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08 May 2010 @ 12:53 am
(fic) This Woman's War 3/4  
Title: This Woman's War 3/4
Author(s): tsukinofaerii
Beta: cursor_mundi
Fandom: Marvel 1610: Ultimates
Pairings: Stephanie (Steve) Rogers/Gail Richards; pre-Tony Stark/Steve Rogers
Rating: R
Notes: Violence, Genderswap, non-explicit Femslash, pre-Het

Word Count: ~37,000

Summary: Stevie Rogers, the only known survivor of Operation Rebirth, has spent four years masquerading as Captain America, the hyper-masculine symbol of America. When she wakes up in a strange military hospital, surrounded by people who insist on the impossible, Stevie assumes what any right-thinking person would—that it's a secret Nazi base. All that's left is to break out and find her way back to the war. After all, she's got a promise to keep to the girl waiting on her back stateside.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Art | OST

Note: No artist claimed this one, so it's all the product of a single creator.

***

"God damn it, Stark, why weren't you there?"

Bruce sighed kept his head down as Stark and Fury marched through his lab, breathing and dropping hair all over. He was used to people randomly coming in, and no amount of explanation about sterile environments would stop Fury. He didn't know or care how a single speck of dust could ruin hours of work. Stark knew and cared, he just thought he knew better than Bruce. Technology and biology, to him, were just matters of perspective. Gently, Bruce lifted a microscopic tissue sample onto a slide, determined to at least pretend that he wasn't there.

"So sorry to disappoint. I had other plans," Stark said, bending over to look at a sheet of Bruce's notes. "You really shouldn't get so worked up about these things. It's bad for your blood pressure."

"We needed you on aerial support!" Fury was in a rage. He slapped his open palm down on a table with a loud crack, thankfully only upsetting empty instruments. Bruce winced anyway—some of those were delicately calibrated, and Fury had just ensured that was past tense. "If you'd been there, we could have captured her!"

Even though the sample was long since spread, Bruce kept fiddling with it. Hopefully, the argument would end and he'd be able to get back to real work.

"Or she would have taken both Pym and I out in very public, very humiliating fashion," Stark countered. His fingers slid over the edge of a centrifuge. Privately, Bruce prayed that he wasn't getting any urges to rebuild it. The last one still made strange beeping noises. "And damaged the most expensive suit in the world in the process. While the crowd cheered, no less. I think we're better off if I sit this one out altogether. Don't you agree?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Bruce saw Fury's face tighten into a scowl. "You pull this sort of shit again and I'll—"

"And you'll... what? Drop me from the team?" Stark patted the equipment like a dog and leaned his hip against the counter, crossing his arms. "You know, I was curious about why you’re so determined to keep this hush-hush when a quick broadcast would solve the problem, so I did a little reading up. News papers, records, old files. You wouldn't believe what I learned." Stark was too serious, too intense. Bruce almost felt the heat of his anger from across the room. "I know what you've been doing—read about your little trip up to Canada.

"I'm not going to help you turn that woman into a lab specimen, so go ahead. Drop me from the team. I'm just in this for the adulation."

Silence. With a sweep of his arm, Fury knocked over an empty beaker. Glass shattered against the floor, tinkling as the shards tumbled over the smooth tile. "You don't know a fucking thing, Stark," Fury growled. The sealed door whooshed open anti-climatically as he stormed out.

The broken pieces of the beaker Fury had ruined glittered up at him from the floor. With a sigh, Bruce turned to get the whisk broom.

"Don't know a thing," Stark sighed. His head tilted as Bruce swept up the shards. There were people to do it for him, but he didn't see the point in waiting for someone else to get around to it. "Sorry to barge in on you, Bruce. I wanted to see if you had any progress on Cap."

"Cap?" Bruce clutched the whisk broom and dustpan. Most of the beaker was still in pieces too big and heavy to sweep easily, so he started collecting those first. "What's that?"

"The ice woman. I know you got some of her samples" Stark gestured around the lab, frustration evident in the jerky movement of his hand. "Have you examined them? What do you think?"

"Oh, Cap! You mean Captain America," Bruce nodded, glancing up. "I've got some good leads. Now that we know the key is in the gender differences— well, there's really not that much difference between male and female biology. It's just a matter of finding what negatively affected the other subjects and adjusting the procedure."

"So you can make more of her?"

"Possibly. General Fury seemed insistent that the process function on both genders equally." And no testing, of course, but Bruce would worry about that when he had something to test. "With a focus on making it compatible with men, obviously."

Stark snorted. "That's because Nick has no imagination."

"Female soldiers are still less prevalent on the front lines of battle than male," Bruce reminded his, rolling his eyes. Tony Stark: feminist and humanitarian. He never would have imagined. "And we know a female super soldier can be created. Now that we know, making a male version is the challenge."

For some reason, that seemed to agitate Stark more. He ran his hand through his hair and shifted his weight uncertainly. Bruce wasn't good at reading people, and Tony Stark was good at being unreadable, but under oath he would have sworn that Stark was angry.

"Okay— fine, then." Stark pushed away from the table he was leaning against, headed for the door. "Keep me up on your progress. Ciao."

Bruce shook his head and reached for other chunk of beaker. "Bye— ow!" Pain bit into his thumb as the glass slipped. Blood welled up from a shallow cut across the pad of his thumb. He cursed and reached for a napkin in his pocket. He couldn't let his blood mix with or contaminate any of the samples.

Inspiration hit like a sledge hammer.

Blood.

The future unfurled before his eyes.
***

Everything was a pristine, perfect white, like being trapped in a blizzard. Walls stretched up so high it seemed like a cathedral, and one of them was topped by a pane of glass windows that sometimes had observers behind them. The only furniture in the examination room was a simple metal table. No chairs, nothing to take comfort in. Even the doctors wore all white, sterile and identical. The masks they wore made it impossible to tell them apart for no reason Stevie could spot. It wasn't as if she were contagious.

She had never gotten used to it. Everyone else rotated out constantly. In the six months she'd been in the medical center, the only people she'd learned to identify had been a few generals and other test subjects, but she hadn't seen any of them in days.

Stevie wasn't sure what to think about that.

"Well, Miss Stephanie, how's the leg?" One of the doctors rubbed her knee, flexing it. It moved easily, like an oiled hinge. Her knee-length olive-drab skirt had to be pulled up so he could see the joint, which was uncomfortable, but a nurse lurked in the back to make sure nothing went on. She wished Gail was there, but Gail was back in New York. "Is there any pain? Stiffness?"

"Right as rain, doc," Stevie assured him, staring down at her leg. She'd put on a lot of muscle tone in the six months since she'd been at the center. It was like looking down at someone else's legs, watching muscle and skin slide together so easily. Being able to use it again was a miracle she swore she'd never forget. "Better than ever. Did they tell you I touched my toes yesterday? I couldn't do that before."

