A Time For Heroes – Epilogue 1 – A Christmas Announcement

Steve sat nervously in the backseat while Tony maneuvered his rented SUV through the streets of Montreal.

He was remembering the brave face Ginny had put on the last time he had seen her.

The Avengers had been called in after the terrorist attacks in Paris. The intel they had had helped authorities track the terrorists back to their home bases and eliminate the threats. That was 6 weeks before.

It had been so difficult to leave her behind. He was glad he’d only had a day’s notice that he was going; more would have been unbearable.

There had been tears, but, in the end, she stood bravely to see him off and he could do no less. He wasn’t very easy to talk to for the next couple of hours, but once they landed and got to work, he fell into the rhythm pretty easily.

They had tracked terrorist cells to Belgium, Algiers and Syria. It had taken them 6 weeks to be satisfied that any immediate threat had been neutralized, but ISIS was still active and they weren’t done yet.

He had spoken to Ginny as often as he could and she was always upbeat when they spoke, sharing stories about setting up the child amp programs. She had set one up that Diego could attend in upstate New York and she was splitting her time between her class in the city and this new one. But he knew that brave face was for him and that she had her down times afterwards, as he did.

Ginny had gone to Montreal the week before Christmas with her dad, so Steve had only talked to her once…she was so busy with family and preparations.

On December 22nd, Tony had pulled Steve aside and said, “It all looks pretty quiet here. Why don’t we send everyone home for Christmas?”

Steve had checked what chatter they were getting, which didn’t indicate that anything was imminent, so he did just that. They flew the Quinjet to New York and everyone went their separate ways from there.

Steve called Claude to let him know that he’d be in Montreal late on Christmas Eve and that he wanted to surprise Ginny.

“What are Tony and Pepper doing?” Claude asked. ”Why don’t you bring them, too?”

Which is how Steve ended up in the backseat, nervously twiddling his fingers while Tony drove them to Jean-Guy’s for Christmas Eve celebrations.

Tony looked in the rear-view mirror. “I’ve seen you face aliens and terrorists and not be this nervous.” he said.

Steve looked up and met Tony’s eye. “First Christmas with the family. It’s a little nerve-wracking.” Steve said.

“Just be your adorable self.” Pepper said. “They’ll love you.”

When they pulled up in front of the house, they could see the Christmas tree sparkling in the front window and a beautiful pine wreath on the door. The house was lit with dozens of lights and it felt so welcoming!

Now it was Tony who seemed nervous. “How many people are going to be here?” he asked. This would be his first big family Christmas, too.

Steve thought back to his conversation with Claude. “A dozen with us, but more after midnight mass.” he said. It was about 7 pm, so they’d probably still be at dinner.

So they grabbed their luggage and bags of presents and headed for the door.

 

Jean-Guy and Claude were regaling the family with tales of Christmas in the field.

“You wouldn’t believe what those army cooks can concoct off the back of a truck.” Jean-Guy said.

Ginny was only half listening. She knew from her last conversation with Steve that he wouldn’t be coming home for Christmas. She had always known it was a possibility, but when it had become a reality, it hurt far more deeply than she had expected. Since then, she’d made their conversations short so she didn’t break down in front of him. That day, she had tried to reach him and couldn’t, which upset her even more.

All day, every time someone had come to the door, she’d jumped up to answer it. At this point, she wasn’t jumping anymore. They’d have other Christmases.

Giselle got up to bring in dessert and Port and asked Ginny to give her a hand.

So when the doorbell rang, Ginny was right beside the door so she yelled out, “I’ve got it!”

She opened the door and looked right into Steve’s bottomless blue eyes. The smile on his face was a little uncertain.

Ginny stepped up to him and put her hand on his chest, then up to caress his cheek. “Oh, my gods…you’re really here!” Steve swept her up into a tight embrace. She pulled away and tilted her head up for a kiss and felt all of the longing of the last 6 weeks melt away in his arms.

Steve held the kiss for longer than he should have, knowing that Tony and Pepper were waiting behind him. But her lips were so sweet after so long.

Steve finally pulled back to look at her. “God, I’ve missed you.” he said. Then he turned aside so she could see who else he had brought.

“Come in, come in!” she said, after giving them each a big hug. “I take it I’m the only one surprised by your appearance?” She gave Steve an evil look.

“I only talked to your dad, so I’m not sure who else knows.” he said with his hand still on her back. He couldn’t bear not to be touching her.

In the dining room, more chairs were shuffled in and introductions made. The table was still groaning with food and Steve, Tony and Pepper were starving. They hadn’t taken time to eat since flying back, Steve was in such a hurry to get to Montreal.

