Steve Rogers went to save the world.
He didn't come back.
I knew before I woke up. My mind filled with images more vivid than any dream I had ever had in my life. And I, of course, remembered every dream I had had since the age of ten years eight months and seven days. I could calculate it to the hundredth of the second, but it seemed to annoy people when I did, so I no longer bothered.
No, the death of one Steven Grant Rogers, AKA Captain America, had been all over the news what with all the plans for the massive state funeral being made. The man who had been branded a traitor and forced to go on the run from the same government he'd sworn to protect and die for now hailed him a hero and wished to honor him as such.
I'd thrown the remote at the TV when my frustration and anger boiled over. I managed to hit it hard enough to send sparks flying and the nurses to rush in more upset that I'd torn my stitches than the broken television. I'd taken the admonishment with feigned stoicism then rolled over and pretended to sleep. Curled up into a little ball, pillow hugged to my chest. The aching pain of my injuries nothing compared to the one in my heart.
Hours or maybe days later, time no longer seemed to pass as it should, I heard, "Kiddo, wake up we have places to do. People to be."
I cracked an eye open to find the obnoxious countenance of Sam Wilson hovering over me. "Go away," I grumbled, not having the energy to swat at him like the annoying insect he currently portrayed.
"Not a chance."
I twitched at the rough voice of one Clint Barton and rolled just enough to see him standing ramrod straight against the door of the room. A half-dozen versions of him flashed through my mind before accepting the one standing before me. Hair shaved on both sides of his head, fading bruises on his face, a deep desperate pain in his eyes.
"C'mon, kiddo, Nat'll help you change."
I gazed blearily around the room. Not seeing the superspy in question. In confusion, I muttered, "What?"
"She's waiting for us. Not too fond of hospitals these days," Clint informed me, his hawk-eyed gaze not wavering for a second.
I glanced down at my current wardrobe that my teammates, those that had survived anyway, had brought me. Sweats and a tee-shirt. Stylish any day of the week, but especially for unexpected extended hospital stays. Least I wouldn't be sneaking out of here in an open ass johnny. I would need more than just a change of clothes, however, a shower and fresh bandages would be a necessity as well if I were expected to anything that required being with company. Polite or otherwise.
Sam must have caught my train of thought and hitched a ride. "We've got all the contingencies covered, promise."
I nodded and slowly sat up. At least this time I still had use of both arms. "I'll need help walking, I'm not exactly steady on my feet right now."
Clint pushed away from the door. "We'll carry you if needed, but you will be there."
I nodded, wondering what the hell was going on.
I hate funerals.
I'd been to far too many over the last few years. Most after the fall of the Triskelion. A smattering here and there, after joining the Avengers. None in the months after I'd left.
This particular one I had never even considered might happen in my lifetime. He should have outlived me by decades if not centuries. All the research done suggested he might never die.
Didn't prevent him from being killed, obviously.
The extremely private ceremony had not included the public or anyone from the government. No, they'd gone to the big show, the "official" one that had been broadcast far and wide and permitted the country… the world to mourn for their fallen hero.
No chance he hadn't gone out on his shield. That was just the kind of man he had always been. Fight for the little guy. Protect others. Sacrifice anything to do the right thing.
Including your life. If necessary.
Sadly, it had been necessary.
The ceremony had been short and simple. Buried in a plot in Brooklyn as near to his parents as had been feasible. I don't know who had arranged it or even known the right cemetery, but I had no reason to argue with it. I would have done the same thing. I just didn't quite understand why I had been dragged along. No other Expendable had been invited, just me, and I could barely stand upright on my own. Sam and Clint stayed by my side at all times, making certain I was doing okay and constantly checking if I needed anything. Nat had done wonders with what was left of me. I looked like I'd been through a war, which, you know I kind of had, but she'd gotten me into the dress, flats, since there was no way in hell I could walk in heels in my current unsteady condition, makeup and hair done in such a way that I didn't feel the least bit uncomfortable that the worst of my injuries were on full display.
Afterward, we headed for a bar that had been clearly bought by them for the day. They fully intended this to be a proper Irish wake for our Irish Catholic golden boy.
Sam got me settled on a stool at the bar, Clint sliding into place smoothly beside me. "So, here tell you went down in a glorious fashion."