There were a lot of things she couldn't have done before—climb twenty foot walls, run for what felt like days, lift a man clear over her head. For all that, it was the little things that she felt most, like touching her toes, or just walking without help.

The doc smiled at her. Even with his face hidden behind the mask, he reminded her of a grandfather—it was something about the wrinkles around his eyes. "Very good. You're progressing nicely." He flexed her knee again, then worked with the other one to compare.

"How do feel in general?" the questions continued while he took her pulse. "Nausea, fatigue, headaches?" Obediently she answered no to every question, on and on, as if she'd forget to mention something like throwing up blood. As they went on, the crinkles at the corners of the doctor's eyes deepened, as if he were smiling.

"Well, Miss Rogers, it looks like you're the perfect bill of health. Congratulations."

"So it worked?" Stevie smoothed down her skirt again, since he was done with her legs. Thinking that it was over—the experiment was a success, she could go home—seemed like cheating. She'd signed up to serve her country. Maybe she had, but it didn't feel like it. "I guess the guys are going to the front?" That was probably why she hadn't seen them in the mess. They'd been shipped off. She was just a loose end.

The doc looked away. His pen tapped nervously against his notepad. "Not exactly."

"What does that mean?"

Back against the wall, the nurse on duty seemed to take pity on the tongue-tied doctor. "You were the only one to make it," she explained. The only identifiable part of her was her hair, which was mousy brown and pulled back into a neat little bun. It was the first time one of the nurses had spoken to her. "The last one died yesterday. There was an incident—"

Around the doc's neck, the stethoscope slipped and almost fell as he turned to stare at the nurse. "Should we tell her?"

"Someone needs to." The woman lifted her chin defiantly. "She needs to know."

Stevie stared at her, gripping the edge of the table. Metal bend under her fingers with an ugly groan. She stared down at the perfect finger imprints, heart pounding, then back up at the medics. "The only one? They've died?"

"The serum seems to have worked with your constitution while it conflicted with theirs," the doctor answered slowly. "We're not certain why. Of course, more testing is needed, but the war is started after all, and I doubt you'll have time."

"But— you can make more, right? If it worked on me..."

"Only on you, Miss Stephanie. Just you." Glancing back at the nurse, the nameless doctor seemed to shrug. His eyes looked tired, and now that she was looking, she noticed the redness in them. "And there was an incident. A spy killed the man behind the project. You're one of a kind, now."

Metal started to bend again. Stevie loosened her grip guiltily before she could damage the table any more. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means what it means." The doctor pulled down his mask and held out a hand. She'd been right. He had a kind face, with a lot of laughter lines. Just then, it didn't look like he'd laugh again for a long time. "Your business with me is done, Miss Stephanie. I wish you the best luck in the world."

Gingerly, Stevie shook his hand. Under the gloves he wore they were soft—real doctor's hands, the kind that were made to be gentle. A glow of gratitude touched her heart. He could have been like the other doctors, the ones the men had, who barked orders and never warned before jabbing in with a needle, and who strapped them down before the treatments.

Maybe he wasn't as important as the others, or he wouldn't have been given the only girl to treat, but he'd gotten her through. "Thank you, doc. It's been a real pleasure. Can I at least get your name?"

"Anonymous, Miss Stephanie. We're all anonymous here." He nodded to her and picked up his bag. The nurse held the door open for him. "The general will be here to talk to you in a few minutes. Take care, Miss."

And then she was alone. Lights flickered on and off in the window bank above, three times in five minutes before going dark and staying that way. Stevie stared down at her toes, stretching out her legs and touching them now and then just because she could and it helped keep her mind off the other two test subjects.

It didn't make sense why she made it and they didn't. They'd been volunteers from the Army. Big, strong guys who could have broken her over their knee if they'd wanted. She'd been sure they'd take to it.

Why hadn't they?

She'd been sitting alone for nearly a half an hour when the door opened again. A tall, graying man with a general's stars on his chest strode in. He walked for all the world like some ancient monarch looking out over his lands. Stevie instinctively straightened, and only knowing how much a fool she'd look kept her from attempting an untrained salute.

"Miss Stephanie Rogers?" he asked quietly. His voice was mellow and rolling like a river, but stern enough that she made an effort to sit up straighter. It was an odd contrast to his face, which could most kindly be called hawkish. "I'm General Phillips."

"Sir." Her clubbed braid bobbed against the back of her neck when she nodded. "The doc said you needed to talk to me?"

He hooked his hands behind his back. "Miss Rogers, I have a proposal for you. But first I need to know something." Her head dipped automatically. "What would you say if I told you that your nation needs you?"

All her life, she'd wanted to serve her country. When she'd thought she'd be just a body it could use, that had been enough.

It wasn't.

Stevie met his eyes, setting her jaw determinedly. "I'd say... I'd say sign me up, sir."


Another person sitting on the park bench jolted Stevie out of her thoughts. She uncurled a bit from the ball she'd wrapped herself in, looking up tiredly. Beside her, Thor had kept a decent distance between them, placing a huge battle hammer lengthwise on the seat, like the ruler her mother had used between her and Bucky, before everything had gone to pieces. The setting sun turned Thor's hair even more golden, and cast strong shadows across his jaw and muscles. He almost did look like a god out of a book of myths.

Somehow, she wasn't surprised that he'd found her.

"I went back to the diner," she explained quietly, "but you'd paid the tab and left."

"Looking for you," he nodded. A couple strolled past, walking along one of the park paths hand in hand. Thor's eyes followed them placidly, unbothered by the stares his weapon received. "Did the fight go well?"

Satisfaction at the still-vivid memory of testicles crushing softly under her feet brought a smile to Stevie's lips. "I got out well enough, but it was a trap. Someone was setting me up. Tried to drug me."

"No doubt agents of the government." When she lifted a skeptical eyebrow, he raised both of his in return. "Who else knows of you?"

"You do."

"I do."

Stevie slumped back against the bench, pulling her knees in against her chest. Prospect Park wasn't Central Park, but it wasn't bad, and the sun still felt good. Watching life go on around her was comforting, helped ground her thoughts away from all the things she couldn't have any more. "So maybe it was someone like you. Or the government."

"You don't perhaps think it was I?" His voice lifted in amusement. "As you said, I know your secret."

"If you wanted to catch me, you would have tried it by now." The guns in her pockets were heavy as she shifted to get more comfortable. She'd feel better once she knew how to use them properly. There was no point in having a weapon she couldn't fire. "There were a dozen times you could have tried. So unless you're playing some sort of game, you're safe."

"It's good to have your trust."

"You don't. I just said that you don't want to kidnap me. That doesn't mean I trust you."

He nodded agreeably. "Not even if I tell you that I have found your friends?"

Stevie turned to stare at him suspiciously, but Thor's expression was serene. It never was anything else, really, but he had enough tell-tale twitches that she thought she could tell if he were lying. So far, he hadn't. "What did you find out?"

