DISCLAIMER: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the property of Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Studios, and Marvel Studios. This work was created purely for enjoyment. No money was made, and no infringement was intended.
RATING: T (for language, violence, adult situations)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I loved how much Steve took care of Natasha during the movie. So this is a little role reversal, because that scene between the two of them in Sam's house planted some seeds that I don't think were ever really resolved. So here we go. Steve/Natasha with Sam along for the ride.
PROTECTING THE PROTECTOR
"If it was the other way around and it was down to me to save your life… And you be honest with me. Would you trust me to do it?"
"I would now. And I'm always honest."
The hospital was quiet. The night shift was filtering in, relieving nurses and staff weary from the day's strenuous events. Doctors were finishing their rounds, dragging their feet as they blearily marched from room to room. Natasha ran into Steve's surgeon as she left his room. She was a middle-aged woman, as thin as a rail with closely cropped gray hair and no make-up which made her look even older and more worn. Doctor Fine had said she was one of the best trauma surgeons in DC, and Natasha truly believed that given she'd saved Steve's life when they'd rushed him in from the Potomac, blood pouring from his stomach and back and leg and beaten nearly to death. "How is he?"
The doctor's eyes were dark with fatigue, and her face was lined with seriousness. "Recovering," she responded. She did manage a bit of a weak grin that did nothing to alleviate Natasha's concern. "Excuse me."
Natasha watched her walk away and then turned back to the hospital room before her. It was dark inside aside from the light over the hospital bed. Steve lay in it, unmoving and sleeping. A thin blanket covered him up to his waist. He was breathing on his own now, at least, his chest rising and falling slowly and evenly. His face was still littered with bruises and scrapes and cuts from his fight with the Winter Soldier yesterday afternoon, but there were already signs of healing, yellowish marks and fading welts. There was an IV affixed to each wrist, delivering fluids, antibiotics, and pain medication in very large doses. A couple of monitors behind him were reporting his vitals, which all looked steady (if not a bit depressed but much, much better than how they had been during surgery and in the ICU last night). It was hard to imagine how badly hurt he had been, that Captain America could be so badly hurt. The memories of the frantic search of the river and the desperate chopper flight to the hospital, her hands covered in red as she struggled to keep the blood in his body, would stay with her a long while. She would compartmentalize, of course. Something told her, as shaken and lost as she felt, it wasn't going to be so easy this time.
But Steve would live. He was out of the woods. He would be okay. She didn't want to admit to herself how much of a relief that was, but it really was.
Sam was slumped beside the bed, half asleep. His face was scraped from the battle with the Insight Carriers as well, and his form was bent with pain and exhaustion. He'd hardly left Steve's side after they'd found him bleeding out and unconscious on the river bank. Sam had been stalwart, undaunted by the very real possibility that Steve could have died, unwavering in the face of their entire world coming down in a flaming hell. Things were simple to him, simple and easy and very black or white. She found that incredibly (maybe stupidly naïve) but it made sense why he and Steve got along so well. Natasha didn't know much about him, other than he'd proven entirely instrumental and reliable and pretty much willing to do anything to help Steve. That made him trustworthy enough for her.
He lifted his chin at her approach and regarded her with dead eyes. Natasha nodded at him. "I've got this for a while," she swore. "Go home. You look like you could use some sleep."
Sam shook his head, turning his gaze back to Steve's unconscious face. "So do you," he commented.
Maybe she did. But she had been trained to go without sleep for as long as necessary. She'd functioned on less. He didn't know her, either, so he had no idea of the things of which she was capable. She didn't need anyone to tell her what she could and could not do. And she could do this. "I've got him." Her voice left nothing to question.
Sam watched her for a moment, seemingly doubtful and suspicious. Truth be told, she'd given him good reason to be. Up until today, she'd been an agent of SHIELD, an assassin and spy whose lies had helped propagate and perpetuate the evil of HYDRA. Maybe her participation in HYDRA's machinations had been unwitting and unwilling, but she had participated nonetheless. There was guilt to be felt from that, guilt and shame and rage, but she wasn't prepared to feel it. Hell, she wasn't even certain she was capable of feeling it.
However, she was finding herself more and more capable of feeling hurt. And she was hurt that he didn't trust her.
