Who: Rhodey & MJ What: Elevator talk When: Before Rhodey's trip to DC. Where: Avengers Tower Warnings: None
Rhodey was heading up to the labs in the Tower to meet with Tony and was surprised to see a young woman who looked like she was barely out of high school, if that, waiting at the elevator bank with him. She obviously belonged where she was because FRIDAY was impeccable about security and impossible to trick. Maybe it was Talos in disguise or something.
"James Rhodes," he introduced himself, because he felt like he ought to, and he ought to know everyone who was in and out of the Tower. Especially if Tony was recruiting them.
MJ was not out of high school yet, though technically, she would be if she hadn’t been turned into dust for five years. She was at the Tower to meet up with Peter and was hesitant about the whole thing. It felt weird walking around without him and she wasn’t terribly surprised when someone spoke to her.
It was pretty obvious that he wanted to know who she was. “Michelle Jones,” she said. “MJ to my friends. I’m meeting Peter.”
"A pleasure, Ms Jones. I know Peter." Rhodey didn't say and the last time we worked together I dangled him over the mouth of an angry crocodile kaiju for any number of reasons, like he didn't know if she knew about Peter's other activity, and that it might be worse if she did. He let his smile indicate his approval, though. "I'm going up to meet Tony and I wouldn't be surprised if Peter is there with him."
The elevator dinged and the doors opened; Rhodey held the door for MJ.
“Probably,” MJ agreed, stepping into the elevator and hitting the button for the floor where Peter told her he’d be. “Most likely making upgrades to his suit again.” She rolled her eyes a little though she found it endearing that Peter was such a nerd.
At least in this reality, his secret wasn’t public knowledge. MJ was afraid of what was going to happen back in their original reality. “You’re an Avenger too, right?”
"Yeah, I've been in for a while. For me, it's been years, though I don't think it's been as long here. I see you on the forums," Rhodey added, "so I know you know about that. It's got to be hard on you. It's weird for me, so I can only imagine what it would be like for someone younger."
It was also weird that she couldn’t really talk to too many people about things. What she experienced in the other universe was a lot for someone her age to deal with and she had to be very careful not to let any of it slip to the wrong person.
“Were you one of the ones who got us back?” MJ asked. “Or did you get wiped out by Thanos?” She’d been filled in on the actual cause of the mass disappearances and was grateful that hadn’t happened in this universe. That made it easier not to talk about.
"I made it through. And yeah, I was on the team then. It was a rough time." Rhodey started to say it was worth it and on the one hand, it had been, but on the other hand: Nat and Tony. Instead he settled on, "I like things better here. Where most people don't know how bad we almost had it.
"So what do you do, besides meeting Peter at the Tower? I mean most people who came across either have a power or they have some special training. I'm in the latter category: I have a suit. Not trying to be nosy or anything, but--it just seems like most of us are here to do things, and I'm interested in figuring out how we get picked, if we are. Picked consciously, I mean." As an Avenger, Rhodey couldn't help but look for the hero in every person he came across, and the folks who remembered the prime universe even more so.
That was a question that MJ asked herself often. The best she’d come up with so far was that she was here as moral support for Peter. Which, okay, was not the best thing ever because she was not really that type of girl, but she hoped that maybe someday she could do more for him, kind of like how Ned was his guy in the chair. “I go to high school,” she said.
She was incredibly intelligent and intuitive, had figured out Peter’s secret before he shared it with her, and she had no problem fighting when they’d been cornered in London, but she saw herself more as a behind the scenes genius than an actual hero.
“Peter and I were on the academic decathlon team together.”
"If you're half as smart as Peter, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out you are, I bet Tony will snap you up and bring you into his lab for after school stuff. Because we need all the brains we can get around here." Not that Rhodey was keen on saddling another teenager with the responsibility for helping save the world. But still, he'd rather have everybody who knew about the prime world close to hand. They all seemed to have something that this world needed. "High school can be tough on smart kids even without crossing universes. You handling it okay?"
“I suppose that depends on how you define smart,” MJ said with a wry smirk. Academically speaking, Peter definitely had her beat, but when it came to people, she was probably smarter. Or at least less flaily. “Yeah, it’s fine. I have to watch what I say around a few people because they don’t remember the same events I do. Not having a lot of friends helps there though.”
And she was relieved that this place was still largely safe for Peter. It worried her what was happening after J. Jonah Jameson outed him back in their original universe.
The elevator gears made an odd grinding noise and she frowned, looking up at the ceiling as if expecting to see something. A moment later, it abruptly stopped, making her almost lose her balance. “Uh… that’s not good.”
"Friday, what's up?" Rhodey asked.
The computer voice that ran the complex answered, but not quite in its usual mellifluous tones. It sounded almost anxious to Rhodey, though if he hadn't been listening for it he might not have noticed. "We have a temporary malfunction in the elevator mechanism. You are both perfectly safe. Do not worry. We will resume normal services momentarily."
Rhodey mouthed "Greeeaaat" at MJ, and added, aloud, for Friday's benefit: "Thanks for letting us know. We'll just hang out."