"James and Gail Barnes have a home in Brooklyn, not very far from here. We can go there now, if you like."

Still no sign of a lie, but Stevie's gut tightened into an iron knot anyway. She needed to see Gail and Bucky, more than she needed to keep free, maybe more than she needed to keep breathing.

Gail Barnes—they'd married without her. Were there children, with Gail's hair and smile? Grandchildren? Had some other man and woman joined them, taking Stevie's place in their plans? Did Gail ever love anyone else?

She swallowed to ease the ache in her chest before it could rise up into her throat. "Let's go."
***

The house Thor took her to was a small one, with a just-blooming flower garden and a porch. It was a picture book house—it even had rocking chairs, and brightly colored toys scattered in the walkway. Stevie stared at it from the sidewalk, hands behind her back. Children played on the sidewalks, doing something esoteric that involved bouncing a soft ball and a lot of laughter. Every time one of them burst out into giggles, she tensed even more. A single loud noise would have sent her running.

They should have called ahead, or not gone at all. What if she wasn't wanted? Or the listing was old, and they were gone? I'm sorry, miss, Grandmother passed away last year...

She didn't think she could take it, if they were dead.

Thor didn't seem to mind her hesitation, or if he did, he just didn't say anything. Stevie appreciated his patience, even though it irritated her that he needed to be patient at all. She'd thrown herself out of airplanes without a pause for second thoughts, but knocking on a door was about to make a coward out of her.

"Excuse me?" A girl about fourteen years old called from just outside the group of kids. Strawberry blonde curls stuck up from a messy pair of ponytails, making her look a little like she'd stuck her finger in a socket. "You've been standing there a while. Are you two looking for someone?"

Stevie hesitated, but Thor answered for them. "Yes, actually, young lady. Do James and Gail Barnes live here?"

"Oh, yeah!" the girl beamed. "That's my grandparents. I'll go get 'em." She took off at a job for the front door, yelling at the top of her lungs for Grampa.

So they did have children. Stevie wasn't sure what to think about that, other than they should be mine. The space behind her eyes ached with an on-coming headache. It had been years since she'd gotten one of those for no good reason. She rubbed at the bridge of her nose, relaxing by dint of will alone.

It must have been from the fight with the giant.

"Stephanie?" Thor's forehead furrowed with worry. "Are you—"

"I'm fine." The front door was opening, and she found herself wanting to run again. It didn't matter where, as long as she didn't have to face the man coming out onto the porch.

"I'm James," he called, voice gravelly, but still strong. There was no cane in sight, but from the slow way he walked, it was clear he probably needed one. The ginger-haired girl hovered just off to the side, visibly ready to catch him if he needed it. "Can I help you with...?" He paused on the steps, blinking and shaking his head.

Bucky didn't look anything like she'd expected. Even with all the evidence, she'd never thought about what she'd see instead of a head full of dark hair and maybe one of those damned cigarettes. Her knees started to feel unsteady and she locked them, determined to at least manage to keep her feet.

"Hi, Bucky." In spite of her best attempts, Stevie's voice cracked. "I hear you've got grandkids, lucky dog. I told you kids would make you grow up one day."

"Good God—" He staggered down the last few steps towards her. "Gail! Gail, get out here!" he shouted, hoarse voice sounding painful with the raise in volume. "Gail!"

They met in the middle of the walkway. Stevie wrapped her arms around her old friend's shoulders and hugged him to her. Bucky had always been shorter than she was, but he felt tiny, fragile. It was as if she could break him in two if she weren't careful enough. He'd never felt so frail back in the war.

"James?" another voice asked from back up on the porch. "Who's here? Do I need—" Stevie looked up in time to see a dishrag tumble to the ground.

Gail was a picture—still rosy-cheeked and bright-eyed, with her thick white hair pulled back into a braid, just as gorgeous as ever. She clutched the handrail on the steps with one hand, her other hand up against her lips. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She didn't make any move to wipe them away.

Stevie tried to find something to say, but her whole chest had locked up on her. Words choked up in her throat, locked in her lungs and refusing to do anything at all. She couldn't breathe. When Bucky pulled away from her, she staggered before regaining her own balance.

The poor kid stood in the middle of the porch, looking back and forth between them all in complete confusion. "Grandma? What's going on?"

"I—" Gail finally straightened from the rail. She stepped down the stairs regally, though Stevie could easily see her hands shaking. "Susanne, go set the table with an extra place." Her eyes flickered to Thor back on the sidewalk. "No, make it two. And make it the good plates and silver. Then run home and tell your mother that Grandpa and I have company tonight, and I'll talk to her over coffee."

Susanne stared at Stevie like she'd done something heinous, but skittered inside when Gail shooed her. Stevie tried not to stare as Gail came towards her, but just thinking was hard enough. Controlling where her eyes went wasn't about to happen. Bucky still had a hand on her elbow. It was the only thing keeping her upright.

"Stevie?" Gail paused a few feet away. Her dress was a neat, pretty flower print. The blue roses on it brought out the blue in her eyes, but that only made the red rims around them brighter too. "Is that really you?"

Forcing herself to take a shaky breath, she nodded and tried to smile. It didn't worse so well. "I promised, didn't I?" She hated sound of her voice. It was too soft, too unsteady. She was supposed to be happy, damn it. "I said I'd come back."

"Just took a little while, huh?" Bucky asked, squeezing her arm with a thin hand. His voice wobbled as much as hers. That made her feel better about losing control. "What happened, girl? I saw you go down."

She shook her head. The headache was starting to pound up to full force, burning behind her eyes and thickening her throat. "I don't know," she admitted. "I thought I was dead too. I just... woke up." What Fury had said about an iceberg prodded to the front of her mind, but she wasn't sure enough about that to speculate. "It's a long story, but I need someplace to stay."

Imposing on them wasn't fair, but she didn't trust Thor, and she didn't have anyplace else. Tomorrow, maybe she'd go back to the base, or the day after. But she needed to get her head straight first. She'd operated on her gut instinct all day, and that would only take her so far.

"You've got it." Bucky glanced back and forth between her and Gail with a knowing look. "Why don't I show your friend around, and you ladies can chat while dinner finishes up?"

"That's not necessary," Thor insisted, bringing up his hands with the palms flat out. "I don't wish to intrude."

"Nonsense." Bucky let go of Stevie entirely and hooked his arm around Thor's. He started tugging the big man around the side of the house, apparently oblivious to Thor's slightly panicked expression and subtle attempts to free himself. "You brought our girl home; you can at least stay for supper. I'll just show you my garden around back. The tomatoes are coming up a treat."

When the men had gotten out of eyesight, Stevie locked her hands together in front of her, inexplicably panicked at being alone with Gail. Gail, who'd obviously moved on and had a full life after Stevie'd left her. Who'd had the children and grandchildren and home they'd always talked about sharing. It was like being an intruder in her own dream. She was shaking so bad, she felt like she was coming apart at the seams.

