completely vanished. "You could tell I was coming because of my aura!?"
"Uhhh," Wong says, startled. "Yes?" Wong looks around, as if this might be an ambush, then closes the door behind him. Jimmy notes that Wong uses magic to lock it.
"You know where the sanctum is." It sounds almost like an accusation, or would do if Wong hadn't just lied about sensing Jimmy was coming.
"I was just in the area!" When the suspicion doesn't dissipate, Jimmy winces. "Yeah, that's what a stalker would say, huh. Well, I was kind of hoping I'd bump into you, I just didn't think it would work!"
Wong joins him on the street, and Jimmy raises his hand in a weird hello. "I'm sorry, are you busy? I don't want to disturb you!"
"Just going to grab some pizza."
"You're walking there?"
"My doctor told me I rely too much on the portals. That I have to get my steps in."
"Does walking a block offset eating pizza?"
"What the Master doesn't know can't hurt him. You going to rat me out?"
Jimmy makes a cross over his heart, zips his mouth and throws away the key.
"Good. Hungry?" Wong asks.
"Wow, pizza with a local! Beats TripAdvisor any day!" Jimmy falls into step with Wong, who's clearly in no hurry, even as pedestrians bustle past him on their way in and out of coffeeshops. "Did you know the stonewall inn is right around the corner?" Jimmy asks. "What am I saying, of course you do, you live here! That's so cool, you can just walk past every day!"
"I told you to text me if you were ever in the area."
"I wasn't sure if that was a 'I'm just being polite' thing or not."
"You don't travel much, do you."
"No, HQ doesn't like sending us out of our areas of experience for cases."
"I thought you said you were a teacher," Wong says, though by the look on his face, he doesn't seem remotely surprised; is more using the opportunity to needle Jimmy.
"Right! Yes, sorry, I lied."
"No, but I can't say more than that, I'm afraid."
"Name still Jimmy?"
"So you had a case?"
"Oh, no," Jimmy says, and deflates a bit as the weight of this morning comes crashing back into the front of his memory. "Ironically I was teaching a seminar this morning."
"Hm. You look like a man who needs pizza."
"Actually," Jimmy says, and whether it's the sleepless hysteria setting in or not, he's sure he'll regret this later, "It's your fault!"
"Yeah! I didn't sleep last night because of you. Messed my whole presentation up."
Wong raises an eyebrow at Jimmy. "I'm just that sexy, huh."
"I felt like a teenager, playing with the cord of my phone, wondering if you were going to call. And yes," Jimmy says, anticipating and cutting Wong off, "I know, I didn't text last, but it's my mind, I get to imagine what I want in it."
"Uh-huh," Wong says, voice trying for disinterest but sounding pleased all the same. "So I'm paying?"
"Yes. It's only fair."
"Uh-huh," Wong says again, but he drifts that little bit closer to Jimmy.
"And," Jimmy says, because he's physically unable to stop himself from talking, "I saw you on the news the other night. So I was thinking about you."
Wong furrows his brow in thought, as if calculating the date. "Oh. Right. In Prague?"
"Another apocalypse stopped by Wong and the sorcerers!"
"I don't think Stephen would like that name."
"The gangly 鬼佬."
"Oh! Right! What's the deal with him, you just have to stand behind him all the time?"
"He is the sorcerer supreme."
"Sounds white to me," Jimmy says, hearing Katy in his voice.
Wong just shrugs. "How do you think I've lived this long? Let him get his limelight and his hero worship. I'm not the punching bag if I don't step out of the magic portal first, and I can still go out for pizza without being mobbed by Avengers fanboys."
"Huh," Jimmy laughs, saving it to his memory to bring up the next time Katy and Shaun argue over the Avengers' racial dynamics. "Look at General tactics over here."
"That's what keeps me safe and fed." Wong pats his tummy. "What about you, Agent Woo, what kind of worker ant are you?"
"I would say 'too much' fieldwork to keep me safe, but… I don't know what I would do if they retired me to a desk. The occasional seminar I'll take, but I joined because I like being out there, on the job."
"Wouldn't have pinned you as an adrenaline junkie."
"Ohhh big mistake! One day I'm taking you to a theme park, and you're getting dragged on every ride, no matter what you say!"
"I'm one of the most accomplished sorcerers in the universe," Wong says, "I'll teleport to a different planet if you try."
"Aw, the big scary sorcerer doesn't like the big scary rides?"
Wong doesn't dignify that with an answer, simply glowers at Jimmy, which Jimmy takes for a win.
Wong leads them into a pizza place he guarantees is the best ("I've eaten at every one in the village"), he pays for both of them, and they walk over to a nearby park to eat.
It's hot, it's salty, it hits every craving Jimmy has, and he devours his in just under a minute, no thought given to proprietary, conversation or the roof of his mouth.
He sits back on the grass once he's done and lets out a self-satisfied sigh. It's a pleasant day, not hot enough to be sweaty after the walk and with a cool wind that's refreshing more than cold. The sky is blue, the birds sing, the traffic is loud, "And all is right with the world."
"There's a grand master at Kamar-Taj who's only eaten barley porridge and yak tea his entire life," Wong says, "Except on his birthday where I sneak him in one slice of this pizza, as a treat. He talks about it every time I see him. You should see his face when he takes a bite. That's what pure bliss looks like."
"I bet you that's a man who can die happy."
