Wow, okay so this ended up being much darker than I had orginally intended. At first I was trying to write kind of a lighthearted chapter involving Steve hallucinating various levels of crazy shit in the hospital room and Natasha grudgingly having to deal with it but this came out instead. It got heavy and sad and depressing and that was totally not what I meant to happen! -_-x While writing this, I'm leaning more toward "hey, lets make people laugh a little bit; what do you think?" and my muse is like "nah bro, let's make it like a Nicholas Sparks chapter" and she won...that manipulative bitch! Anyway, that's what happened and this was the end result. I know Natasha is pretty OOC in this chapter but I figured she could let her guard down a bit since Steve is so sickly =/
Hope you all like it! :D
Natasha drums her fingers along the arm of the chair softly, one knee propped against the side and a book balanced in her lap. She's only half-interested in the print on the page, her eyes scanning paragraphs and going back to re-read them a few seconds later. It's a waste of time, she's not getting anything out of the plot or the characters, but she can't bring herself to set it aside completely. It's a distraction more than anything right now and she figures without it she'd be clinging to the walls.
She's the only one in the hospital wing at this time of night, all the other medical staff and scientists either asleep or down in the city. For all the foresight put into shutting off the main valve to the city, the workers at the water treatment plant weren't quite quick enough. A few cases of the water born illness had popped up in the neighborhoods closest to the facility and the S.H.I.E.L.D agents, along with a good majority of the medical staff were called down to help assist with the sick citizens. Bruce had been among the many members volunteered to go down and had asked Natasha to keep an eye on Steve in his absence.
Natasha frowns at that thought. 'Keep an eye on Steve' implies he's not well enough to watch out for himself and that bothers her. Its different for the rest of their team, it doesn't quite twist that knife as deep when they're involved. She and Clint are human, they always end up with their fair share of injuries during missions, and, though he'd be loathe to admit it, Tony is human too, so its not uncommon for him to end up in the medical with a few bumps and bruises of his own. Bruce had ended up here a couple of times but it was mostly post-Hulk related; for as much as he hated the Other Guy, it protected him from most of the more serious injuries he otherwise wouldn't survive out on the battlefield. Thor was a god so he never ended up in the medical wing and Steve was nearly on that same level in terms of health and regeneration. He was Captain freakin' America, he didn't get hurt or knocked out of commission in the face of danger. The serum was supposed to help him heal, keep him healthy and fighting longer than everyone else because that's what it was made for. Steve wasn't supposed to be in the medical wing. Ever. And he definitely wasn't supposed to be laid out on a hospital bed, looking like twenty miles of bad road and food poisoning. It just wasn't right and it made Natasha uncomfortable.
She glances up from the pages of her book again, eyes landing on the ailing soldier in front of her. He's hooked up to all kinds of monitors and IVs and he looks so damn small and vulnerable in that bed that she almost wants to unhook him from everything and whisk him back to the Tower and let him get better in peace. Wired up and monitored like that makes him look like a human science project for curious specialists who want to know how the serum works. It's a sickening thought and it sets her jaw in a tight line.
Bruce had told her about the seizure that happened earlier in the night and there had been a dark, almost haunted look in his eyes when he'd mentioned it. He was on the same ground she was; Steve was sick, Steve was in the hospital, and it was all just so damn wrong. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone being filmed on the helicarrier and they were all unsuspecting extras.
Natasha shifts uncomfortably in her chair and finally gives up on the book, setting it to the side with a huff. She can't concentrate on it right now anyway so its pointless. God, she hates hospitals. She'd been in enough of them through the years to never see another gurney or heart monitor for the rest of her life and it would still be too soon. Hospitals are sterile and impersonal and they make her feel like she's trapped. Hospitals are where they perform experiments, test your limits, subject you to pain and then inject you with drugs you don't have a name for. They strip away your humanity and you are no longer John Doe to the staff; you become the "Patient in Room 3" and nothing more than a list of symptoms and medications accompanies your name on a clip board. Natasha had been in more than enough hospitals in her life, she wasn't eager to stay in this one longer than necessary.
