Smile in Sorrow

Chapter 10

It would have otherwise been a perfectly peaceful morning. Except that SHIELD was under attack. Steve wasn’t actually aware of this until a cannon was fired somewhere on the first floor. The aftershocks somehow reached his small section of basement alerting him that something wasn’t quite right topside.

After all it wasn’t normal for the foundation near the walls and ceiling to suddenly crack a line down to the floor and the concrete silt to shift and cloud dust into the air.

It was still early morning, and he took the stairs to the ground floor. The alarm hadn’t sounded yet. But people were already panicking, and fleeing the building where they could. But there were unmarked soldiers flooding in. Most people, civilian workers and contractors, were fleeing further into the building. They were trying to escape and run away from the steady clattering of automatic gunfire.

Someone got ahold of the alarm and the lights and sounds thundered as the blare of the alarm set up a cacophonous roar. One of the attacking cells must have made to the alarm center. The sound of it was cut in minutes. Again there was only screaming, gunfire and the scuff and thudding of hurried feet.

Steve made for the nearest team of unmarked fighters. They were trained fighters, but his strength allowed him to overpower them. In the close quarters of narrow hallways and a few feet from each of them, they couldn’t set off their guns in time. One unit down. He ran to the next one, following the sound of guns and screaming.

There was no time to search the men, to look for identification. It didn’t matter who they were; only that they were hurting innocents. They had to be stopped.

He had only made it to the second unit of unmarked gunmen, neutralizing the threat when the unknown assailant converged on his location. Apparently the other attacking groups were aware of his movement and in moments he was hemmed in from the sides.

“We meet again… Captain America.”

The way the man said that title dripped with disgust and hostile disdain. Steve turned to face the man, the apparent leader of this attack. He recognized the severe features of the brown haired man, he even remembered the revolted scowl as it stared at the super-soldier like an ant that needed to be crushed. “Striker.”

So they were behind this attack. He thought SHIELD had been methodically weakening them, but apparently they’d been planning this attack for some time. It had already progressed far enough; it ended here.

But he’d been distracted. The strike came from behind, and he saw it coming. He turned to counter the men behind him. They had moved in close enough to strike, but he managed to turn and block the blow aimed at his head. There was a crack as the soldier was struck, he cried out and slumped. He was still breathing. Another strike from behind; the only problem with narrow hallways.

Steve turned quickly snatching at the needle that had punctured his neck. It was a small vial, empty now, and he glared back at the Striker leader, whose scowl had morphed into a condescending smirk of satisfaction. “It’s over.” The man told him; and Steve grit his teeth, ready to argue back.

But then the hall seemed to spin around him. He staggered forward confused, nearly falling over, as if every bit of strength had suddenly begun to drain out of him. The man was laughing now, and the room spun once more as the Striker soldiers moved in.

“Sir, we’ve secured the computer room down the hall!”

“We have taken nearly 60% of the facility!”

The man was scowling again, and Steve strained to hear the rest of what was said. “What’s the hold-up?”

Steve hit the ground, still trying to stay upright. His vision swam and he blinked trying to clear it. It didn’t help, and there were hands on him now, roughly pulling, lifting, moving him somewhere. Where?!

“It seems that agents Widow and Hawkeye are still in the building.”

“We should have this whole facility under lockdown by now.” The leader was shaking his head, exasperated.

“We nearly do, sir.”

“Fine,” he turned back toward Steve with a sneer, “Put ‘that’ in the storage room, cuff him and leave him.”


Steve’s demand came out a little slurred unfortunately, his strength was so faded he couldn’t fight off the hands pulling and dragging him back and away; someplace cold and dark. The man only sneered again, severe features neatly pulling into a smirk. They should have killed him, now. Why so confident?

“Why not?” the man scoffed, “You’ll all be dead in less than thirty minutes.”

The way he said it sent an ominous chill crawling over Steve’s skin. Whatever the plan was for this attack, it was meant to be short, fast, and quick; and they weren’t planning on leaving any survivors. Something horrible was in store.