The pair take a breath together, and Jimmy laughs. "Nothing like fresh city air, huh."
"You ever been climbing in Nepal?"
"I can't say I have."
Wong makes a movement with his hands, less aggressive than his usual defence position, and a bubble of not-New-York appears before Jimmy. A gust of wind, with a real chill to it, rushes past him. Bitingly cold, frosty, and surprisingly herbaceous. Almost like the sage in the dessert: floral in a dry, ancient way. Not cloying like a rose garden or green like freshly-mowed grass. Lingering, almost meditative.
Wong makes another movement and the portal closes, lurching Jimmy back into New York. The suddenness of the transition means his brain really registers the smell of the sewers, the coffee shops, the bakeries, the traffic, all in one— But he won't forget the memory of this gift, lodged in his brain.
"I'm not a jealous kind of guy," Jimmy says, "But I am definitely jealous of that."
"Any time you need some air," Wong says, "I'd be happy to help."
The walk back to the sanctum is more quiet, now that the lunchtime rush has passed. They talk about New York; Wong leading Jimmy on a detour up to see the Empire State building, through Broadway, to Times Square, kindly snapping photos for Jimmy to send to his kids (and is bullied into one selfie together).
Jimmy is so enjoying himself that he doesn't once think to check the time, until he's on Wong's doorstep, planning how he's going to promise to come back, thinking about how the sun is setting, when a stone sinks in his stomach.
"My flight!" Jimmy glances at his watch. He's not just missed it, it's already halfway back to California by now.
Wong blinks, trying to work out what the problem is. Then he snorts, a small portal appearing in the palm of his hand. "I don't think you have to worry about that."
"No, no, don't worry, I… I'll just say I got held up and ask them to rebook one for me now."
"Do you like sitting in those tin cans?"
"Of course not."
"So," Wong says, "Tell me where and I'll send you there."
"I can't treat you like a glorified Uber!"
"In the time it's taking you to debate me, you could already be home."
"Are you allowed to use your magic on something trivial like me?"
"You are not trivial, Jimmy."
Jimmy feels like he's been punched in the throat by the sudden and unexpected nicety, but Wong lets him off with a joking "and anyway, I use it to make sure my takeaway gets to me hot most nights of the week."
"I think I can safely say my self-esteem lets me rate myself higher than hot takeaway," Jimmy says. "But only if you're really sure."
"Jimmy, I could take you to the moon, to the KFC next to the Tower of London, up the tallest tree in the Amazon and tuck you into bed without breaking a sweat."
"There's a KFC in the tower of London?"
"It's underneath, it looks like a dungeon, I'll take you there one day."
"I think I'd need to check with my superiors about what the legality of my stepping foot outside the country without a permit is," Jimmy says, but manages to pull his brain back from that interesting line of paperwork-adjacent thought. "Okay, okay. How does this work, do I give you my zip code, or…?"
"I just need to be able to visualise it," Wong says. "Google maps helps. Or I can drop you off at most tourist traps in San Francisco if you'd rather I didn't know where you lived."
"Hey, if this is going to be a regular thing, then you might as well know my address!"
Jimmy looks down for a second, then back up. "...Is this going to be a regular thing?"
"Do you want it to be?" Wong says carefully.
"Well that's a relief!" Jimmy grins. "Also yes. Though, fair warning, my schedule is nothing to be sneezed at."
"You're talking to me. I'm amazed Stephen's not called for me yet. He's either dead or the world's had an apocalypse and we've not noticed."
"I'm just that sexy, huh," Jimmy says, trying to copy how Wong had said it earlier but way less capable of being cool about it.
"Yeah, yeah," Wong says with a roll of his eyes, grabbing Jimmy's phone, the map showing his street in satellite view. He makes a portal, one handed, and Jimmy (despite seeing them in the flesh today) cannot help but be amazed by the thing up close.
"That's my house!" he says, noting that the sun hasn't set yet on that side of the country. "Wow, that's very trippy." He brings a hand up to the portal, cautiously bringing his fingertips to the edge of the hole-through-reality, but unlike something that has a surface, Jimmy's brain can't comprehend how these are two places and not one, cannot feel any difference between here and there, and before he knows it he's stumbled across the border.
He pats himself down, as if he might have been changed by the experience, but there's nothing. It didn't even feel like there was a static shock: just a slight change in temperature and a noticeable shift in smell.
Wong steps through too, keeping the portal open as he looks around. "Nice place."
"Thanks, this was my parents' house, before they passed. My aunts and uncles, too, before they were able to afford their own!" Jimmy looks at it: nothing big, nothing posh, and marked by time. Unquestionably part of the family. "Yeah, it's good to be home." Jimmy takes a deep breath, knowing he'll sleep well tonight. "Well, I can't tell you how much I appreciate the express shipping."
Wong takes a step forward, and before Jimmy can register what's happening, he kisses Jimmy on the cheek. "Any time."
Jimmy can feel himself blushing; feels all kinds of flustered. It's been years since anyone's kissed him anywhere, let alone going for something as old-fashioned as a cheek. He's finding that more embarrassing than anything - and he isn't really sure what to do with himself—
"Jimmy's got a boyfriend!!" Jimmy jolts at the wolf whistles echoing across the garden, looking up to find Susie and Angel hanging out of a bedroom window. "Give us a twirl!" Susie says, as Angel shouts "Get a room, boys!"