"I know I'm not pretty as I used to me, but don't I even get a hug?" Gail asked softly.

Stevie started to answer, but the words were caught up in a half-vocalized moan. She staggered forward wrapped her arms around Gail's shoulders. Anything she might have said got lost in another inarticulate noise as she fought away the burning in her eyes.

A shudder wracked down Gail's frame. "We thought you were dead," she whispered, her voice shaking. "They all said you'd died— James saw you die—"

Stevie's knees cracked painfully against the pavement as they gave way under her. She had just enough sense to not drag Gail down with her, but it left her with her face pressed into Gail's ribs. She clutched her around the waist, tears making a dark spot on Gail's dress.

"I'm sorry—" she gasped, throat clenching around the words as if she could swallow them back down. "Oh God, Gail, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to, I swear I didn't—"

Everything she'd lost and gone through pounded up through her. Big things, the ones that mattered, country and family and all the soldiers she'd led to their deaths were shoved aside by petty ones—her hair, her name, being able to look in the mirror and not see a stranger—that were so small she was ashamed to even miss them. It wasn't right, to look at a battle plan over December and think Gail and I should be making preserves right now. It wasn't important, it wasn't fair to the men who relied on her. But she couldn't stop thinking about it, picking over details, worrying about everything she couldn't have anymore and shouldn't even waste time wanting. Trying to shove it all back down and get a grip on herself just brought it all up in an even harder sob. She was making a fool of herself right in public and she couldn't make herself stop.

Gail held on to her, rocking slightly as if she were soothing a baby. She didn't even try to shush her, or pull her in where neighbors couldn't see. "It's okay, honey." Her fingers ran through Stevie's hair. "You let it all out. Come on, just let it go."

By the time the tears had finally slowed, Stevie's whole body ached like one big bruise. Her headache had cleared away, but her throat was so tight every hiccup and gulp for air hurt, her nose was stuffed and her face burned. She knew she looked terrible—she'd never been able to cry gracefully. The whole time, Gail hadn't let go of her for a second. Stevie rested her forehead against Gail's stomach and tried to get the trembling to stop.

"Better now?" Gail asked, patting at her hair.

It took a few tried before Stevie could speak without sounding like a mile of rough road. "Not really," she admitted, sniffling to try and clear up her head. "I don't know what happened to me just then. Sorry."

"You've had a long day, I expect." Gail finally peeled away from her. Tears had left tracks in her cheeks too, but she didn't look half as bad as Stevie.

"A long few years." Stevie forced herself to her feet, wincing as the blood started circulating back into her feet. She rubbed her face, feeling like an idiot. "I'm sorry. You didn't need that."

"You did." Gail's arm wrapped around Stevie's to guide her up to the house, and it was so familiar that she started to choke again. "Come on. Let's get you washed up and you can tell me what brought it on."

Inside of the place was as perfect as the outside. Pictures lined the wall going up the stairs. There were more on the mantle and other walls, evidence that life had definitely moved on without her. Most of them were in bright color, but a few were yellow with age. Stevie's eyes slid away from the older ones before her chest could tighten again.

Gail took her into the kitchen, which was filled with the smell of dinner cooking. It was papered in bright yellow, with shining pots silver hanging on hooks over the island counter. She pushed Stevie down into one of the chairs around the small breakfast table and went to the sink to wet a cloth.

"So," Gail said, kneeling down to wipe at Stevie's face with the cool cloth. Tiny sunflowers were embroidered around the edges, bright yellow to match the rest of the kitchen. "Tell me about what's happened."

Being taken care of felt good, good enough that Stevie told the little kernel of pride to shut up and let her enjoy it. She closed her eyes and leaned into Gail's touch. "It's a real long story."

"The chicken's going to take a long time to finish cooking," Gail countered, tapping Stevie's nose with the cloth. "And you need to talk to someone." Her smile was tense, forced around the edges. A new wave of guilt struck Stevie right in the chest. Gail deserved better than to have to handle her mess.

Something must have shown in her expression, because Gail smacked her on the shoulder with the rag. "You stop this silliness right now, Stephanie Anne Rogers," she said warningly, drawing out the vowels like taffy. The fading sunlight in the window caught glints of orange in her hair where the grey hadn't quite taken over. "You're going to talk to me."

Stevie stared, mouth slightly open. He slapped a hand over her mouth, but not before a giggle escaped. The sound was so unfamiliar and feminine that it pulled another laugh from her. "Some things don't change," she snickered. "You still sound like your mother."

"I never understood why my mother was the way she was until I had children," Gail returned with a smile. She caught herself a heartbeat too late, expression softening. "I'm sorry, Stevie."

"No, it's alright." Stevie ran a hand over her face, rubbing her eyes. They still felt hot and achy, even after the cool cloth. Dancing around the topic wouldn't do anyone any good, and it wasn't Gail's fault that she'd moved on. "How'd it happen? Did you— I thought Bucky didn't like girls."

"James was in a bad place after the war, and I was missing you." Gail voice was soft, a little creaky, but nowhere near as different as Bucky's was. "So we kept each other company. It just made sense, and we never had any reason to change." She didn't sound apologetic, but Stevie wouldn't have expected her to. There was nothing to apologize for, no matter how much Stevie's stomach churned at the thought of Gail living her whole life with someone else, even if that someone was Bucky.

"Are they good kids?"

"Some of the best. Three of them." Thin but still-strong fingers tweaked her hair. "So, are you going to stop putting me off and talk?"

Back in the war, she'd always been careful not to give Gail too many details. Sometimes, it had felt good to tell her things, but some things were too monstrous, too horrific to share. She'd never wanted Gail to turn into her agony aunt. Gail deserved better than that.

She leaned her forehead against Gail's chest. "Let's just say it's been a long day."
***

Bruce leaned on the counter and watched the mixture carefully as it combined in the magnetic stirrer. It was some of his latest work on the Hulk formula, and with any luck it would be the penultimate solution.

Over on another counter, the samples from Captain America were carefully marked, waiting for him to examine them again. He was going to have a nearly impossible time extracting the relevant portions of DNA from the samples without taking anything that would be problematic, especially since he didn't know what that would be yet.

They'd been about to go about it all wrong. If it hadn't been for Stark and Fury's interruption, he might have wasted years on a dead end. He didn't need to recreate Project Rebirth; he just needed to use it to stabilize the Hulk formula he'd already crafted.

What was the point in trying to recreate a lost process when he could use the results from it to perfect his own?

The results of the first had already laid Giant-Man out, and it was a flawed specimen. If he could produce a serum that would cross the gender lines and be controllable, he'd finally have proved himself. If he made it so that they didn't need Rogers, Fury would see to it that he got whatever funding he needed, and Pym would stop snickering behind his back. Betty would see that he was the better scientist.