Tony and Steve talked about what was going on with ISIS and the next hour passed quickly as everyone asked questions and wanted to hear what they weren’t hearing in the news.

Ginny listened quietly, still touching Steve whenever she could. Once he had finished eating, she pulled her chair in close so he could put his arm around her.

Vivienne passed along a plate of butter tarts and Steve took one.

“Wow! What is this?” he asked after taking a bite.

“Butter tart.” Vivienne said.

“We don’t get these in the states.” Ginny said, taking one, too, and biting into it. She closed her eyes to savour the sweet deliciousness.

Tony waved the tarts over to him and Pepper.

“Why can’t we get these in the States?” Tony wanted to know.

“Don’t know…I’ve asked and no one seems to know what I’m talking about.” Ginny said. “But you can get them at my house, because I have the recipe.” She winked at Steve.

“There are perks to having a Canadian girlfriend.” Steve said, leaning over to kiss her.

“Just butter tarts, huh?” Tony said, with a smile.

Steve smiled and said, “One of the perks.”

 

After dinner was done, Jean-Guy moved everyone to the living room with their eggnog and Port.

“One gift each before Mass.” he said. That had become the tradition years before. After Mass, the rest of the gifts would be opened, but only one now.

Ginny jumped in under the tree and grabbed a gift. “Papa gets to go first!” she exclaimed.

Once everyone had a gift in hand, Claude ripped open his. He pulled it from the box and held it up.

It was a lawn green golf shirt and over the heart was embroidered one word: Pépé

The girls gathered around to see what it was, then all eyes were on Ginny and Steve.

“Pépé?” Vivienne asked in surprise.

“Yes,” Ginny said, nervously, “we’re having a baby.”

There were shouts of congratulations and hugs, but Claude still hadn’t said anything. He had laid the shirt on his lap and was looking wonderingly at the embroidery.

Finally, Ginny was able to break away from the crush around her and Steve and go to her dad.

“Papa, are you okay?” she asked.

He looked up at her and smiled brightly. “Best Christmas gift ever!” he said and pulled her into his arms.

Steve came over and Claude stood up to shake his hand. “Congratulations, son,” Claude said with a smile, “but a little quick off the mark, don’t you think?” Claude’s smile held more than a little concern.

Steve sighed and said, “Yes, for us, too. But you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, as they say.”

“Steve wasn’t supposed to be able to have kids, papa. So, quick and unexpected.” Ginny said, looking up at Steve. “But not unwelcome. We both wanted kids at some point. Now’s as good a time as any.”

“When?” Juliette asked.

“Mid-July.” Ginny said.

Then the talk moved quickly to having a baby shower.

Eventually, they got back to gifts. Tony and Pepper had had one of their assistants pick up a bunch of electronics, and Claude had had time to pick out a few last minute gifts for his friends and son-in-law.

Son-in-law, Claude thought, looking at Steve. For the first time, he thought of Steve as part of the family and it gave him a warm glow. Geneviève had chosen well.

Everyone was opening packages in turn; there were scarves, and watches, and perfume. Jean-Guy got the putter he’d had his eye on.

Tony had handed Steve his gift and Steve opened it to see it was an iPad Pro loaded up with all the latest graphics software.

“Time to bring your art into the 21st century, buddy.” Tony said.

Tony brought up on of the programs and set it for charcoal drawing and showed Steve how he could use the stylus and his fingers to create the same effects as on paper.

Steve drew a few quick lines and smudged them to his satisfaction and showed Tony a quick sketch of himself.

“Nice.” Tony said with a smile.

Ginny’s gift was from Steve and she was excited to open the tiny box.

Inside were earrings. They were drops which started with a stud of the same blue diamond as her ring. Then there were three diamonds of decreasing size and blueness below ending in a perfect, tiny white diamond.

“Wow!” she said. “They remind me of snow falling!” She leaned over to kiss him. “Thank you so much!”

“Perfect match with your ring.” Steve said, smiling. “I thought so when I saw them in Paris.”

Ginny pulled out the jingly Christmas earrings she was wearing and put on the new ones.

Steve touched the bottom of one earring as it hung from her ear and then drew her in for a kiss.

The look in his eyes when they pulled apart reflected the same thoughts she was having. Was there any way they could blow off midnight Mass and take each other off to bed? Maybe pleading early pregnancy fatigue would work for her…

But, no, they would have a few days together before Steve had to head back. They’d find time to be alone together, but tonight was about family.

Steve and Ginny cuddled in one corner of the couch as gifts continued to be opened around the room.