She's really not good at this kind of thing anyway and she wishes Bruce had asked someone else to take up the watch but its pointless now. Between the public nearly rioting because of the suspension of clean water and the people who had gotten sick from Inman's organism, its all hands on deck down below. They're on shift rotation until further notice; only a handful of agents staying on the helicarrier at any given time while the rest are on the streets below, trying to quell the public outcry that's echoing through out the city.
Natasha had drawn the short straw in the helicarrier lottery and had been assigned to stay up here until the next rotation went down. When Bruce had found out she was staying, he's asked her personally to watch over Steve until he got back. It had been his candid way of saying that while he mostly trusted the other scientists onboard, he didn't trust them when he wasn't there. Leaving Steve in their hands was like leaving the Hope diamond in the care of a mailman. There would be nurses and other medical staff there to check on him throughout the night but he said it would make him feel better to have someone he trusted nearby in case things went wrong. He trusted her enough to leave their unconscious Captain in her care while he was gone and it was impossible to say no to something like that. It wasn't like she was doing anything else for the rest of the night and it should have been no problem to say yes but she hesitated to agree. It had nothing to do with Steve, she liked Steve and wanted to make sure he was alright just like the rest of them, but it also meant she'd be spending the night in the hospital wing. It would have been easier to ask her to stay the night in a Turkish prison.
Natasha stands, suddenly sick to death of the plastic chair she'd been sitting in. She paces around the room a few times, careful to avoid getting caught up in any of the numerous wires and cords running along the floor beside Steve's bed. She glances over at him a couple times, wondering vaguely if her frantic pacing is bothering him at all. Steve is twitching a bit on the bed, eyes darting around rapidly behind closed lids. He's dreaming, about what Natasha doesn't know, but she leaves him to it. After everything he'd been through today, the kid needs all the rest he can get.
Natasha walks over to the nearest window and looks outside at the sprawling expanse of the city down below. Its lit up like a Christmas tree, the lights bright and florescent in the late evening hours, and the calm appearance from the windows of the helicarrier is a complete lie compared to the chaos overtaking the streets below. She knows for a fact that SWAT teams had to be called in to prevent people from looting grocery stores for bottled water and that well over half the city was becoming militant because of the main water line being shut down. The scientists from the treatment facility had predicted it to take at least two full days to completely disinfect all the water and get the pipes running again. That meant 48 hours of unruly, angry citizens and a city without water. Thing just kept getting better and better…
She sighs and steps away from the window, glancing back at Steve. He's still in the bed, just like he had been the entire time she'd been here. His fever was still dangerously high but nowhere near where it had been earlier in the evening. It was currently hovering around 103.4 and hadn't fluctuated up or down in nearly three hours. One of the night nurses had come in an hour earlier to adjust one of the bags on his IV and told her that the drugs used to combat the fever were working and that he should be back to normal within a day or so. Natasha figures its somewhat of a good sign but she still doesn't like it. Steve is still sick and that's not okay.
The hospital room feels oppressive now, the walls closing in, and she feels that if she stays here any longer she really will be in danger of shooting the next person who walks through the door. The longer she stays in here, the more it feels like ants are crawling across her skin and she grinds her teeth together unconsciously. She doesn't want to leave Steve but she knows if she stays here any longer she'll lose it completely and that won't be good for anyone involved. There's a vending machine down the hall, a very short distance from the doors of the medical wing, and she figures it will give her just enough of a breather and change of scenery to get her through the rest of the night. Besides, at 4:17 in the morning, she's in desperate need of some kind of caffeine.
She takes one last look at Steve on the bed, eyes traveling over the unconscious soldier carefully. He's still doing that twitchy dream-thing so she figures he'll be fine for the next minute while she steps out. It won't take long, 90 seconds tops, and she settles herself enough to walk toward the doors.
The air in the hallway instantly feels cleaner and easier to breathe, more inviting than the oppressiveness in the hospital, and it's a change she welcomes openly. Natasha finds herself taking several deep breaths as she walks toward the vending machine, taking in the silence and the emptiness of the hall. At least she's here essentially alone; had there been a crowd of doctors and scientists in the hospital with her, she might have snapped someone's neck by accident. She could stand the night nurse, she'd met her a few times before and she seemed nice enough. Natasha thought her name was Carol or something along those lines. She'd make it a point to ask her they next time she same by to check on Steve.
