6:00 am. That’s what Steve saw on his phone when he picked it up to check the time. Well, that’s more like it, he thought. Back into his routine.
He got up and checked the closet, and just as he thought, Stark had moved all of his clothes here. He knew he’d be working out again, so he grabbed sweats and a t-shirt. He pulled on and secured his prosthetic leg and it didn’t feel as uncomfortable as the night before. He got dressed and headed down to the kitchen to see what he could rustle up for breakfast.
He needn’t have worried. Tony was there with an assortment of croissants and fruit. He knew that he could get more because Tony’s kitchen staff was excellent, but he settled for this for now. He wanted to run and he didn’t want to do it on a full stomach.
Tony seemed excited. “Let’s go down to the lab and I can show you what we’re working on.”
“Don’t you sleep?” Steve asked, as he reached for a third croissant.
“Not well when Pepper’s not here, but this we worked on last night while you napped, lazy bastard!” Tony teased him.
Steve refilled his coffee and followed Tony down to the lab.
“We designed a blade for you…a little challenging since you still have your knee. Most amputees who use these have, well, less leg. But this should work for you. Wanna go for a run this morning?” Steve nodded and continued to sip his coffee as Tony moved to the next item.
“This one is for combat. It’s not finished yet, but it’s going to be more than just a prosthetic. You’ll have controls that can help you run faster and jump farther.”
“What if the other leg can’t keep up?” Steve loved to see Tony so engaged in a project.
“Then we’ll have to get rid of it and get you two of these!” Tony joked. “We can fit similar enhancements into your boot.”
Steve was examining the combat prosthetic. “What, no thrusters?”
“I don’t want you to look as good as me out there, Cap.”
Steve finished his coffee and said, “I’d love to see how the blade feels. I’ve seen guys run with these,” he said, fingering the edge of the blade, “and it seems to give them more thrust.”
He was sitting down and already had his pant leg rolled up and was unfastening the prosthetic he had on when Tony turned around with the blade and froze.
“God.” he said with such emotion that Steve looked up. Tony had gone quite white and was staring at Steve’s stump. He hadn’t come to the hospital because he didn’t think he could deal with seeing his friend like this and it seemed he was right.
“What? You saw this yesterday.” Steve said, surprised.
“I couldn’t look then, either.” He looked away, and Steve recalled that Tony had turned away yesterday whenever he had pulled his prosthetic off. “I think I would have slashed and jumped if it was me.” Tony said simply, with his lips pressed tightly together.
“Don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind.” Steve said as he took the blade from Tony’s hands and started to put it on.
“But you’re still here.” Tony was looking at him intensely, now that the prosthetic was on.
Steve stopped for a second to wonder why he wasn’t in that dark place anymore, and he smiled.
“Someone reminded me that I’d lost my leg, not my life and that the sooner I came to terms with that, the better.” he said. “She seemed pretty insistent, and I didn’t feel like arguing with her.”
He looked up to see Tony nodding with a knowing smile on his face, the finger across his mouth helping him to think.
“She is that.” Tony said. “Let’s go run.”
Steve walked around on the blade for a minute to get the feel of it, then they headed out the door.
“So what is with you and Geneviève?” Tony probed.
“If yesterday is any indication, she’s going to try to run me into the ground. I don’t think I’ve ever been as tired as I was last night.” Steve said, avoiding Tony’s meaning.
“She’s a pretty girl. You could do worse.” Tony winked at him.
“Let’s run, then you can rearrange my love life.” Steve said, walking ahead of Tony.
Steve had thought they were heading for the gym, but instead they were going up to the roof. Tony opened the door and Steve saw why.
“You have a track on the roof.” he said, flatly.
“I hate treadmills.” Tony said simply. “It’s glassed in and climate controlled so I can run all year.”
Steve just shook his head at his friend. Sometimes he forgot just how rich Tony was.
The first couple of laps were stop and go as they made adjustments to the blade, but after that they both fell into an easy stride as they watched the sun come up over New York City.
