Steve had felt the bullets hit him as he fell towards the canopy of the thicket. He hadn’t even seen the drones to get his shield up. One had gotten him in the shoulder, two more in the side and hip.
But none of those wounds matched the searing pain he felt as he fell through the force field.
He landed on his back and curled into a fetal position to try to control the pain and that’s the position he woke up in hours later.
He had no idea how long he’d been lying there, but it was pitch black, so it must have been a few hours.
He pulled out his flashlight and first aid kit to see if he could deal with his wounds. They had already stopped bleeding and he knew there was nothing he could do about the bullets that were still in him.
A horrifying thought struck him. If they were the nanobots he had been shot with the last time…
Well, if they were, he’d be dead in hours, and if not, Jas could dig them out when he got back.
He looked at his wrist and realized there had been one shot he hadn’t felt. His com was destroyed. That meant that he was on his own. It also meant that they were looking at a blank screen back on the helicarrier.
Ginny. She’d think he was dead.
“I’m here, darling.” he said, just to hear his voice. “Don’t give up on me yet.”
He shone his flashlight up into a sea of green and he saw the same all around him. No point in trying to do anything tonight, he thought. He bunched up some fallen leaves as a pillow and lay down and fell into a restless sleep.
When he woke up, he saw that the greenness around him had brightened, but that no actual sunlight was breaking through.
He stood up and took stock. There was pain when he moved but it was tolerable. His hip would slow him down a bit. His shield was nearby, his weapon was still in its holster, and he had quite a few rounds on him. He had no food or water. That might be an issue. And he had his compass, which he pulled out to get his bearings.
When he opened it, he saw Peggy’s face looking out at him…Peggy, as she had been 70 years before. He sighed. He should have replaced it with Ginny’s picture.
But Peggy had always looked out for him and he hoped she still was.
He knew where Vision had dropped him and where the base was from there. If he could stay on course, he could use his shield to hack his way through the thicket.
So he got to work. It was cool in the shade of the thicket, but he was still sweating pretty quickly. The branches were thick and he was working hard to cut a path. He stopped often to check his direction.
He could sense the light starting to fade. He had no idea how far he’d gotten and couldn’t see an end in sight. He checked his compass again to make sure he was moving in the right direction. Then he looked up at the fading light and realized he was done.
He gathered some loose dirt and leaves together and lay down to sleep. But his sleep was not restful. Nightmares of the drones attacking the helicarrier, Ginny in trouble, Ginny killed.
He woke before first light more exhausted than when he had laid down, but more determined as well.
The day before had been brutal. She had gone to deal with patients through the day…she thought more people than usual needed massages that day. But it got her off the bridge for a little while.
Ginny left around noon to get some lunch and do another massage.
Once she was gone, Nick said, “Okay, Stark. St. Pierre is out. Let me know what’s happening.” He had sensed that Tony was holding back.
Tony sighed. “It’s not good. We still can’t make any headway. We’ve tried going through the force field over the thicket. I don’t know how Steve survived falling through it.” He paused for so long, Nick thought he was done.
“It’s got a kick. None of us can even get close. Vision can’t see a source or any weakness and he can’t see through it to even see if Steve’s alive.”
“Is there anything we can send to help?” Nick asked.
“I don’t know.” Tony said softly. “You could probably take out the base from the air but we lose the intel on those nanobots and not while Rogers is still out there. Give us some more time. We’ll figure it out. Stark out.”
Fury didn’t like feeling powerless like this. Maybe he needed to take a page out of Rogers’ book and go and take on the heavy bag.
Ginny was gone for several hours. After some lunch and a massage on Glory, which Glory turned around again, Ginny went to lie down. She was exhausted and slept for a couple of hours. She still felt like her world was upside down, but at least she felt somewhat rested.
She popped in to the bridge on her way down to dinner. She could see that Nick was being elusive when he spoke to her.
She looked him directly in the eye for a long moment before saying, “May I speak to you privately, Nick?”
Nick took her into his office, then turned to look at her.
