Summary: Tommy doesn't have a favorite hero. At least not one who's not on his team. Because when he really needed a hero, when he really needed to be saved, he didn't get the Avengers, or the X-Men. He got the Young Avengers.
"Who's your favorite hero?"
Tommy knew that question was going to come up eventually, beings that his team was made up predominantly of fanboys and lifelong hero fans. The only real surprise was that it hadn't come up sooner, considering how much Billy and Teddy liked to geek out. Tommy thought he was ready for it. He'd been preparing. But as he listened to the conversation take the exact path he'd estimated it would, he found his mouth going dry, and a surge of anxiety stirring in his gut.
Cassie's answer was predictable. Ant Man, of course. Her dad. And when it was demanded that she choose a hero she wasn't related to, she stuttered and wavered, unable to decide. Eli named his grandfather as his favorite, then rattled off just about every other black superhero since family members had to be excluded from everyone's options. When Kate tried to go with the original Hawkeye, mentors and legacy heroes were also disqualified, so Kate ended up going with a three way tie between three heroes Tommy didn't care enough about to remember their names twenty seconds later. Vision asserted that he had no favorite in particular, but could give them the statistics of the most powerful heroes, the fastest heroes, the heroes responsible for saving the most lives, and etc . . .
Then Billy and Teddy started their aforementioned geeking out session, and Tommy thought that he had been spared. He had barely had time to taste the relief though, when Kate cut into Teddy's argument that Thor was a legacy hero for Billy, since his original code name had been Asgardian, thus Billy needed to choose another hero.
"Before you two get into another one of your hour long debates, let's hear who Tommy's favorite hero is," Kate said.
All eyes turned toward the speedster expectantly. He gave them the most bored look he could muster and told them, "I don't have one."
That got the anticipated groans. "You have to have one!" insisted Billy.
"Who doesn't have a favorite hero?" Teddy wanted to know.
"That's like not having a favorite color," Cassie said.
"Or a favorite clothing designer," added Kate.
All comments Tommy had anticipated, up to and including the clothing designer one (though that was one of fifteen comments he had anticipated hearing from Kate).
"I don't have a favorite hero," Tommy repeated.
"You have to have one," said Billy again.
"Well then who was your favorite when you were a kid? Every kid has a favorite hero," reasoned Teddy.
"Not me," said Tommy.
"Dude, if I had to play this stupid game, so do you," Eli said.
"Fine then. My favorite hero is Billy," he said, keeping his tone as flippant as he could.
Billy looked slightly flattered but shook his head. "Be serious."
"We already said relatives don't count," Teddy reminded him.
"You're telling me my brother can't be my favorite hero?"
"The rules said you have to pick a hero you're not related to!"
"Well, I'm not related to Billy, am I? No DNA test is going to match us to each other."
"Dude, stop playing it both ways," Teddy complained.
"Stop screwing around a pick another hero already," said Eli.
Kate, as anticipated, tried approaching the question from another angle. "Okay then, after Billy, whose your favorite hero?"
Tommy grinned sardonically. "You really want me ranking the team in order of my favorites, Hawkeye? I dunno, that seems like it would be bad for team moral."
Eli made a rude sound. "Oh for –"
"You're last on that list, by the way, Eli."
"Tommy! Be nice!"
"So, I guess you don't want me ranking you guys by favorites."
"Choose people who aren't on our team, Tommy," Cassie said.
"I don't have any favorites who aren't on our team," insisted Tommy.
"Well then, what's your favorite team of heroes?" Billy asked.
"And don't say –"
"The Young Avengers," said Tommy."
" – the Young Avengers. Damn it, Tommy."
"Seriously, whose your favorite team other than us?" Kate asked.
"I. Don't. Have. One."
Eli huffed. "This is what we get for trying to include him. He always screws everything up."
A remark like that had been anticipated, but it still stung, and before Tommy knew what he was doing, he was on his feet, and angry words were flying out of his mouth. "You want to know why I don't have a favorite hero who's not on this team? Why I don't have a favorite team other than this team? It's because they all let me down. Every single one of them."
All eyes turned back to Tommy who swallowed hard as he realized what he'd just said. He should have muttered an insult then, something to close off the conversation, and sat back down. He should have run away. Instead he kept on talking. It was like a dam had broken and there was no stopping the words now. They kept on flowing, even though he wanted to call them all back and bottle them back up, just like he'd planned to.
"You know why I didn't see how much Billy and I looked like each other when we first met? Because I hadn't seen my own reflection for over a year. I was locked up, because I lost control of powers I didn't even know I had. I was poked, and prodded, and cut, up like some stupid science experiment. I was tortured. And at first, every night, I prayed to God to get me out of there. I was so stupid . . ." Tommy gave a watery laugh and shook his head. He was slightly surprised to feel tears falling down his cheeks, and had the feeling that he was never going to live this down. Crying like a little girl in front of the team. Rich. Really. But since he'd already eaten the poison, licking the plate wasn't going to make it any worse.
"I really believed in a higher power, in that stupid little kid Sunday school way, ya know? Then, somewhere between the experimental drugs and the open heart dissection with no anesthesics, I realized just how dumb I was to ever believe in that. Because if there was a God, wouldn't he stop shit like that from happening? But it was okay, because I didn't need a higher power. I just needed a hero. Just one to come and get me out of there. Because that's what heroes do, right? They find people who are in trouble and they help them. They track down bad men who try to turn kids into living weapons, and they save those kids before they become screwed up beyond any hope of redemption.
"I made bets with myself about who it would be, based on what I knew about different heroes, different groups of heroes, where they operated, and how they operated. I was going to be saved by the X-Men. That's what I told myself first. They're mutants. I'm a mutant. They won't let people treat me like this. They'll come for me and get me out of here, and take me home with them. That's what I told myself. And when they didn't come, I started betting on others. Spider Man lives near here. I mean, it's a little out of his way, but he's got that sixth sense thing that tells him when there's trouble, and aren't I in trouble? The Avengers. It'll definitely be the Avengers. Captain America didn't shut down the Nazi frickin' concentration camps just to let American scientists set up their own torture detention centers right here at home. Iron Man is one of the smartest men alive. He'll realize something's going on here and come shut this place down. Mr. Fantastic from the Fantastic Four is a genius too. One of them will come find me. Surely, one of them will save me.
"But none of them ever did. I would have even taken the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, if they'd come a'knockin'. Dr. Doom, Doc Oc, Loki, I would have taken anyone, followed anyone, worshiped anyone who got me out of there, but none of them ever came.
"Then I saw you guys on the news. Television was the one privilege I had, until I blew it up, after I saw you guys. Because I didn't just see a bunch of kids in cosplay when I saw you. I saw one more group of heroes who was going to let me down, and I couldn't take it anymore. Then you came. You came when no one else did, and you got me out of there, and I didn't even know what to do, I was so floored. So that is why you guys are my favorite heroes, and my favorite hero team, and why you're not going to get me to choose another. Because they're not my heroes. You guys are."
Dead silence followed when Tommy finally shut up. Too embarrassed to meet his teammates' eyes, he focused his gaze pointedly on the floor, feeling his face burn, and not just from the tears that were still making their way down his cheeks. He hadn't meant to say all that. He'd never intended to say any of that to anyone, ever. And now his team knew exactly how messed up in the head he was.
Billy was the first one to move. Tommy didn't see it, but he heard it, the rustle of Billy's cape thing, as he closed the distance between him and his brother, then grabbed a handful of Tommy's shirt and crushed him into a hug.