I shrugged. "So I've been told. It's a bit blurry." Which meant the blow to the head had been serious. Part of me had hoped, upon waking that my brain had reset to something closer to normal, but no luck there. The neural damage minimal based on the scans taken. Or so I had been told. Given everything I did remember, I agreed.
"Oh? This I have to hear." Hill parked herself next to Clint, waving for refills. They'd been plowing through the whiskey one bottle at a time.
"Kid…" Clint shook his head. "She took one of those energy blasts to the head." He directed his attention to the right side of my skull where the hair had just begun to regrow. Nothing but a soft fuzz of nearly four inches above my right ear. I would have an interesting scar about a half-inch wide in the shape of all things a near-perfect lightning bolt. It had healed enough that Nat had removed the bandages, putting the injury on full pride-filled display. She had called it a badge of honor. I called it a pain in the ass that would require an entirely new hairstyle.
"You should see my helmet. Melted the entire side."
"Hush," he admonished, "I'm the one embellishing this story."
I managed a wan smile for him. His version could be accurate for all I knew.
"So she's down, hurt, but not out as she manages to get her hands on her knife and takes out not one, but two of those alien beasts."
I brightened. "Oh, that explains the bite mark on my shoulder." The vibranium lined shirt had saved my arm, the puncture wounds impressive, but not all that deep. I kind of wanted to see the damage to the shirt. It would give me a fair idea of the pressure exerted by the jaws of the alien critter.
Hill chuckled. "You didn't know?"
I shook my head with all due care. It still didn't take much to make me want to toss my cookies. "I had no idea. Everyone's been walking on eggshells around me. I remember getting shot, kind of, got me from behind. After that… I woke up in the hospital… I think."
"Transport," Hill informed me.
I stared at her only slightly surprised that she knew.
"What?" She questioned, toying with her glass. "You're on my list. As soon as the dust settled from the initial attacks I called in reinforcements. The Expendables are at the top of it."
"Only Cap had already dragged you to the party," Clint added. "Probably for the best, considering."
I looked him straight in the eye his meaning clear, he'd been there when Steve had gone down. "I want to know everything, but not today. Okay."
He nodded solemnly. "Okay."
I didn't know when, but one day, maybe years from now I would sit down with them and hear the story of how Steve Rogers died. I knew none of them were ready to talk about it. The pain still too fresh in their minds and bones. But someday they would and I… I would remember for them.
Nat appeared then, behind the bar, placing a half dozen shots of something not quite clear before us. My nose said tequila, but I didn't trust it given the bottles of Bushmills remaining on the shelf. "You are not drinking enough," she admonished me even as she grabbed one for herself and downed it expertly.
"Can't," I told her. "Concussion. It would go down and then come back up shortly thereafter." Not a lie. I'd dropped several pounds due to my current inability to keep anything of value down. It had been a major step in the right direction when I hadn't thrown up the beef broth I'd been ordered to eat that morning by a steely-eyed charge nurse.
She gave me the once over, her eyes narrowing to check for any telltales that would suggest I'd been lying and seemed satisfied.
"More for me then," Hill stated grabbing a pair of the shots for herself.
Clint took one but toyed with it instead of drinking.
Nat placed a tall glass of something bright red in front of me and when I opened my mouth to protest she explained, "Shirley Temple. You still need to stay hydrated."
I wanted to argue that I should still be in the hospital hooked up to that lovely IV line that had been keeping me going for well over a week, but just sighed softly instead. Wanda laughed at something Sam said, Vision an imposing presence beside her. The Mind Stone glowing softly in the dim light of the bar. They were an odd couple but seemed happy and that was all that really mattered in the end. All of us had taken the time to be here, to say our goodbyes.
"Where's Stark?" Even though they had parted ways over the Accords I couldn't see him bailing on the funeral of a man who had been his friend for many years. He'd been absent from the government-sponsored show and more conspicuously the news. Yeah, he'd left the Tower behind not long after the fight that had broken up the Avengers, but still. By all accounts, they'd fought side by side at the end.
"You haven't heard?" Hill damn near choked on her shot in surprise.
