So bloody much security, she thought, as she finally made her way to her car an hour and a half later.
“I sure hope he’s worth it.” she had finally said to the head of the security detail. He just shrugged.
All of this just to take a client out for breakfast! And that was just on a whim! But she knew he wasn’t going to be able to work all day on what they served as a hospital breakfast. They were cooking for someone who was going to lie in bed all day.
As she started her car, she saw that it was 8 o’clock and she hadn’t eaten yet. She didn’t know why she wasn’t famished.
Her thoughts drifted back to him; to Steve Rogers; Captain America. He was not what she expected at all, but maybe she caught him at a bad moment. She could almost see the fog clinging to him when she had first walked in. Bad memories there. Damn, it was always harder when they got them before they’d gone through their grieving.
She went over the interview in her head as she drove, checking her professional demeanor. She should have suggested he talk to someone to help him through the grief, but she probably wouldn’t have been the first to suggest it. Other than that and the breakfast date, all above board. Didn’t even lose it when she saw those eyelashes; it was close, though! Never.give him.a reason.to close his eyes around you!
Dismissing her super client, she started going through the rest of her day. Meetings with her dad and Mr. Stark about the prosthetic. They wouldn’t be at the gym until noon the next day with the first prototype, so that would give her and Steve time to have a good breakfast and take care of some basics before the engineers got there.
She had met with her kids last Thursday. Child amputees are always heartbreaking, but these kids just amazed her some days! Three little girls – 5, 7 & 10, and 2 boys –9 and 13. They had heard that she was going to be working with Steve and they were so full of advice and suggestions on his training! She sure hoped that she’d be able to bring them together at some point. What an inspiration they’d be for him!
Him…back to him. He was very handsome and she was definitely attracted to him. She shook her head to clear it…admitting the attraction didn’t help her.
Home for grilled cheese and yoga and maybe a good night’s sleep…but she doubted that would happen.
The light coming through the window woke him. He blinked and grabbed his phone to see what time it is. 07 00. When was the last time he had slept past 6?
He frowned as he remembered that he’d done nothing but sleep for the past week; past 2 weeks, actually, if he counted the week in cryo.
“Enough sleep, Rogers.” he said to himself. “Time to move.”
There was a shower in his bathroom with a seat. He was planning on working up a sweat later, but he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a shower…and he was having breakfast with the purple-haired girl…Ginny…
He reached for the crutches and found that they were the perfect height! He’d have to ask her how she knew exactly how to adjust them for him. He had felt like a hunchback using them before, now he stood straight and tall.
After he struggled through a shower and shave, he felt much better. He poked around for clothes and found only sweats and t-shirts. Oh, well. Not exactly what he’d choose to go out wearing, but they’d do.
He was looking down at his empty pant leg when his hospital breakfast arrived. Luke-warm oatmeal, watery coffee, and a fruit cup that looked like it was from the day before. He was glad to be able to take a miss on that!
He checked his phone: 8:50. Just enough time to try and pin up his pant leg. He found a couple of safety pins in the drawer and had just finished when the door opened.
Stupid alarm, she thought for the tenth time. Had to pick today to not go off!
It didn’t help that she didn’t sleep very well the night before. The training regimen she had set for Steve kept running through her dreams all night. Was it too intense…or not intense enough? She’d have to push him if he was going to be mission-ready in a month. A month!! She still thought they were crazy to expect it. He still had psychological shit to deal with and if he fell apart half way through, that was going to really delay things. So far, she understood that he wouldn’t see a shrink…she’d have to work on that.
7:30…shit. She still had to meet with security and she dare not be late. Mr. 06 00 would certainly be waiting for her. Fast shower, no make-up, travel mug of coffee and she was out the door.
Traffic wasn’t too bad, thankfully. She’d been working at the hospital long enough to have alternative routes she could take.
She was still late for the security briefing at 8:30, but at least the coffee had succeeded in waking her up by then. The restaurant was secure and there was a detail on the street. They even gave her her own wrist-com and earpiece.