"Bruce?" He yanked upright as Janet Pym poked her head in. She, at least, had the decency to have put on a mask, even though she didn't bother to cover her hair. Her jeans and blouse were still slightly grimy and specked with blood from the failed mission with Hank. "Are you still working? It's long past time for you to take a break."

"I'm fine," he promised, stepping in front of his equipment. Jan wasn't known for her work, but he knew that her Ph.D in biology wasn't just for show. She could have had her name tagged equally with her husband's on the Giant-Man project if she'd wanted to. "I just had an idea I want to see through. It should be done soon."

"Soon enough to catch dinner?" she asked. "The cafeteria is going to close soon. Want me to pick you up something?"

It wasn't like Jan to be nice. Bruce fidgeted, leaning back against the counter. "Sure, that'd be great, but you don't have to."

Her lips curled into a nasty smile. "It gives me an excuse to stay away from Hank for a while. He's bitching about how his left nut hurts and that he was beaten up by a woman. I don't want to deal with it." She gestured around the room. "I could even give you a hand, if you want. Play lab monkey or something."

Possessiveness almost drove Bruce to grab for his samples like a kid with a favorite toy, but he hesitated. Jan was as much a genius as her husband, and it wasn't like she would be doing the actual work. But there was a good chance she'd spot it if something was obviously wrong. "I'm just working on combining the Hulk formula with Captain America's DNA," he explained, watching her expression carefully. He waved her over and spread out some data sheets for her perusal. "If we can get a workable formula from what we have, we won't need the original."

Jan didn't show any signs of unusual interest as she looked down at the information. "Trying to by-pass the whole Catch Her If We Can problem?" she asked wryly. "Makes sense. The way things are going, her next trick will be to blow up Iron Man."

"Stark's not helping," Bruce replied automatically, finger tracing a down the line of hormone patterns. There was a lot less testosterone than he would have expected, and he still couldn't figure out why that was. Classically, testosterone was much more elevated in subjects for all the similar projects he'd researched. And there was something strange in the oxytocin levels...

"He's not?"

Her tone made Bruce blink. "He's not. Something about ethics." Shrugging he picked up the reports. "You know Stark. Probably had a hot date and was weaseling his way out of it."

With a shrug, Jan turned back to the papers. They fanned out under her fingers like playing cards. "Yeah, probably. He thinks he's hot stuff. Hey, this is weird."

"What's weird?" Bruce bent over her shoulder, following her fingers as they moved down the lines of data. "It looks normal to me."

"If you're a breast-feeding mother," Jan snorted, tapping the results for progesterone levels. "Seriously, Captain America was active for years. There's no way she could have had a kid without someone noticing. These results aren't natural."

Bruce yanked the paper away from her, eyes running down the information with new energy. She was right about absolutely everything. "I could kiss you!"

"Now, now, Dr. Banner," Jan laughed, her voice low and sultry. Dirt smeared on the counter where she leaned against it, but Bruce was too happy to care. "I'm married, and what would Betty think?"

Ideas raged through his mind—if he adjusted the hormonal treatments to account for increased testosterone levels in a male subject, it would work. He was sure of it. It would be a huge break for the both of them. Jan wasn't anything like her husband. They could show him up together. "Are you available to run this through with me? If we get this right, we could have results by tomorrow morning."

Jan's teeth flashed in a grin. "Let me cleaned up and we'll eat some food first. And then we'll see what we can do."
***

Conversation over dinner had been informative, if not light. Neither Bucky or Gail mentioned the war, which she was grateful for. But Thor's political focus mixed with Stevie's patchwork of information saw to it that topics stayed moving, and ranged from the mess that had happened in Viet Nam to modern military policy.

"How is that supposed to work?" Stevie demanded, balancing a strawberry on the end of her fork. The hour had long since passed 2000, but they'd lingered so long over dessert that it was getting soggy. "No one talks about anything, and if anyone does, the guy keeping a secret is drummed out? What happened to blue tickets?"

In her opinion, blue tickets had been far from pretty, but a open-faced dishonorable discharge was far worse. She and Bucky'd both been lucky—no one would have dared call her out for something like that, and Bucky'd been safe as her 'buddy'.

"Killed," Bucky grimly, stabbing a strawberry in half. "In forty seven, and the rock kept rolling down hill from there. They're saying it's got don't harass, don't pursue written on there too, but that's not what I hear from Thomas."

"Thomas?" Thor asked. The whole meal he'd been nothing but polite, but Stevie had a hunch that he'd be badgering her to be his little anti-government crusader if he had half a lick to do it in. At least Thor had been open in his opinions, and even said some good things about what the USA was doing for the poor. He looked enormous in the normal-sized seat at the dinner table, eating shortcake off a dish smaller than his palm.

They did indeed use the good china—Stevie was pretty sure she recognized the pattern from Gail's mother's cupboards. Stevie tried not to think about it. The last time she'd seen Gail's mother had been just before shipping out. The woman had given her a tin of cookies and told her to hang on to them, because she'd heard that the food nurses got was worse than what they fed the dogs. Stevie'd hung on to them through three countries before they'd gotten lost on transfer.

"Son-in-law," Gail explained, glancing at Stevie out of the corner of her eye. "Married our eldest girl, Stephanie. They were both in service."

Stevie flushed and popped her strawberry into her mouth before she could say anything thick, like that they shouldn't have. It was too late anyway, and saying things like that had never stopped them.

Besides, if it had been her left behind, she'd have named her daughter Gail in a heartbeat.

"It gets my goat," Bucky was saying as he finished the last of his dessert. "I hear the new man in the White House has promised to repeal, but people say big things to get up to 1600 Pennsylvania, so we'll see."

"President Obama." For the first time since she'd met him, Thor almost sounded approving of a political figure. "He speaks of great dreams. We shall see if they're honestly spoken."

"The future sure doesn't sound much like it's supposed to," Stevie grumbled, putting her fork down. She'd eaten enough for a whole troop, and even though there was more shortcake to go, she didn't want to press her luck. It had been a day full of luck already. Twenty-four hours before, she'd been locked up in a military hospital, with no idea where or when she was.

She wasn't really sure where she was going, but she knew where she was. A couple hundred Axis soldiers had been put down with less information than that.

"It's never the way it's supposed to be." Gail pushed away from her seat. "But it's getting late. Why don't you boys go get ready for bed while we clean up in here." Thor opened his mouth, probably to protest being included in get ready for bed, then shut it again when Gail gave him a steely eye.

Stevie grinned. That was her girl.

Bucky nodded and stood up. "Come on, big fella. I'll show you the second guest bedroom and where the towels are at." His hand clapped Thor's shoulder as he passed. Every move was careful, notably more so than they had been earlier that day. Stevie hoped he hadn't pushed himself too far for her sake.

Looking a little like a puppy being trained, Thor followed Bucky, glancing back at the dining room thoughtfully.

"I think they're bonding," Gail chirruped, reaching for the remains of the shortcake.