"They won't let me talk to Ares; my team damn near wore gags when visiting me, oh, and I've been unconscious far more than awake recently." I thought about it and realized this had been the longest I'd been conscious in days and not just because of the painkillers they'd been permitting me. They needed me to rest but had been unable to give me anything really fun due to reasons I still shied away from mentally.
I'd deal with it later.
"He's… hurt. Bad," Clint stated in a flat tone. "They don't know if he'll wake up."
I blinked, a sudden surge of adrenaline making my head pound in time to my heartbeat. I must have wobbled in my seat and a firm hand settled on my shoulder to hold me in place. "We lost Tony too?"
There must have been something in my voice. Clint moved in closer, not releasing my shoulder, but squeezing tighter to ensure I remained in place. He must not have realized that one had the bite, but instead of complaining, I reveled in the pain, permitting it to remind me I had survived when we had lost so many others. "Easy there. Don't need you fainting on us." He slid the glass closer, encouraging me to drink some.
"I'm blaming you if I do. Abducting me from my cozy bed and all." I'd only chafed at the enforced rest because I had so much to do in the aftermath of the war with Thanos. Not that I'd been able to focus for more than a few minutes at a time, but that didn't prevent me from wanting to complete the necessary tasks.
He managed a broken smile and a cracked laugh, then he leaned in close and whispered. "How far along are you?"
I froze for long seconds. He did something and both Nat and Maria suddenly vanished. "I have no idea–"
"I read your chart. I know what those test results mean."
I swallowed with difficulty, my eyes surely wide in abject terror. Classic deer in the headlights of an oncoming bullet train. Nowhere to run and even less time. I just sat there shaking unable to articulate a single word.
See, part of the reason the docs had gone easy on the pain meds was the fact that when I'd woken up I'd been pregnant.
Something that should have been entirely impossible for any number of reasons first and foremost was that Steve's genetics had been modified enough to not be able to procreate with a normal human. At least it had been that way. I had a deep suspicion that the entirety of reality had changed while he'd been off fighting to save the world. I distinctly remembered using a condom the night before the battle. And yet I also remembered the opposite. I would swear on a dozen bibles that I had a birth control implant. Had for years. Replaced as scheduled without fail. When I woke up it was gone. And according to the record I hadn't had one in almost half a year.
I remembered that too.
I remembered nearly a dozen different versions of my life and in most of them, I had met and fallen for one Steven Rogers. Few of them had happy endings. I could remember ones where I had died in that crash as a child. Others where I survived, but the head trauma had resulted in disabilities. Ones where I'd been perfectly normal and gone on live a relatively normal life. In many, I still joined the military in one form or another. Fought this same penultimate battle though in different ways. Some I survived, others I didn't.
I had begun to believe I had gone completely and utterly insane. I mean, who the hell could I talk to about this? How do I tell someone that I remembered my parents being at my fifteenth birthday when I also knew they had died in the same car accident that had granted me an incredible memory. A memory that had become more than a tad confused and I didn't think it had anything to do with the concussion.
Oh, how I wished it had something to do with the concussion.
"Myla, you still with me?" Clint sounded honestly worried for me and I couldn't blame him.
I had become exceedingly worried for me.
"What the hell am I going to do?" I whispered hoarsely.
"Nothing today. I shouldn't have mentioned it, but…" he shrugged. "You look like shit."
"I feel like shit, so…"
"You'll have everything you need, whatever decision you make."
God. How did he know that I had already put the abortion card on the table? The impossible pregnancy could be erased in an afternoon. But then I would be left with nothing but the memories. Not the most horrible option on the planet. Though, from what I had heard, I no longer had to stay on the planet if I didn't want to.
"You suck, Barton."
"Yeah, but you love me anyway."
I gave him a watery smile, between the pain and the emotional turmoil roiling just beneath the surface, it was fucking amazing I hadn't been blubbering for hours at this point.
"Hey, kiddo, there's someone I want you to meet."
I spun in my chair, slowly, Clint patting me on the shoulder before walking past to join Nat and Maria who sat with… "Holy shit, is that Fury?"
Sam glanced over his shoulder. "Yup. He probably won't stay long. So if wanna say 'hi' do it sooner rather than later."
I didn't need to. Didn't want to. It was enough that he had come here to say his goodbyes, I supposed. Steve would have found it amusing. A dead man attending his wake.