She remained unreadable and obstinate beside him, and the awkward moment of him analyzing and judging her finally passed. He sighed and nodded and tenderly raised himself from the molded plastic chair beside Steve's bed. "I… um… Yeah, if anything changes or you need anything…"
"He's gonna be okay, you know. The doctors said he'll be okay." She wasn't sure if he was trying to assure her or if he was looking for her assurance. It was irrelevant. "Well, this is my cell phone number. Just in case." He grabbed a scrap of paper and a pen from the table alongside the hospital bed and scribbled down the number. He handed it to her. "I'll be back in a few hours." With a lingering, worried look at Rogers, he limped out of the room.
She was tempted to throw the paper he'd given her away, crumpling it in her fist. But she didn't, stuffing it into the pocket of her pants. The room suddenly became vacuously quiet. She stood still in the silence, wavering in the shadows for a moment. She was numb but raw at the same time. She was somehow completely different and yet utterly unchanged. Nothing seemed quite real, stretched and distorted and unbelievable. In the last two days, her entire existence had been invalidated, and people she'd once thought to be allies were enemies. Causes she'd once believed were just and straight and true were lies. She was groundless. Nobody to handle her. Nobody to control her. Nobody to guide her or paint the world for her or define good and evil for her. That room seemed so small and dark and she was sinking and suffocating.
What the hell was she doing here, anyway? SHIELD was listing, dying, falling apart. All of its secrets, good and bad and awful, were running rampant. She'd been compromised. She'd been the one to compromise herself. She should have been running, seeking a new life, a new cover, before the demons of her past caught up to her. Without SHIELD to protect her, she couldn't hide from the truth. She couldn't be who she had been, anyone she had been. And she didn't owe this world anything more than what she'd given it. She'd stopped Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko. She'd saved New York from the Chitauri with the Avengers. She defeated HYDRA even though it had cost her everything.
She didn't owe anyone anything.
No. Even she couldn't believe that.
Steve shifted slightly in his sleep, wincing, his quivering right hand lifting to rest protectively over his stomach where the Winter Soldier had shot through him. Natasha snapped from her bitter thoughts and sat in the chair. She took his hand from where he was pressing against the bandages encircling his midsection. "Easy, Cap," she said. All the missions they'd done together for Fury, she'd never seen him so weak, so vulnerable. She'd never seen him in pain. It made her feel weak and vulnerable, too. She wasn't sure when she'd become so pathetically dependent on his protection. He'd saved her life. Today. Yesterday. So many times. "Easy."
He settled back into a deeper sleep. She looked down where her hands were wrapped around his. His hand that was bruised but still so much stronger and larger than hers. She'd never noticed how their hands fit together, how her fingers slipped in between his so nicely. That was probably because they'd never touched like this before.
"I've got you," she said to the silence.
She made herself accept the truth. Holding his hand and keeping some silly vigil so he didn't have to be alone was the least she could do to repay him. She owed him that much.
Natasha had dozed off. She hadn't meant to, hadn't even realized it in fact, until she came awake with a startled jolt. Her senses were blaring a warning to her that she needed to get up, get out – move! – but there was nothing there. The room was empty. Steve was still peacefully sleeping, breathing calmly through slightly parted lips. Long, thick shadows draped the walls and spread across the floor. Lights from the city beyond sparkled gold and white and yellow through fat droplets of rain lingering on the large window on the opposite side of the room. It was quiet.
But something wasn't right. She'd been in enough life-threatening situations before to know to implicitly trust her instincts; they'd been molded and trained to perceive danger, attuned to the slightest sign that things weren't what they seemed. She was up on her feet, all remnants of sleep gone in a blink and a short breath, and walking silently to the door of Steve's room. Next to the door there was a large window to the hallway covered in blinds and a privacy curtain. She crouched there, pressed against the wall below the window, listening.
It was silent. There was not the murmur of a hushed conversation or the consoling words of a patient's worried family or the frantic shouts of doctors trying to manage a desperate situation. No fingers typing on a keyboard or the chatter of coworkers. No voices over the hospital's PA system. No sound of footsteps or the swish of scrubs or the rattling of carts. No alarms blaring or machines beeping. Nothing.
Only Steve's soft breathing and her heart thudding against her sternum.