Then the man was turning, talking with the others, heading off to deal with Widow and Hawkeye. And Steve was dragged backward into the chill and dark of the storage room. He hit the floor with a dull thud and his vision swam again, his body still feeling limp and sluggish and wrong.

Concrete doors swung shut again with a loud creaking and were sealed shut. He was alone, and it was dark, and he couldn’t force himself to move. He had to do something, he had to; and he had no strength and no way out. They only had thirty minutes, if that. He couldn’t move.

Rachel had overslept that morning. She usually didn’t. Most days she came early to get extra work done. Lately she’d been slacking off on that count only coming in at half past eight, or nine at the latest. She was a bit later than that this morning though.

She’d stayed up too late last night; she’d been thinking of what she could do to improve the current situation, unfortunately she hadn’t drawn much more than a blank card and a headache that seemed to persist all during her walk to work.

As she got closer to the SHIELD headquarters building she realized that something was terribly wrong. There were police, SWAT, and SHIELD vehicles with their lights on, outside the building. There were gunshots in the windows of the front and surrounding alcove. She spotted director Fury accompanied by Maria speaking into come kind of communication; and as she got closer she could hear they were trying to communicate with someone inside.

Another group of agents was heading around to a side doorway to attempt infiltration to retrieve people caught inside the building. There was an ambulance pulled up that was seeing to some of the people who apparently had managed to escape the building.

What was it? An attack?

“What’s going on here?” she asked as she got closer. There was one agent gripping his radio communications, but not speaking, just waiting and looking nervous. Apparently he recognized her though.

“Doctor,” he looked back at the building, still anxious, “We think it’s Striker. They attacked earlier this morning, not long ago actually. We’re still trying to gain control of the situation inside.”

“Have they issues demands or something? Do they have hostages?” she asked, worried; wondering if they had if there was any way she could offer her expertise as part of negotiation.

“No, nothing like that,” the man said, shaking his head, “They’ve been refusing to communicate.” He glanced over at Fury and Maria and then back at the building, “The director is more concerned that agents Romanov, Barton, and Rogers were inside the building when it happened. No one’s heard from any of them since then. We’ve lost contact.”

Rogers? Steve was in there? Right now? Rachel’s mind went blank for a moment, her breath caught. Why Steve? He’d been their target last time too. Somehow she had the sinking awful feeling that something wasn’t right; even more so than before.

She wasn’t thinking when she left the front and the cars and the line of agents and officers. She walked to one of the rear entries. An old little-used door sometimes used for smoking breaks for the guys working out of the security and surveillance offices on the ground level. She still had a card that allowed her level four security access. She should be able to enter from here.

Rachel drew out the card and passed it over the reader. The light flicked to green and she heard the soft click as the lock on the door disengaged. She drew it open and stepped inside. The halls were darker than usual, some of the lights had been damaged in whatever fighting took place. There was a body on the floor, a bloody gunshot wound in the back. He’d been running for the door when he’d been gunned down.

She could hear gunfire, though it was farther away, and there was shouting and the sound of feet running and scuffing on the floors. It sounded too close, and her skin prickled with fear. Still, she knew these halls echoed. She took a tentative step forward and cringed as her shoes clicked lightly against the floor sending up echoes of their own. She stopped short, waiting. Nothing happened; the shouting and scuffling hadn’t changed.

Breathing, relieved, she reached down and removed her shoes, her thin socks letting her pad across the hall soundless. She left her shoes near the entry and hurried further in. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but she did know these halls better than the intruders probably.

Rachel stopped short when she checked for the camera around the next corner. It hung from the wall, sparking and spitting; someone had shot it out of its perch. It was useless even if they had someone in the camera control center.

She wasn't a ninja, and she certainly wasn't trained in any way as far as sneaking into places. But at one point Rachel Schmidt had been a child and then a teenager and sneaking just came naturally to people who had need of it at one time or another.

It seemed many of the camera feeds had been shot out on this hallway when there was forced entry. Unless one of the men in the halls saw her, she should be in the clear. She tried to ignore the smell of blood and flesh as much as the sight of bodies strewn about the halls. If she looked too closely, it was likely she knew some of them and she couldn't think about that now.