“You’d better have a damned good reason for keeping information from me, and protecting my feelings is NOT a good reason.” She was very angry. This was hard enough without feeling like she was being kept in the dark.
Nick sat down behind the desk and waved her to a chair.
“You said I had a right to be here, but not a right to know what’s going on? I could hear it in Tony’s voice, too.” She hadn’t sat down and was pacing as she spoke.
She turned to Nick and put her hands on the desk. “This is killing me,” Tears pricked the corners of her eyes and she bit her lip hard to stay in control, “and being treated like some hysterical child who’s going to fall apart if she knows what’s going on is making it worse.” She sank into the chair and wiped her nose with the back of her hand, sniffing loudly.
Nick handed her a tissue. “It’s not good news.” he said, sitting on the near side of his desk.
She chuckled. “I figured if it was good news, I’d have it already.”
Nick took a deep breath. “Nothing they try is working. They can’t get through the force field and the drones still have them pinned down.” He paused. “There’s no news on Steve.” he finished quietly.
“Same shit, different day.” Ginny said, getting up to pace. “Is there anything we can do from here or any help we can send?”
“They’re the Avengers. If they can’t get this done, what can we offer?” Nick said.
Ginny continued to pace and finally said, “So I guess we wait and we pray.”
Nick raised an eyebrow at her. “I hadn’t pegged you for a Christian.” he said.
“That’s because I’m not.” she said. “Prayer precedes the Christian era. You pray to your god and I’ll pray to my gods. Some of them are warriors, too.”
“You going to stop trying to protect me?” Ginny said. “You’re not my dad either.”
“If I hear it, you’ll hear it.” Nick agreed.
“Thank you.” she whispered, all of the bravado leaving her suddenly. She sat down with a thump.
“How are you holding up?” Nick asked her.
“Trying to keep busy, but not great.” she said.
“Make sure you take care of yourself.” Nick said.
She smiled. “Yes, dad.” she said, sarcastically.
Dinner was with her team. She was getting pretty comfortable with them and enjoyed their company.
After dinner, she needed to talk to her dad. It was what she needed; to have someone to listen and comfort her. He said all the right things and she felt so much better for having talked to him.
Then she went back to the bridge. Nat and Clint were keeping watch, so she chatted with Nat, getting her take on things.
“We’ll bring him back.” Nat said, after a pause. “We’re not leaving here without him.”
“I know.” Ginny said. “He said he had the best team.”
The watch switched then and Ginny chatted with Kristen for a while. Then she sat and watched each of the Avengers’ monitors before moving back to Steve’s.
It was almost 3 am when Ginny went exhausted to her bed. It was the only way she could sleep.
The light seemed brighter in front of Steve. He figured it was about mid-day. He rested for a moment before continuing with his slow progress. Hacking and clearing; hacking and clearing.
The light was definitely getting brighter and before long, he was starting to see patches of sky ahead.
When he finally broke through, he was no more than 50 yards from the building they had identified as the base.
As he stepped out, a drone went by and he was sure he’d been made. But it was like he didn’t exist. The drone moved off towards the building without stopping. He looked at his useless com and wondered if the drones tracked the signal.
Or maybe he had died in the fall, he thought, and this was his hell. Not a pleasant thought. But he shrugged it off. He had a mission to complete, dead or not.
The guard he surprised at the rear entrance of the building didn’t think he was dead and put up a bit of a fight until Steve knocked him out with his shield.
There were three more inside that he just shot. He was too tired and dehydrated to fight if he didn’t have to.
And then he was in the control room. It looked like they were depending on the drones and the force field to keep away unwelcome company.
He shut everything down and continued on to find the nabobot technology they had come for.
He found the lab upstairs with several more guards, one of whom was trying to radio for help. He took that one out first and then the rest.
Inside the lab was just what he was looking for. He backed up the computer on the flash drive he’d brought and stood looking through the microscope at the little bots that had almost cost him his life.
When he had the intel he needed, he set charges around the room and set the whole place to blow.