Natasha's gooseflesh prickled as she remained absolutely still a moment longer, enduring the sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach that something was seriously wrong. She peered out into the hallway through the doorway. It was dark, the fluorescent lights dimmed. A clock on the waiting room wall down the hall proclaimed it was 11:21. Even at this time of night, though, a hospital this size shouldn't be so empty. There was absolutely no activity, as if everyone had suddenly gotten up and left their jobs and posts unattended. The mopped and polished tile floors of the vacant corridors gleamed idly in the meager illumination. The nurse's station was empty. The patient rooms were closed. She strained her neck to glance through the window at the ward's entrance. The double doors were secured.
She cursed softly in Russian, softly closing the door and fumbling for the privacy curtain to pull it as closed. It was foolish and idiotic to think shutting down SHIELD would kill HYDRA. They needed to get out of here. Now.
Her mind started racing as she glanced around with quick eyes. Sam's bag was still on the floor beside the bed; he'd forgotten to take it with him. Quickly she made her way to it. There was nothing inside of any use, his iPod and a sound dock station and a few books and magazines. As quietly as she could, she dumped the contents to the foot of Steve's bed. Then she ran over to one of the counters in the room and rifled through the drawers. She grabbed bandages and pads and disinfectant and as much gauze as she could carry. There were scissors and scalpels sealed in sterile wrappers. She took those as well, ripping open the little bags, and returned to the bed and stuffed her pilfered supplies in the bag. The scissors she set aside and the scalpels she stuffed into the pouch of her sweater. It wasn't going to be enough, but it was all she could do.
"Rogers," she said as loudly as she dared. He was deeply asleep (hopefully not unconscious) and completely oblivious to the danger they were in. This wasn't good. She glanced frantically to the dark hallway again, quelling her panic and knowing that there wasn't much time. "Steve. Steve!"
He still didn't respond. Because of his enhanced metabolism, they were pumping him full of enough morphine to put down a small elephant. She knuckled his sternum forcefully, hoping the discomfort would get through to him. When that didn't work, she inclined his bed with a press of her thumb to the controls. He groaned during the jostling but still didn't open his eyes. There was no time to do this gently. She grabbed some of the gauze and yanked the tape from the IV on his left wrist, pulling the catheter and needle out without much preamble. Immediately she pressed the gauze to the oozing hole in his skin. Hopefully cutting off his supply of painkillers would rouse him.
It did. His eyelids fluttered and then opened to slits, revealing hazy blue beneath. Then he grimaced and moaned and grabbed blindly for her. She took his trembling hand, praying he was with it enough to not hurt her by squeezing too hard. "You need to focus on me."
Steve was trying. He was clearly in a great deal of pain and seriously disoriented. His tongue wet his lips and he blinked a few times. "… 'tasha?"
She nodded. "Come on. I need to get you out of here." She ripped the blanket away, noting with dismay the thick bandages visible around his naked thigh and poking through the thin fabric of the hospital gown he wore in a disturbingly large number of other places. Time pressed on her, each second that escaped heightening her panic, but she was an expert at quelling fear and remaining calm. This was crazy. He was newly removed from the ICU, hardly recovered at all from his brush with death. Taking him from here was probably going to be torturous for him. But she couldn't make herself imagine what would happen to them both if their enemies found them. And she just didn't know how the hell she was going to move him. He had at least a hundred pounds of muscle and a good six inches on her. She'd never be able to get him up, let alone away from the hospital, unless he helped her.
And he was so badly wounded and in so much pain and so damn out of it that she didn't have much hope for that.
He licked his lips again. "Natasha?"
"You're batting a thousand, Cap," she muttered. She raced around to the other side of the bed and quickly turned off the monitors before removing the pulse oximeter from his index finger. The second IV was the next to be pulled. Steve was shivering and sweating at the same time, squeezing his eyes shut and panting. "Can you walk?"
That seemed a rather stupid question, and his answer didn't matter, at any rate. There was simply no way she could push a stretcher or a wheel chair; if it came to a fight, she would be seriously and disastrously hindered. He needed to walk.
