The World We Made
It only took two weeks before he left.
No way I could have joined them anyway, my injuries far more severe than anyone had realized. The bite the least of my worries, the concussion, and energy weapon burn making the Wakandan docs debate the merits of putting me in an induced coma for a few weeks until the swelling went down. They wanted to use their magical cure-all vibranium but had been unsure how it might affect my unique brain adaptations, so had gone with the old-fashioned methods.
You know the ones that left me in pain and nauseated for long stretches of time. Not that head or shoulder injuries were a new thing to me. Been there, done that.
We'd talked about an after, but it hadn't taken into account even the remote possibility that we'd lose.
"Feeling any better today?"
"I successfully made it to the bathroom this morning where I proceeded to toss my cookies for nearly fifteen minutes thanks to the vertigo I experienced on said refreshing walk." The nurses hadn't been thrilled with my little adventure and the docs had spent a fair portion of the morning examining and admonishing me. I'd been rather proud of the accomplishment especially considering that I needed to get better as quickly as possible.
Steve snickered at my colorful description. "They'll figure out how stubborn you are eventually." He tipped his head down gaze seemingly on our hands. "Myls…"
I sat up a smidge straighter and reached over to run my fingers along his cheek. "Hey you, it'll be okay."
"I don't see how," he muttered still not meeting my eyes. "The world's broken and–"
"And you want to go fix what you can. I get it." How did I always end up consoling him? Not that I minded; there were now even fewer people for him to confide in, that he could trust absolutely. I may have been knocked upside the head a good one, but I understood the ramifications of what had happened. So many gone. So many more deaths in the aftermath. The crew of a plane vanishes behind a locked door only they can open. That plane doesn't land. It falls from the sky no matter how many living passengers remain.
Repeat that all over the world, hundreds, possibly thousands of times and you have even more deaths. And that is before you consider the literal universal ramifications.
Those of us with the means and the ability to help needed to, no matter who they might be leaving behind.
"Go. The docs here'll take good care of me and I'll join you as soon as I'm able."
He raised his head then, guilt written across his handsome if exhausted, features. "But–"
"No buts." I shrugged, gritting my teeth and making absolutely certain I telegraphed none of the pain it caused. "All we can do is try. Ares and the Expendables are at your disposal. Now that you have my number I expect you to use it. Understood?"
He managed to dredge up a grin from somewhere, but the deep pain in his eyes remained. He still appeared broken to me. "Understood." He lifted our hands and kissed my fingers then stood. He took a moment to just watch me, as if trying to imprint me upon his memory then he leaned over and kissed me lingeringly on the forehead causing me to close my eyes with a soft sigh.
I kept them closed as he released my hand, his footsteps slow as he left.
I opened my eyes somehow certain it would be a long time before I saw him again.
My recovery took longer than anyone could have expected. The blow to my head causing some weird break in my memory that left me confused and questioning my reality. And none of the best experts remaining in the world – not all that many really given the situation – either wrote it off as some form of PTSD or brain damage. Even the Wakandan docs had been baffled by it. Oh, they didn't doubt me the way some others obviously did, but they had no idea how to help me either.
Drugs might have been an option had it not been for the fact I had somehow managed to get myself pregnant.
And given the approximate date of conception, there could only be one option for the father. Not that I'd been out having wild sex prior to or immediately following Thanos's visit to Earth. Hell, it had been well over a year since I'd had anything even vaguely resembling a relationship. The last had been a weekend tryst with a former SHIELD member I trusted and had had similar fun with before.
So, yeah, I knew exactly who the father must be no matter how impossible.
I'd heard through the grapevine – Okoye – that Tony had made it back home, weak and broken, but alive. A new Avenger had appeared, apparently at the call of Fury, who along with Hill, we'd lost to the Snap. This new group had gone after Thanos in an attempt to undo the damage only to discover the Stones had been destroyed.
The one hope, one chance we had to fix this quickly gone with a snap of the Mad Titan's fingers.
Once deemed healthy enough to be released I called and messaged Steve only to receive little more than non-committal replies. While sorely tempted to just text him about his impending fatherhood complete with a snarky tone I refrained and took the lack of contact to mean he'd moved on to one degree or another.
So I did as well.