Steve was in here somewhere, and something told her, strongly and viciously, that he needed help. Ahead she heard the footsteps picking up, there was a group of them, the murmur of their voices getting closer - closer!!

Rachel fell at the nearest pile of bodies. She didn't look at the corpse of the man whose arm and torso she tugged up to cover her. She laid flat and limp, motionless as the men rounded the corner, checking with guns pointed for any stragglers.

Blood was soaking her pale blue blouse but that wasn't nearly as important as staying still, still enough she was barely breathing. Praying they didn't notice that one of the bodies still lived.

"So what happened to the monster?"

"The so-called super-soldier? Yeah, he was on the ground floor when we first got in. The commander neutralized him."


"That new stuff the doc was working on?"

"Yeah that."

No. No, it wasn't true. He couldn't be dead. That wasn't possible. She refused to believe it.

"Stuck him up in the supply closet right?"

"Third wing, and with the stuff he was shot up with, he won't be moving for a while!"

Untold relief. Their heavy boots padded on, down the hall, more shouting as they met up with another unit, patrolling through the hallways.

Rachel waited until their voices and steps faded. Supply closet. That could be anywhere. Although if he was still on the ground floor there were only two main closets that could easily fit a person inside them.

One was nearer to the lobby and was in the direction the Striker agents had just been headed. She couldn't risk that way just yet. But there was another one further down this hall off an adjacent connecting corridor.

That second closet was nearer the stairwell for the basement. Rachel made an educated guess on that one. Once she was sure the hall was vacant she crept to her feet. She padded softly down toward the connecting breezeway and corridor.

She had to find him. They did something to him, something to do with drugs or who-knew-what; something that could 'neutralize' even the super-soldier. Rachel hurried on, but had to double back and look around a side passage when more invading Striker agents were heard on the path directly ahead.

Fortunately she stopped short as she realized she was heading into an area full of gattling gun fire. She hadn't seen anyone carrying gattling guns?! Peering around the closest corner she realized that Striker must have taken control of the surveillance control center!

The guns that had been affixed to the walls in the various corridors were being used to take down any personnel entering through the front. This was bad. She knew outside they were trying to send groups in to recapture the ground floor.

Striker was finally running short on people, but as long as they still held the surveillance center, Striker could continue to do serious damage to anyone inside the building. She supposed she was actually very lucky that the entry she chose happened to have almost all the cameras shot out already. Otherwise she might have been shot the moment she entered the building.

Eventually she managed to take a slow pathway to the supply closet. With trepidation she reached for the metal handles, and after checking the hall, the noise let her know any of the invading Striker agents were not terribly close; for the moment.

She didn't know what she'd do if he wasn't here, how she'd make it to the supply closet at the entry. Or if she could even trust that kind of information discussed by two gunmen in passing. Rachel took a deep breath and hauled the metal doors open.