Steve held her hand and played with her ring. “Are you sure everything’s okay?” he asked so only she could hear.

She looked up to see concern in his eyes. “Everything’s fine.” she said. “Especially now that you’re here.” She smiled at him and turned her hand so she could touch him.

“It’s just…” he paused. “It felt a little like you were avoiding me this week.”

She looked down at their hands. “I was.” she said.

“Why?” he asked, putting a finger under her chin so she would look at him.

“I just didn’t want you to see me cry.” she said. “I knew this was hard enough for you without dealing with a weepy girlfriend.”

“I thought you were angry.” he said, still holding her hand.

“Maybe angry at the situation…not at you.” she said.

“So you were protecting me.” he said.

Ginny nodded and said, “Yeah. That is my job.”

“I’m a big boy. I don’t need protecting.” he said with a half-smile to soften his words.

“Oh, no?” she said, pulling back to look into his eyes. “What would it do to you to see me crying on Skype with you thousands of kilometers away?”

Steve didn’t answer for a long moment. He could lie and say he’d be fine with it, but lying wasn’t his style.

“It would break my heart.” he said, softly.

Ginny smiled and kissed the tip of his nose.

“You are a big, strong man and can take care of yourself,” she said, “but your heart is new to this. I’m protecting him.” She put her finger in the middle of his chest.

He looked down at her hand and took it in his and kissed it. Ginny laid her head down on his shoulder and Steve smiled contentedly.

“How is Dot doing?” he asked.

“She’s growing.” Ginny said. “When we go to bed, you’ll see she’s a little bump now.” She spread her hand protectively over her belly.

“Can you feel her moving yet?” he asked, covering her hand with his.

“Not yet.” she said. “A couple more months.”

Steve sighed and hugged her a little tighter.

Ginny pulled back and looked at him. “Is that Christmas joy I see on your face, Captain Rogers?” she asked, teasingly.

“Joy,” he said, then dropped his voice to a whisper,  “and lust. No chance we can sneak away for half an hour?” he asked, hopefully.

Ginny looked around the room quickly and saw that the two of them were the only ones not dressed for church. They were both still in jeans.

“Where’s your bag?” she asked.

“I think it’s still in the front hallway.” he answered.

She unfolded herself from his lap and standing up, drew him up with her.

“We should go get ready for church.” she said to her dad.

He just nodded at her with a smile.

Steve followed her out to the front hallway and then through to her room.

“Why do I get the feeling that everyone knows exactly what we’re going to do?” he asked.

Ginny stopped at the door and turned to him. “We’ve haven’t seen each other in 6 weeks. They’re probably surprised we lasted this long.” She smiled seductively at him as she opened the door.

Once inside, Steve closed the door and locked it. He felt unaccountably shy after so long apart. But when he turned, Ginny was in his arms, her lips warm on his.

Their clothing very quickly found its way to the floor and Ginny pulled Steve down onto the bed.

He was rampant with need; foreplay was going to have to wait until next time.

He lowered his head to suck on each nipple quickly before moving over her and pushing himself deep inside her.

He took a few slow strokes while kissing her before letting out a deep groan and starting to thrust deeper and faster.

Ginny was in as much need as he was and held onto him tightly as she started to climax. She set her mouth against his shoulder to keep from crying out as he thrust himself into her again and again. He let go and emptied himself deep inside of her with a quiet growl. Then he lay still on top of her for a long time.

Ginny had her arms wrapped around him and her legs wrapped around his legs. She could sense things weren’t alright.

“Was it that bad?” she asked, quietly, after a few minutes.

Steve didn’t move but said, “That bad and worse, Ginny.” He came up on one elbow to look at her. “But this eases my mind and I’m hoping Mass will, too.” He brushed a stray purple hair off of her forehead.

“Purple?” he said. “Not very Christmas-y”

“Purple is the colour of royalty and Jesus is the King of Kings, right?” she said, smiling up at him.

Then her expression got serious as she brought her hand up to stroke his cheek.

“Are you still in touch with Dr. Coulter?” she asked.

“Not as often as I should be, but yes, I have talked to him a few times since I’ve been away. So has Tony.” Steve answered.

He took her hand in his and turned his head to kiss her palm. “Let’s not worry about that right now. I’m here. We’re together. Let’s just enjoy it, okay?” he said, with a half-smile.

She still felt uneasy, but he was right. They got up and snuck down the hall wrapped in towels to have a shower.

They had never tried showering together, but Jean-Guy had a seat in his shower so they popped in together. Steve’s balance had gotten pretty good, but the seat was helpful.

