Ginny slept soundly and woke up at 6:00 am. By 6:30, she was showered and in the kitchen for breakfast with Steve and Tony.
The chopper ride was less than half an hour and they arrived just as the first kids started to wander in. When Chris arrived, she took a few minutes to introduce him and ask everyone to tell a little bit about themselves.
Sarah talked about the house fire where she’d lost arm and her suicide attempt the week before; the others all gave some detail about their amputation and how they dealt with it.
When it got to Ginny, she was going to pass it as she usually did, but decided not to this time.
“I’m the only one here who isn’t an amputee.” she started. “When I was 8, my parents were in a car accident. My mom was killed instantly. My dad was badly injured and recovered from most of his injuries, but his left leg was crushed in the collision and the doctors were unable to save it.”
“So I was an 8 year old girl with no mom and a dad who disappeared into his desolation and I hated him for it.”
Steve looked up at her at this.
“Luckily, we lived very near my aunt and uncle, who adopted me and they saved my life.”
“My dad was an engineer and after the accident, he returned to work. Eventually, he began to redesign his prosthetic leg…he found what he had clunky and poorly designed. Most of you are wearing my dad’s prosthetic limbs as are most amputees. His designs are now used world-wide. This is what saved his life.”
“Now Papa Claude is upstairs recovering from a heart attack. All that French food, I suspect.” she said with a smile. “Let’s make him some cards later. I know he would appreciate it.”
“Is he going to be okay?” Sean asked.
“The doctors seem to think so.” she answered.
“I’m going to draw him a butterfly.” Annalisa said.
Chris was the last to go. He talked about what little he remembered from his accident, of waking up with no leg and no friend.
He turned to Ginny when he was done and said, “I know my mom told you I was a huge Avengers fan. I would have been more impressed with a fake Iron Man than a fake Captain America.” He sat down and wrapped himself in his cloak of desolation, shutting everyone out.
Everyone looked at Steve in shock. Was he a fake?
“But Iron Man was here.” Annalisa said. “He gave me a ride and shot at Randy and Sean with Steve’s shield.”
“And Black Widow showed me how to kick someone’s legs out from under them.” Maya put in.
“The Winter Soldier lost his arm like me.” Sarah said. “We talked about his implants. I’m hoping I can get them someday.”
“He’s not a fake, Chris.” Sean said.
“Then prove it.” sneered Chris at Steve.
Steve stood up to his full 6’3”, reached down and grabbed Chris by the front of his shirt and lifted him to eye level. “How would you like me to do that, son?” he said, sternly.
“Lifting a scrawny 16 year old ain’t gonna do it Captain Rogers.” he said, putting sarcastic emphasis on Captain.
“Maybe if you lifted everyone up…” Chris said, looking around at all of the shocked looks.
Steve held Chris there for a second longer before putting him gently down and making sure he had his balance before letting go.
Then he crouched down and spread his arms out to his sides.
“Okay, you heard the man. Everybody on.”
The kids all clamoured up, giggling to find spots hanging from his arms and up on his shoulders.
But Ginny stood back.
“Come on, St. Pierre, you, too.” Steve said, when all the kids seemed to have found a spot.
She raised an eyebrow at him as though to say, are you sure?
“Darlin’, I can lift cars. This isn’t even a challenge.” So she put her arms around his neck and squeaked in surprise when he stood up, lifting them all off of their feet. He spun around once, careful not to lose anyone, then crouched again to let everyone get off.
Chris was smiling from ear to ear. Steve faced him and Chris extended his hand formally.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Captain Rogers.” he said. “You look different without your helmet.” he added shyly.
“Good to meet you, too, Chris.” Steve said. “If Iron Man’s your favourite, though, I’ll have to see if Stark will come by for a visit one day.”
The other kids had started chattering about the Avenger’s visit and Iron Man shooting at them, and getting to use Steve’s shield to block the bullets, and Natasha teaching them kicks.
Chris was still holding onto Steve’s hand. “I don’t think he’s my favourite anymore.” he said, with a big smile at Steve.
Ginny had a bit of a time settling everyone to make cards for Claude, but once they were, there was much concentration and quiet. Chris had only met Claude once, but even he grabbed a black Sharpie and started drawing.
