Part Four: The Embrace
Using his shield, Steve batted away another explosive and drop kicked the Chitauri soldier that rose up to meet him.
“How’s the perimeter situation?” he barked, and Tony instantly replied, “Not so hot, Captain – NYPD set up a three mile radius block, but these guys are popping up faster than barflies hearing last call.”
“Wh-what? What does that even mean?” he gasped, throwing his shield at a building and watching as it ricocheted off it to hit another flying craft that’d been heading straight towards Barton.
When it sailed back to him he caught it with the ease of one catching a frisbee.
“It means the boys in blue are barely containing them, but for each one we take out, ten more seem to take its place, and there’s a lot of civilians caught in between us and them,” Natasha clarified.
At least someone else on the team spoke English, Steve thought.
“You might want to head towards the library,” Clint called out. From his vantage point he’d been directing them towards pockets of civilians who were being overrun by the Chitauri while also keeping an eye out for Loki.
“Maybe they’re looking to join storytime,” Tony chirped as he flew past, launching a series of small missiles and clearing a path for him and Romanoff.
The library, Steve’s mind stalled to a halt. Storytime at the library.
“What day is it?” he snapped, already running towards the library.
“Random much,” Tony snipped.
“Someone tell me what day it is,” Steve damn near spat out between gritted teeth. He pushed himself faster.
His heart was thudding so loud he almost missed Clint’s answer. The past few days were a blur of activity, but somehow, he knew what his response was going to be regardless. It was just his luck.
Sure enough, Clint said, “It’s a balmy Wednesday afternoon, Cap, partly cloudy with a twenty-four percent chance of rain this evening.”
“I’ve got the library. Find Loki, get the scepter – we have to close the portal before we’re entirely overrun,” he ordered, jumping up onto a car, then leaping from vehicle to vehicle.
“Piece of cake,” Barton snorted, but they all knew Steve was right.
Though he supposed saying it out loud rather was like stating the obvious.
Maybe she wouldn’t be there. Maybe – and he hated himself for even hoping such a thing – but maybe she had been too discouraged from his earlier gaff and had decided to stay home. Because if she was home, she might be sad, but she would be safe and alive for Steve to try and fix that. He didn’t want to consider the alternative.
Yes, he told himself, and maybe pigs could fly now, too. Bella was far too polite to shirk off her commitments just because Steve had been an idiot and had accidentally hurt her feelings. It was one of the things he liked best about her – her politeness. He’d come to realize what a rare commodity it was in that day and age.
When he rounded the corner, he spotted the entrance to the library. The doors had been crushed in and there was debris everywhere. He took the steps four at a time up and entered, pausing briefly in the main hall while tilting his head and listening.
There was the chittering of the Chitauri soldiers sweeping the building, the low crying of people – several of which sounded like children – hidden somewhere in a closed room. Safe for the moment, he determined.
And then rising up from in between the shelves, her voice caught his keen ears.
“Sh-h… It’s gonna be okay, sweetheart. Just close your eyes and stay behind me. I’ve got you.”
Her words was surprisingly steady, only wavering ever so slightly at the end.
Then there was a crash of furniture, a pained grunt, and the whimper of a scared child.
Steve was off like a gun, his feet thudding and adrenaline pumping as he rounded a corner until he finally saw her – his Belle. But she was not alone. A tall, red-headed woman stood just in front of her and between them, a group of Chitauri soldiers at their feet – dead.
Relief hit him hard until he took a moment to truly process the scene in front of him. The Chitauri were not just dead; they’d been completely torn apart. Limbs had been shredded and body parts strewn everywhere. The next thing that registered was Belle’s expression. She stood protectively in front of a small girl clutching at her legs, her wide eyes staring at the woman. The look of terror on her face damn near stopped his heart. Her hands pressed the child even more tightly to her than before, and her chin quivered as she said, “Victoria,” in a tone filled with far more fear and dread than it had been just a moment ago.
“Hello Bella,” the woman simpered. Despite her tone being sweet and baby-like, it grated on Steve’s mind like a rusty nail to a chalkboard. “Quite the sticky situation you’ve found yourself in, isn’t it?”
“Couldn’t resist stepping in and saving me?” Belle – Bella? – asked. “I’m touched.”
“Think nothing of it, love,” the woman airily said, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “It was purely selfish of me, you understand. We both know your miserable existence will only end when I allow it.”
“Let the child go,” Belle demanded. “I’m done running, Victoria. You can do whatever you want with me. Just let me bring her to the others so she’ll be safe…”
“Oh?” Victoria cocked her head to the side. “But maybe I want a little snack before I get to the main course.”
“Over my dead body,” Belle hissed, her weight shifting as though she was about to launch herself at the woman.
“If you insist,” Victoria returned, taking a predatory step forward.
