Chapter 6 Uncovering
"You ready?" Steve asked, pulling his hoodie on. He noticed the trembling in Jean's hands. The flight back to the apartment was quick and there had only been enough time to grab clothes and leave. There was an abandoned gym that had working showers they broke into. They had to get into civilian clothes so they wouldn't be as detectable. Jean sighed as she thought back to different times, when everything wasn't so corrupt.
Jean was in pain, but it was easing up a little. Jean made it a point to not transform into full form Blaze because the come down was brutal and sometimes it took a long time to come down… her and Bruce were the same in this way. Regardless of how good she was, she didn't have complete control over Blaze. Her hair was drying from the shower, her body heating itself up so she could dry much faster. She let her damp hair fall down around her shoulders as she pulled her brown jacket on over her black t shirt. She wore fitted jeans and boots, something she could get dirty in and move. She pulled the hood up over her head.
"Yeah. Let's go" Jean walked past Steve, heading over to the door. Steve caught Jean's hand, stopping her. Steve knew that she wasn't okay. Although Jean was strong, her healing process was slower than his and she never let herself get to the Blaze. He knew that in times like these she used to go to Bucky but Bucky wasn't here. He knew she was too worried about him to vent but he wanted her to just take a moment.
"Jean… I'm not leaving your side" Steve said. Those simple words were what she needed to hear… it's what Bucky used to tell her when she would come down from transformation. Her heart rate decreased back into a normal rhythm. She squeezed his hand, nodding.
"I'm not leaving your side either"
They made their way discreetly back through the hospital, on a journey to retrieve the flash drive from the vending machine. She could tell the place was crawling with people who wouldn't hesitate to call Shield.
"Jesus Steve" Jean hissed as she didn't see the flash drive where he had left it. The popping of gum made Jean and Steve turn around. Natasha smirked, chomping on a piece of gum loudly. Jean frowned immediately, a warning that Natasha probably shouldn't be smirking. Before Steve could stop Jean, she had Natasha by the front of her shirt, shoving her back into an empty room, growling. Her eyes shifted as she slammed Natasha against the wall.
"Where is it?" Jean hissed, her face inches from Natasha.
"Do better!" Jean sneered angrily as Natasha pushed Jean off of her.
"Where did you get it?" Natasha retorted as Steve watched the two. Even though he could step in and probably should have now, they weren't exactly two individuals someone would want to get in between. He took a breath, knowing he had to press Nat.
"Why would we tell you?" Steve jumped in, putting an arm out to try and pull Jean back. Jean swiftly responded by pushing off his gesture.
"Fury gave it to you two. Why?" Natasha asked, aware of Jean's anger. Natasha knew that whatever was going on was enough that Jean was close to losing control.
"What's on it?" Steve asked urgently.
"I don't know."
"Stop lying!" Jean hollered as she took a step forward towards Natasha again.
"I only act like I know everything, Markette." Natasha said honestly to Jean. Jean took a step back, feeling guilty for having shoved her so hard. Jean shifted her eyes back to normal, letting her shoulders loosen. Jean had a tendency to tense everything from the waist up when trying not to shift.
"I bet you knew Fury hired the pirates, didn't you?" Steve asked, moving the conversation along.
"Well, it makes sense. The ship was dirty, Fury needed a way in, so do you." Natasha continued.
"I'm not gonna ask you again Natasha. Please." Jean whispered, strained. Natasha and Jean held eye contact for a moment, both reading the other before Natasha continued.
"Listen, I know who killed Fury. Most of the intelligence community doesn't believe he exists, the ones who do call him the Winter Soldier. He's credited with over two dozen assassinations in the last fifty years." Jean raised her eyebrows in amusement.
"Oh. Of course" Jean scuffed, shaking her head.
"So he's a ghost story." Steve continued.
"Five years ago I was escorting a nuclear engineer out of Iran, somebody shot out my tires near Odessa. We lost control, went straight over a cliff, I pulled us out, but the Winter Soldier was there. I was covering my engineer, so he shot him straight through me. Soviet slug, no rifling. Bye-bye bikinis." Natasha revealed her scar. It had to be the same assassin that Jean had been rocked by on the roof. She still had a shiner under her left eye on her cheekbone. It was healing but being punched by a metal arm was a completely new experience she would try to avoid experiencing again.
"Yeah, I bet you look terrible in them now." Jean sarcastically snapped. Natasha barely cracked a smile, but enough that made Jean relax.
"Going after him is a dead end. I know, I've tried." Natasha holds up the flash drive.
"You didn't try with me" Jean quipped, Natasha putting two and two together as she noticed Jean's black eye.