Stevie got there ahead of her. "Let me. Just tell me what to do and I'll clean up." When Gail's blue eyes glared up at her, she smiled brightly. "It'll make me feel better."

"You don't know where the Tupperware is," Gail reminded her, but eased down into her chair. "Or what a dishwasher is."

"I'll learn."

"Oh, Stevie." A muffled rat-a-tat-tat rose from the table as Gail drummed her fingers over the cloth-covered woods. Wisps of grey had escaped her hair tie sometime during dinner, and fell down around her cheeks to frame her smile. "If it makes you happy. And then I'll show you where everything is. I think I've got a night gown that should fit you. It'll be a little short, though."

"That sounds like Heaven." Every night since she'd left American soil, she'd been sleeping in her leathers, or some version of a costume. Just the idea of wearing something normal was wonderful, even if it did end up being scandalous.

But the offer raised a question. Stevie pressed her lips together as she collected the dishes and the leftovers into a neat, easy-to-carry stack while she worked out what to say. Talking to Gail had never been a hardship before, but it felt like the years that she'd missed wanted to turn into a canyon between them.

"Do you think—" Real silver flatware scraped over china as Stevie stacked everything together, keeping her head down so she didn't have to look Gail in the eye. "Do you think we still have a chance? I know you've got a family now, and you've probably all but forgotten me but..." Her throat started to close again. A hard swallow cleared it enough to speak, but she couldn't get her voice to rise above a whisper. "I love you."

Silence said everything she needed to know.

The tablecloth bunched under her fists, but Stevie took care not to rip it. Lacy frills lined its edges, and there were pretty patterns set into the brocade—it was too fancy to ruin just because she was in a mood.

When the quiet got too uncomfortable, and there weren't any dishes left to stack, Stevie finally looked up. Gail's face was turned down, but the tears dripping off her chin were impossible to miss.

"I'm not going to stop loving you, you know. Just because a few years got between us, that's no reason to give up."

"Stevie, honey—" Gail's voice cracked. She held up one of her hands. It shook, slightly enough that Stevie hadn't even noticed until Gail was trying to hold it steady. "Come here and sit down, sweetie."

Never one to argue too much when Gail had her heart in her voice, Stevie took the seat next to her. She wrapped the thin hand in her own.

It was frail, with blue veins standing out under tissue-thin skin. But it was Gail's, and that was all Stevie needed to make it beautiful. "Nothing's changed," she insisted, not liking the look in Gail's eyes. "Not for me."

"Everything's changed. I'm eighty nine years old. I'll be ninety in a month." When Stevie started to protest, Gail squeezed her hand. "Hush, you, and let me speak. I know that you don't think I'm old, but I am. I've had a good run of it. I've got my children and grandchildren—I've even got great grandchildren. I've got my health, and most people who live to be my age don't have that. And I got to see you again, something I'd never dreamed I'd get. I've had a good life, Stevie, and yours is just getting started."

"I lost my life when I climbed on to that damned rocket. I just forgot to stop breathing." Staring down at the hand in hers, Stevie wrapped their fingers together and fought back the burn in her eyes. She'd cried herself out earlier, and she wasn't going to repeat it. "I don't want to lose you, too. I love you."

"I love you too, and I'm not going anywhere." A hint of steel kept Gail's voice steady, even though she was crying. "But I don't have any years left to give you. I need you to go out and live your life beyond me, because I won't be here to live it with you."

Weight pressed down on Stevie's chest, worse than any physical press could have. "I don't know what to do," she whispered. "I want to be with you. That's all I've ever wanted."

"You know that's not true." Gail nodded to one of the pictures that was hung in the dining room. "There's always been at least one thing you love as much as me."

It was an older one, grainy and without the color that Stevie was almost used to. She and Bucky posed side by side in an old propaganda photo from the start of the war, when she'd only seen a few battles and Congress had her doing more photo shoots than fighting.

"God, I look young in that." It wasn't anything she could pin words on, just something around the eyes and the smile. Or maybe she just felt old. Old and tired. When that picture had been taken, she hadn't thought about what it meant to let the government hide her away. Just serving her country had been enough. And after they'd been done with her, they'd forgotten her like a bad dream. "What if they don't want me any more?"

If she couldn't have Gail or her country... they might as well have just left her where she'd been.

"I think your friend Thor would say that there's more ways to serve than by working for the government."

Stevie forced a smile. "He'd say something about corrupt corporate interests too."

She was immediately rewarded by a laugh from Gail. "He would, wouldn't he?" she asked. With one last squeeze, Gail let go of her hand and reached for a clean napkin to dry her eyes. "Let's finish these dishes, and you can think on it after a good night's rest. How does that sound?"

It didn't sound like anything Stevie wanted, but she nodded and turned back to the dirty plates. "Good. It sounds real good."
***

After a hot shower and clean clothes, Stevie felt ready to fall asleep for another sixty-plus years. The loose, lacy nightgown Gail had loaned her had thin straps instead of sleeves, so it didn't pull at her shoulders. What went to mid-thigh on Gail, however, barely managed to let her sit down with any decency. It was a small price to pay for having something clean, though. The lace made her feel a little weird—almost like a girl, which was just bizarre. She was a girl, after all.

Soft browns and roses were the color choice for the guest room. It was about the size of her little one-room back before the war, but the colors made it seem cozy rather than tiny, even with the bed and a desk crowding it. Gail and Bucky had both decided to see her to bed, before going to their own. Stevie definitely wasn't sure what to think of that—they shared a bed. Wrong didn't even start to cover it.

"I still don't why you even tried to talk Thor into staying," she commented as she checked the mattress for softness. It was a real mattress too, with a real quilt done in a pretty shade of muave—if she did go back to the Army, she was going to be spoiled for simple comforts. "He's just some madman who has friends that are good with the... net-thing. Whatever you call it."

"Internet," Bucky offered. "And he's a perfectly nice young man." He'd taken a seat at the little desk in the corner, and was still visibly winded from the climb up the stairs. Stevie made a note to ask about that later.

"And he seems to like you," Gail chimed in from behind Bucky's shoulder, in a voice that oozed syrup like a pricked maple tree. "Taller than you. Handsome, too," she added, just in case Stevie didn't catch her meaning.

"Oh, no." A quick twist of the wrist lobbed a cat-embroidered pillow directly over their heads, where it smacked harmlessly against a wall. The impact fluttered Gail's skirt with a soft breeze. "Don't you start that stuff. He thinks he's a god!" Even if Thor weren't obviously insane, he was at least sixty years younger than her. People would talk.

"We're just making a suggestion," Gail explained mildly. She scooped up the pillow and tossed it back onto the bed, next to where Stevie knelt on the blankets. "At least don't write it off just yet. Everyone has a quirk or two."

Of course Gail was setting her up. She was just that type of woman. Stevie could probably call herself lucky that all three of her children were married.