The tumble of the can through the vending machine is loud and jarring in the silence of the hallway and Natasha inwardly winces at the sudden influx of noise. She reaches down and picks it up, popping the tab and taking a drink. The soda is cold and sickly sweet for the first sip and she fights the shudder that accompanies the swallow. Keeping it tucked in her hand, she walks back in the direction of the medical wing doors, mentally preparing herself for the oppression of the hospital room again. The doors swing open and Natasha drops the can. Steve is gone.
Her stomach drops like a two ton weight had suddenly been attached to it and she's running into the room before she realizes her feet are moving. The bed is empty and Steve-less, the monitors unplugged and blank-screened, the cords lying uselessly on the floor and a handful of wires tossed across the mattress in disarray. She hadn't heard anything, she hadn't even been gone that long, but Steve was gone. He's gone, he's gone, he's gone. Thirty seconds…I've been gone for thirty seconds… Her heart is thudding painfully against her ribcage and she looks around the room in a panic. There's a brief, surreal second when her breath catches in her throat and she can't move.
Steve is across the room, still clad in nothing but his boxers with the bed sheet tied around his waist, and he's pushing open the window. It would have been hilarious if it had been any other situation. Right now, there's nothing funny about it. There's a gust of wind from outside, cold and smelling like the bay, and its enough to jar Natasha back to her senses.
"Steve, what the hell are you doing?" She snaps, panic and anxiety making her voice raise an octave she's not aware of. She crosses the room in a few steps, coming up beside the younger man trying to get his attention. "You should be in bed, not opening the window for some fresh air."
Steve shakes his head and continues tying one end of the bed sheet to a metal handle beside the window. "I have to get down there…he needs my help."
"No, Steve, no one needs your help. Get away from the window and go get back in bed."
"Can't do that, ma'am. You never leave a fallen soldier behind. I have to go down there and get him."
Natasha shakes her head incredulously. "Steve, there's no one down there. You're not leaving anyone behind." She forces herself to take a deep breath, trying her hardest to keep her voice level. "Look, you're sick and confused and I don't want to hurt you but I will if I have to. Now get away from the window."
Steve ignores her and tightens the knot one more time. "You're not going to hurt me," he shoots over his shoulder, his eyes just barely meeting Natasha's before he turns back around. "He'd do the same thing for me. I'm not going to let him die down there." His lifts himself up onto the edge of the window, one foot on the brink of going outside, and Natasha panics.
"Steve, no!" She grabs him around the waist and drags him bodily back into the room, trying to put herself between delusional soldier and the window.
"Move," Steve mutters and his voice sounds weak as he speaks. His face is flushed, eyes glassy from the fever, but he's determined to get out that window if it kills him.
"No," Natasha says firmly, keeping herself resolutely planted between Steve and the open window. Steve was a solid wall of muscle but he was also sick, his body weakened by illness and fatigue, and Natasha was pretty sure she could manhandle him back into the bed if it came down to it. She's trying to come up with a plan that doesn't involve breaking both of his legs and dragging him back across the room though; that seems a bit extreme even to her.
"I'm giving you one last chance to move," Steve growls and there's a dark, hollow look in his eyes that Natasha has only ever seen on the battlefield. Its dangerous and fierce, a kind of determination that says he's going to get what he wants no matter what the cost.
Natasha shakes her head stubbornly. "No, Steve. I'm not moving." Steve's determined to get out that window at any cost and Natasha is determined not to let that happen. The helicarrier is currently hovering about 700 feet in the air over the bay near Staten Island and, super soldier or not, Natasha is pretty sure Steve wouldn't walk away unscathed from a fall like that. She'd rather not have to explain to Bruce how Steve ended up at the bottom of the bay while under her watch.