He wondered if he was dying. It was like every ounce of strength he'd had was sapped away by that needle and green liquid now spiraling in his veins.
Striker was going after Natasha and Clint. If this 'serum' only worked on super-humans then at least they should be safe from this crippling pain. SHIELD was in danger, something still bothered him about what their leader had said; how easily he dismissed not killing the super-soldier outright.
Despite all these worries, oddly they weren't at the forefront of his mind. It wasn't his life he thought back on, not Peggy or Howard or even Bucky; goodness knew his life was full of regrets, of chances only half-taken and never really followed through.
In spite of all this there was really only one event that stood out in his mind. At the time he'd only been staring at the dark cool wood of his apartment door, but it had been her voice and her face all too clearly supplied by imagination that had been reaching out to him.
The hurt was still there. Throbbing and raw, but he kept thinking back to it. The one thing he wished he'd changed; opened that door, looked her in the eye. If she wanted to reconcile, he should have given her the chance. He wanted it too, maybe even more than she wanted it.
But he hadn't. He hesitated and in the end he didn't bother, he'd been too afraid, and he probably hadn't thought about the fact he might have finite time to decide things. He hadn't considered that with Peggy either, at least they'd had time to share a few last words.
Rachel Schmidt, everything he thought he knew about her had been thrown into question. But there were also things he knew regardless of what she said or did. He knew her favorite color, flavor of coffee, out-of-office working spaces, and he knew that she'd been right about every suggestion she'd ever made to him about moving forward.
He also knew she'd been the first to reach out to try and fix things; and he'd turned her away. Blinking his eyes against the dim light from under the supply room door, he realized his vision was slowly clearing. He tested the cuffs around his hands. The metal bit into his wrists without any give, he felt the skin bruise for his efforts and sighed, frustrated.
His breathing was getting better but it seemed it was taking longer for his super strength to come back. He still couldn't quite regain his feet for the moment. So he still had no way to escape from here.
He had no way to fix things with Rachel, maybe he never would. Then the door creaked, as it was pulled roughly on it's hinges. Steve turned and squinted toward the light as it flooded into the dark space.
It was impossible... Striker had attacked SHIELD, but there she was framed in light, Rachel.
The relief on her face was infectious as the light feeling swelled in him as well. She rushed forward flinging her arms around him.
"I'm so glad you're okay!!" she nearly sobbed, trying to keep her voice down; trying not to alert any gunmen still prowling the halls. He tried to bring his arms up too and cried out as the metal refused to give.
Startled, she pulled back, following his arm to the cuffs around both wrists. "What happened?" she asked, worried; and he realized there was blood all over her shirt.
"You're bleeding?!" he exclaimed, horrified.
"No, no, it's not mine!" she assured quickly, "But what did they do to you? They were saying something in the halls but...?"
"They shot me up with something," he told her, "I don't have my usual strength right now, probably not my speed or endurance either."
Frowning thoughtfully at the cuffs she told him to wait, saying something about a pair of keys in the office storage closet next door. She peered out into the hall before darting out quickly. He also realized then that she was barefoot, the usual soft clicking of her heels absent as she went. She wasn't a SHIELD agent, and she had no training; but she did have common sense.
He waited, trying to regain his feet and struggling as the numbness was only slowly receding from his limbs. After a minute or two, he managed, staggering and using the wall as partial support. The last of the muscular tremors that petrified him earlier slowly shaking off.
Then Rachel was back. "I found some keys," she said, going straight for the cuffs, a look of concern touching her features as she looked over the bruises he'd given himself trying to get free. The keys worked and the cuffs clattered to the floor in a muted clang.
"Are you sure you're alright?" she asked again, noting his support on the wall. Tentatively he stepped away, using his leg muscles at least did seem to be shaking the momentary paralysis better than being stationary.
"I will be," he agreed, "Any idea how things look on the inside? I hadn't heard anything except that Widow and Hawkeye are still in here somewhere."
"I'm sorry I don't really know about the situation inside, neither does anyone outside, Fury has been trying to send men in but I'm not sure how successful they are. I just kept hearing gunfire." an involuntary shudder ran through her, "They've taken control of the surveillance center, so the weapons on the infrastructure are under their control right now."