"Like you said, he's a ghost story." Steve took the flash drive from Natasha, holding it up.
"Well, let's find out what the ghost wants." Steve stated. Jean understood she could trust Natasha. There might be people out to get them, but Nat was not one.
"Are you sure?" Steve asked as the three rounded the corner in the car Steve had hot wired. Jean and the others were covered in sut, bruises and cuts from the explosion. Jean was more banged up than the other two from what had happened. She was not in a place to make herself heal quicker. Of course, she knew they needed to figure out what was on the flashdrive but really? That Zola asshole was still alive? Why can't some people just DIE. HONESTLY. Was it too much to ask? Focusing on the physical pain brought her away from the pain inside her mind. Everything she thought she knew, was a lie. The same people who had dared touch Bucky and her comrades and friends were still thriving. Steve and her had not only been putting their lives on the line for something they had not known was thriving, but the sacrifices that were… The car was silent as Natasha sat in the backseat. Jean felt more scared than she had in a very long time. She had an oversurgeance to protect those who she knew needed to be protected. She had a sickening feeling that there was so much more to be uncovered.
"Yes." Jean whispered shakily. Jean had absorbed more explosives than she had in a long time and it definitely had taken a toll on her body. She had burn marks on her neck, wrists, face, and entire body. She really shouldn't have absorbed the bombs the way that she did but she had to hide her and the others… Her clothes were ripped and charred, hanging off of her body. She shivered from the burns. Even though Steve tried making her shift her eyes so she could heal faster, she was caught in her mind.
Steve came to a stop as they got to the house. Jean limped as she got out of the car, making her way up the stairs. All the information they had received was overwhelming and Jean was stuck in her head in autopilot. She was angry and felt betrayed. How could she not have know about this? Who the hell was this 'Winter Soldier.' Jean knocked on the door hard, leaning against the frame. Her body ached. What the hell was the point of getting pumped up to be superhuman but still take hits like a normal person?
"Sam!" Jean yelled louder than she would have liked. Sam opened the door, his eyes widening a little at the sight of the three people in front of him. It suddenly made sense why Jean hadn't responded to his call about going for a run this morning..
"Hey guys" Sam said, looking at Jean grimacing in pain.
"I'm sorry about this. We need a place to lay low." Steve said warily.
"Everyone we know is trying to kill us." Natasha stated, staring back and forth between Jean and Sam. Natasha was confused and very amused as her thoughts raced about Sam and Jean. She thought, Why would Jean go to Sam? Sam paused a moment before replying.
"Not everyone." Without hesitation, questions, or protest, Sam dipped under Jean's arm, lifting her up bridal style, in one swift motion.
"I can help" Steve began as Sam looked over his shoulder.
"You need to take care of yourself too. I got her" Sam stated. Steve knew he was right but was taken aback by the fact that Jean was letting Sam carry her and help. Sam carried Jean off into the direction of his bedroom. Jean snorted weakly as she rested her head against his shoulder.
"Are you really trying to take me to your bedroom right now. Watch it Wilson, I can still kick your ass" Jean joked, coughing a little. Sam rolled his eyes as he maneuvered with her through the door to the bathroom.
"Shut up Markette. Don't push it. I'll drop your ass" Sam quipped. Jean chuckled weakly as Sam placed her carefully down so she could lean against his bathroom sink. Now, Jean knew this was going to be an awkward situation. She needed help being changed and at this moment, she could swallow that it was Sam helping her. Steve would usually be the one to help but Steve was banged up too. He couldn't do everything, even though he would like to think he could. Sam turned on his shower, turning back to face Jean. She looked so human in this moment.
"So what did you do this time Sparky?"
"The whole, 'I don't know if I can trust the right side,' well, the 'right side' was actually the wrong side, big shocker by the way, and in a twist of unexpected events, a bad undercover agency was discovered that was under our noses the entire time and well, we got attacked and bombed and I had to do the whole absorption thing… AH!" Jean yelped wildly, throwing her head back in pain. She had tried to take off her t shirt but couldn't. She was angry to be in this much pain. Sam came over to her, reaching carefully as he gripped her t shirt and helped her pull it up over her head, the rest of the way. Sam looked off to the side to avoid staring at her exposed bra. Jean felt her face flush as she tried to change the subject.
"The harder you try not to look, it makes it seem like you want to" Jean wrinkled her nose as she unbuckled her pants. Sam rolled his eyes.
"Shut up Jean." She cried out a little as she tried leaning over to tug her pants off. Sam stopped her, leaning down in front of her. He gripped her pants, pulling them down, waiting as she lifted each foot separately.