Steve moves toward her, fully prepared to push past her and get to the window and Natasha plants her feet. They collide like linebackers, fighting and grappling with each other in front of the open window, and neither is planning to back down anytime soon. Steve is struggling like this is life or death which, in his mind, it probably is, and Natasha is blocking him at every pass. It very similar to wrestling with a grizzly bear.
"Steve, stop! Just stop, alright!" Natasha growls, grabbing him by both arms and trying to keeping him away from the window.
"Let go!" Steve snaps and there's a very small but very noticeable crumpling in his features. His shoulders sag just the slightest bit and he shakes his head, looking behind Natasha's shoulder at the open window. "He's down there, I know he is! It's my fault he fell…I have to go get him!"
Natasha frowns, loosening her grip on his arms by a fraction. "Steve, who-"
"Bucky," Steve cries and that single word is horribly broken and fragile as he says it. "He's down there and he's still alive, I know he's alive. I just have to go get him…please…just let me go…I have to get him…"
Natasha pauses for a second, looking at Steve carefully. He's completely out of it, hallucinating things that clearly aren't there, but he believes its true. He truly believes that Bucky is down there, hurt, alone, and lost, and Steve's about to repel out of the window of the helicarrier with a bed sheet to go rescue him. It would have been laughable if not for the absolutely broken look on Steve's face.
"Please…he's my best friend…you have to let me go down there and get him…please…"
Natasha doesn't let go of his arms but she lets her grip relax a bit, her eyes locked on Steve's face. There's desperate tears in his eyes, a look of utter despair across his features, and she feels her resolve begin to crumble a bit under that expression. "Okay…" She says softly, rubbing one of Steve's arms in what she hopes is a soothing gesture. "Okay, I'll let you go down. Just…let me check your line first, okay? You can't help Bucky if you go down there with a broken line, right?"
Steve looks hesitant for a moment, clearly not wanting to be drawn away from the window when he was this close. He keeps glancing back, desperate to get to Bucky, and the anguish on his face is unmistakable. Finally his shoulders sag like the entire weight of the world is pressing down on his back and he allows Natasha to pull him away from the window and back to the bed.
Steve sinks onto the mattress heavily, head hanging down and shoulders slumped as Natasha kneels in front of him and quickly unties the bed sheet from around his waist. She looks up at him, heart clenching just a tiny bit at the look of crushing grief on his face and clears her throat a bit. "Did you see where he fell?" She asks, dropping the tangled bed sheet to the ground in a pile. She'd had to do this once before with Clint when one of his wounds got infected during a mission. He'd been raving for two solid hours before Natasha finally got him to calm down and it involved a lot of playing along with the delusional fantasies running through the archer's head. She could play along with Steve for the time being so long as it kept him from making another mad dash for that window. "He didn't fall that far, did he? Could you still see him?"
"I'm sorry…" Steve mumbles and his voice is small and broken like a child's.
Natasha frowns and looks up at him again. "What?"
"I'm sorry…" Steve says again and Natasha tries adamantly to ignore the streak of tears making their way down his face. "It was my fault…I shouldn't have gone…I ruined everything…God, I'm so sorry…"
Natasha frowns again and reaches up, cupping Steve's face in her hands. Its uncomfortably warm and she can feel the fever still coursing though his skin but she doesn't move her hands away. "Steve, honey, none of this was your fault, okay? We'll go down there and get Bucky back, don't worry."
She brushes her thumb along his cheekbone, catching a lingering tear and wiping it away. This is wrong, all of it, and she can't help but wish someone else was here with her now. She'd never been good at the whole comforting thing; she was about a maternal as a brick wall and just as stoic but she can't pull away now. It was different with Clint; she understood him and knew all of his secrets. She knew exactly what he was seeing in his fever induced hallucinations. She has no idea what Steve is experiencing. Whatever it was had obviously been one of the worst moments of his life. "I'll even go down with you, okay? We'll get him back together."