“Is this all really necessary?” she asked. “We’re just going for breakfast.”
“Ma’am, the attack on Captain Rogers was specifically aimed at him and meant to do maximum damage. We still don’t know who was behind it, so yes, this is all necessary.” The security chief turned away to respond to his wrist-com. Corelli? Corelli, that was his name. She was starting to feel a little contrite at having suggested this in the first place. She checked her watch…8:50. Quick bathroom break and then let’s get this show on the road.
She pushed the door open and saw him still sitting on the chair trying to get his pant leg pinned up. He looked up when she came in the room and smiled. Then he looked back at his handiwork.
“I can’t seem to get it right. It’s either too loose or too tight.” he said in frustration.
“There’s a trick to it.” she said, handing him his crutches. “Here, stand up and I’ll show you.”
She knelt down in front of him, took the pins out and put them between her lips. Then she expertly folded the pant leg up to the right length and pinned it in place.
“It’s easier if you’re standing to get it the right length, but it will still take some practice. There, how’s that?” He flexed and bent his leg.
“Perfect.” he marveled. “And so are these crutches. How did you know how tall to make them?”
Ginny was standing back, looking at the crutches critically. She looked up at his face and then quickly away.
“I had a boyfriend about your height. He was an amputee, too.” she said, not looking at him.
Don’t want to talk about the old boyfriend, Steve thought. Noted.
“Let’s see what you’re not having for breakfast.” Ginny said as she lifted the lid off of his meal tray and pulled a face at what she saw.
“Yeah, not too upset to not have to eat that!” he said with feeling. She laughed.
“Even the coffee looks gross!” she said. “Are you all set? I think your security detail won’t be happy until you’re downstairs safe and sound in my gym. They’re not happy to have to secure the whole street outside!”
His gym bag was on the bed. “I wasn’t sure about shoes…” he let his voice drifted off.
“Definitely bring your other one. You might not have a leg to walk away with today, but you will have one to use and work out with today.”
She grabbed the bag before he could and said, “We’ll let security take this down to the gym. You don’t need it at the restaurant.” And they headed for the door.
After 2 steps with the newly adjusted crutches, Steve realized how much of a difference they made. He was standing tall, his arms stretched almost full length to the hand grips and the padding under the arms meant he barely felt them.
“Wow! This is great! Thanks.” he said to her back. She turned around at the door and smiled up at him.
“Nothing worse that badly adjusted crutches.” she said, and preceded him out into the hall.
Corelli was waiting for them in the hallway and started filling Steve in on the security measures. Here, he was in his element. He listened, asked a few questions and made a couple of suggestions. No, wait, she thought, not suggestions, orders. Even on crutches, it was clear to everyone who was in charge.
Corelli gave him a wrist-com and earpiece, too, and he tested them to make sure he was on channel. He looked over at her to make sure she had her equipment on, too, and reached for her hand.
He put her wrist up to his mouth and said, “Channel 7 clear.” And she heard “7 clear” in her earpiece.
“This channel is open, so if anything happens, just talk and they’ll come running, okay?” He gave her hand a squeeze before letting it go.
They started to walk and four guys in jeans & non-matching sweatshirts and jackets fell in around them.
“At least they’re not all wearing black suits and ties.” she leaned over and said under her breath.
“Yeah, I never understood why they did that. Like no one’s going to notice that!” he smiled back at her.
“Nick’s coming to brief me today, so I’ll see what they’ve got so far on the attack, but I don’t think they have much. Bucky says whoever attacked me seems to have just faded into the mist.” Steve said.
“Bucky’s your buddy from the 40s, right?” she asked.
“Yeah, he came by last night after you left and caught me up. A lot’s happened in 2 weeks.” he said. He noticed that she was scanning the street almost as much as the security detail was.
“Are you nervous, or are you always this vigilant?” He hated to think this was just for him.