"Don't enjoy this too much Markette. Might get the wrong idea" Sam joked with a smirk on his face to hide the fact he was trying to comprehend how this woman could possibly learn how to absorb the explosion from a bomb.
"Shut up Sam" Here Jean leaned against his counter, half naked, burned, bruised and cut everywhere. Sam shook his head, sadness washing over his face. He stood, looking at each mark, trying not to look at her chest, or lower regions. She was wearing a matching bra and panties set, which he didn't expect. Again, was he really supposed to be thinking about what she would wear underneath her clothing? .
"It will heal in two hours. I'll be fine in one" Jean tried making Sam feel better, wincing as she limped to the shower. Sam watched her, making himself turn to leave. Before he got far, he heard Jean call out to him. Sam walked back in, Jean clutching to the door of the shower, back facing him.
"I owe you, I am so sorry… I just… I can't reach the hooks" Jean whispered, completely ashamed by her lack of ability to take off her bra. Tears welled up in Jean's eyes. All of these gifts for what? To be this fragile?
Sam smiled gently, making his way over to her. There was something about her that could make this usually sarcastic, brass man melt into a gentle puddle. Sam took a moment, his clothed chest inches from her back. He reached his hands up to the clasp of her bra. He grazed her skin ever so gently, goosebumps breaking out across her spine.
She hadn't felt a man's touch on her bare skin in a very long time. Sam was successful unclipping it, carrying the remaining of her clothes out of the room without a comment. Jean leaned her head against the wall of the shower, wincing as the water stung her wounds. She watched the dirt and ash go down the drain, hot tears staining her cheeks while her mind wandering off.
"Look at me Theresa. LOOK AT ME" his voice yelled out as Jean floated in the air, her entire body transformed. Bucky knew she needed to shift back and had a blanket nearby to wrap her up and make her feel better. He knew she would be in agony for a little but he wouldn't leave her side.
"Theresa look at me. Please doll" Bucky's voice cracked. Jean slowly lowered. Bucky walked forward slowly approaching. His voice brought her back home, she could feel her body slowly become hers again, spasms breaking out over her, shaking as the agony of the heat overwhelmed her. She cried out as part of her wanted to fight against turning back, but his eyes guided her back. Through the flames, she could see his eyes, his sad eyes.
They had had a successful mission but there always seemed to be a cost for Jean. He understood that nobody knew how the serum would change Jean, and he knew that that Jean was an amazing soldier. She saved his life on so many accounts. But the pain he watched her go through enraged him. The sessions with Stark were helping, but sometimes he thought she was being used. It wasn't Peggy, the commandos, or Stark. It was that he thought the government saw her as property over being a human being. He wasn't a scientist, but if that Doctor was still alive, he questioned whether things would be different. Bucky wished he could make this better. He wished she could believe it, then maybe this wouldn't hurt so bad. In Bucky's mind, he knew that if she fully transformed and let go, that Jean would be okay. He believed in her, she just didn't believe in herself.
"Theresa. Let me make it better" he strained, reaching his hands out , taking another step towards her.
The flames began to turn to smoke, her eyes shifting back as her feet touched the ground. She was humiliated, as tears began to fall. As soon as she turned back completely, Bucky engulfed her by the blanket, pulling her into the safety of his arms.
"I have you doll. I have you" he whispered, kissing the side of her temple. She shook in his arms.
"I'm a monster" she whispered shakily. Bucky looked down in her eyes, at the woman he was so in love with. She didn't realize how much he loved her.
"No. You're not." he shook his head reassuringly, hoping she didn't see the tears welling up in his eyes. He placed a hand on the side of her warm face, running his thumb across her ashy cheek, the other wrapped around her body shuddered. She looked up into his eyes. She was vulnerable.
"I'm not leaving your side." Bucky said as he lifted her face gently with his hand on her cheek, kissing her ever so tenderly. Jean kissed him back, giving him every last ounce of energy she could spare. He pulled away, leaning his forehead against hers. The smoke from their breaths whisked up into the cold night air.
"I'm not leaving your side either"
End of Flashback
Jean's body finally began to heal as she finished getting dressed. She had extra clothes she had brought, having chosen to wear jeans, brown lace up boots, a plain black t shirt, a gray hoodie, a brown jacket, and had put her holster straps on her thigh. She needed to focus on the battle, not the emotions. She pulled her hair back into a high ponytail, a few strands falling out. A knock at the door made her look over at the door frame, Natasha leaning on it.
"Sam made breakfast." Jean nodded, tying up the rest of her boot laces before she stood.