Steve scowled, frowning at the floor thinking; he knew what kind of damage that could do if they had control of the cameras, wall guns, and electronic locking doors if they were still operational.
"Mainly it's the operation of the gattling guns I've been hearing." Rachel offered, "It's also been preventing the outside from sending teams in to effectively evacuate any hostages or survivors."
"Then I need to do something about that first," he nodded, thinking aloud. From the surveillance center he'd also be able to find how to best help Widow and Hawkeye. These thoughts should have been at the forefront of his mind.
He turned back to her, she looked worried, but there was a grim determined tension in her jaw. " 'We'," she corrected, "We need to do something. The nearest stairwell I saw they detonated an area bomb, we'll need to use the one near the south exit to go up."
"No, not 'we', you're not a trained soldier, you're not even an agent." he reminded her.
He wanted to ask what she was doing here. How she wasn't hurt and why there was blood on her clothes. Was it okay to pretend things were fine between them? Why was she here? She came directly to him, first it seemed. Why? Whose orders? Fury wouldn't have sent a civilian inside.
"I'm coming with you," she told him, no room for argument, something hard but worried and oddly fervent in her eyes. "Coast is clear for now, we should move quickly," she suggested after peering into the hall.
Since it was no use arguing with her, he took off his shoes, that squeaked on the floors, and padded silently after her. He knew he should take lead. Even if he had no super strength he could still serve as a meat shield.
He knew the way ahead as well as she did, he took lead as soon as her overtook her on the next turn. She didn't fight him on it, a single questioning glance was her only reprimand.
Reaching the surveillance center wasn't difficult, but they had to double back to take the same path the Striker operatives took when they reached the second floor. On that path the cameras had been turned or disabled or otherwise they were able to sneak past. The motion sensors had been blown and though the gattling guns on the walls swiveled ever so often, they stuck to the walls out of site of the stationary video feeds.
As they neared the surveillance center Steve held out an arm to warn Rachel back.
"Stay back and out of sight," He instructed, keeping his voice low; she nodded, "If you hear me go down you get out of here, okay?"
"No!" she hissed back, horrified.
"I mean it!" he whispered back just as vehemently, "You're not trained for combat, you need to get out." Even if he failed in everything after this, he needed to know that she would get out safely. That she would be safe.
A stubborn set to her jaw, frowning she eventually nodded and backed off. Steve approached the surveillance center door. It sounded like three men inside.
He had the element of surprise when he came in the door, neutralizing the closest of the three men before taking out the second. The third had just taken out his firearm, Steve was faster in close quarters, a quick practiced strike to the wrist.
The man dropped the gun and Steve aimed next for his neck and throat, a sharp choking sound let him know he'd hit his mark; the man couldn't cry out for help now either. The final strike to his skull and the man fell down, slumping from his seat to the floor of the control office.
Rachel stepped inside before he could give the all-clear. She didn't say much about the men that Steve dragged back out into the hall. One of the cameras showed a final run team of SHIELD agents coming in through a side entry to the front lobby. This time there was no gattling gun to prevent their entry.
Apparently Striker did have hostages on the second floor a few sections over. Widow and Hawkeye were in another section fighting off a group of Striker agents. They were doing alright, Widow looked like she'd cut her arm on something, but it may have been a result of the initial 'surprise' assault. But there was another Striker group inbound for their location too.
Steve knew his next step of action should be to see to the hostage situation and help Widow and Hawkeye. Instead he turned to the woman next to him a dozen questions bubbling up and just waiting to be asked.
Rachel took up the discarded comm-link and turned the video feed to chart a path through the second floor to the hostage group and then to Widow and Hawkeye's location.
"There's only two guys guarding the hostages, one has a knife and the other a gun," she reported from the feeds, "If you hurry you could make it to help the other two before the other group intercepts them."
He knew he should be thinking about the situation, the Striker agents, the hostages, so why was he so busy trying to figure out why she was here? Why she came after him and wanting to ask if she still...?
Why are you here? Why did you come after me?