A shadow shifted outside. Natasha drew a short breath at the streak of darkness she saw out of the corner of her eye, and she whirled, ducking slightly next to Steve's bed. On her way down she slammed her hand into the controls for the overhead lights, turning them off completely and dousing the room in blackness. Steve gasped; the bed creaked as his hands clenched around the rails and crushed plastic. "Shh!" she ordered harshly. He was cognizant enough of his surroundings to stifle his next moan, but still the sound of his clenched breathing echoed in the tense silence.
Natasha watched the shadows shifting outside. One. Three. Six. She gritted her teeth. Six of them, armed and walking through the hall, sauntering, really. They carried their rifles low or slung over their shoulders. She took that to mean they were not expecting a fight. They didn't know she was here.
That was perhaps the only advantage she had.
That, and the fact that she was Black Widow. Even as sore and exhausted as she was, she could take them.
She waited until the men were all in the hallway, holding her breath and finding that center of calm where instinct guided her and emotion was locked away. A glint to her left near the other chair of the vacant room caught her room. Steve's shield, scuffed and marred from the battle in the fiery inferno of the helicarrier. Somebody had obviously brought it after the rescue crews had fished it out the river earlier that day. She felt a small brush of relief to at least have that, angling herself around to reach for it. Her fingers brushed against the polished vibranium and she got a grip on it before silently bringing it closer. She'd never held it before, and it was much lighter than she anticipated. It felt powerful in her hands and very strange to her, but she slid her forearm through the leather straps all the same. Then she snatched the scissors from the bed and slunk across the floor, staying away from the places where illumination shining in from the city outside might betray her. She returned to the wall below the window, angling herself up so as to have a view of the intruders. "You three, stay out here," a man gruffly ordered. She knew that voice. It was Rollins, one of Rumlow's lackeys from the STRIKE Team.
She could see him pull a handgun from his holster. There was the familiar metallic clink of the slide being pulled as the weapon was loaded. The silver knob of the door slowly turned. She gripped the scissors tighter and looked to the hospital bed. Steve was struggling to sit up, turned slightly on his side, his hand wrapped around the grips of the rail for leverage. She shook her head, hoping he would see her, praying he would remain still and quiet. The darkness was about their only ally at this point; she didn't think Rollins could see well enough into the room to take aim from the doorway. That would mean he would have to step inside and turn on the light.
And he did.
Brightness burst through the room. Natasha moved fast. She sprung from her hiding place, yanking the door open the rest of the way. That surprised Rollins, and he stumbled into her. She slashed with the scissors and caught the ex-SHIELD agent right across the face. With a dull hum, Steve's shield rammed into his chest. Shrieking, Rollins fell back, and it was a simple matter of disarming him. Natasha tossed the scissors like a knife, and they bit into the throat of one of the other men. She slammed the door, crushing Rollins' fingers where they grasped the jamb. Repeatedly she rammed it into his hand until he was forced to yet go, howling. She locked the door shut.
It didn't take long for them to retaliate. Bullets slammed into the door, fired from automatic weapons that could pierce almost anything, so the flimsy wood didn't stand much of chance. A few rounds made it through, driving into the tiled floor. Natasha scooped up the fallen handgun as she somersaulted toward the bed. Staying low, she grabbed Steve by the arm and pulled as hard and fast as she could. They both went down to the floor, tangled up in each other. Steve screamed in agony as he landed on his injured leg, but it was barely audible over the crackle of gunfire and the doors and walls and floor exploding around them. Some of the light fixtures were struck as bullets ricocheted haphazardly. The one over the bed was knocked from its fastenings and swung as it dangled, sending the room into a dizzying mess of shadows and flashing illumination. Drywall and plaster coated them in a choking dust. The medical equipment was torn to shreds.
Natasha could barely breathe, sweat stinging her eyes, as the room was destroyed around them. She pulled Steve closer to the wall, keeping them as flat to the floor as possible to protect them and planting his shield between them and the gunfire. Surviving the harrowing seconds was all they could do. Finally there was a furious shout and the gunfire abruptly ceased. The moment of reprieve was not long-lasting, however, as the door, peppered with bullet holes, was kicked. It banged and creaked with the impact. Natasha felt Steve struggle to push himself up behind her, shaking wildly. But there was no time to tell him to stay down or even make sure he was okay because the door gave way.