Those members of the Expendables that had no family connections prior to the Snap had stayed in Wakanda with me and when I decided to return home they went with me. I already knew that I'd lost a fair portion of my close relatives and had therefore inherited pretty much… everything. What to do with it became the question.
The world had fallen apart and we were mercenaries. Guns for hire. We had no place in the current political order. Oh, there were those who tried to hire us. Cartels and the Yakuza and gangs that had survived but needed just a bit more firepower to assure their rise to power.
We said no. Now, had it been SHIELD, the Avengers, hell the US Army we might have said yes, but they hadn't asked. So, once they'd done what they could for their families they drifted back, wanting, needing to do more.
My pregnancy hadn't been easy. The baby needing fuel in excess of what I could manage so, when I ended up on bed rest during my third trimester, I turned my attention, money, and Ares towards other projects. Organizing housing and food for the displaced. Networks to find and connect surviving family members. My parents had been big on the charity circuit I continued the trend just in a more direct manner.
Then Nat made contact, apparently having gotten wind of the Expendables efforts and asking for assistance in a specific area: children who had been orphaned by The Snap. I had the organizational basics in place, so a simple shift in focus and we had the project up and running in weeks. We provided food, shelter, education, and jobs for a lot of adults who suddenly found themselves without purpose.
Within six months it became self-sustaining and began to expand to all major cities nationwide. I spoke to Nat at least monthly, but the subject of the others we both purposely avoided. She'd become the sole remaining Avenger at the Compound, doing what she could to put an entire universe to rights with the few who had agreed to continue the fight. She didn't ask for my help in that regard and I didn't offer as I had far more personal concerns to deal with at that point.
We both knew had she asked, I'd've been there in hours, my entire team with me, so she didn't ask. I did my best to be a friend and support her, but none of us had made it through without some serious scars.
So, of course, it was Nat who discovered the truth first.
"You cut your hair," Nat observed, waving at the clearly visible scar on the right side of my head.
I shrugged. "Needed a change and I can manage a set of clippers just fine." No need to mention the incident that necessitated the sudden change in style.
"No, it looks good. You earned that scar. You should show it off."
I wanted to mention it was a reminder of our failure but didn't see the need to add to the underlying depression we both still carried around. "Maybe do some videos on how to obtain a similar scar for others to duplicate."
Nat snorted, the sarcastic humor not missed by the former spy. "Have idiots running to join the next battle against space invaders just to make their mark."
I grinned. "Might have won if we'd had more warm bodies to throw at them."
Nat just stared at me dumbfounded.
"Too soon?" I questioned, as even after a couple of years we still pretty much avoided talking about that battle.
Then her eyes went wide, clearly staring at something over my shoulder. When I heard the squeal followed by a high-pitched "Nu-nu." I realized the cat was well and truly out of the bag.
Ignoring Nat for the moment I turned about to see my hellion lifting the loveseat to free the, in her opinion, trapped Roomba. The little blue robot bounced off the back wall, spun about, and made its escape. The furniture dropped to the floor with a thud as my Sara followed the little bot towards me.
A moment later Tristan charged in with an exasperated look on his face. "Sorry, Myla, I know you're in a meeting."
Sara glared at him, making a beeline for me. "Mama."
"Hey, baby girl." I scooped the child up and set her on my lap, not ignoring Nat per se, but not about to have the discussion I knew would be coming in front of the cause. She might be young but she was frighteningly smart. "She break another gate?"
Tristan shook his head. "I think she climbed it."
The gate in question five feet high, with a gap at the bottom just big enough to permit the Roomba through. We'd gone through several iterations to find one she couldn't just rip off the wall. It had included reinforcing the doorframes to succeed, but we'd thought we'd finally figured it out.
Babyproofing had been an interesting challenge.
I tapped my daughter on the nose. "You are all kinds of trouble, aren't you?"
Her response a squeal of sheer happiness.
"Anyone hungry?" Tristan asked and it got her attention instantly.
"Tistan." She couldn't quite manage rs just yet, but that would come with time. She reached her arms up to him and I let her be taken, Tris placing her firmly against his hip and earning a dainty kiss on the cheek as his reward.
"I'll wrangle her majesty, you finish your meeting." Tristan nodded toward the computer where Nat still waited.