Even though they had just made love, it was challenging not to get excited being wet and naked together.

Ginny ran her finger down Steve’s soapy chest and said, “We’ll have to try this some time when we have time to explore.” She tilted her head to smile up at him.

He kissed her softly on the lips and said, “Yes, we will.” in a husky voice.

But with the family waiting for them, they finished and dried off quickly and headed back to their room to dress for church.

By the time they appeared, everyone was starting to gather coats and boots for the short walk to the church. Ginny had matched her dress to her purple hair and Steve had brought his suit. They both looked great and there were lots of compliments.

They were at the church quite early to get seats. It was peaceful and Ginny and Steve just sat side by side, holding hands. The organ was quietly playing Christmas carols as people slowly filtered in.

The mass was in French and English with lots of beautiful music. At communion, Steve and Ginny followed the rest of the family up for a blessing.

At the end of the mass, many people paused at the crèche to say a prayer. The family sat where they were as the crowd made their way to the exits. No point in fighting crowds if you don’t have to!

On the walk home, Ginny and Steve held back walking with their arms around each other and talking quietly. It felt like so long since either of them had been able to speak their hearts.

At the house, they stayed outside for a few minutes, still talking. It was very warm for Christmas Eve and an almost full moon hung above them in the sky.

But even a warm December night in Montreal is chilly, so Steve wrapped his arms around Ginny as he saw her shiver.

“Let’s go get warm inside.” he said, and they joined the crush of family inside.

Everyone seemed to have a drink and aunts and uncles they hadn’t seen yet greeted them with hugs and kisses. Ginny went for a big glass of water…too much alcohol and salty food earlier had left her feeling a little dehydrated.

Gifts were being handed out and opened randomly with joyful exclamations as each person thanked the gift giver.

Steve and Ginny both had several packages, which they opened together in a corner of the couch. Several from Claude, little things from the cousins and a couple more from Tony and Pepper, who sat near them with a pile of gifts as well.

Tony turned to Ginny and said, “But no one knew we were coming until 2 days ago!”

“Plenty of time to shop and make you two feel welcome.” Ginny said. “I was wondering why dad and Jean-Guy were out so often the last couple of days!”

Steve picked Ginny’s gift to open. It was heavy and rattled a lot.

And he tore the paper away, he found a red toolbox with the words ‘DADDY’S TOOLS’ hand-painted on the side. He looked up at Ginny with a smile of such joy, it brought tears to her eyes.

“Every dad needs a toolbox.” she said simply. “Open it.”

Inside was an assortment of handtools: hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, chisels, as well as a small rechargeable drill and another little box.

“Those are for your leg.” she said, pulling it out. It contained small screwdrivers and wrenches for fixing and adjusting his prosthetics.

“This is perfect.” Steve said, finally, leaning over to kiss her. “I remember my dad’s toolbox. It had everything you ever needed in it. Even after he died we still called it dad’s toolbox.” He ran his hand over the lettering. It was made to look like a child’s printing.

“Did you do this?” he asked.

“Yes.” she said. “As you can see, my artistic talent is at about a grade 2 level.” Steve laughed at that.

Tony pointed at the present next to Ginny and said, “What’s in that one might improve that.”

Ginny looked at the package, which was obviously another iPad  and shook her head.

Tony pointed a finger at her and said, “Don’t tell me how to spend my money.” Then he winked to take the sting from his words.

“By the way,” Tony continued, “we’ve been almost sleeping together for the last 6 weeks and not a mention of a little Rogers on the way?”

“Sorry, Tony.” Steve said with a smile at Ginny. “I was under strict orders.”

“We wanted to tell Claude together and we really haven’t been together until tonight.” It was her turn to smile up at Steve.

“Were you going to tell him tonight if I hadn’t come?” Steve asked.

“Not tonight,” she said, “but I would have gotten you on Skype to tell him with me later this weekend.”

“And now the whole world knows.” Tony said.

“Well, just the family for now.” Ginny said.

“Nope.” Tony said and held up his phone to show her that #CaptainAmericababy was trending on Twitter.

“Wow!” she said. “That didn’t take long.” She felt a little overwhelmed that so many people now knew what only she and Steve had known about only a couple of hours before.

Steve saw her concerned look and put his arm around her saying, “It’ll be okay.”

 

It was after 3 am when the last guest left and they were able to find their beds. Tony and Pepper were the last to leave for the short walk to their hotel.

Steve had been awake for over 24 hours, so he stripped off, got into bed and promptly fell asleep. Ginny managed to run a facecloth over her face to remove most of her make-up before following Steve to bed and sleep.