"Kids, that's dangerous! Inside!!" Jimmy shouts back, before turning back and giving Wong an apologetic half-bow. "I'm so sorry, that's - they don't — they're kids."
"That's fine. Plenty more to traumatise them with than that."
"That better be a promise."
Wong winks, takes a step back, then disappears into nothing.
Jimmy doesn't even remember feeling this much like a teenager when he was a teenager. He attempts to creep into the house, but his kids are very much not having that. Somehow they'd not seen the magic portal, nor seen who exactly it was who was kissing him, which Jimmy is somewhat relieved about. Let them believe, for now, that their no-good parent was just trying for a normal relationship.
They bleh and fake yawn through his recount of his time in New York, then he finally extracts himself so he can go crash in bed.
It's only when Jimmy is unpacking his bag that evening, after take out, a film on the couch and a shower, that he finds the crumpled box of tea at the bottom. Well , he thinks, at least I don't have to think of an excuse for next time.
> [15:36 Jimmy Woo:] Do martial artist librarians have to do paperwork…?
> [15:37 Zi Jin Wong:] u'd be surprised.
> [15:37 Zi Jin Wong:] y?
> [15:38 Jimmy Woo:] I am buried neck-deep and desperate for a tea break...
> [15:38 Zi Jin Wong:] pin ur location
Jimmy is glad he is working from home today; he isn't sure how he would explain to any of his higher-ups why Doctor Strange's lackey was stealing him away from SHIELD HQ.
The sparking portal appears in his kitchen this time, after Jimmy takes a photo of it. Wong pokes his head through before shaking it. "No, no break here. Come with me." Wong eyes the paperwork. "Bring that, too."
Jimmy scrambles to get all of his work together, then steps through after Wong, until he's gawking at a room, clearly within a temple. It's bright and sparse, with that sense of peace to it. The air feels still and clean; a far cry from the recycled nature of his aircon at home, and wherever they are, there's the distant sound of running water and a courtyard of children practising.
Before they can go too far, Jimmy hands over the box of tea he'd bought last week.
"I brought you this!"
"Oh. Thank you. You didn't have to."
"The sign said it was a rare silver needle, but I did buy it from some fairly questionable people, so I can't vouch for that."
"You know I have the ability to go anywhere, right?" Wong says, inspecting the box. "If you would like to drink silver needle tea, I can take us to Fujian." Glancing back up, he must have noted the oh, right, ugh, silly Jimmy! look, because Wong quickly stammers out a "Though I appreciate you saving me the trip! I'm sure it'll be wonderful."
Wong goes to a side table and reaches, at first, for the tea set that is out, before thinking better of it and ducking down to a cupboard and removing what is clearly a better set.
Wong summons hot water from somewhere, then waves Jimmy to go and sit at the low table beside him, covered in Wong's own pile of books and receipts.
"I'm not disturbing you, am I?"
"If anything, your text was a blessing."
Wong warms and cleans the teapot and the cups, then cleans and blooms the tea before pouring a first cup for them both. They raise their cups in cheers, and drink.
Wong chokes on his, really having to gulp it down. It is very definitely not silver needle tea, of that he's positive, and he's not even sure it's tea full stop. But Jimmy is watching him with very obvious expectation, so Wong pours them another cupful. "Mmm!" He says, hoping he's not twitching as much as he feels he is. "Amazing! Love it. Thank you."
"Oh that's a relief!" Jimmy says, "I'll be honest, I think it tastes like shit, but that just goes to show what swine I am!" Jimmy takes his small cup and pours it into Wong's empty one. "Since you like it I'll definitely pick up more for you whenever I'm next passing through!"
Wong's smile just grows wider. He sends an ardent apology to his teapot for the subpar leaves, though he can't find it in him to regret using the finest set to serve Jimmy. "Maybe I can find you a tea that would better suit you."
Wong thinks for a second, then takes a moment to pop to his favourite tea-seller in the region. They cultivate a pu'er that is rich and bitter, but still smooth: perfect for a first-timer. He also grabs a couple of snacks from a street vendor. When he comes back, Jimmy has made himself at home, stoically ignoring all of Wong's open documents but creating a little space for his own on the table.
"I'm in awe that you can do all of the sorcerer stuff and also do paperwork. I can tell that you’re the one keeping everything running around here."
"I would say I enjoy it, but that would be a flat-out lie," Wong says. "But it is something of an honour, making sure this place doesn't burn to the ground because a couple of heroes would rather punch an alien than do their taxes."
Wong purges his teapot of the old tea and prepares the new, the soothing motions of it just another part of the meditation of his day.
"Well, I hope you're paid for it."
"Nah, we all must do what we must around here. Some take on washing up duties, I fill out some forms."
"Anti-Capitalist communal living, I dig it! No money, no worries."
"Oh no, I also run a scam on illegal betting rings, where my friends and I purposefully tank matches and split the winnings. We're filthy rich."
"We can also teleport wherever we want, so we frequently take gold bars from locked vaults. It's all very Robin Hood."
"Huh!" Jimmy says. "I don't think that you should say any more about those in my earshot, because technically I am a government agent, and that is a confession of theft."
"You're faaar from being sat on US soil, Agent Woo. You could only dream of bringing me to court."
"Hm," Jimmy says, "I don't feel particularly comfortable with the fact that you seem to believe that this place is above the law."