Stevie sighed and fell back against the pillows, carefully so as not to make a spectacle of her legs. It didn't matter that Bucky wasn't interested and Gail had seen them. Some principles still stood on their own. "He's insane. That's more than a quirk."

"Picky, picky." Gail moved out of Bucky's way so he could stand up. "Use the blankets. It gets cold at night, and you never stood a chill well. It would be a fine thing to get you back just so you could catch a bug."

She rolled her eyes, but obediently squirmed under the blankets. They were a little too warm, but she'd slept in worse conditions than that. The lights flipped off, throwing the room into shadow. Her best friends were outlined by the hall light. If it weren't for little details like Bucky's thin hair, or Gail's slightly plumper figure, it could have been a picture from 1940. "Good night."

"Good night, Stevie."

A click of the door, and she was alone. It took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the darkness enough to pick out the shapes of the furniture. Little noises in the rest of the house let her know when Gail tripped on a bit of rug, or when Bucky had one of the coughing fits he'd been trying to hide from her. Eventually, even those little noises faded away.

Eyelids heavy, warm and comfortable for the first time in too long, Stevie drifted off to sleep.
***

Stevie watched as Gail wrapped her scarf around her neck. The night air had turned frigid while they'd watched the movie, and every bit of stop-gap against the chill was needed. She waited patiently, leaning on her walking stick while Gail's elegant fingers folded and tucked effortlessly.

"You're real subtle," Gail teased, eyes twinkling as she finished the last tuck. She wrapped her arm around Stevie's free one, helping her to balance her as they walked out over the icy side walk. "I can see exactly what you want. Looking forward to getting home?"

"And getting warmed up," Stevie admitted sheepishly, pretending that her fingers weren't digging gouges into Gail's arm. They were headed back to Stevie's apartment—something she'd had to give up a lot for, but at least she had it as a safe place when she needed one. But the trip wasn't short, and her bad knee was already creaking alarmingly. By the time they got there, she'd need the help. "I hope the furnace doesn't break again. I'd have to stay with you until I could afford to fix it."

"Daddy loves you," Gail promised. The time it had taken them to eat dinner had displaced her hair, making a lone little curl fall into her eyes. She kept brushing it away, but Stevie liked it. It made her look a character. "I think he'd rather put me out on the street than turn you away. Says you're welcome back whenever you need."

Stevie smiled faintly, more for politeness than anything else. As nice as the Richards family had been when her own threw her out, it still stung. "Your father's an ace. He still taking in stray dogs too, or has he started on baby squirrels from the park?"

Gail paused to laugh, upsetting their balance for a split second. The icy curb skidded under Stevie's walking stick. "I'll tell him you said—Stevie!" The laughter stopped as Gail grabbed her shoulder and waist, keeping them both from topping into a snow bank. For a moment they clung tight, Stevie's stick between them like an unwanted chaperone.

"You okay?" Gail whispered, her breath warm against Stevie's neck. Their legs were tangled, under their skirts and coats, and Gail's bosom rose and fell against the curve of her ribs.

Cold already had her flushed, and that was a good thing, or she'd be glowing like a fresh coal. "Yeah." It was the only word Stevie could squeeze out her throat on short notice. She held on tight, shaking from more than the near fall. "Yeah, I..." Stevie's mind scrambled, looking for something to break the moment, because if she didn't she was going to kiss Gail in the middle of the street. God alone knew who would see them. The day wasn't close enough to gone that they'd have a chance at not being seen. "The furnace?"

"Furnace," Gail answered, nodding slowly. She pulled away, letting the cold air come between them again. Stevie set her stick down and leaned, not caring if she fell just then. Maybe a little pain would get her mind off things. Gail just straightened their coats and hooked their arms again, as if nothing at all had happened, other than two friends helping each other over ice. "Right, the furnace. If it breaks... if it breaks, you're going to marry James, and I'm coming to stay, right? Between us, we can afford to fix a furnace."

Talk of the future was a good way to get her mind off the present. Stevie smiled and let Gail help her balance until they were past the ice and she had to let go or it would look strange. She hung on to Gail's hand though. "And we'll have a house full of kids, watch. Three—one for each of us. Maybe four, if Bucky finds someone."

"And they have your eyes," Gail reminded her cheerfully. Lights from a passing car shined over her face, letting Stevie see her grin. She was so beautiful that Stevie thought she could live a thousand years and never see anyone prettier, but Gail had that sort of effect on her. "We're lucky for James, aren't we?"

It hurt that none of the kids would have Gail's eyes, or her red hair or freckles, but "everyone" knew Stevie and Bucky were together, and had said so since they were little. It could have all been ruined so easily, but they'd been so lucky, and so careful. Trying to switch out brides would just raise eyebrows, and there'd be enough of that when Gail didn't even try to catch a man of her own.

Maybe Bucky would find a friend, and two of the kids could have Gail's eyes. "Real lucky. We should remember to tell him that sometime before we pick a date." He was the one with the most to lose, out of the three of them.

"Already picking a date and he hasn't even got you a ring." Gail's fingers found her ribs under her coat, poking. "I expect to have a say in it, if I'm going to have to look at it on your finger. Nothing too pretty. I won't let him steal you away with a rock again."

"We were eight!" Stevie protested, doing her best to escape the poking. The thick braid she'd pulled her hair back into swung around and almost knocked her in the nose as she stumbled to the far side of the walkway. "Anyway, it was a nice rock. And I used it to make the mudpies we threw at him and Jonny Pierson, remember? So it doesn't count."

"Oh yes. The best pies we'd ever made." Their linked hands stretched between them like a tether. Gail stopped trying to poke her with a foggy huff. "Shame there's no call for mudpies these days. You could be rich."

"It's not the only sort of pie I can make," Stevie pointed out. She didn't dare set their arms to swinging, in case they hit ice again and she lost her balance, but she used it to reel Gail in. Comfortable silence fell between them, thick and gentle. It gave her courage. "I've got tomorrow off, so I'm going to try to volunteer with the WAAC again," she said hesitantly. "Do you want to come with me?"

Gail didn't say anything at first. Her breath came in short little pants, coloring the air white. People passed by in twos and threes, either going opposite them or going their way and dodging out of Stevie's slow path. Gail didn't even look up when they passed. "Sweetie," she finally said, so softly that her voice almost got lost in the noise of a group across the street. "Sweetie, I know you want to help, but you know what they'll say."

"Maybe they'll let me roll bandages," Stevie insisted, jaw setting firmly. It wasn't a pretty jaw—too square and strong to be call girlish, but it helped her bull through when she needed to. And she needed to a lot. "Or take diction. I don't need two good legs to work as a secretary."

"No," Gail admitted. She looked away, but Stevie caught the edges of a smile that looked like her heart was breaking. "No you don't. I guess I'm just lucky you're not a guy, or you'd be set on joining the army. Then where would I be?"

"Do you want to come?" Stevie asked insistently. She squeezed Gail's hand. "Please? So I don't have to walk home alone when they say no?"