“I’m a single girl living in New York, honey.” she said, teasingly. “It pays to know what’s around you.”
He smiled…not just for him, then.
By the time they had reached the restaurant, Steve had gathered more than a few eyes, but all admiring and curious, none harmful.
Inside, they took a table near the wall and scanned the menu. The security team had split up with two outside and two at a table nearby.
Once coffee and breakfast were ordered, they found it difficult to talk. The brightness of the restaurant seemed to steal away any ease they might have had with each other the night before.
Over the sound system, Billy Joel’s ‘New York State of Mind’ was playing.
“Nice tune.” he said. “Do you know who it is?”
This is back in my realm of expertise, she thought.
“This is Billy Joel, one of my favourite musicians.”, she said.
He shrugged his lack of knowledge. “Is all of his music like this? Slow and melodic?”
“He’s mainly known as a rocker, but he also has lots of beautiful ballads, like this. Most of his stuff is from the 70s and 80s. I’m surprised no one’s suggested that you listen to him…he’s a fellow New Yorker. I’ve probably got most of his library on my computer, if you want to give it a listen. I can put it on a stick for you.” she offered.
“Sure.” he said, a little hesitantly.
“My stereo’s pretty old-school and I’m not a fan of how music sounds on my tablet.”
She smiled. “I think my dad still has the LPs if you prefer vinyl.”
“Or CD’s…I can do CD’s.” he said, trying not to sound hopelessly outdated.
“I’ll text my dad…maybe he can grab what he has and bring them today.” She reached for her phone.
As she was texting, their food came. She had figured him for a straight up bacon and eggs kinda guy and she was right. It was always her preference before a busy day like today, too.
The waitress, who was sporting 5 earrings in each ear, a lip, nose and 2 eyebrow piercings and fully tattooed arms, gave Steve an appraising look as she set down their plates and refilled their coffees.
As she walked away, he thought, Not even in your dreams, doll.
His feelings must have shown on his face because Ginny said, “You don’t approve?”
“Come on,” he said, with a half-smile. “When you say it like that, you make me sound like your grandfather! I just don’t get it.”
“Neither do I.” she said, leaning across the table, conspiratorially. “Expressing herself, I guess”
He looked at her and saw again the shock of purple hair above her eyes.
He reached over and brushed it with his fingertips and said, “What’s this about, then?”
“What, the purple?” she shrugged and said, “It puts people at ease.”
He snorted. “Really.”
“Yeah, especially the younger amps I work with. The little ones think it’s fun…’What colour is Ginny’s hair going to be this week?’” She waved her arms in the air like an excited kid. “The teens see it as my continuing rebellion, and adults don’t see me as threatening.”
“Threatening? What’s threatening about physio?” he wondered, chewing on a piece of bacon.
“There is pain to be endured and work to be done that most amps just don’t want to do at first. I have an unconventional method and the coloured hair helps.”
His brow creased and he looked concerned. “Unconventional, how?” he asked. He was really not into unconventional.
“I use yoga, dance, acupressure, acupuncture and other eastern medicinal practices. I did some of my training in France and India, so I’m not your off-the-shelf therapist. Are you okay?” she asked, as she saw him wince.
“Any of that unconventional medicine that can help with phantom pain?” He stretched his injured leg out in front of him to ease it.
“Give me your right hand.” He did and she took it in both of hers and started to put pressure on different points on his palm.
“In Chinese medicine,” she said from behind her closed eyelids, “it is believed that the missing limb leaves a ghost, which will try to stay near you, but this causes pain. By using acupuncture or acupressure, you can push the ghost leg back into the underworld and trap it there.” She seemed to have found the spot and she was putting intense pressure on it.
“This will hurt for a second.” There was a sudden, sharp pain that shot from his hand through his body and felt like it shot out the end of his injured leg, which made him jump. But the phantom pain was gone!
“Better?” she asked, rubbing his palm and looking concerned.
“Much!” he said. He smiled at her before finishing off his coffee.