"Aw, lighten up," Wong says, giving him a nudge. "Do billionaires even count as being human?"
"Isn't — wasn't one of your best friends Tony Stark?"
"Let me tell you," Wong says, gesturing at the tea set. "I didn't buy this, but I'm sure Mister Stark never missed it, locked as it was in his vault."
Jimmy raises the shot-glass sized cup up into the light, giving it a considering look. It really is beautiful, a dark stone carved into a cup that is both light enough to seem fragile but weighty enough to feel satisfying in the palm of his hand.
“I have a question,” Wong says, “But tell me if it’s not my business.”
“Since we’ve come back… after the blip. You adopted those kids when they were suddenly made orphans, right? Don’t your two youngest… have their birth parents back?”
Jimmy shifts, slightly uncomfortable. “It’s… complicated. Angel’s parents… they were never great to begin with, so she’s legally mine, now. Susie’s parents, they’re great. We’re in a bit of a transition phase, where she spends four days with them and three with me, when my schedule allows. Angel goes with her too, so they’re not separated too much. The others, they’re all older, so they’re working out their own things. Visits, time to catch up, that kind of stuff. But yeah, the youngest, at least, are mine until they don’t need me.”
“Need you?” Wong repeats, taken aback.
“Sure. I’m more than aware that I’m just a stop-gap. Education, money, that kind of thing.”
“Don’t you love them?”
“Of course I do,” Jimmy says with a rare fierceness.
“No, sorry, just, the way you said it, made it sound as if you were putting distance between you.”
“It did?” Jimmy looks away, silent for a moment. “...I suppose I’m just trying to be ready. For when they decide I’m not their dad anymore.”
“ If . If they decide that.”
“It would hurt just the same,” Jimmy says. “But at least if I think it’s going to happen, it won’t be a shock.”
Wong hums, and simply pours them another round of tea.
From not so far off, Jimmy hears a large crashing sound, as if half a building has been completely bulldozed. "Should I be worried?" He asks, though Wong looks more put-upon than worried that there's been some break-in.
"There are a couple of new… recruits that have been tearing up the place," Wong tells Jimmy in the patented voice of a man who's seriously considered killing his students in order to find peace again.
"I see! Kids, ey."
"They are in their solid mid-twenties," Wong says without emotion.
"They are too old to be fucking around like they do," Wong says, "But they're powerful, so what can you do. It's the end of days out there, and we need every hand we can take."
There's a thundering sound, and it takes Jimmy a moment to work out that those are footsteps and not an elephant on stampede.
"Speak of the devils," Wong says. "My apologies, I will deal with them and then we can resume—"
Jimmy's mouth falls open as he turns to the door that's just burst open. "Katy!? ...Shaun?"
"You know Katy and Shang-Chi?" Wong asks.
"Shang-Chi?" Jimmy repeats, giving Shaun a once over. "Hold on, are you wearing a superhero costume?"
"Jimmy?" Shaun says, appearing rather sheepish. "How did you get in here?"
"Oh my god, are you an Avenger too?" Katy asks, grabbing hold of Shaun's arm. "Oh my god Wong, is Jimmy an Avenger? Do you have a superhero name?"
"Avenger?" Jimmy turns between them. "Wait, what, you?"
"Yeah, so, long story short," Shaun says, "My birth name is Shang-Chi and I think we've just become Avengers."
"Avengers? Okay, no, first, what would you prefer I called you?"
"Either is fine. Shaun. Shang-Chi."
"Alright. And are you… do you… can you do magic?"
"Oh bro," Katy says, raw excitement in her voice, "Do it dude, show him! Pew pew pew!"
After a quick and undeniably impressive demonstration from Shang-Chi, Jimmy's mouth still refuses to close. He turns to Katy. "You too?"
"Naw, man, but I totally learned how to do archery while we were in this alternate world or whatever, so I'm definitely the new Hawkeye."
"I think that's a bit of a stretch," Wong says. "No, Jimmy is not an Avenger, and neither are you two, until you can learn control."
"Oh my god no way, did we just breach privacy laws or something?" Katy asks, slapping her hands over her mouth. "I totally didn't sign an NDA, and if I did, I didn't read it. Are we supposed to keep this shit under wraps, because we definitely told our friends at dinner, too."
"And maybe the waiters," Shaun adds.
"Yeah, like, at least five waiters and also our valet boss at the hotel."
"Yeah, him too. Pretty loudly, actually."
"I do remember shouting that he could suck it," Katy says, fondness to her voice as she reminisces. "Wait, back on track. Is it cool that we told Jimmy?" she asks Wong. "I promise he's chill, you totally don't need to kill him to silence him or whatever."
"Kill?" Jimmy says. "Why would he need to kill me?"
"Uh, because you saw our real faces! And you know where the secret hideout is."
"I actually have no idea what country we're in, let alone the zip code," Jimmy says, "But you don't need to worry about me keeping secrets." Jimmy reaches into his inside jacket pocket and removes his badge, opening it for them.
"You're part of SHIELD?!" Katy cries, grabbing the badge and immediately putting it in her mouth, as if she's testing the metal to see if it's legit. "What the fuck, dude! 'Agent Jimmy Woo'? You knew about all of this?! And you didn't tell us?!"
"To be fair," Jimmy says, gently retrieving the badge so he can give it a good wipe down and save it from permanent bite-marks, "Would you have believed me if I told you?"