Ginny pulled Steve aside for a moment. “I’ve got one of the nurses from orthopedics coming in while I go and see papa…it’s an insurance thing.” she said and he nodded.
“I’ve told him that the kids know what to do and that you’d be working with Chris. Is that okay? You’re familiar with what he needs to do this week before he gets his prosthetic.”
Steve nodded again. “Just give me his weights so I don’t end up letting him push it and hurting himself.”
Then her expression turned serious. “I don’t know how long I’ll be. It will probably be a rather short and unpleasant visit once I tell him about the mission.” she said, bitterly.
“I’m sorry this is making trouble for you. Once he’s out of the CPU, I can talk to him, maybe reassure him.” Steve said, looking down at her.
“Maybe not a good idea, since you’re not sure you want me to go either.” she said.
“That’s not true.” he said, firmly. “I just don’t want to put you in danger.”
She looked up at him with a half-smile and went to collect the cards that the kids had made and to get everyone organized and working before she left.
John, the nurse from orthopedics showed up about 10 minutes later. She hadn’t had a great deal of time to give him specifics when she’s asked him to cover for her, so now she took a few minutes to introduce Steve and the kids and let him know what was going on. John was good with kids and was working with Annalisa and Randy when she left.
Her dad was in a fine mood when she arrived. He wanted to talk about Steve. He said he may have overreacted and admitted that Ginny and Steve would probably be a good couple. He still warned her to be careful, but that was just him being a dad. He looked at all of the cards and had love to send back to each one. He told her that he had asked Joseph to bring his lollipops.
But once she told him about the mission, his demeanor changed completely. He was very afraid for her; he didn’t want Steve to turn her into a soldier; he didn’t trust the Avenger’s initiative to take proper care of him. And if she didn’t come back, what would become of him. By the time she left, they were both in tears and he asked her not to come back that afternoon.
“Let me digest this and calm down, then maybe we can talk.” he said, looking away from her.
Ginny sighed and kissed his cheek before leaving to find a washroom to cry in. She really did need to start carrying Visine with her.
Steve looked up when she came in and he frowned when he saw her puffy, tear-stained face. I guess she was right about her visit with Claude, he thought. He left Chris to work and went over to her.
“How is he?” he asked.
“The good news is that before I told him about the mission, he was starting to warm up to the idea of our relationship.” she said, not looking at him.
He dropped his head and sighed. “And after?” he asked.
“You don’t want to know.” she said. “He asked me not to come back this afternoon to give him time to digest the news.” She pursed her lips to keep the tears from flowing again.
She checked her watch. No time for yoga or dancing today. Joseph would be there soon, so the kids continued on the universal and Ginny went around to check on everyone. No one asked if she’d been crying, but they all expressed their caring with little touches and hugs, as children will do.
Joseph showed up at 11 am, but because the kids didn’t know him, they were all very reserved, until he brought out the lollipops.
He was there mainly to get Chris set up with his leg, but he’d check everyone else as well. Kids tended to be hard on their prosthetics.
Joseph came over to Ginny and asked if she was okay, throwing a nasty look at Steve.
“Yeah, dad’s just ornery today. Rough visit.” she said. Steve came over and she introduced them.
“Shall I check out your prosthetic today, too, Captain Rogers?” Joseph said in a conciliatory voice. He knew Steve had seen the dirty look he gave him.
“Look after the kids first. I can wait.” Steve went to clear away the craft supplies.
Chris’ leg was very similar to Steve’s so Steve ran him through a few leg presses with it while Joseph checked the other kids.
At noon, the kids all said their goodbyes and headed off with their rides. Joseph started to pack up as well and Ginny headed over to talk to him.
“Joseph, I think I’m going to have to spend some time with you updating my info on prosthetics.” Then she told him about the Avenger’s mission.
“Why don’t we take you to lunch before you head back to the shop and we can work out what I’ll need to cram.” Ginny offered.
“Just not the cafeteria! Joseph said, pulling a face.
Steve pulled the same face. “Agreed. The greasy spoon across the street is usually pretty good.”
Once orders had been placed, Ginny pulled out a pad of paper and started making notes as she and Joseph discussed the prosthetics involved: Steve’s 2 legs and his blade and Bucky’s 3 arms.