Steve felt free up here, like he could run forever. But he finally stopped to check the time on his phone.
“What time are Ginny & Claude supposed to be here?” he asked Tony, breathlessly.
“Driver was picking them up at 8.” Tony said, checking his phone. “So they’re probably wandering around my place wondering where we are.”
Steve smiled at the image of Ginny and Claude lost in Casa Stark. They both caught their breath fairly quickly and headed down to find the St. Pierres.
Down in the gym, Ginny wondered how long Tony and Steve would be running. She had left her dad in the lab a half hour ago to come down here and cranked some rock and roll on the sound system to work-out to.
She was just rocking her way through one of her favourite songs on the elliptical – ‘Come on Virginia, show me a sign, send up a signal, I’ll throw you a line’ – half an hour later when Steve came in, still sporting the blade. She hit the volume on the remote.
“Don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone dance on an elliptical before.” he said, with a smile.
“I dance in the car, too. Gets me lots of funny looks.” She smiled as she grabbed her towel and dried her face and neck.
He chuckled and said, “Sorry, I’m late. Did you know that Tony has a glassed-in track on the roof?”
“That’s good to know.” she said. “When Jarvis told us you two were on the roof, I was hoping you hadn’t decided to throw in the towel.”
He was unhooking the blade so he could put on his other leg.
“No, not quite yet.” he said, with an odd look on his face.
He held out the blade for her to look at and said, “This blade is a joy to run in; much better than this one.” She turned it over in her hands. It was light and different from the others she had seen and she said so.
“They had to revamp the design because I still have my knee.” Again, Ginny caught that odd look on his face; just a slight puckering of the brow.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, fine.” he said, a little too lightly. “What’s on the agenda for today?”
How can she read my mind like that? he thought, trying to bring his emotions under control before looking back up at her. But when he did, she was still looking concerned.
“How long is everyone going to look at me like a cripple?” he blurted out.
She put the blade down and asked, “Why, what happened?”
He ran his hand through his hair before answering. “Tony took me to the lab to show me this blade and the combat prosthetic and when I pulled my prosthetic off to put on the blade, he couldn’t even look; said he’d probably have killed himself if it was him.”
“You didn’t look until two days ago.” she reminded him.
“Fair point.” he said. “But it just made me feel…pathetic.”
She sighed. “It’s a sad reality that this is a lot of people’s worst-case scenario in their heads; something that they wouldn’t want to live through.”
She took a second to gather her thoughts. “They’ll all expect you to be wretched and miserable about it, and they’ll treat you in the politically correct way they think you want to be treated. Eventually, it will be your acceptance of your injury that is going to turn things around.”
They sat in silence for a moment, him looking down at his folded hands and her watching and waiting for his reaction. Then a thought came to her.
She got up and crossed to her briefcase and pulled something out before rejoining him.
“You know that there are a lot of soldiers who left limbs behind in Iraq and Afghanistan, right?” He nodded, watching her face.
“Well, this photographer, Michael Stokes, was asked to do some shots of these war amps. He’s an unconventional guy…must be why I like his work so much…and he’d always hated the way war amps were usually portrayed; sitting in a wheel chair with a blanket over their laps, or standing in their uniform with a crutch and a pinned up pant leg.”
“The amps that came for the photoshoot were in peak physical condition, like many of the athletes that Michael shot, so he shot them like athletes…showing off as much of their gorgeous bodies as was decent.”
“There was so much call for the photos and his services, that he put out a book with profits to benefit injured vets.” She handed him the book.
He looked at the front picture of a nude, tattooed amputee standing proudly on a beach in his blade. The next one was a triple amputee on a pedestal in a black swim suit, and on through men and women in various states of undress and in various poses, all amputees.
He got to the back page and turned it over and looked through again. He looked up at her impishly and asked, “Do you have a favourite?”
She flipped back through to the amputee hanging between two ropes wrapped around his arms, wrapped in a loin cloth with his amputated leg crossed over his good leg.