Rachel looked back at him, waiting for a response. She still looked worried, she was worried when he saw her earlier too, when she first came in and her face split into a smile of complete relief. Blood soaked and smelling of fear, she had been relieved to find him.
"I'll get going then," he said heading for the door, "I'm going to barricade the door so if someone comes you'll be okay."
She nodded and he shut the doors, dragging several chairs from a nearby office to brace against the door. Then he took off down the hall, at a run, tracing the path she'd made and heading for the hostages.
He didn't need to ask her.
He knew her, and he already knew the answer.
He found the hostages and took down the gunman first. The other Striker operative went for a hostage to use directly. Steve shot it out of his hand. The scream died in his throat when the weakened super-soldier took him down. Super strength or not he had been trained for the army and trained further since he'd arrived at SHIELD.
The SHIELD team that had been successfully sent in arrived at the hostages next and Steve took off for Widow and Hawkeye before they got additional attackers.
He had to pause partway there, which was a bit of an oddity. It had been a long time since he actually felt out of breath. Still he pushed on. It had been a long time since his endurance had only lasted so long in high stress.
Even if his vision had cleared and he could now move more comfortably it was possible that the serum had taken away his abilities completed. He had no way of knowing unless his strength returned later. If it didn't, he'd just soldier forward like he always did.
Regardless of his power or lack there-of 'giving up' was not part of who he was. Not now and not 70 years ago. He'd do everything he could do to protect the people he cared about.
He reached Widow and Hawkeye basically as they finished up the last of the guys they were currently dealing with. Then the next group reached them, Steve recognized their leader in the group. The same brown-haired man with severe features; the one who injected him with the drug, the one who had taken Rachel before.
The man looked surprised to see Steve there, but those eyes just narrowed, scowling and glaring them down. He spat something about 'monsters' and the Striker group attacked.
Steve fell into combat alongside Widow and Hawkeye, trying to cover for them where fatigue was finally taking it's toll. "What are you doing up here?!"
"Isn't it obvious?" Steve asked, responding to Widow's incredulous remark, "I'm helping!"
He heard her laugh, and for once it didn't sound depricating. "At least you're done whining about the doctor, right?"
It was rhetorical. But he had a response; yes, he was done 'whining'. But there were still words that needed to be said.
The three of them moved in tandem to take down the last of the Striker operatives that had flooded in. Their leader struck out again, driving Steve back, protecting his men.
They fell prey to Hawkeye instead. A block, a strike, a counter; the man's movements were sharp and jagged. Steve braced his footing to keep from getting shoved back any farther. Widow attacked from behind.
The man went down, cringing and holding back a cry from the pain; Steve didn't know how he held it in when he'd been struck in the spine like that.
For some reason the man was smiling, looking up at somewhere past Steve's shoulder. "What are you laughing at, clown?!" Widow scowled, kicking him again for good measure.
Steve glanced back to see, there was a clock on the wall. He looked back at the man, confused. He was still smiling and shaking his head now.
"Your plan failed, you won't be taking SHIELD headquarters." Hawkeye informed him coolly. The man only laughed again.
"We were never planning to 'take' your building," the man told them, amused, and dark laughter still bubbling from his throat.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Widow asked glaring, confused as well as she glanced at the clock and back at the man. Steve thought about it, frowning.
He thought about what the man had said when they'd taken him down and put him in the supply closet earlier... and suddenly it made sense.
"They've been planting bombs."
The man's laughter stopped. He was right!
"What?!" Hawkeye looked up sharply.
"So this whole thing was what? A suicide mission?!" Widow demanded looking back at the Striker commander, a new kind of loathing expressed on her features.
"Even if you know, it's too late," the man told them. He'd stopped laughing, but oddly enough he was still smiling, a muscle near his cheek was working itself too, or maybe it was his tongue. "I estimate you have only... nine minutes by now."
"Where is it?!" Widow demanded, "If it's a timer do you have the deactivation switch?!"
The muscle stopped working and the man only grinned again as he bit down on a little oval pill in his mouth. Widow cursed and leapt forward trying to get her fingers in his mouth. It didn't work.
Despite her efforts the man fell back, limp, eyes rolled up and frothy foam leaking from the corners of his mouth. She cursed again and stood up, running down the hall toward the hostage room.