A white plume of breath escaped upwards as Gail rolled her head back on her shoulders and sighed. The look she shot Stevie out of the corner of her eye was pure wickedness. "You could try to convince me," she suggested lightly as they turned down the street to Stevie's apartment. "You know, tonight. Girl to girl. I'm pretty convincible if you try right."

She was too cold to blush, but Stevie almost managed it. "I could give it a try," she returned, glancing away from Gail before she could be tempted to do something stupid. "Can't hurt, can it?"

"Nope," Gail agreed, brushing the curl from her eyes. They had to part hands around a street lamp. If they grabbed onto each other a little too fast once it was past, no one was close enough to notice. "And we've got all night, you know. Be creative."

No matter how hard she tried, Stevie couldn't manage to stop grinning. "I'll try to think of something."


An explosion of sound yanked Stevie out of her dream. She was on the move before the building finished vibrating, throwing aside the stifling blanket and reaching for the gun she'd always kept under her pillow. Bare knees scraped rough tent-bottom as she crouched behind her cot, groping for a weapon. Legions of invading troops shouted in the halls, mixed with screams from dying soldiers and the reek of charred flesh.

No matter how hard she reached, her familiar M1911 was nowhere to be found. Panic rolled up into a lead ball in her gut. It was her only solid weapon—she couldn't fight off an entire force with just her shield, what the hell was she doing without her damned gun, she knew better than to risk sleeping without it—

The world slammed into place with a gentle knock on the bedroom door. Stevie panted for air and swallowed back the adrenalin, willing her heart to get out of her throat. Her forehead dropped against the side of the mattress as she grounded herself in little details, in the scratch of lace against her skin and the thick carpet under her.

She was in Gail and Bucky's house. The war was over. The Allies had won. Everything was okay.

It didn't feel okay.

Someone knocked again, sharply. A glance at the glowing clock on the bedside said that it was just past 0100 hours. She forced herself to straighten, even though her pulse was still racing.

"Come in."

Gail poked her head in. Her hair was still mussed from sleep, and she was wrapped in a thick blue bathrobe, with matching slippers on her feet. Her face was so pale that even the usual flush of her cheeks was completely gone. "Come see what's on television. It's important."

Ignoring the chilly draft that swirled around her upper thighs, Stevie followed Gail down the hall. Her fingertips trailed along the banister as they made their way down the steps to the den. Bucky was wrapped in a bathrobe too, seated on the sofa in the middle of a bunch of blankets with some sort of plastic, l-shaped thing in his hand.

On the television, the word mute flashed in bright blue, but the picture didn't need an announcer. In vivid, stroking color, an armored truck flew across the screen as some giant, grey monster hurled it like a child's toy. A small group of people seemed to be fighting it, but it barely noticed their efforts. In the background, a giant foot poked out of the rubble of what had once been a mess hall, going by the trash in the remains.

Stevie stared at the carnage as the monster tore through a line of soldiers without pause, leaving the streets painted red in the floodlights. A copper and gold robot fired some sort of laser beam, but the thing just shrugged it off and swatted the robot through another building like a fly.

"HULK ATTACKS FORT HAMILTON: LIVE" was printed at the bottom of the image in bold white.

Indecision wasn't an option. "I have to go help."

Turning on her heel, she dashed upstairs. Her dirty clothes were still folded neatly where she'd left them on the wardrobe. It took all of twenty three seconds to put them on, and another ten to shove her feet into the sneakers. When she pounded back down the stairs again, fully prepared to beg to borrow transport, Gail was already waiting with a set of car keys in hand.

"North to Parkside Avenue, then down to Fort Hamilton Parkway. Be careful," she insisted, voice tight and low. "You just came back. Don't you dare go dying on us again."

Stevie hesitated before snatching the keys and pressing a kiss to Gail's slightly chilled cheek. "I won't." Before she could think twice she ran out the door, slamming it shut behind her.

The car was tiny, blue, and looked like a toy wagon, but it started without protest when she turned the key which was all she cared about. Sharp and cold air prickled her skin while the heater did its best to warm up while. Stevie offered a quiet prayer that the roads here hadn't changed either. North and west wouldn't be hard.

While she was praying, she hoped that the army was able to keep the monster in check until she got there. If it got out into the city...

Her foot jammed down on the gas pedal.

Part 4
 
 
 
The Slain Godvaltyr on July 12th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
hahaha at Tony randomly rebuilding stuff. And it's nice to see someone taking Cap seriously - of course, he was a fanboy as a kid.

Hm, I'm inclined to believe Tony found out about the Canada project a little too easy. I like his irritability at the narrow-mindedness.

D'aww at Stevie going back to try and find Thor. Mildly surprised SHIELD weren't all over it, but I guess they could have been ordered to stand down while people panicked after the Giant-Man incident.

DDD: Poor Stevie, poor Bucky, poor Gail. This is beautiful. And poor Thor, heh.

I like the mention that Jan deliberately kept her name off the project; hiding her mutation. And kind of weird d'aww at Bruce liking the idea of a lab buddy who doesn't stomp all over him.

Aw for their daughter Stephanie. <3 And of course Gail would like Thor, he's such a nice boy and easy to terrorize if you're a nice old lady and not, you know, the head of SHIELD or anything.

One of the sweetest things about Ult Steve has been that he was still in love with Gail and the age just didn't matter to him. ): OH man, poor Stevie and poor Gail. That has to hurt so much - at least canon-Gail and Bucky fell for each other, but this Gail didn't have that. ): How bad must it be to have your lost love come back too late? Like Molly Grue and the unicorn. She's so strong here.

" he was at least sixty years younger than her. People would talk."

Ahahaha

Stevie/Gail so adorable.

ALSO I lost count and thought I was on part four and was pouting about running out of story but NO another part. :D
tsukinofaeriitsukinofaerii on July 12th, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC)
hahaha at Tony randomly rebuilding stuff.

A bored Tony is a dangerous thing.

Hm, I'm inclined to believe Tony found out about the Canada project a little too easy. I like his irritability at the narrow-mindedness.

He did a lot of hacking, actually. He was getting >_> about Fury's efforts to keep everything on the downlow. They could have just broadcast a call for Cap to come home, and it would have been much easier. I should have included that. :\

I like the mention that Jan deliberately kept her name off the project; hiding her mutation. And kind of weird d'aww at Bruce liking the idea of a lab buddy who doesn't stomp all over him.

Bruce is just a bit of a woobie. :( (pets him) And Jan should use her science more. (nod)

And of course Gail would like Thor, he's such a nice boy and easy to terrorize if you're a nice old lady and not, you know, the head of SHIELD or anything.

Gail thinks Stevie and Thor would have beautiful, gigantic blonde-haired blue-eyed babies together. And Thor is very nice and sweet (and yes, easy to terrorize). He's also handsome, well-groomed and a man of convictions. Gail is totally in match-making mode.