“I saw an acrobat on ropes like this at Cirq de Soleil once and it really stuck with me.”
He looked at the picture for a moment longer, then handed the book back to her.
“Thanks.” he said. “I feel a little less alone now anyways.” He still seemed sad. She took the book and put it back in her tablet case.
“Maybe I should get in touch to see if he needs a model.”, he joked. She chuckled at that.
Then you’d be my favourite, she thought. “Might not be a bad idea.” is what she said out loud.
“I’m not feeling the yoga right now. How about we crank some tunes and just work? We’re both pretty warmed up.”
“Sounds great.” he said and went over to his bag to start taping his hands to work the punching bag.
And so the morning went. Ginny followed her routine for a full body circuit since she hadn’t had a chance to work out at all the day before, and Steve moved from the punching bag to some leg work, watching that he didn’t push the prosthetic too hard. All the while, Billy Joel crooned through the sound system.
At noon, he came over to her and said he was going to do yoga. So she flipped the music to something more relaxing and joined him on the mats. Today they did less floor work and skipped sun salutation, but pushed through warriors and some balancing, which Steve still found challenging.
“It’ll be challenging until your brain realizes that the prosthetic doesn’t weigh as much as your real leg did.” she said.
“Hmmm…I hadn’t thought of about that.” he said. “I would have thought that they could weight the prosthetic so that it weighed the same.” He looked down at his two legs.
“Don’t know why they don’t,” she said, “I just know that they don’t. Maybe my dad can shed some light on why.”
They were lying on the mats in Savasana when Tony walked in.
“Naptime, or am I interrupting something?” he said with a wink at Steve, who smiled in spite of himself. Tony was incorrigible!
“Yup, my favourite part of the day…naptime.” Ginny said, sitting up and ignoring the second part of the comment.
“There’s food in the dining room, and then we’re going to steal you.” he said to Steve. “We’ve got some work to do with the new prosthetic.”
Ginny looked at her watch. It was just after 1 and she had an appointment at 3 with the hospital administrator and she still needed to eat, shower, dress and get there.
“Is my car here?” she asked Tony.
“Um, no.” he said, uncomfortably. “I thought since you’re going to the hospital anyways, I could get my drivers to take you in and pick up Claude’s car. Hope that’s okay.” he said. “They’re standing by whenever you’re ready.”
“Actually, that sounds perfect. I can work on the way and I won’t have to find parking! Let me grab a quick shower and I’ll meet you guys in the dining room for lunch.” She turned to go, then remembered something.
“Steve, we have to talk about tomorrow and my kid’s group.” she said.
Tomorrow? Kid’s group? He was drawing a complete blank. Then it kicked in. Tomorrow was Thursday and she had wanted him to work out with her child amps group. Hmmm…he was a little hesitant but he never turned down kids.
“Sure…we’ll talk over lunch.” he smiled at her. It wasn’t just the kids, but her he had a hard time turning down, too, he realized.
She smiled and turned toward the shower while he and Tony headed for the dining room.
Clean and changed and with a little make-up on, she felt herself for the first time in days. The last couple of days had been a whirlwind and she’d spent them mostly in sweats and yoga pants. Today, the meeting with the hospital administrator was to discuss extending and expanding her presence at the hospital so she was wearing a nicely tailored violet dress with a flared skirt with a black blazer and heels. She checked her image in the full length mirror to make sure the trip from home hadn’t wrinkled the dress as she put on her earrings.
Nice, she thought approvingly, and headed down to meet the guys for lunch.
Steve had his back to the door when she entered, but turned to see what had made Tony’s face break into such a big grin and suddenly felt very underdressed!
Wow, she cleans up nice, he thought.
“You look beautiful, Geneviève.” Tony said, getting up to pull a chair out for her. “Hot date?”
Steve frowned. Hey, that was my line, he thought!
“Thanks, Tony. Yeah, with the hospital administrator. Time to renegotiate my contract.” she rolled her eyes to indicate how little she was looking forward to this particular interview.