Joseph was as passionate about his work as Claude, so pages of notes and diagrams were made as Steve looked on. He didn’t add much, but as commander of this mission, he found this aspect fascinating and not one he had thought about much before this. Ginny would need a fairly extensive tool kit and replacement parts for almost all of the moving parts on all of the prosthetics. He was making his own mental notes.
Ginny apologized to Steve at the end of the meal for boring him.
“Not at all.” he said, sincerely. “We’ll have to get you set up with a full workshop on board, it sounds like. Joseph, can we set up a time to visit the shop so I can get a better sense of what’s needed?”
Joseph shrugged and said, “Does this afternoon work? I’ve got some work to do but no appointments.”
Steve looked at Ginny. She shrugged and said, “I can’t see my dad again until tomorrow anyways, so why not?”
The shop was a short drive away and since Steve and Ginny had come in by helicopter, they all piled into Joseph’s van.
At the shop, Steve and Ginny were both taking notes on what would be needed.
Finally, Joseph said, “Listen, if Claude’s going to be out for the next couple of weeks, why don’t I just pack up my toolkit for you and I’ll work with Claude’s.”
Ginny was hesitant, but Steve stepped forward and started talking to Joseph about tools that they may still need to add and parts.
In the end, they left with Joseph’s toolkit and a list of tools and parts they’d need to assemble before the mission left.
“Well, that was a well-spent couple of hours.” Steve said in the cab back to the hospital. “Guess you are coming on this mission after all.”
“I guess I am.” Ginny said, and laid her head on his shoulder. He put his arm around her resettling her head.
“Maybe I should pop in on dad. Maybe he’s regretting his request.” Ginny said, thoughtfully, when they reached the hospital.
“You know your dad better than I do, but we men tend to need time to think things through before talking them through. I’d say leave him until tomorrow.” Steve said. “Let’s check with the nurse to make sure everything’s okay and then we can head back and hit the shooting range.”
The nurse at the CPU said that Claude was in fine spirits. He had had a call from his sister in France and had spoken to her for over an hour. Had to be ma tante Monique, Ginny thought. That woman could talk!
The helicopter was waiting for them on the roof. Steve stashed the toolkit behind the seats and secured it. Then they strapped in and they were airborne.
Ginny loved the view from up there and had been way too sleepy this morning to truly enjoy it. She held Steve’s hand and he pointed out landmarks to her. He was very proud of his city!
They left the toolkit in the control room and asked Jarvis to have it catalogued and labelled and stored with mission supplies.
On the way to the shooting range, they talked about what guns she had fired and what she was most comfortable with.
When they got there, Steve grabbed two sets of ear protection and a pistol.
“These were standard issue with Shield, so we’ve stuck with them as everyone is familiar with them.” Ginny took the pistol, checked if it was loaded, checked that the safety was on. Then she put on her ear protection, made sure Steve’s was on and took the pistol to the range. She took the safety off, took aim and emptied the clip.
When they brought the target forward, she could see that she hadn’t lost her aim. Most of her shots had hit vital areas; head, heart or gut. Her first few shots had been wide while she was getting use to the pistol’s kick and aiming.
Steve looked critically at the target.
“Okay.” he said, putting his finger through the large hole where the heart was. “So you can shoot.”
“I do want to spend some more time with the pistol to get a good feel for it.” Ginny said, handing it back to him.
“What’s wrong with right now?” he said, handing it back to her. “I’ll get you more rounds.”
So they spent the next half hour shooting. He gave her some tips on technique and some specific exercises to try. Her aim was true but he saw some weaknesses to work on; maybe nothing he could correct in a week, but he would try.
Ginny handed the pistol back to Steve again and once he had put it and the ear protection away, he came back and pulled her into a hug.
“I’m sorry your visit with Claude went so badly.” Steve said. “I wanted to hold you then but I didn’t think you’d appreciate that in front of the kids. This is the first chance I’ve really had.” he explained.
They stood together like that for a long time.
“You know what I could use?” Ginny finally said.
Steve made an interrogative sound in his throat.
“Yoga.” she said.
“Yoga sounds great.” Steve said, pulling back to look at her.