She quickly took aim and pulled the trigger of her gun, and one of the men fell back. Two down. She couldn't kill the next assailant before he stepped inside and shot at them. The floor and walls and bed were punctured further. The thunder of gunfire and bullets gouging into surfaces was so loud that it was all she could hear. A few clanged uselessly against the shield, but the force of the hits vibrated her arms and drove her back. She gritted her teeth and tried to remain still despite how the shots shook her, praying she was providing enough cover to keep Steve safe. One of the shots obviously reflected from the shield in a fortunate direction, for the soldier unloading his rifle on them yelped and stumbled, having shot himself in his own leg. She moved without thinking. Across the destroyed floor she leapt, smacking the shield with as much strength as she could muster into the man's scruffy, dirty face. He went down with a spray from blood from a broken nose. Natasha pivoted, swinging the handgun around and pointing it at another of the STRIKE agents. She squeezed the trigger and he went down. Four down.
But Rollins was on her, his gashed face monstrous and furious as he tackled her. Natasha fell back, crushed under his weight. The air rushed from her lungs as he pummeled her, and the gun skittered from her suddenly limp and numb fingers. He raised his fist to punch her again, but she swung the shield upward and caught him on the side of the head. Rollins gasped and fell to the side, releasing her battered chest enough so she could suck in a desperate breath. She barely got her feet beneath her before the last soldier was upon her, sweeping his leg at her. She easily grabbed his boot, stopping the kick mid-arc, and gave a vicious twist. The man's foot cracked and he cried out in pain and lost his balance, tumbling to the floor. He wrenched his rifle around as he fell and yanked on the trigger. Pain burst through her arm. Frantically she put Steve's shield in front of her head and chest as bullets sprayed at her. The clang clang clang was violent and forceful, knocking her back enough that she lost her footing and ended up down on one knee.
The rifle ran out. The STRIKE agent righted himself, staggering back and limping, his eyes flashing furiously. He tossed the useless gun aside and reached for the handgun in his holster. Natasha sprung forward, planting the shield on the floor and ramming both sets of knuckles into it for support as she rolled into a handstand. Her legs wrapped around the man's neck. Baring her teeth with the strain, she pulled him forward, curling back and yanking him head over heels. He went down with a yelp that was quickly silenced when, with a twist of her hips, she broke his neck. She whirled free and sprung back onto her feet.
"Stop!" Natasha stiffened. "Turn around!" She stood still, mind racing frantically. She slid her hand slowly into the front pouch of her sweater and thumbed the cap off one of the scalpels. "Turn around or I blow his goddamn brains out!"
Slowly she did, aching with pain and frustration and fear. Rollins had gotten to Steve where he had fallen beside the now destroyed hospital bed. The bastard had pulled Steve up to kneel helplessly, submissively, at his feet. His entire body was trembling so bad that Rollins' fist in his hair was the only thing keeping him upright. Blood was covering his legs and the torn and filthy hospital gown. He didn't look entirely conscious. He was in agony.
And the muzzle of Rollins' gun was pressed menacingly to his temple. Rollins' eyes flashed in sadistic wrath, his face more blood and gore than skin. "The Winter Soldier sure did a number on you, Rogers. But still you keep getting back up. I gotta say it's pissing me off." He yanked on Steve's hair. "But I don't think you could survive a bullet to the head. What do you think? Huh? How about you, Romanoff? Do you think the Cap's invincible?" Steve only groaned as Rollins shook him and jabbed the gun harder into his skin. "Let's find out."
Natasha threw the scalpel with deadly precision, and the small blade embedded itself deeply into Rollins' hand that held the gun. He gasped, and she was on him in the split second he spent reeling. She grabbed the gun, twisting his damaged hand and ramming him back into the remains of the wall behind the bed. His head struck with enough force to crack the wall and he staggered. Another scalpel came out of her sweater as he sunk, dazed. She drove it into his wrist alongside the first, severing arteries and veins, and then he dropped the gun, crying.
She picked it up out of the pieces of drywall and wreckage on the floor and pointed it at his head. He was panting, eyes teary and frantic and wild. "HYDRA will kill him." He spat a bloody mouthful to the floor. "HYDRA will kill all of you. This isn't the end," he warned.
"It is for you." She pulled the trigger and finished him.