"Myla, I want you to meet–"
I finally looked at the man standing next to Sam. He'd been at the funeral but had stayed in the shadows, long hair hiding his face, and the suit jacket he'd worn hiding the artificial arm that I could now see some of. The sleeves of his white oxford shirt rolled up to expose the hand and forearm. I recognized the tech as Wakandan. "Sergeant James Barnes of the 107th," I interrupted, giving the man a real smile. "Steve has told me quite a bit about you."
His eyes widened and then he ducked his head, oddly shy. He stuck out his hand and shook mine with a firmness that I appreciated. "He told me a bit about you."
I could see him in my mind, other versions of him who had been by Steve's side for years, known me when I'd been with Steve. Fought me when we'd hunted the Winter Soldier. Steve mourning his death, me unable to console him. Bucky lost because no one had listened to Steve. The lens of my other lives featuring him here and there, always connected to Steve in some manner.
He'd lost his best friend.
I did what anyone who knew me would convince them I had actually stepped off that ledge and into insanity. I carefully slid off my stool, wrapped my arms around him, and pulled him into a hug. "I'm so sorry, Sergeant Barnes."
He stood there frozen for a long moment, then crumbled, his arms curving gently about my waist, head tipping down to rest on my shoulder. "So am I," he said so softly I knew no one but I heard.
Tears pricked my eyes and I willed them away, instead, holding him a bit tighter. Not that it mattered to him, his enhancements similar to Steve's so nothing I physically could do would bother him in the slightest. His arms tensed but didn't tighten, probably concerned he'd hurt me.
After another moment I leaned back, his hold loosening instantly.
"Well, that was unexpected," Sam stated gaze darting back and forth between us.
I wiped the non-tears from my eyes. "Fuck off, Wilson."
Bucky's eyes went wide and then he burst out laughing. "I see why Steve likes you."
"Yeah, yeah yeah. I'll just add her to the Bucky Barnes fan club shall I?" Sam's snark ran deep, but it seemed forced.
He'd become one of Steve's best friends in this wild world he'd woken up into. Bucky had filled the same role decades ago. I looked the man straight in the eye. "You going back to cryo?"
He shook his head. "The Hydra programming is gone and… and I've been asked to stay."
"Stay? Stay where?"
He grimaced. "They want me to be an Avenger. But it's not like I have a place to live anywhere on the planet."
"Yes, you do," I blurted out. In a sudden burst of inspiration, I knew exactly how to help this man if only the tiniest of amounts.
He cocked his head, confusion in his eyes, which I understood. This total stranger offering to put him up for no apparent reason other than they'd... we'd cared for the same man. "What are you saying, exactly?"
"Steve bought us a place just before the whole Accords mess. It's yours for as long as you need it."
"Kid, you can't do that," Sam complained, appearing worried that I intended to do something stupid.
"Sure I can. It's in both our names so I'm pretty certain ownership defaults to me. Besides, I can't…" My heart leaped into my throat. "I can't, Sam." We'd never spent a night there. We'd signed the paperwork, been given the keys and then I'd been called back to the Compound for an op briefing. He'd stayed the night making plans for furniture and stuff, but that had been the closest we'd gotten to moving into our home.
"But where will you go," Bucky asked.
"She'll be coming home," Sam stated unequivocally.
I cocked an eyebrow and attempted to climb back onto the stool. I failed spectacularly on the first attempt, Bucky's firm grip on my biceps preventing me from ending up on the floor. "Shit," I muttered, "Who set the room to spin?"
In an effortless move, Bucky set his hands on my waist got me up, and secure on the seat. "Concussion?"
"Among other fun injuries," I agreed. "I stopped seeing double yesterday. Though it looks like that bit of fun might be returning." I blinked, pinched the bridge of my nose with closed eyes for a long moment then willed there to be only one of each of them when I opened them. It hadn't worked, but the doubles now looked more like echoes, one and a half of each person according to my sight. Oh, this was gonna be a fun memory to review now and then.
Bucky shot a death glare at Sam. "Why did you drag her here? She should be in bed."
Sam frowned deeply. "Because she's family. And we wanted her here." He met my bleary gaze his pair suddenly snapping into place so only one Sam Wilson stood before me. "Besides they want her under a real doctor's care and that means getting her back to the Compound soonest."