"You okay?" Natasha asked genuinely.
"Yeah. You?" Jean asked, looking over at Nat. Nat smirked a little at the expression on Jean's face. Natasha knew that no matter how much Jean would get hit, she would get back up ESPECIALLY if someone was threatening the safety of the people Jean protected. When Jean was in this state of mind, her transforming somewhat into Blaze was not the problem. Even though Natasha has only seen Blaze a handful of times, it was intense and very impressive. Natasha felt bad for all those that had to face Jean in that state.
"So, the question is: who in SHIELD could launch a domestic missile strike?" Natasha asked from the table. Jean leaned on the counter next to Sam, drinking down some of the cranberry juice he had gotten her. There seemed to form an unspoken rule that him seeing her half naked would not be brought up again and Sam didn't want to test her temper, even if he would have found that amusing.
"Pierce." Jean and Steve stated at the exact same moment.
"Who happens to be sitting on top of the most secure building in the world."
"He's not working alone." Jean spoke before taking a gulp of the juice.
"Zola's algorithm was on the Lemurian Star." Steve continued, the details starting to add up.
"So was Jasper Sitwell." Natasha said through a mouthful of the apple she was very much enjoying.
"So, the real question is: how do the three most wanted people in Washington kidnap a SHIELD officer in broad daylight?" Steve leaned against the table, trying to figure out a plan.
"The answer is: you don't." Sam spoke up as he moved towards the table and dropped a file down in front of Steve and Natasha. Jean raised her eyebrows, moving towards the table.
"Call it a resume." Jean picked up a photo of Sam with his pararescue team after Natasha handed it to her.
"Is this Bakhmala? The Khalid Khandil mission, that was you." Natasha said surprised, looking from Sam, to Steve, to Jean. Jean looked over at Sam, mouth gaped open a little in surprise. She couldn't tell whether she was impressed or angry that he didn't tell her. Jean couldn't technically get mad, it wasn't like she told him everything.
"You didn't say he was a pararescue." Natasha continued. Jean picked up a photo of Sam and… Riley. Steve looked over Jean's shoulder at the photo.
"Is this Riley?" he asked, seeing that Jean didn't know about this information from her body language. Steve couldn't tell if Jean was upset with this or not.
"I heard they couldn't bring in the choppers because of the RPGs. What did you use, a stealth chute?" Jean spoke up, looking directly in Sam's direction. Sam was holding another file, handing it to her.
"No. These." Jean opened the pilot, he eyes widened at what she was looking at. He wasn't a damn pilot. He was in the falcon program. He was a falcon. She looked up, shaking her head. Touché Sam Wilson. Touché.
"I thought you said you were a pilot." Steve said, a smile forming on his lips.
"I never said pilot." Jean snorted. Sam shot her a sheepish look. Jean looked at Natasha and Steve soon processing what they wanted to do. Jean's face contorted immediately.
"Oh come on guys, seriously?" Jean snapped, looking at them. Jean didn't want Sam to get involved. She didn't want Sam to get hurt. She had lost way too many people in this profession.
"I can't ask you to do this, Sam. You got out for a good reason." Steve said, knowing that this would be hard for Jean. At the same time, Steve knew they needed Sam.
"Steve!" Jean glared at him, trying to hide the anxiety in her eyes.
"Dude, Captain America and Sparky needs my help. There's no better reason to get back in." Sam responded. Jean shook her head. She grabbed the cranberry, moving through the house, to the back porch. Jean leaned on deck, looking out into the world around her. She heard the door open behind her. She kept looking forward as Sam stood beside her.
"If you don't think I can…" Sam began, facing Jean.
"It's not that I don't think you can handle this because you can. I can't handle losing another person. Is that selfish? Probably" Jean sighed, studying Sam's facial expression. Even though it was kind of unreadable, there was a softness that replaced his usual smirking expression. She glanced back out, preparing herself for battle. It was one thing to mess with her and the people she loved back in the 40s. It was another thing entirely to still exist and try to mess with more people she cared for. Jean reached her hand out slowly, taking Sam's hand delicately.
Sam was stunned by this physical gesture. Jean had never touched Sam like this before. He held her hand like that for a moment, carefully running his thumb over her knuckles. Sam liked her hand in his, but knew this gesture was more than reassurance.
This moment was something she didn't share with just anyone. She knew she was an Avenger, she knew the people who she would lay her life down for. She was telling him that he was a part of her team now and that she would have his back. She would never let herself make the mistake again of what happened the day Bucky died. She retracted her hand, tightening the straps of her thigh holster.
"Strap up slow poke. Let's see if you can run with a few Avengers"