She checked her phone as it buzzed and said, “Dad’s got some of Billy Joel’s early stuff on vinyl. He’s going to bring them tomorrow for you…he’s already at Tony Stark’s lab.” she said.
“Time to boogie.” She got up and waited for him to organize his crutches before heading for the door. Security was right on pace with them and they were quickly whisked across the busy street and back into the hospital.
While they waited for the elevator, Steve raised his wrist to his mouth and said, “Are we clear?”
He listened for a second and turned to Ginny as the elevator opened and said, “We’re good to go. The rest of the security detail went ahead to the gym to make sure everything was clear.”
The two agents who were still with them went ahead into the elevator and beckoned them in once they’d assured themselves that it was safe.
The elevator glided down one floor and they got off in the basement and turned right towards her gym.
“We should have everything you need to get back into fighting fit and on your feet. I understand you like working the punching bag, so Sam came by and helped me put it up yesterday.” she said.
“Sam!” he blurted out, surprised. His brow wrinkled as though the thought was unpleasant. “Did he hit on you?” He managed a smile, but he was nervous of her answer.
She chuckled. “Of course he did! I would have been insulted if he hadn’t! He seems like the kind of guy who hits on all the pretty girls.”
“But I shut him down. He’s not my type.” she said, firmly
“Because he’s black?” he asked. But as he saw the black security officer in front of him stiffen, he regretted his thoughtless words.
“Because he hits on all the pretty girls. Besides as long as I’m working for the Avenger’s initiative, I should try and not fall for any of my co-workers, right?” He thought the sad smile she turned on him said she was rather sorry that was the case with this particular co-worker and his heart soared.
But she was right. As long as they were working together, he needed to focus on that and not on his silly romantic thoughts. Maybe afterwards? He pushed that thought away. He might not have an afterwards if they couldn’t figure out who tried and almost succeeded in killing him. But he returned her smile as they walked into her very well-equipped gym. Along with a full universal machine, there were free weights, the heavy bag and speedball and mats and space for floor work. He’d been lying around for so long, he couldn’t wait to get started!
He dismissed the security team, knowing that they wouldn’t be too far away and turned to see what she had planned.
“Like I said, dad and Tony will be here around noon with your first prototype prosthetic, so until then, I thought we’d do some yoga and then set you loose for some upper body work; steer clear of working your good leg until you can work them both, okay?”
“Yes, sir!” he said smartly, sketching a little salute at her.
There were two mats set out. He sat cross-legged on one while she turned on some soft, eastern music. He liked yoga. The breathing helped him to focus under pressure. He’d learned to use that even in combat situations. And he thought it might be enough of a challenge for today. His arms ached from the unaccustomed work of using the crutches.
She joined him on the mats and they got started, through seated poses and up to hands and knees, where he found his balance a real challenge, then on his back to finish. Then up to a cross-legged position. As he put his hands together in prayer position and answered her closing “Namaste”, he glanced at the clock and was surprised to see that over an hour had passed. He felt good…limber and loose.
“I’m so glad you’re not a newby to yoga and I didn’t have to spend a lot of time on teaching.” She was turning off the music and her back was to him. She had gotten so easily to her feet and he suddenly realized that he wasn’t going to be able to do that.
As she turned around, he dreaded the helping hand that she would inevitably offer. He wasn’t helpless!! Why was everyone treating him like an invalid!?
But she turned, saw him still on the floor and her mouth quirked into a half-smile.
“If you want to have some time to work on the weights before the engineers get ahold of you, I suggest you get up and get started.” Then she turned to her desk and turned on her tablet.
So he got up on his hands and knees, crawled awkwardly over to where he had left his crutches and managed to stand up.
He turned to her and said, “Thanks.”
She looked up from her screen to see if the body language was sarcastic, but seeing his sincerity, she said, “No problem. I figure you’re a big boy and if you need help, you’ll ask.”
He turned toward the universal machine with the smile still on his face. First time in a week he hadn’t felt broken.