The hospital was silent again. Natasha dispassionately watched as the body slumped to the floor. She stood over him, breathing heavily, heart pounding. Slowly she lowered the gun. Bastard.
Then she turned, dropping to her knees beside Steve where he laid on the destroyed floor on his side. "Steve," she said worriedly. There was a lot of blood, but a quick check of him revealed that it wasn't from any new injuries. At least she didn't think so. "Steve? Talk to me! Are you hurt?"
He moaned, curling into himself as though that could protect him from the pain. She pushed the hospital gown away and saw fresh blood on the bandage around his leg. Fresh blood on his belly. He'd torn his stitches. She laid her hand to his forehead and found his skin cold and clammy. He didn't seem to be able to focus. He was hurting too much.
There was a crackle. Static over a radio. A walkie talkie in the belt of one of the dead men. "Rollins, status? Status?" Natasha stared at it for a moment, her blood going cold again and that miserable weight falling into her stomach again. Shit. If nobody answered… "Status!"
"Damn it," she whispered. She left Steve's side, dropping his shield next to him and running to the door. Light feet darted around the corpses, and she lithely crouched to grab another gun. She leaned against the broken door jamb and glanced down the hallway. It was dark and empty. Downright peaceful, if not for the carnage littering the floor outside Steve's room. The doors were still locked. What the hell? How was HYDRA still – no, it doesn't matter. They were still coming. They'd discover the job – their mission to finish off Captain America – wasn't done. And they would be back.
How the hell was she going to get him out of here?
And where were they going to go?
One thing at a time. She stuffed one of the guns into the waist of her pants and headed back to Steve. Sam's bag was somehow still intact beside the remains of the bed, and she grabbed it from the debris and slung it across her chest. "We need to get out of here," she said. She knelt next to him, relieved to find his eyes open and looking at her. "Can you stand? Are you hurt?"
"Natasha… Leave me…"
Rage and fear broke free from her restraint. She was terrified of even the thought, though she'd never hesitated to run before when she'd needed to. But she could never leave him, and she damn well knew it. "Get up," she ordered. "Get your arm around me." She helped him get his left arm around her shoulders. Then she wrapped her arm around his waist. Their first attempt to get him up ended with Steve back on the floor, gasping, his eyes filled with tears. There was no time for giving up. "Come on," she snapped. "Get up!"
He planted his other hand on the floor and pushed himself up with all of his strength. Natasha pulled as well, and they were standing. She reached down, not letting go of him for a second, and snatched up his shield. "Gotta hand it to you," she gasped as she helped him walk toward the window. Holy hell he was heavy. "This shield of yours is surprisingly bad ass."
Steve groaned in response, stumbling with his feet barely beneath him. To his credit he was trying to keep his weight off of her as much as he could, but it wasn't much. She got him over to the wall adjacent to the window. The radio was crackling again, filled with frantic, angry voices relaying orders and dispatching more soldiers. There was no way to go out via the locked doors; even if she could get them open, that was certainly the direction from which reinforcements would come. And hiding here wasn't an option; she had no idea how many HYDRA members were still in DC, seeking their revenge on Captain America. Seeking to finish what the Winter Soldier had started. The next round of attackers would be more on alert and more difficult to defeat. They would be trapped in the ward with no easy means of escape, and she could only fend them off for so long without Steve's help.
That left but one option. Swallowing through a dry throat, Natasha looked out the window. The pane was coated in rain, the lights of the DC skyline blurry through the tiny droplets of water. Because the sky was overcast, it was very dark, but she could see the roof of the building that connected the two towers of the hospital. They could jump, run across the roof, and hopefully get to the other section of the hospital where they maybe had a chance to escape.
She supposed that there was hope at all was a small stroke of good luck. But she had to get Steve down there when he could barely walk, much less run. Panic gnawed at her, but she refused to acknowledge it, formulating a hasty plan. She angled Steve away from the window as much as possible and fired two shots from the handgun into it. Cracks spread radially from the holes, weakening the large pane. She leaned him against the wall, turning him away from it to protect his face, and then hopped up onto the radiator that ran the length of the window. One smash of his shield to the pane completely shattered it.