"Usually," he told MJ, "I only get stuck in things when I'm wearing the suit. If we have to, I can get us both out of here and open a door." He pointed upward to the hatch in the ceiling of the elevator.
It took a moment for MJ to realize that he was addressing a computer system that ran the building. She had heard plenty about Tony Stark’s AI though and trusted that they would be safe enough until this glitch was fixed. Besides, if she was going to be stuck with anyone, at least she was with someone who could protect them.
“We can wait and see what happens,” she said. “I’m sure it won’t be long until we’re out of here.” Especially if Peter found out that she was stuck.
She decided to slide down the wall and sit while they waited, dropping her backpack next to her. “How’d you end up on the team?” she asked.
"That's a long story. I've known Tony forever and not long after he became Iron Man there was a situation where I had to be in a suit, so I got in. And there's a lot of stuff with the Air Force there--they would've liked it if I were formally a military asset, or at least if the suit was--but Tony didn't want to be a weapons maker any more. And ultimately he wanted to retire, but he thought there ought to be a guy with a suit, so I was elected. At least that's how I remember it. It may be a little different here," Rhodey explained. "The suits aren't exactly alike. Tony's is kind of a fast, maneuverable fighter and mine is kind of a gunship. I just fly it like it's a fighter.
"It's not just the suit, though. I'm not a heavy hitter like Hulk or Cap, and I'm not even up to the standards of the SHIELD folks like Nat, but I can handle myself in a fight. Or in a battle." After all, Rhodey had earned his pilot's wings long before the suit had come along.
MJ nodded as he spoke. She was well aware of Tony Stark’s history, thanks to both her own interest in current events and Peter talking about his idol incessantly. “Do you regret it?” she asked. It might be too personal of a question to ask someone she just met, but she had concerns about Peter’s future, especially back in their original dimension where he’d been outed as Spiderman. If she was going to support him, she needed to know what she might need to be prepared for in the future.
Rhodey wondered if she knew about his back and legs, about the injury he'd taken when they'd gone after Barnes. "I can't say I have no regrets," he told MJ slowly, "but overall I think I've done more good--the Avengers have done more good--than the trouble it's caused me matters. But I knew what I was signing on for. I was already in the Air Force and I knew the risks. Sometimes I wonder about folks--" he knew better than to say 'kids' "--like Peter. The risks are a lot clearer to those of us with military backgrounds." Or espionage, like Nat, but that wasn't to the point. This was about the civilians.
"I worried about Tony like that, a lot, before he made the suit. But after the kidnapping, I think he knew what the downsides could be. He's had bad times since, along with the good, but not as much about the risks." Rhodey spread his hands in a sort of resigned gesture. "He might think the suit made him invulnerable--which it doesn't, and he had to find that out the hard way--but he at least understood how bad it could get."
His answer was pretty much what MJ was looking for. “I worry about that with Peter too,” she admitted. “He’s so... “ she paused, needing a moment to find the right word. “... naive. He wants to believe the best in everyone.” Like Beck. She wasn’t sure how much Rhodey knew about that whole mess. “I think it’s too easy for people to take advantage of him.”
She didn’t add that she felt like Tony Stark was one of those people. In her opinion, the man had used Peter’s hero worship to his advantage and gotten Peter involved in things that were far more dangerous than being the friendly neighborhood Spiderman. MJ also knew better than to voice those thoughts to Peter.
"He's a good-natured kid. Sometimes that means you get pushed too far, you get asked too much of you. That people around you don't know when to stop and let you rest. I could see that happening to Peter. I felt pretty bad when he was the fishing lure that got that kaiju to chase him all over Manhattan before we finished it," Rhodey admitted. "But he'd run up there and made himself a target--with a good strategy: trying to close its mouth was smart--and then it was chasing him so that was how it fell out. I'll do what I can to keep an eye on him, if that helps." The business with Quentin Beck, if Rhodey remembered it at all, was out of mind at the moment. But he did think a lot about how he'd taken the risk of becoming an Avenger and gotten his back broken. This wasn't something he wanted to see happen to Peter.
“That does help,” MJ said. She knew that none of them wanted to see anything bad happen to Peter, but she worried that everyone forgot just how young he was sometimes. Plus she knew that Peter was somewhat lacking in self preservation instincts which led him to do things like make himself monster bait.
The elevator came to life then, jerking a bit as it continued its ascent. MJ stood up, slinging her bag over her shoulder again. “It was nice meeting you,” she said when the doors finally opened and they were able to step out.
"It was a pleasure," Rhodey answered reflexively. "If you need a hand with anything--" he reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card, something that he wasn't sure the kids these days used any more but they still did in DC "--this is how you can find me. And good luck dealing with Tony and Peter."
MJ took the card and tucked it in her pocket, figuring she’d transfer the information into her phone’s address book later. “Thanks,” she said. “I’ll probably need it.”
Rhodey nodded. He was Tony's best friend, after all. It was how he knew she would.