"A SHIELD team made it in earlier," Steve told her as he and Hawkeye rushed after her, "The hostages should be evacuated or in process."
"Then I need to get outside and warn everyone to get out now!" Widow ammended, Steve took off down a connecting corridor, she stopped short. "What are you doing?!"
"I gotta get Rachel!" He yelled back, "She's barricaded in the surveillance control center!"
Rachel cried out in frustration. The door wouldn't budge, no matter how much she hammered at it. She went back to the control panel for the infrastructure weapons. Unfortunately the one gun with a clear shot at the chairs piled in front of her doors was out of ammo already.
She turned the one on an adjacent hallway trying to fire at the chairs from there. The bullet glanced. She tried again but it wouldn't hit to dislodge the barricade outside her door.
Her hands slammed down on the keyboard, frustration and no small amount of fear mounting by the second. She had nine minutes on her watch timer. She'd been able to listen via the video and sound feed for the camera in the section over where Steve, Natasha, and Clint had taken down what appeared to be the last of the active Striker groups in the building.
She heard their leader talking about the bombs, about their time limit. Now she was mentally calculating how long it would take running from the surveillance center on the second floor to the nearest building exit which would be a side door near the front lobby.
Rachel really hated the odds. She knew it would take roughly three minutes even if she hurried. But her watch timer was already telling her she had less than four minutes, and since there was no way of telling what time was on the bomb itself it could be less than four minutes!
It crossed her mind more than once already that she could die. Oddly enough she still didn't regret coming in here, even if it was dangerous, even if she and Steve had ended up separated again... if he got out, if he made it and he was safe she thought maybe she'd be okay with it.
She didn't want to die. She went to pound on the door again. Even if she could wedge it open a little she could probably reach out and dislodge the chairs! She couldn't move it an inch.
She was going to die. She wished she could have seen him again. She finally saw him again and she hadn't managed to say anything she wanted to! There wasn't time! She wanted to say she was sorry, she wanted to tell him she-!!
Suddenly she heard the vicious scraping of metal outside before the door was thrown open.
Relief somehow lead to increased anxiety as he took her by the arm and they sprinted down the hall. It would take at least three minutes to get to the door. She didn't check her watch, they had to make it.
They only had two minutes.
"There's a bomb!"
"A bomb?!" Fury demanded as agents Widow and Hawkeye rushed out the front exit.
"There may be one or there may be several, we don't know the blast radius but they intended to destroy the building and everyone in it!" Widow reported, it seemed the last of the hostage rescue groups were exitting the building already, "Has everyone made it out safely?!"
"Everyone so far, except for the Cap, did you see him inside?" Fury questioned.
"We did, he went to get Rachel," Hawkeye informed them, "He'd barricaded her in."
Fury blinked, flabergasted, "Rachel? The doc? She was in there-?!" he cut himself off, thinking, and turned to Maria for answers.
"I saw her join the crowd, I had no idea she'd slipped away inside," Maria reported, "I thought we'd tried all available exits when we were trying to send people in."
"So she heard about the Cap and went in to a war zone?" Fury was sometimes under the impression he worked with complete idiots. "Well where are they?! They should be on their way out now, right?!"
They all turned to look at the building. They couldn't send anyone else in, not with the bomb. But so far, no one else was coming out. Nothing was happening at all.
"Well?!" Fury demanded.
Widow nearly rolled her eyes. "They're not out yet."
"I can see that!" Fury sniped back at her, irritated. Then there was an explosion somewhere inside. The concrete cracked and the windows on every floor burst from inside.
Everyone at the cordon line pushed it back further as debris began falling from the building, a billow of fire pouring out the doors and windows. Inside, the lobby area was on fire, and the cracks in the concrete spread.
At least the building hadn't actually collapsed; the one upside of home-made explosives when the fuel charge isn't large enough. Still that was a lot of bombs.
Fury schooled his features and glared back at the wreckage of SHIELD headquarters in New York. At least now maybe he could convince the budget to include new headquarters construction for SHIELD in Washington DC.
"So?" Fury questioned again, "What happened here, guys?!"
Widow glared at the exploded building. "Just wait." They couldn't be dead. She wasn't that lucky.
"Wait?! We've been waiting!!" Fury reminded her, loudly, "Now the building's blown up!!"