Steve shakes his head, the movement slow and heavy like it takes a lot of effort to do it. "I tried to go back…I wanted to go back so bad but they wouldn't let me…the told me I couldn't…" More tears streak down his face, trickling over Natasha's fingers, and she thinks its quite possibly one of the most heart-breaking things she's ever seen. Steve is broken, there's no other word for it, and Natasha has absolutely no idea how to put him back together. "I missed you so much…" His eyes lock on hers then and he covers one of her hands with his own, leaning into the touch like it's the only thing he has left in the world. "God Peggy, I'm so sorry…"
Natasha freezes then, honest to God freezes, because shit. Steve isn't seeing her as Natasha Romanov, master spy and assassin extraordinaire, he's seeing her as Peggy Carter, the woman he left behind in the 40's. Something very similar to the sensation of being punched in the stomach makes Natasha catch her breath and for a moment she can't speak, she can't breathe, all she can do is stare.
"I wanted to come back to you so bad…" Steve continues, his expression crumpling a bit more as he speaks. "I missed you so much it hurt to breathe…I wanted to see you again, just one more time…and they said I couldn't go back…" He shakes his head, shoulders hitching just a tiny bit each time he takes a breath. "I'm so sorry…"
Natasha feels the sharp prickle of tears creep along the backs of her eyes and she sets her jaw tightly to keep from losing her composure in front of him. She can't bear to bring Steve out of the delusion just yet because right now he's getting at least some form of closure. Its more than he ever got when he was unfrozen and he needs this now more than he needs anything else. "Steve, its okay," she says softly, keeping her voice gentle and quiet as she speaks to him. "I'm not mad…I know you would have come back if you could."
Steve shakes his head miserably and lets his head fall onto her shoulder. "I missed our date…" He breathes and Natasha feels that knife of guilt twist just a bit deeper. She wonders how many times Steve has gone through this exact same apology in his head, in his room, in his dreams. How utterly alone he must have felt when he woke up in the 21st century and know that he left everything of his old life behind. Everyone he loved and cared about, hell, everyone he even knew was gone forever, lost along the seams of time and never to be found again except for in his memories. She wondered how isolated he must have felt, how vulnerable and exposed to be introduced to a world he didn't recognize but knew everything about him. It would be like waking up on a planet identical to earth with absolutely nothing familiar about it. The tip of that iceberg was enough to take her breath away and she shoved those thoughts away to dwell on at another time. Steve needs her right now, she needs to be strong for him.
"Well you'll just have to make it up to me then, won't you?" She says, her voice soft beside his ear. She strokes his hair gently, long fingers carding through sweat-damp blond hair, and keeps his head nestled against her shoulder.
"I still don't know how to dance…" Steve mutters and his voice sounds a bit calmer than it had been before. He's leaning against her heavily, arms dangling by his sides uselessly, and Natasha is pretty sure if she wasn't sitting below him, she wouldn't be able to support his weight.
She swallows thickly before she answers, the words sticking in her throat like they're coated in sandpaper. "I'll show you how…"
She's heard this conversation before but it wasn't her speaking, it was someone else. It was a voice that didn't belong to her, one that belonged to a woman she'd never met and the only one Steve wanted to hear. It had been from an old recording, littered with static and barely understandable due to its age. She'd dug it out of the archives after their first mission with Steve in charge and sat in a silent room to hear it more clearly. The exchange was short, barely more than three minutes long, but it was best kept pieces of information S.H.I.E.L.D had: it was a recording of the final words of Steve Rogers before he disappeared from history for nearly seventy years.
Natasha had sat silent and stoic as she listened to the recording, taking note of how calm Steve sounded even in the face of certain death. He knew the crash would kill him, he hadn't counted on being frozen and preserved in the ice for all those years, the serum protecting him and healing the damage done to his body so he looked like he was just sleeping when he was found. He knew the only way to save everyone he loved and cared about was to go down with that plane and be lost in the long, long lines of history. Clint had sat beside her as they listened to the tape, his expression dark and unreadable with each painful exchange of words between Steve and Peggy. They both knew he was going to die, it was simply a matter of seconds by this point.