"No way," Katy says, and Jimmy's a bit unclear as to whether that's a response or an utterance of shock, so he leaves it at that. "Hell yeah, we should totally form our own splinter group. The Asiangers." Katy laughs at her own pun, and then stills like a puppeteer has caught all of her strings.
"So why are you here?" Shang-Chi asks, a slight tension to his shoulders. "Is SHIELD investigating this place?"
"Uh," Jimmy says, and then defers to Wong, who adds a rather eloquent "Er…"
"Wait!" Katy says, turning on Jimmy. "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. You're boning Wong?? Mystery boyfriend is the magic Asian dude who's going to make us into Avengers?"
"I don't know if we would use those words," Jimmy says.
"Oh my god you guys!" she says, "It's fated! You guys were supposed to be our Avengers-mom-and-dad!"
"Shotgun being mother," Wong says.
"Wait," Shang-Chi turns on Wong. "Your name is Zi Jin? You have a first name and you didn't tell us?"
"You didn't ask," Wong says. "Jimmy did."
"Wow," Katy says. "This is great. Just me and my bro and my two new dads, in our superhero secret temple sect thing. What a life."
"I am certainly not old enough to be your dad, Katy," Jimmy objects. "Please! I just had to deal with my middle kid going to college, I don't need to adopt you, too."
"I think it would be funny," Wong says. When he's got their attention, he shrugs. "We show up to the Avengers meeting one day as a family. They think Jimmy and I have been married for years and have a grown-up daughter. Shang-Chi is our prodigal son."
"You really dislike the people you work with, huh," Shaun says.
"Dislike is a… well, it's not a strong word, but it's…" Wong stares into space for a moment. "Yeah, I would say I dislike them."
"I have a sister, by the way," Shaun adds. "So if you're adopting us…"
"Why not make it a family of…" Jimmy thinks for a second, "Ten. Anyone else you want to add?"
"I also have a little brother," Katy adds. "Don't forget him. And mom and grandma, obviously. And Shaun, you've got that new badass auntie, right?"
"Christ," Jimmy says, thinking about how big the table is going to have to be on Lunar New Year, "We've almost got a full army."
"I was a single child," Wong blurts. "And didn't know my family that well. I've been part of Kamar-Taj my entire life."
"Oh my god," Katy says, "Jimmy, you've made him all vulnerable. Look at him, he's a big, soft, scary, overpowered ball of feelings with a tragic family-related backstory! He's perfect ."
Jimmy hasn't known Zi Jin for very long, but he thinks that the blush that sparks across his face is probably very rare, and also very adorable. Ways to deepen it are already on the tip of his tongue when his phone rings.
“Sorry, I’ve got to take this one.” Jimmy tries to take himself to a corner of the room where Katy’s voice can’t penetrate (impossible) and picks up. He accepts the mission his manager gives him, hangs up and quickly scrolls through the mission details on his phone. “Apologies, crew, I’ve got to go to work.”
“Nooo!” Katy says, grabbing Jimmy’s arm. “Stay here with us forever!”
“Wow, that was a dead ringer for Angel when she was 11.” Jimmy extracts himself from Katy. “May I request a ride, Zi Jin?”
“Thank you for having me! I’m sorry it wasn’t as much of a break as I wanted it to be.”
“Next time,” Wong assures. “Where to?”
“Just my kitchen is fine, I’ve got to get my kit bag together.”
As Wong makes the portal, Jimmy winks at Shaun and Katy. “Alright kids, by nice to mommy while daddy’s at work, okay?”
“Yes, dad,” they obligingly parrot, Katy more enthusiastic than Shaun. “Have a good day at work,” Shaun adds. The portal has almost closed behind him when Katy screams “Don’t die!!”
> [17:22 Zi Jin Wong:] u busy on sun?
> [18:09 Jimmy Woo:] Yes! Sorry! What’s up? :)
> [18:10 Zi Jin Wong:] no worries. just thought u might have day off
> [18:11 Jimmy Woo:] Well, it won’t be as exciting or as high stakes as you’re used to, but you could come watch the little league game?
> [18:11 Jimmy Woo:] Susie is playing.
> [18:11 Jimmy Woo:] Susie is my daughter.
> [18:11 Jimmy Woo:] You don’t have to. I know you’ve got bigger fish to fry!
> [18:12 Zi Jin Wong:] would love to. send me details.
> [18:13 Jimmy Woo:] [location shared]
> [18:13 Jimmy Woo:] Though I would ask, if possible, not to teleport right into the playing field... the kids will be distracted, and it’s a pretty important game…
> [18:14 Zi Jin Wong:] subtlety. got it. will do.
> [18:16 Zi Jin Wong:] and jimmy, any day with you is exciting.
Wong arrives a little early. It’s been a long time since he’s done anything like go to a baseball match; let alone a little league one, so he isn’t really sure what the etiquette is. He realises his mistake when he sits alone on the empty bleachers, and people start giving him weird looks.
Right, children’s game, not a recognised member of the parents group. He resists the urge to teleport back home, and instead gives Jimmy a call.
“Hey Zi Jin! What’s up!”
“Just… wanted to make sure I was in the right place. Are you here?”
“Yeah, we’re…” there’s a moment of silence, and then Jimmy appears on the grounds right in front of him. “Oh! Hey!”
Wong descends to the safety fence, looking down at Jimmy and giving him an awkward wave.