I choked on a laugh mostly because it made my head pound in a way I did not enjoy even a tiny bit. "I'm banned from the Compound."
Sam shrugged. "So am I. They still want us back."
"Is that why I'm here? 'Cause they think if they suck up to me I'll play nice and sign the Accords? Fuck that." I made as if to slide off the chair and walk the hell out of there, but Bucky's hand on my arm held me in place.
"No, kid… Myla. You're here because you're one of us. An Avenger."
Clint magically appeared then. "To be clear, since he can't seem to be, they want all of you. Every Expendable left. Anyone and everyone who is capable of standing up to major threats to the Earth."
"Need us to refill the ranks, huh?" I sneered, full of cynicism and pain and fucking angry at the hypocrisy of it all.
"Yes," Sam told me, not bothering to prevaricate. He knew better when I got into a mood like this. "We need you to train the next generation because we barely defeated Thanos. We didn't win, really. Just managed to stop him this time and look what it cost us. He'll be back and he'll bring friends to the party."
"And if I don't want to? If I choose to retire?" Had to admit I'd thought about that as well. I mean, how likely would it be that they'd want to keep me around once they learned I was pregnant.
Then again once they learned who the father was they wouldn't let me out of their sight.
Possibly ever again.
Oh. Fucking. Hell.
"Do you want to?" Clint asked, doubt of my resolve to do so there in his voice.
I hid my face in my hands for a few seconds, my breath harsh to my ears. I didn't come up until someone set a shockingly compassionate hand on my shoulder. I dropped mine to meet the earnest regard of one Bucky Barnes. His vibranium hand resting lightly upon me as if in reassurance. "Ask me again once my head stops hurting and I can actually think intelligently."
He nodded all solemn and serious. "Fair enough."
I would need to contemplate long and hard about my potential choices once in the right frame of mind to do so. Abject terror mixed with a headache so bad I could barely think did not make for rational decisions.
"You'll come back for now though?" Sam questioned, sounding hopeful. "I think I can talk Hill into giving you Cap's old suite. Someplace familiar for you to recover."
"I guess. Though I'll need to contact my team and make arrangements for home base." Just that thought made me realize how much work remained. Going through the ranks to learn who had lived and who had died. Make certain everyone had been taken care of, contact the families of those who had crossed the rainbow bridge. Assess, reassess, and delegate what I could until all had been accounted for. I might even need to pull in the Coins until we were back on our feet and stable, the ground beneath us no longer shifting unexpectedly.
"We'll help with that. We'll do right by you and yours."
I ground my teeth together, stopping only when the headache upped another notch. The room blurred to my sight and it must have shown on my face as Bucky's fingers tightened ever so slightly. If I hadn't been in such a miserable state I'd be fascinated by the technology that had gone into creating his arm. Instead, raw fury bled into my sight.
"Why should I trust them? Why the hell are you?"
Sam reached out to wrap cool fingers around my wrist. "Because there isn't anyone else. Because we want you there to make sure it gets done right this time. Steve trusted you, more, he believed in you the same way you did him. You have this incredible gift and you use it the way he did his: to do the right thing. No matter the cost."
"And look where that got him. A fucking six by three by eight foot hole in the motherfucking dirt." I ground my teeth together in my ire hard enough for my jaw to pop, the pain excruciating thanks to the never-ending headache.
Sam appeared affronted. "Are you telling me you wouldn't have done the same fucking thing? Wouldn't have taken that proverbial bullet for him? Because we both know the answer to that question, don't we."
I wanted to argue, wanted to fume and rage, and tell him he had it wrong, but I couldn't. This path I had found myself on had all begun when I had chosen to take the hit destined for Steve.
And I would do so again without hesitation. Hell, I would do it for any of them. Right this moment, if push came to shove. And he fucking knew it.
"We know you're angry, Myla, you have every reason to be, but what would Steve want for you?"
I had damn near forgotten Clint stood beside me, his quiet presence usually a comfort, but not today. Not when my head hurt and my heart ached and I had a hole in my soul nothing could ever fill. And yet I knew the answer just as all of the men next to me did. "He'd want me to be happy."
"Yeah, that," Clint agreed.