She took a sandwich and some salad and started to eat.
“Steve, are you okay to work out with the kids tomorrow? I realized in the shower that I was kind of putting you on the spot.” she said between bites.
“I never turn down kids, Geneviève.” He loved the way her name felt on his tongue!
“What kids?” Tony asked.
“It’s a group of child amputees I work with on Thursday mornings.” Ginny told him. “They found out I was going to be working with Steve and they are just thrilled! So instead of just telling them about you,” she looked at Steve, “I thought it would be great if Steve could work out with them…at least once.” He could hear the pleading in her voice.
“Is there a foundation at the hospital for them? Is that why you’re working with them?” Tony asked, as he nibbled on a celery stick.
“No. It certainly would be great if there was. These are just kids my dad’s fitted and they all seemed to need something more than the schools were providing, so I started seeing them one morning a week and sometimes we do family excursions on the weekends.” Her kids were one of her favourite topics and she was on a roll! Steve watched her face in wonder. She was so passionate about this!
“Amps, as a rule, tend to be isolated by their injury, but adults have better coping mechanisms than children. Although too many still do suicide.” she said, sadly.
“If you had the money, what would you do?” Tony was sitting back in his chair.
She thought for a minute while she finished her salad.
“Probably make it more community based, not so hospital based; expand it for sure. I’m working with just 5 kids right now. And open it up to friends of amputees…like the gay-straight alliance club they had in my high school. And maybe even turn it into a community volunteer organization…get these kids out working and feeling useful.”
“Whoa, you’ve thought a lot about this!” Tony said, putting his hands up in mock horror.
“If you meet them, Tony, you’ll know why.” she said simply.
He turned to Steve and asked, “You’re going tomorrow? You or the Cap?”
Steve looked at Ginny for guidance. “Should I suit up for them?”
“That’s not really fair to you. You’re coming to work out, too.” she said. “But it certainly would be cool. You definitely have to bring the shield!”
“The suit is pretty easy to get in and out of.” he said.
Ginny stared down at her empty salad plate, trying to hide her smile. Now, whose mind is in the gutter, St. Pierre, she thought.
She hazarded a glance at Steve and saw the flush coming up his neck and knew that he had just gotten what he’d said.
Tony saved the day again. “How about if Iron Man flies you over there, Cap?” he said. “And let me look into funding for your ideas through the Stark Foundation, Geneviève, and we can talk more.” Ginny was speechless! Funding from the Stark Foundation? Had she even ever dreamed of something like this?
“I’d better go. I don’t want to be late.” she said as she got up.
Tony stood as well. “Car’s downstairs waiting for you.” he said. “And feel free to toss my name around. Margaret and I are old friends.” he added with a smile.
Margaret! Margaret Reid was not the type of person you thought of as having friends.
“Thanks, Tony! I’ll take all the help I can get. She scares the bejesus out of me!” Tony laughed at that.
Steve had gotten up now, too.
“Wish me luck!” she said to him brightly.
He took her hand and said, “You won’t need luck. You’ll be great.” and leaning over, kissed her on the cheek. “That’s just in case.” he said, with a smile.
Whoa…full stop! So she wasn’t feeling this alone, then. He was feeling it, too. Good to know.
She was a little flustered as she left, but she managed to not fall off of her heels or drop anything on the way out.
Tony sat back in his chair and looked at Steve, speculatively.
“So you’re going for it, then.” he said.
Steve looked at him, puzzled. Tony pointed to his cheek and raised his eyebrows in question.
“Oh, that. Just a friendly little kiss for luck. She deserves the success.” he said, a little embarrassed. It was just a spur of the moment decision, now he was regretting it.
“Humph” Tony grunted. “In my experience, you don’t kiss girls that you’re not interested in.” He had gotten back up and was heading for the door, so Steve followed. He guessed they had a ‘date’ in the lab.
“Didn’t say I wasn’t interested” he murmured, as he grabbed an apple to eat later.