Wong grimaces. “You said to stay subtle. I don’t know if anyone would recognise me, but...”
“You’ve got a bit of a, er...”
“Pedo stalker vibe? Yeah, I’ve realised.”
Jimmy removes his cap with a grin. “Moms giving you the evil eye, huh.”
“Yes. I felt very weird sitting here alone.”
“Well, there’s not much I can do about that, unless you want me to introduce you all!”
Wong glances at the group of women, who all look about as scary as he expects from a pack of soccer moms. “I think I’ll risk going it alone.”
“You’re not coming to sit?” Wong asks, feeling slightly pathetic in doing so.
“Me? How would I coach from up there!”
“You’re the coach?” Wong says, astounded.
Jimmy looks a little embarrassed. “Yeah, well, I’m a volunteer youth pastor at that church over there, and they needed someone to help coach the little league a while back-”
“You’re also the youth pastor?”
“I like to volunteer to help my community?”
“You can’t be human,” Wong says, considering for a genuine moment whether he’d be able to tell if Jimmy was some sort of android or super-capable alien species.
“No, no, I’m nothing special!”
“I don’t understand how you still have time to sleep,” Wong says. “I’d be bone-tired just running around for— in your day job.”
“I’m just one of those people born with extra energy, I guess!” Jimmy grins, then dons his baseball cap again. “I gotta go make sure my kiddies haven’t set fire to themself, but see you after?”
“Yeah. Have a good game.”
“Thanks!” Jimmy calls over his shoulder as he jogs over to the group of kids now warming up.
Every one of them lights up when they see him, going for an immediate huddle formation. Wong can’t hear what they’re saying, but there’s a lot of eye-rolling and barely-contained laughter, so he’s sure Jimmy’s treating them to a course of pre-game dad jokes.
His mannerisms don’t change when he’s around the children, Wong observes. He’s just as much of a golden retriever around him as he is with the kids. Wong often gets told that he’s a very stoic person: hard to read and even harder to talk to. He wonders, for a moment, what he would be like if he had the bounce and charm of a man like Jimmy, but then scoffs at the thought. Jimmy clearly enjoys talking to him as he is, and (most) of his students work to learn to differentiate his stoicism from dispassion or displeasure.
Wong has never thought about little league before, not really being part of his upbringing or his life, so he’s rather surprised to find just how much he likes it. He had planned to spend most of the match with the excuse to openly watch Jimmy in a hopefully-not-too-perverted way, but it quickly turns out that he can’t take his eyes off the game.
The kids aren’t professional athletes, but what they don’t have in skill they make up in pure, unadulterated enthusiasm. They scream their encouragement at one another, they make plays that are frankly astonishing, and he’s on the edge of his seat throughout the whole thing.
He has a periphery awareness of Jimmy, and it’s no surprise that he’s the kind of coach who is aggressively supportive of his kids — calling plays with a calm and humour, respecting the kids if they decide on moves themselves, but there to pick up the pieces when a play falls through.
Jimmy is wonderful. It’s almost sickening how perfect he is. Wong doesn’t lie to himself: he’d initially only approached Jimmy at the bar because he had a pretty face and was clearly athletic. He’s not particularly into one night stands, but he hadn’t really been planning on getting to know Jimmy; had written him off after his text had gone unreplied to. He wasn’t hurt, because he hadn’t really been expecting anything.
Jimmy has been delightful, though. Wong hasn’t had relationships before, hasn’t had the time nor the inclination, thinking them a drain on his precious time and energy, but… being with Jimmy is like being rejuvenated. Despite all the shit Jimmy is and has gone through, he still manages to have an optimism that Wong hasn’t had for decades. Optimism had been trained out of him, along with any thoughts of independence or a desire for personal happiness.
It’s a bit sad to realise that he’s not actually considered himself a person in a while. A cog in the wheel, a librarian, a teacher, a part of Kamar-Taj, assistant to the Sorcerer Supreme. Jimmy’s certainly the first person he’s allowed to call him Zi Jin in a good, long while.
He hasn’t really been forward planning with hanging out with Jimmy, had just told himself he was going along with the flow until they found a time to talk about things, but he has a realisation that he would be heartbroken, in a real sense of the word, if Jimmy started to distance himself now. They haven’t even known each other very long, have had a couple more paperwork sessions together over tea, had pizza twice, had gone for another round of drinks after work, but Wong feels like they’ve been together for years, and that he might, actually, love Jimmy.
He has a sudden awareness that he’s going through a bit of a mid-life crisis in the stands of a little league game, and he has to pull himself out of the pit he’s digging for himself. He’s given himself heart palpitations, so he fully channels those into the game, drifting closer to the soccer moms so he can join in with their chants.
He is almost ecstatic when Jimmy’s team scores a home run on their last pitch, jumping up and being engulfed in a mom-wide cheer-squad hug.
It leaves him with a high he’s not felt in a long, long while.
Wong hangs back while the other moms go to scoop up their kids. It takes a while, but Jimmy finally extracts himself and comes to join Wong on a bench.
“I heard you shouting,” Jimmy says, clearly unable to stop the fond smile on his face. “Here I was, thinking you were cool as a cucumber, but that seventh-inning bunt had you very excited. You know your stuff. You ever play?”