I knew happy. I'd been happy. With Steve. Without Steve. Before Steve and after Steve. We had talked about a future, that maybe, that after. Only it would never happen. Not within this set of memories anyway. I had others that I could cling to if I so chose. Let myself get lost in the other lives I had lived. Pick and choose the best moments and relive them over and over and… and never actually live the life I currently resided in.
"How?" I demanded, voice hoarse and full of the heartache I had shoved into a dark corner and tried to ignore since waking up enough to understand all that had transpired since the battle. I couldn't afford to break down now.
Clint shrugged. "I don't know. How about we figure it out together," he suggested, that deep sadness back in his eyes. With a tenderness I'd rarely seen from the enigmatic man, he set his hand atop my head and kissed me on the temple. Without another word he strode away, joining Nat and Hill with Fury.
Sam gave me the once-over. "You look like shit."
Two of them now, saying the same damn thing. I wondered how they would have described my appearance had they seen me a week ago.
Bucky snorted much to his surprise. "Well, I can now see how Steve managed to get the girl instead of you."
"He almost didn't," I quavered."I had to get taken by Hydra before he realized he might miss his chance at all of this." I gestured at myself, getting an eyebrow raise from Bucky.
He shifted closer, hand still on my shoulder, which I appreciated as my energy reserves had run out and the world kept shifting in such a way that I wanted to fall over. "Oh, really. This I have to hear."
Sam clapped his hands together, signaled for another round of drinks, and said, "You're gonna love this."
I made it through the afternoon somehow. Telling tales of Steve, listening to others, some even from Bucky dating back to when they'd been kids in Brooklyn. Toasts abounded, which I joined in with my candy-flavored non-alcoholic drinks. I did not doze off in the booth, head leaning on Clint's shoulder only to twitch awake to see Nat watching me with a melancholy smile on her face.
Knowing Clint he'd spilled the beans to his cohort, but if anyone knew how to keep a secret it was Nat. When she realized I had awoken she gave me a wink and slid a glass of water in my direction. I drank slowly, my stomach unsure if it wanted anything near it. I didn't want to be the party-pooper but I'd maxed out my dealing with reality for the day.
"Kid needs to crash," Clint informed the table before I had the chance to do more than raise my head from his shoulder.
"Kid needs serious narcotics," I informed them, my voice rough with discomfort. "I'm seeing double again."
"Shit," Hill cursed. "Damn it, Steve wouldn't want me to swear."
Sam laughed. "Which you just did again." He pushed his chair back and stood, holding out a hand for me to grasp so that I could stand. I managed two steps before the world did a tilt-a-whirl impression and I found myself staring up into the eyes of one Bucky Barnes, who had apparently been quick enough to catch me as I went down. "Sorry," I mumbled, my tongue thick and stomach roiling with unhappiness. "I don't like this damsel in distress thing very much."
"No, I don't imagine you do," he agreed in a soft voice. He turned to Sam. "She needs a bed and a doctor."
"Your ride is on its way." Fury stepped in front of us. "You are under orders to rest and heal. I'll be back in a month to have a serious discussion about the future of the Avengers. I want you standing on your own two feet for it."
"Why, when I can have a selection of handsome superhero cabana boys to cart me about and fulfill my every whim?"
Nat and Maria hooted and whistled, just drunk enough to find my brazen commentary, and to the former director of SHIELD's face no less, amusing instead of frighteningly foolish.
Fury's lone visible eyebrow rose on his head. "Well. Rogers always did say you were afraid of nothing. Seems he was right." He set a hand on my shoulder, patting it in an almost fatherly manner. "Good. You're going to need that attitude for what's coming."
"And what's coming?" I asked, not entirely certain I wanted an answer.
"War. What else. The world is depending on us to be ready for it." And on those words, he swept out the door the way he'd come in.
Moments later a quinjet settled in the near-empty parking lot.
"I'm guessing that's our ride," Clint said looking out at the slick machine. A design I didn't recognize even though none of the others seemed to find it unusual.
"You okay?" Bucky asked.
"Tired," I admitted.
"Then sleep. I'll protect you."
I had the odd feeling there was something more to his words than just the kindness of a virtual stranger in a stranger than usual situation. Still, the need for rest won out over my curiosity. I tipped my head onto his shoulder and let reality, whichever one this might be, slip away.