An hour and a half of yoga put them both in a peaceful and relaxed place. They lay a long time in Savasana until Jarvis interrupted them to let them know that dinner was about to be served.
Ginny raised her arm to look at her watch. “Early tonight. Natasha must be here.” she said.
Sure enough, when they got to the dining room, Tony and Natasha were talking about the mission.
Natasha greeted Steve with a hug and Ginny with a handshake.
“So you and I are going a few rounds in the arena tonight, I hear.” Natasha said to Ginny.
Ginny smiled at her and said, “Should be fun. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the ring.”
Steve was filling Tony in about their visit with Joseph that day.
“So we’ve got most of the tools she’ll need. I’ll give you a list of what else is needed tomorrow.” Steve said.
Tony nodded thoughtfully, and started talking about other supplies they’d need.
“So who’s in?” Steve asked as dinner was being served. “I didn’t get a chance to ask Fury yesterday.”
“I think Banner’s the only one not to respond. He’s still way off the radar.” Tony said. Ginny noticed Natasha put her head down at this. “Thor’s coming in and Hawkeye…?” Tony’s question was for Natasha.
“Yeah, Clint’ll be here. He’s just finishing up the playroom.” She smiled to think of how domestic her friend was.
“Falcon and Winter Soldier?” Steve asked.
“You have to ask?” Tony said. “If you go, they’ll go. Vision and Scarlett Witch as well.”
Steve nodded approvingly. Their intel said that this attack had come from another faction of Hydra and he wanted a full force to shut it down.
After a pleasant dinner with no wine…Tony had offered, but Ginny didn’t want to be at all impaired to face off with Natasha…they all headed for the arena.
Steve and Tony stood off to one side while the women squared off.
Natasha’s stare was off-putting. Ginny saw the assassin for the first time.
“Mixed Martial Arts, eh?” Natasha said, dismissively. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
After about half an hour, Natasha had to grudgingly admit that Ginny had some strong basic skills and she was resilient. Natasha had hurt her a few times and had expected her to stay down, but she bounced back up and shook it off. She wondered how much of that bravado was for Steve’s benefit.
But Ginny had forgotten that Steve was even there. Sparring with Natasha was exhilarating! Even the masters she’d fought were not as challenging! It took all of her skill just to stay on her feet, which she didn’t always manage to do.
After half an hour, Natasha started giving her tips and new techniques and they passed another hour and a half sparring and training.
Natasha knocked her back hard and she lay on the mat for a minute catching her breath. When she opened her eyes instead of Natasha offering her a hand up, it was Steve.
“Have you had enough? I know I’ve seen enough.” he said, as he helped her to her feet.
“I guess.” she said, reluctantly. “That was excellent, Natasha! I hope we’ll get to spar again. I’ve learned so much.”
Ginny walked over and shook Natasha’s hand.
“You’ve got some great skills.” Natasha said. “We’ll be working every day, I think,” She raised an eyebrow at Steve, who nodded. “until we leave. Thanks for the work-out.” She was toweling off and Steve handed Ginny a towel, too.
“Steve, if you thought you’d found someone you could push around, you are sadly mistaken.” Natasha said to Steve.
“I can see that.” Steve said, standing with Tony.
Both Natasha and Tony begged off to sleep and work, leaving Steve and Ginny alone.
“You tired?” Steve asked. “It’s 10 o’clock and Nat really put you through your paces.”
“I’m still pretty pumped.” she answered. “Why?”
“Well, I thought we could talk. I’ve learned so much about you in the last 24 hours and I realized there’s a lot I don’t know.” Steve admitted.
“Sure. Where’s a good place to just veg?” Ginny asked, throwing her towel into the bin by the door.
“The Great Room has a wonderful view. Let’s go there.” Steve offered her his arm formally.
The Great Room was, well, great! It was gigantic with seating and a bar and pool table and two-storeys of glass wall looking out over the city. Ginny stood at the glass for a moment taking in the sparkling city below her.
Steve took a seat on the couch facing the glass wall and waited for her to join him.
Ginny turned around, and seeing the couch, realized that she was bone-tired and aching in every muscle. Instead of sitting next to Steve on the couch, she lay down and used his leg as a pillow.
He settled his hand on her shoulder.
“So what would you like to know?” Ginny asked, quietly.