“No, no. I’ve watched a bit, but…” Wong sends an apology to the grand masters, “The movements, they’re a bit like some of the ones we teach at Kamar-Taj. Defence, light feet, full-body awareness…”
“No way!” Jimmy says, and then he mimics some of the gestures he’s clearly picked up from watching Wong, before morphing them into baseball swings. He gives a little self-satisfied chuckle when they align. “Hey, if you ever want to come on down and help with practise, you’re more than welcome.”
“Me? You’re joking. I don’t know anything about little league.”
“You don’t have to know anything!” Jimmy sighs, looking out across the field. “I don’t want to force you but… with all this Avengers stuff, my involvement with bigger SHIELD missions keeps increasing, and I’ve been looking for someone to assist me at practise. It would mean a lot if you could join me…” Jimmy makes a sound like he’s been stabbed, and then forces a smile on his face. “You know what? I’m sorry, that was really inappropriate. Here you are, super busy on actual life-and-death missions, and I’m asking you to teach spiritual breathing techniques to my baseball team. Sorry.”
“You have nothing to apologise for,” Wong says, meaning it. “You… are overwhelmed?”
“No! No!” Jimmy hurries to say, in a way that says he very much is. “I can’t complain! And I love being a youth pastor here, and I wouldn’t give up coaching for the world.”
“It’s just that, more recently, you’ve actually had to save the world. And not metaphorically.”
Jimmy deflates. “Yeah. How do you do it?”
“Well, I haven’t adopted five children on top,” Wong starts, relaxing back on the bench to stare up at the blue sky. “It may not look it, but we do have some pretty solid support structures at Kamar-Taj. We’ve been doing apocalypse squashing for millennium. I’m not one man.”
“SHIELD is great,” Jimmy hurries to say, “I’ve got friends and colleagues, and I’m very lucky to be in the position I am now. It’s important work…”
“But you’re still human. You can’t save the world, and your children, and your little league team, and those who come to you as their pastor, and actually expect to give everyone your one hundred percent.”
“But-” Jimmy starts to say, “But if I don’t… who will?”
“I just met the most terrifying group of moms, who seem like they’ll do anything for their children. As for the world, Katy and Shang-Chi are… inexperienced, but their heart is in the right place. Stephen’s a fool, but he’s strong. We’ve got Banner and Danvers and a whole host of people who I despise but whose strength I acknowledge.”
“It makes me wish we could team up more. Get some SHIELD knowledge to you in exchange for some workshops on self-defence.”
Wong thinks about it for a moment. “Sure, why not.”
“Yeah. We need all the help we can get. Why keep ourselves separate? We might as well work as a cohesive unit.”
“It would super save us from that moment of surprise, near the end of the fight, when you guys show up to save the day.”
“And we would know which bunkers we could steal tech from!” Wong says, looking serious until his eyes crinkle in humour.
Wong pats Jimmy on the thigh. “And I’d be happy to help with training. Not just because I would get to spend more time with you, but… that’s not an insignificant factor either.”
“I’m just that sexy, huh.”
“You’re just that sexy,” Wong confirms. “But if you want to do me a favour and help train Shang-Chi and Katy, I won’t say no.”
Jimmy laughs, then weaves their hands together. “Maybe we can convince them that little league is part of the ancient arts?”
Wong hums. “Yeah, I think I can find a way to spin that.”
One of the kids starts waving over at them, and Jimmy gives Wong’s hand a squeeze. “Duty calls. We’re heading over to Chuck E. Cheese. I’d invite you, but I’ll save you the horror of being inquisitioned about our love life by twenty parents, children and animatronic hell rats.”
“Really falling on your sword.”
“What can I say, I’m a real hero.” Jimmy stands, and before he can think too much about it, he dips to give Wong a quick kiss. He licks his lips, a little giddy, then pulls his cap down to hide his eyes, as if that’ll help shield his embarrassment. “Text you later?”
“Yes,” Wong says, and Jimmy feels Wong watch him leave.
They decide to have a fancy sit-down meal for their next date, namely because Shaun, Katy, Angel, Susie, Min-Su, Jess, Susie’s parents and the entire squad of little league moms decide they’re overdue a ‘proper date’, where it’s just them, no distractions, and a whole lot of romance.
It’s hard to book a table when their schedules don’t really operate on a fixed calendar basis, and they have to re-arrange at least three times when overzealous alien overlords attempt to make Earth their new territory. Working to integrate SHIELD and Kamar-Taj operations, they spend more time together than before, but they still have their individual duties, so they don’t often clock off at the same time, let alone on the same planet.
It feels like an extraordinary success to have even made it through the door to the restaurant, Jimmy in a formal suit that sits a little baggy on him (he notes this with a little internal encouragement to eat more,) and Wong in a slightly less martial iteration of his maroon robes, less practical leather and more golden embellishments.
“Well,” Jimmy says as he fiddles with his black tie, “It’s safe to say I feel underdressed!”
“We’ll get you some formal wear made up at Kamar-Taj,” Wong promises. “It wouldn’t do to present you to the masters in an agent’s suit. Though,” he says, looping Jimmy’s arm through his own, “They’d probably fall off the mountain if they saw you in that black turtleneck you were in at the bar.”
“The turtleneck?” Jimmy asks, before remembering “Oh, my field gear?”
“Jimmy, I’d have to fight them off you if you wore that out in the open.”
“You looked ridiculously good in it.”