"They're not dead, just wait," Widow told him coolly. She was almost psychic about these sort of things. It's why when she killed people she tended to shoot them north of ten times at least.
It was the sound of coughing that gave them away. As the smoke cleared around one of the south side entries, they could see them. Steve was walking out from the rubble, and he was carrying Rachel in his arms.
"And the soap opera continues," the redhead sighed, equal parts relieved and annoyed.
"What?" Fury asked confused.
"Nothing." Widow ammended quickly.
The paramedics came forward first, apparently Rachel was unconscious, Steve had a few cuts and bruises but nothing serious. It seemed that his super-human abilities had returned as well as he was able to shrug off any of the visible fatigue Widow had seen in him earlier.
Hawkeye joined them shortly. The paramedics deduced that she was merely unconscious, initial tests showed she hadn't suffered any kind of trauma or damage to physically make her pass out.
"So what, she fainted?" Widow asked, curious.
"Yeah," Steve agreed, "Apparently she heard when the Striker guy told us we had nine minutes. She fainted when the timer hit zero."
"It hit zero?" Hawkeye asked, it had seemed pretty close to the nine minute mark when the building blew.
"Apparently we had just a few seconds more than the timer was set at," Steve shrugged, smiling almost sheepish, "That was also when my speed kicked back in."
"Oh," Hawkeye nodded, "Lucky you."
Steve seemed to smile in agreement. He still hadn't let go of Rachel, and more importantly the medics didn't know when she might wake up. Depending on the person and the fainting spell, it could be a while.
"Oh please," Widow pushed through to the doctor.
"What?" Steve asked, nearly cautious as he considered the irritated expression on the red-haired woman's face.
"I know an age-old method to cure a fainting spell," she informed him.
"Ok, thanks?" Steve said, backing off enough to let Widow see the doctor. Then before anyone could do anything, Widow drew back her hand and struck hard, smacking Rachel's cheek with a loud slap.
"OW!!" Rachel shot up, her hand flying to her cheek now turning bright pink from the strike.
"What was that for?!" Steve demanded, horrified!
"She's awake, isn't she?" Widow said turning to walk away. Now that both of the lovebirds were awake she had no desire to see the sequel.
It took Rachel a moment to regain her bearings. One moment the bomb was set to detonate, she and Steve were still inside and running for the exit, the timer hit zero! Then... she was still breathing. The SHIELD building was in flames, but they were outside, Steve was alive, he was here, and she was in his arms.
Suddenly her face felt hot, and it had nothing to do with the slap Widow had just given her. Nervously he smiled and his hands slid away. He moved to get up and move away, it looked like cleanup for the explosion was already underway.
She reached out to snag his arm, tugging him back down. She wasn't strong enough to keep him here, but he didn't fight her either. She wasn't thinking as she hauled herself forward, her arms winding around him, tugging him close to her.
He felt warm and solid, he was breathing, she was breathing; they were both alive. They made it. "I'm so glad you're okay."
Slowly she felt him hug her back. "I'm glad you're alright too." he said. And after a moment she felt the pat-pat that meant it was time to let go. She didn't want to, but he was asking so she had to.
He was trying to move away again, still she held on again. "Before you disappear on me again," she said, forcing the words out; it was now or never, she had to say them, while she could still look him in the eye. While he still couldn't go hide behind a door somewhere. "I love you."
He didn't move, not to pull away or to sit back down; it was like he was frozen. Her face felt hot again and she soldiered on, well aware she was completely embarrassing herself at this point.
"I finally have that answer to you from earlier," she meant days earlier, but he knew that, "Even if you've changed your mind already. I want you to know. I love you." she repeated it, firmer this time, and she was able to look in his eyes when she said it. She almost felt like crying and hoped it didn't show.
"I want you to know, my job was the last thing I was thinking about when I went in after you." she insisted, willing him to understand her. Even if he didn't accept her, couldn't accept her, he had to know she meant it.
Then his gaze softened and he came back to her, taking her hands in his. "I know," he said, his gaze searching, and he must have found what he was looking for because he smiled, "And I haven't changed my mind."
He meant it. He meant he-!!
Rachel threw her arms around him, her body colliding again with his. His arms encircled her, and lips sought lips as they met in fervent urgency, seeking to confirm what words had said and hearts had sealed.
They had met when he had been at his lowest. They had gone through smiles and sorrows together. The only way to weather it was to smile together, and smile in sorrow.
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