He reached forward and stroked her hair away from her face.
“Um…what was your mother’s name?” he asked tentatively.
“Régine. She was born the same year Queen Elizabeth took the throne. But she was also a very queenly, regal woman. From what I remember, anyways.” she answered.
“You were 8 when she died?” Steve confirmed.
“Mmmhmm.” she mumbled in affirmation.
“No brothers or sisters?”
“Nope, just me. I never asked, but I don’t think they could have any more kids. Not sure why.” She had her eyes closed, enjoying the feel of Steve absently stroking her hair.
“Lots of cousins, though,” Ginny added, “both in France and in Quebec. It was like siblings you didn’t have to live with! Although, I did live with my aunt and uncle and their three girls for a while after the accident. But that’s as close to siblings as I ever got. How about you?”
“Nope, just me. I was pretty sickly growing up and my dad died when I was pretty young. You’d think Irish Catholic family that I’d have lots of siblings, but no.”
“Do you even remember your dad?” Ginny asked.
“Just little snippets. I’m not even sure if they’re memories or just talk I heard over the years.”, he answered. “I guess Bucky was the closest thing I ever had to a brother. After my mom died, he helped me out a lot.”
“How old were you when she died?” Ginny asked.
“Nineteen.”, he said.
“Nineteen?” she said, turning around to look at him. “That must have been rough.”
He shrugged off her concern. “It wasn’t so bad. I had different jobs but I always managed to make the rent and feed myself if nothing else. And Bucky helped. I spent a lot of time at his parents place.” He smiled reassuringly at her.
She settled back down with her head on his leg.
“So how old were you when you got into the army?” she asked.
“Twenty-five…although I tried dozens of times to get in. It wasn’t until I met Dr. Erskine that I was accepted.”
“And then the enhancement.” she said. “What was that like? Was it painful?” She sat up again to see his face.
“Yeah, it hurt, but so did getting the crap beat outta me all the time. I never could run from a fight.” He smiled.
Instead of lying back down, Ginny lay across Steve’s lap and pulled her legs up beside him. She could see him this way. He put his arm behind her neck and pulled her to him for a kiss.
The thread of the conversation was lost for a few minutes. Then Steve pulled back and said, “I brought you down here to talk about you.”
“Okay…me” Ginny said, smiling. “Like I said. What do you want to know?”
Steve thought for a second and then said, “I don’t even know how old you are!”
“Easy one…turned 30 this past April to much fanfare.” She winked up at him and reached up to brush a stray lock of his hair back.
“How about you? I know it’s kinda hard to calculate, but if you just look at the years you’ve actually lived…” Her voice trailed off as she could see that he was thinking about it.
“Thirty-one, maybe thirty-two.” he said after a moment.
“And never been in love before?” she asked, half teasing.
“Not like this.” he said shaking his head. Then he kissed her again. How did she get this back to me again, he thought?
“How do you do that?” Steve said, against her lips.
She pulled back a little bit and said, “Do what?”
“Keep turning the conversation back to me.” he said, and kissed her nose and then her lips.
“Hmmm.” she hummed in contentment. “It’s my superpower. I’m really good at getting people to talk about themselves,” She brought her arm up as though she was holding a shield, “and deflecting all questions about myself.” She gave him her best superhero fighting face, which made him laugh.
Then she dropped the shield and was serious again. “But I’m trying.” She snuggled her head into her shoulder.
“Okay.” Steve said, holding her close to his chest. “How about this? I’m having a hard time figuring out what to call you.”
“How so?” she asked, a little confused.
“Well…endearments.” he said, shyly. “Everything I grew up with sounds dated and old-fashioned or just plain silly. But what I hear couples calling each other today doesn’t feel comfortable, either.”
“Give me examples.” she said. “I liked when you called me ‘love’” she offered.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” he said, as he smiled and squeezed her quickly, before going on.
“Darling, sweetheart, dear, doll…they all seem dated. But I’ve tried baby, which seems to be a favourite now and it just doesn’t…feel like me.” he finished, simply.
“How about babe?” she asked.
“Babe…like the pig?” he looked down at her in surprise.
She tapped him playfully on the chest and said, “NO! Not like the pig!” She laughed and pulled out her phone.