He got back into the thicket, hoping it would protect him and set it off.
But he wasn’t far enough in and the blast blew him back against one of the thicker trunks and knocked him unconscious.
Ginny had just come on the bridge after lunch when Tony’s voice came through the com.
“Bucky’s hurt bad.” he said. “We’re evacuating him and we can regroup and come back.”
Ginny looked up at Nick. They were leaving Steve behind. Her throat felt like it was closing up.
Nick went to the console and told Jas to prepare for incoming.
Ginny’s looked at Steve’s monitor for a long moment and then turned and left without a word.
Forty-five minutes later, after Bucky had been settled in the infirmary, Tony found Ginny in the gym. She was sitting cross-legged with her hands on her knees and her index fingers and thumbs together. There were several statues and stones laid out in front of her on a purple cloth.
Ginny opened her eyes when Tony came in, then closed them again.
“How’s Bucky?” she asked, in a voice that seemed to come from far away.
“He’s not good.” Tony said. “He was determined to go through the force field and he took some pretty serious burns.”
Ginny looked up at Tony for a long moment. Then she closed her eyes and settled back into her meditation.
“He’s not dead, Tony.” she said. “I would have felt it. I’d be in the infirmary with Bucky if he was.”
Tony didn’t say anything.
She sighed and got up. “I feel physical pain when someone close to me dies.” She had walked over and was standing in front on Tony. “My mother, my grandfather, a cousin, a friend in high school, my old boyfriend…I spent time in the hospital after each death. It’s like something is being ripped out of me. The last few times, I spend a couple days in a coma. It’s not fun. But I’m not feeling it now.” Ginny said.
“Unless you don’t think I’m that close to Steve.” She walked away and started rolling up her yoga mat.
Tony had watched these two fall in love. He knew how close they were.
Ginny looked at him once her mat was away. Tony smiled back at her.
“We’ll bring him back.” he said.
“I know you will.” she answered and Tony left to organize the return mission.
Ginny wandered around the gym for a few minutes. Why did everything remind her of Steve? When she walked out the door, she had no idea where she was going until she got there.
Bucky had taken burns to his face and right arm. They had him in an induced coma and in an isolation cell, so she couldn’t go in. Ginny stood outside the isolation cell just looking in. This was Steve’s best friend since grade school. They had fought together with the Howling Commandos until Bucky was thought killed.
Hydra had found him and turned him into a very effective weapon, keeping him in cryo until he was needed and keeping his mind blank except for what they told him…until he came up against Steve.
The memories triggered by that encounter had been the catalyst in bringing him back to who he had originally been…not the Winter Soldier, but Bucky Barnes. Now he fought by Steve’s side again. It’s not a wonder he was willing to risk everything to save his friend. Steve had been willing to risk everything to find him.
Jas came over and talked to her about Bucky’s condition. “It’s not good. The sooner we get him to Helen Cho’s lab in Korea, the better. The best we can do here is keep him in isolation.” Jas said.
“When are they going back out to search for Steve?” she asked Ginny.
“Soon.” she said. “I don’t know exactly.”
Just then Nick’s voice came over the PA system. “St. Pierre and Stark to the bridge.”
Ginny gave Jas a look that said, what the hell is that all about, and Jas just shrugged. Ginny had never even heard anyone paged like this on board before.
She met Tony at the door to the bridge and they entered together, both looking puzzled.
Nick waved them over to the monitor he was looking at.
The video he was looking at was a satellite image from the island the Avengers had just come from. There was an explosion and then the building that had exploded burning.
“What the hell am I looking at?” Nick asked no one in particular.
Tony ran the video back to before the explosion and zoomed in. They could make out someone running from the building into the thicket just before the explosion.
“Rogers, you son of a bitch.” Tony said, under his breath.
“Language.” Fury said and he and Tony shared a smile that Ginny didn’t understand.
“If that’s the base.” Ginny said, “and it’s gone, can we assume the drones and force field are gone, too?”
“Stark, assemble your team…” Fury said. Tony’s smile as he left said it all.