Natasha could feel her jaw clench when Steve asked for a rain check on their date, the vast expanse of water and ice probably appearing in his line of sight at that moment. Peggy rescheduled it for the next week and was tearfully teasing Steve about not being late. She tried hard to ignore the heavy coldness that settled through her chest when Steve promises Peggy he wouldn't step on her toes only to have the line die out abruptly and cut to static. And just like that it was over; Captain America was gone and he took Steve Rogers with him. Natasha will deny to her dying day that there were tears in her eyes when the broken, pleading voice of Peggy Carter saying Steve's name over and over again, never to get a response, filled the remainder of the tape. The tape lasted for about 45 seconds after Steve was lost and Peggy's voice never stopped saying his name. She pretended to brush her hair away from her face to wipe away the tear that had managed to break loose. Clint reached across the table to grab her hand. Natasha dislocated his thumb.
Now history was repeating itself in a distorted and twisted version of the truth. Steve was still apologizing to a woman who was no closer to him than she had been when he'd disappeared back in the 40's. He was still seeking forgiveness, closure for all the things he never got to say, and Natasha didn't have the heart to correct him otherwise.
Steve's head is heavy against her shoulder, his body hunched over and curled in on itself like he simply didn't have the energy to remain upright anymore. He's sagging further and further into her and she knows it'll only be a matter of time before he's completely exhausted himself. Keeping her voice soft and gentle, she tries to rouse him from his quiet despair. "I can't very well teach you how to dance if you're sick like this though," she says, and Steve shifts just the tiniest bit against her shoulder. "You need to get some rest or you'll be stepping on my feet all night."
Steve laughs but it's a humorless, breathy kind of noise that's little more than a puff of air against the side of Natasha's neck. He doesn't protest when she very carefully begins to gather his body back on the mattress; one leg first, then the other, scooting him back a little bit at a time so he's in the middle of the mattress. He helps where he can but mostly she doesn't let him, taking over in place of his exhausted muscles and carefully arranging the long, heavy limbs across the bed to her liking. It takes a few minutes but she finally manages to get all of him back on the bed and by the time she's done, they're both red in the face and slightly out of breath.
Steve catches her wrist just as she steps back to retrieve the sheets from the floor, his grip gentle and somewhat unsure as he wraps his larger hand around her wrist. "Please don't go…every time I open my eyes you're gone and it hurts all over again…" His eyes are pleading and there's a hopelessly broken expression on his face that speaks volumes. "Please…just stay with me for a little while…I don't want to wake up alone again…"
Natasha swallows past the lump in her throat and nods shakily, offering him a smile that's about as thin as water color on white paper. "Okay, I'll stay. I won't leave you again." She crawls onto the mattress with him then, turning onto her side and very carefully gathering Steve into her arms. She's never been good at comforting people but she can hold him all night if she needs to.
Steve doesn't say anything else, he hardly moves, and he lays there quietly with his head tucked against Natasha's shoulder, silent tears soaking through the fabric of her sleeve. Natasha stays silent for a long time, one hand tracing meaningless patterns across Steve's broad shoulders and the other carding listlessly through his hair. She starts humming at some point, soft and quiet like she's trying to lull a child to sleep, and its an old Russian lullaby she hasn't heard in years. She doesn't remember the words anymore, she can't even recall who sang it to her in the first place, but it doesn't seem to matter to Steve.
The night nurse comes in almost half an hour later and stops in the doorway instantly, her eyes landing on the pair of them on the bed. Natasha sees her at the door and shoots her a glare that could melt steel. The expression on her face is fierce and protective, a mother bear protecting her cubs, and she's silently challenging the nurse to come into the room and disturb them. This is her territory now and anyone who comes too close is in serious danger of losing a limb they're pretty fond of. The nurse seems to get the message and turns on her heel, exiting the hospital room and leaving them alone.
Steve stirs just the slightest bit against her shoulder and Natasha finds herself curling around his body with her own, protecting him from the world at least for a little while. "Its okay," she whispers beside his ear and he stills almost immediately. "Go back to sleep. I'm right here…" Steve fades off into a dreamless sleep again and Natasha rests her cheek against his soft hair.
"I'm right here…you won't be alone anymore…I promise."
Ngghh...the feels...*dies a bit inside* Hope everyone liked it! :D