It took her a second to find the song she wanted. “Like this.” she said, quietly and pressed play.
Dennis de Young’s clear voice sang out the soulful lyrics of ‘Babe’ while they both listened.
“That’s beautiful, babe.” Steve said, trying it out. He shook his head. “Don’t know if that works either.”
“Whatever you call me works for me. I’m sure something will stick.” She kissed him slowly and sweetly.
He stoked her temple with his thumb and asked a little too casually, “Did Troy call you babe?”
“You know you’re not in competition with him.” she said, quietly, stroking his cheek. “Not only did I break up with him, but he’s dead!”
He looked so unsure. Ginny sighed. “No, he didn’t call me babe. He didn’t like endearments; thought they made him look weak. The best I ever got was ‘dude’.”
“Well, that’s sweet.” Steve laughed. “I promise never to call you dude.”
“Thank you!” was her heartfelt response.
He smiled and pulled her against his chest again.
“So what else do I want to know about a beautiful and unassuming physiotherapist who turned out to be a fierce warrior?” Ginny smiled at that. She liked being called a warrior. “You know, you could have knocked me over with a feather when Nick was telling me all of this yesterday.”
“It was kind of worth it to see you speechless.” Ginny said with a giggle.
“That’s when I realized how little I know about you. You said you knew everything about me…do you still think that?” Steve asked.
“I only have the facts that Nick gave us right after your surgery.” she said. “And you surprise me at every turn!”
“You said you’d let me know if I surprised you.” he scolded.
“I just did.” she said. “Your beautiful blue eyes and long eyelashes were the first things to surprise me.” She ran her hand across his brow. “You do yoga and then you fight with gods. You are sweet and gentle and yet so strong and the bravest man I know.”
“You are going to make me blush.” he said firmly to her.
She wrapped her arms around him and cuddled in closer. “You are perfect and I love you. That’s all I need to know.”
“I love you, too, babe.” he said and kissed her on the top of her head.
They sat in silence for a long time. Ginny was actually drifting on the edge of sleep. Steve moved slightly and brought her back from dreamland.
“That’s why I’m so scared of what could happen to you on this mission.” He kept a tight hold on her.
“The feeling is mutual, darling. What would I do if you were killed out there? They came so close the last time.” Her voice was no more than a whisper.
Her words made him stop. He’d only left one other girl behind on a mission…and he didn’t see her again for almost 70 years.
He hadn’t thought about Peggy in a while. She had died the year before, but she had been mostly gone with advanced dementia for a long time before that. She always recognized him, though. And she was usually pretty lucid during his visits. It wasn’t the old days she had been losing.
He squeezed his eyes tightly closed to try to hold back his tears. It didn’t work, though, and as a couple of tears dropped on Ginny’s head, she looked up at him and wiped a tear away.
“Peggy?” she asked.
Steve sniffed loudly and said, “Yeah, she’s the last…the only girl I ever left behind and I never saw her again.”
Ginny wiped another tear away before saying, “Then it’s a good thing you’re not leaving me behind.”
“Ginny…babe…it’s the same. She was on my support team and she couldn’t help me.” Steve said.
She wrapped her arms tightly around him again.
“It doesn’t matter, you know.” she said, after a few minutes. “I could get hit by a car here. You weren’t even on a mission when you were attacked. Safety is an illusion…so we really only have now.”
Ginny felt him sigh deeply. “Now is pretty good.” he said.
Neither one of them were willing to have this moment end. Ginny fell asleep first. He felt her fierce grip on him loosen but he continued to hold her. Eventually, he drifted off, too.
It was almost 3 am when Ginny woke up, and as she stretched, so did Steve.
“Time for bed.” Steve said, stretching his arms over his head. “Come on. I’ll walk you up.”
Ginny was pretty much sleep walking, but Steve had his hand on her back to guide her. They were both talked out so they walked in silence.
At the door to her room, she turned around and wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply.
“Are you getting up to run in the morning?” Steve asked.
“No promises, but I’ll try.” she said, covering a yawn with her hand.
“Don’t worry if you don’t. Find me when you get up. I’ll probably be in the arena.”
He kissed her quickly again and opened her door for her. He made sure she was safely inside before he left.