“Oh! Huh! Well! That’s… nobody’s ever said that to me before!”
“That’s criminal ,” Wong says. “But good for me. I get you all to myself.”
“Christ,” Jimmy says, barely able to contain his smile, “You need to stop or we are not going to make it through dinner.”
“If that happens, then that happens.”
There’s a subtle clearing of a throat, and Jimmy returns to reality, where a slightly-sheepish-but-mostly-amused waiter is holding two menus. “Did you have a reservation, sirs?”
“Uh, yeah,” Jimmy says, taking a guilty step back from Wong as if he’s been caught making out in his bedroom by his mother. “Table for two under Woo?”
“Woo,” the waiter says, scrolling through the system. “There we are. Follow me.” The waiter leads them inside, past staff who take their coats. “Where would you and your husband like to sit?”
“Oh we’re-” Jimmy starts to say, but Wong cuts over him.
“It’s actually our ten year anniversary,” Wong says, beaming at the waiter.
“Oh wow, congratulations!” he says, eyes lighting up.
“We got married in New York the month it was legalised,” Jimmy adds, enjoying playing a game as much as the next man. “But we’ve been together for what…”
“Twenty eight years,” Wong says. “Can you believe that.”
“Time has flown by!” Jimmy sighs.
“You two seem like a great match,” the waiter says, vehement.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God we met,” Jimmy says, and wow, that got a little more personal than he intended.
He locks eyes with Wong, an unsaid realisation that the joke got a little bit out of hand startling both of them.
“Listen,” the waiter says, clearly moved by the statement, “We don’t usually do this here, but do you guys drink?”
“We certainly do.”
“I’ll have a bottle of champagne sent to your table, on us.”
“Wow, really?” Wong says, and if Jimmy weren’t already versed in his acting, he might have believed the ‘oh golly’ tone to his voice. “You are most kind.”
“Hey, we’ve got to support our own, right?” The waiter gives them a wink. “And you know what, I was going to put you two over here, but I know which table is the best, so I’ll give that one to you. You need anything, you just ask for Chea.”
Once they’ve finished giggling like a pair of truant school children, they manage to look through the menu and present themselves like adults again.
It’s not super busy, and the waiter was correct that this was the best table in the place: closed off enough to afford privacy but still in the regular path of waiters who doted on them (clearly word had spread about their marriage.)
Despite the premise of it being a date, they talk for the most part about integration strategy, and problem solve with some of the issues they’d run into that week. They catch up about the status of agents and warriors who had been hospitalised in the attacks, and they eulogise about those who didn’t make it. They chat shit about Katy’s latest schemes, and plot a better training regime for Shang-Chi, now that he’s becoming more sure about his style.
Only once they’ve got through that does the conversation quiet for a moment, and the champagne begins to warm Jimmy.
“So,” he says, after he’s pushed a strawberry around in its chocolate sauce, “Is it… allowed, in your order, to have families? Get married and the like?”
Wong chokes a bit on his bite of cheesecake, but quickly recovers with an empathetic “Yes. But even if it were not, Stephen has been Sorcerer Supreme for all of two days. He’ll believe what I tell him.”
“The secret kingpin, ah.”
“And your elders and masters, they’re not going to kick you out for having a male partner?”
“The elders belong to a sect that was never colonised, neither by white western ideals, nor by Buddhist anti-sexual purity culture.”
“Huh. That must be… nice!”
“Yes. It is. What about your elders?”
“Oh, my parents have known since I was a teenager. They’re not exactly the stereotype of pushy Asian parents, they’ve never tried to force me to get married, they knew that I cared about my work, and they knew I’d get to it if I wanted it. But… I think they’ll be relieved. If I, er, introduced you. If you were comfortable with that.”
“I’ve gone nearly fifty years without having to meet anybody’s parents,” Wong says. “But I suppose there’s a first time for everything.”
“Just imagine it’s like squaring up to Thanos, except there’ll be more food and less blood. And if it’ll make you more comfortable, I’m sure my daughters would love to come and force you to do magic tricks for them.”
“That sounds… like something I want to be part of.”
“Yeah?” Jimmy asks, way too hopeful.
Wong takes Jimmy’s hand in his. “Yeah.”
To be fair to the universe, they make it almost all the way through their after dinner coffees when Jimmy’s phone goes off (Wong’s only a moment later), and they have to rush through paying the bill in order to teleport out to the middle of nowhere, where another evil oligarch is trying to start World War 3.
It's not straight away, but there's a night, fairly early in, where Jimmy sits on the edge of the bed. Wong is sitting on his own side, reading glasses clinging on for dear life as he reads some cheesy YA novel in the near-darkness. Jimmy's in his pyjamas, teeth brushed, the kids put to bed, the doors locked, tomorrow's packed lunches made and meetings planned.
Jimmy breathes in a deep breath and then, without warning, he begins to cry. It's like the people in his brain who have carefully maintained the dam over the last five years have decided that today is their last day, that that brick they'd thought about replacing could be set aside instead.
He cries silently for a while, almost in wonder that the emotion has finally made it out, and then he's an ugly, sobbing mess, and Zi Jin Wong is holding him, making him comfortable and patting him through the worst of it.
Wong brings him tea, and a snack, and he tells him a funny story about what the Abomination did today at their match in Singapore, and Jimmy goes to sleep, feeling, for the first time in a long while, like he can greet tomorrow and move forward.