When they had left the room I turned back to Nat who had schooled a neutral expression on her face. I debated waiting her out for about ninety seconds even knowing I could never win. "Ask, Nat. I'll answer."
I thought for a moment she'd deny she wanted to ask anything, but then, at barely above a whisper, she said, "Does he know?"
I laughed, though even I had to admit to more than just a touch of bitterness lay buried beneath the light-hearted sound. "I think you know the answer to that."
"How–" Her mouth snapped shut, but I could see the data being processed. "Wakanda, of course, but why didn't you tell him? Hell, why didn't you tell me?"
"Nat…" I shook my head. "I tried for months once I found out, but he made it clear that he'd moved on. So I did as well."
Nat sighed softly instead of admonishing me as I expected. "None of us handled the aftermath of losing the stones well. You shouldn't've had to go through that alone."
"Alone? I haven't been alone. I've got my team and Ares and you. And you are not to tell him."
"Because last I heard he was with Sharon. If he's happy then that's all that's important."
"So you've been stalking him instead?" Nat's tone was only slightly facetious.
"If you want to call it that, then yes, I've been stalking the whole lot of you." Well, not me precisely, but Ares, admittedly at my direction. it served a specific purpose though. If ever they were needed at least someone would know where they all had wandered off to. And while that didn't have to be me, I'd taken on the responsibility. "I just want to make certain everyone is all right. Much as they can be anyway."
Nat sighed softly. "Some of us are doing better than others. Clint–" She choked on his name, lips snapping shut unable to finish her sentence.
"He's alive," I assured her, though I didn't go into details when she flinched ever so slightly. Clint had lost the most in some ways. That rumored family had turned out to be true and he'd lost every single one of them to the Snap. If Steve had been broken Clint had been fractured, the pieces strewn on the wind much like the remains of all those who had vanished.
She shook her head. Not a no per se, but to shake whatever emotions my comment had stirred up away from her. She didn't want to feel, just wanted to do the job, finish it, and move onto the next. Her way of dealing with losing so much had been to bury herself in work, even if she had to create it from scratch. "Myla, if he knew…"
"Which is why he won't. I'm am not going to dangle Sara before him like bait in a vain effort to regain his favor. I will never be that desperate." No matter how much I still… cared for Steve Rogers I could never force him to be with me.
"You can be a little selfish now and then," Nat groused. "You made him the happiest I'd seen."
I mentally conceded the point. "Made being the operative word there. He's since made it clear we're over." I had resigned myself to that truth while still pregnant.
"He's an idiot," Nat stated, then got this sly look in her eyes. "Sharon moved out last month…"
"Am I supposed to cheer? Nat…" I paused to sigh softly. I got that she wanted us happy, wanted Steve to do more than be a depressed mess, to have some sort of hope again, but it wouldn't be with me. "If he wants to contact me he will. Can we leave it at that?"
"We can. We shouldn't, but we can," she conceded. I could see her changing tracks mentally, but to where I wasn't quite sure.
I gave her a grin and didn't give her the chance to control where the discussion went next. "Distribution. We need to make a statement to the gangs attacking the shipments."
"Agreed. What did you have in mind?" I could see in her eyes what she wanted to do. A show of force that would make it clear that messing with our supply trains would be a grave mistake.
"Hire them to protect the shipments through their territories."
Her mind switched tracks quickly. "Oooo. I honestly hadn't thought of that. You can pay them?"
I nodded. "Figured a combo of goods and cash. Train 'em where possible."
"Turn them into allies and protectors instead of predators."
"And if any of them show any real aptitude…"
"Recruit them." She wagged a finger at me. "Sneaky. I like it. But if they don't want to play ball?"
"We'll make it extremely clear that they should change their minds." We would endeavor to keep the injuries and casualties to a minimum, but if we had to put our foot down we would. "Ares will enjoy a real battle, no matter how one-sided."
"Yes, I imagine he will. He's bored."
"Somewhat. Once I explained that distribution of resources and manpower was simply a different form of battle strategy he dove all in. Go instead of chess."
"No wonder the transport has been so efficient. So long as the sats keep working he can see everything."
"Yep. Almost like I planned it that way or something."
She chuckled. "All right, how is Dallas looking?"