 

It was still dark out when Ginny was awakened by Steve thrashing around and mumbling beside her. Then he sat bolt upright with wide eyes.

Ginny thought he was out of the dream. She reached up and touched his back and started to say, “Steve, it’s okay.”

His reaction was lightning fast. He swung around, grabbed her by the throat and pinned her to the bed. His other arm was cocked back in a fist and the look on his face was a cross between fear and anger.

Ginny grabbed the hand around her throat and managed to pull it loose enough to say, “It’s Ginny. C’est Geneviève! Steve, it’s me. Au secour!”

Steve blinked twice as the realization of where he was and who he was holding down dawned on him.

“Jesus!” he said, letting go of Ginny’s throat as though she was red hot. She rolled onto her side, gasping for air and coughing.

“Oh, God. Ginny, are you okay?” He was beside her but not touching her. After what he’d just done, he didn’t think he had the right to touch her.

“I’m okay.” she said, hoarsely. “I’m okay. Are you okay?”

“Me!? I could have killed you!” he said, shocked that she was concerned about him. “I should go.” he said, quietly. He sat up on the side of the bed and reached for his prosthetic.

“No.” she said, firmly. “You should not.” She went to him and laid her cheek against his back and put her arms around him.

“The nightmares have been bad,” Steve said, putting his arm over hers, “but I’ve never had them when you were with me. I was hoping that would continue. But if I’m having them here, I can’t sleep with you. This could happen again.” He turned his head to try to see her, but couldn’t.

“I had spoken to Dr. Coulter about the nightmares a long time ago.” Ginny said. “He said not to wake you or touch you until you’ve come out of it. I thought, when you sat up, that you had. Is there any way you can let me know when you’re back?”

“I’d be afraid I’d wake you.” he said, quietly.

Ginny laughed. “You thrashed around like you were wrestling a bear, then sat bolt upright. Believe me; if you’re coming out of a nightmare, I’m awake already.” She moved around to his side so he could see her.

This at least made him smile and he let her urge him back down into bed with his arm around her.

“What brought you back? Did I say something or do something? Or was it just instantaneous?” Ginny asked.

“Your name…and hearing the French. You’re the only one who speaks to me in French.” he said.

“So next time, if I can speak, I’ll recite some French poetry to you.” she said, jokingly.

“No, just your name and au secour. That got through to me that you needed help. I’ll always come when you need rescuing, even if it’s from me, I guess.” He sounded very bitter, but he held onto Ginny as though she was a life raft.

There was a long silence, then Ginny asked, “Can you tell me about the nightmares?” Steve thought she meant for him to tell her the content and he started to shake his head.

But she went on. “When did they start up again? Are they new nightmares from this mission or flashbacks?” She knew he wouldn’t share with her his horrors unless he had to.

He was silent for a long time, caressing her back and trying to settle his mind.

Finally, he started to talk. “They started after the third base we took. There were kids, which you know gets to me, and there were women. There was a pregnant woman…” He let his voice trail off. “It was bad, Ginny, really bad.”  He stopped as the sobs started to shake his body.

Ginny rolled them over and pulled his head onto her chest and wrapped her arms around him to comfort him. She spoke little comforting words in French and stroked his head and back.

He held onto her tightly, almost afraid he was hurting her, but unable to let go.

Finally, the shaking stopped. Ginny grabbed the tissue box from the side table and brought it within his reach. Steve propped himself up on one elbow to blow his nose and wipe the tears from his face.

He looked at her. “These were their own people…their wives and kids. How do they do that to their own people?” he asked, imploringly.

“I don’t know, babe.” she said, stroking his face. “I just don’t know.”

“Sleep now, Steve. It’ll be soon enough we’ll have to be up.” Ginny said.

“I can’t.” he said. “What if it happens again?”

“I know what to do,” she said, quietly.

He looked at her, unconvinced, then ran his hand over his face.

“I don’t want to hurt you.” he said, tiredly.

“You won’t.” she whispered, gently pushing him back and pulling the blankets up around them.

Steve sighed deeply. He could still feel how fragile she’s felt under his hands. He fought sleep for a few minutes, trying to stay awake. If he was awake, he couldn’t dream, then he wouldn’t hurt her. But the warmth of her body against his and the long day finally caught up with him and he fell into a deep sleep.

Ginny laid awake for a long time thinking about what Steve had told her. Steve rarely shared this side of his profession with her, which was probably for the best. Hopefully, Steve could make some time to talk to Dr. Coulter before he went back.

When she was finally able to close her eyes, she  fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

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