Natasha kicked the largest pieces of glass down from the radiator as she leaned over the edge. A fine, misty drizzle, one that was cold with the spring night, coated her instantly. The fall wasn't very far, maybe fifteen feet, and for Captain America, who jumped out of planes without parachutes and threw himself off of buildings without so much as a second thought, it was hardly anything. But for Steve Rogers, who had been shot four times and stabbed less than forty-eight hours ago by the world's deadliest assassin, it might as well have been infinite.
She slid down from the radiator. Steve had slumped against the wall, smearing blood on it. "Oh, no, you don't," she said, getting over to him, frantic to keep him conscious. If he went down now, she knew she wouldn't be able to get him back up. "Come on. We need to jump." He didn't answer, whimpering, holding his midsection. Natasha felt panic pulse through her. She reached for his face, taking it between her hands, forcing his half-lidded eyes to see her. She allowed no doubt or fear to poison her strength. And she looked into his eyes and held him tenderly. "You told me before that you trusted me to save your life." His cheeks glistened wetly with tears. He was obviously in excruciating pain, but she wouldn't let him succumb to it. "I need you to trust me now."
That got through to him. He drew a halting breath into damaged lungs and nodded. She didn't want to acknowledge how much it hurt, how much it scared her, that he was so low. On all the missions they had worked together, he had always been so strong. He never got hurt. He was never uncertain, never frightened or dependent on anything or anyone. Now he couldn't even stand straight without her. That sort of reliance was terrifying.
He reached up and grabbed her hand from his face. "I trust you," he whispered.
She tugged him away from the wall, ignoring his rough cry of pain, and pulled him to the radiator. In one smooth motion she climbed atop it. She turned to help him up. "We're on the sixth floor," came an angry voice over the radio. "Damn it, Rollins, talk to us… Is Black Widow dead?"
Steve howled again, trying to get the leg that had been shot up onto the radiator. It was only about three feet tall, but, again, in his state it might as well have been a thousand. Natasha hooked both her hands under his arms and pulled with all her strength. He grabbed the radiator, crushing and bending metal under his grip as he struggled to lift his leaden body. After an eternity of trying, he made it up there.
The chilly rain blew inside the gaping hole into the hospital room. Steve stood beside her, white as a ghost. "Can you do this?" she asked, holding his hand tightly as he looked down to the gravelly roof below them and wavered, obviously dizzy and weak.
Even as hurt and vulnerable as he was, he was still Captain America. "Yeah."
Behind them there was the scuffle of boots and the shouting of men. Natasha jumped, pulling Steve with her. They fell for what felt to be forever through the cold, wet air.
Then they struck the roof below. The impact was brutal. Natasha staggered, yanked down by Steve's weight as his legs crumpled and completely failed him. He gave a loud, hoarse scream, his free hand slamming into the gravel as he pitched forward, and only her vehement grip on his other arm kept him from falling flat on his face. She gritted her teeth, fighting her absolute hardest to stay upright, to keep him together. The pain must have been awful because he nearly blacked out, barely breathing as the agony cruelly tortured him. "Up, Steve," she breathlessly demanded. Their attackers surely would have heard his scream. They needed to go. Now. "Steve!" He only moaned, unable to catch his breath, collapsing in on himself. "Up!"
Her desperate cry pierced his misery. He coughed around a sob, pushing himself to his feet through the strength of his will and her determination alone. Natasha held his hand with all her strength and pulled him along the darkened roof as fast as he could limp and stumble. The icy rain soaked them thoroughly, but she didn't let that or anything else slow them down. She glanced over her shoulder as the dark shadows of more men rushed inside the room. She prayed that the black night was covering their escape.
"Nat." Steve stopped, his knees bending underneath him. "I – I can't. Sorry. I–"
He wasn't the type who needed support, and she wasn't the type to give it. But she did whole-heartedly. "Yes, you can." There was not a speck of doubt in her voice. She tugged him insistently, horrified of how exposed they were, but even more horrified that he was falling and shivering and fading before her very eyes. "Stay with me, Steve. I've got you."
He looked up into her eyes again, lost and tormented and not quite there. But he nodded and somehow got himself up again with a ragged sob. She held tight to his hand, leading him across the rooftop in search of safety. No matter how many times he stumbled, she didn't let go. And she wouldn't. She was going to get him out of this, no matter what.
He trusted her to save his life.
And that was exactly what she was going to do.