Steve reacted without a thought. While he knew there was something deeper in the undercurrent of their conversation, he still had seen enough to know the basic truth. This woman had destroyed the Chitauri soldiers only so that she could be the one to attack his Belle. She was a threat and had to be neutralized. Throwing his shield with enough force to knock out any typical person, he watched as it caught the woman in the stomach and tossed her back a few paces.
But she only fell to a knee, unnerving him more than he was willing to admit. He filed that fact away for later and moved to stand between her and Belle, his body serving as a literal human shield between them.
“I’d apologize for attacking a woman, but something tells me you’re no lady,” he said, widening his stance in preparation for her to strike.
The woman hissed and rose to her feet, uninjured and not even winded from the hit. When her eyes focused on him, he noted they were red. Blood red.
Then they flicked up over his shoulder, presumably looking at Belle as she said, “Looks like you live to see another day, little Bella. Something tells me the game is going to be a lot more interesting now. Tick-tock, love.”
Then she disappeared in a blur of movement.
He waited, his mind whirling as he catalogued several facts all at once: Belle was safe, for now; Belle was being hunted; she was being hunted by an enhanced individual; this individual wanted to kill her – had clearly made a game of it. The danger had passed for the moment, but was hardly over.
Behind him, the little girl sneezed and the sound had him spinning around, his eyes flying around the area for any immediate threats. When he realized what had happened, he stood there dumbly, his gaze flickering around until he summoned his courage and met Belle’s eyes.
She swallowed. “Steve?” she asked softly, looking him up and down.
Stupid cowl didn’t do anything to hide his identity – not that Fury’d be able to keep him out of the limelight now that’d he’d been seen gallivanting across the globe, anyway.
“Belle,” he acknowledged. There was no sense in lying to her when she already knew – and certainly not when he’d been determined to tell her the truth at the first available opportunity, anyway. He just hadn’t pictured it being exactly like this.
“I think we have a lot to talk about,” she said, her lips quirking in that self-deprecating almost smile she always had when she was nervous or embarrassed.
Warmth flooded him at the familiar gesture. Even sweaty, covered in dust, and her long hair a tangled web around her, she was still so damned beautiful it struck him dumb.
“Yes,” he finally said, realizing he’d been staring. Again. “Yes, I think we do.”
“Ummm, Cap? Don’t wanna be rude or anything, but we could use a hand out here…” Romanoff’s voice crackled through the radio.
Damn. He’d forgotten about the radio.
Shaking himself, he turned to Belle. “Let’s get you both to safety – you will be safe, won’t you?”
She knew exactly what he was really asking. “She won’t be back,” she assured him, bending down and picking up the little girl as she led them to the back of the library. “I don’t think she’d have interfered at all had these things not shown up and attacked.”
“Are you sure?” he pressed, unwilling to leave her safety up to chance. They came to a door and Belle reached out, jolting him into movement. His hand beat hers by a couple seconds and he opened it for her. A large group of people startled before sighs of relief were heard. They were crammed tightly together like sardines in a can in what appeared to be a supply closet.
“It’s him,” he heard a few whispers. “It’s Captain America.”
Belle ignored them, handing off the girl to a very appreciative, sobbing mother. “You heard what she said,” she murmured, turning away from the others and looking up at him from under her lashes. “She plans to drag it out – she’s very dramatic.”
We both know your miserable existence will only end when I allow it.
Steve’s teeth clenched. Even though he knew the rest of the team needed him, that he still had a job to do, he took a quick moment to step closer to her – closer than they’d ever been before – and brought a tentative hand up to her face. “It’s gonna be okay now, Belle,” he reassured her. “You know that right? You’re not alone anymore. I can help you.”
Her head moved into his hand for the briefest of moments before she seemed to shake herself. She leaned back ever so slightly, grabbing his hand with both hers as she told him, “We’ll talk later.”
“Later,” he agreed, a vow he would not let the likes of Loki keep him from fulfilling.
He went to pull away, but her grip tightened and he stepped towards her again. “Please,” she whispered. “Please be careful.”
Inhaling deeply, he closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to hers. “You be careful,” he returned. “Wait here for me. As soon as it’s over – I’ll be back.”
He moved away again, but just before he could close the door, she called out, “Oh, and Steve?”
His hand rested on the doorknob as he turned back again.
“Nice uniform,” she grinned, a friendly but slightly teasing curve of her lips he was well used to by now.
His mouth opened and closed. When he heard a faint snicker over the radio, his cheeks heated to the point one could have fried an egg on his face.
But Belle was smiling at him. She was safe and she had promised him later. She wanted to see him again later.
Nothing could’ve stopped the big, goofy grin that spread across his face.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he nodded, giving a quick salute before jogging away, her laugh trailing after him.
He trotted over to his upside down shield and stomped on the edge of it, flipping it up into the air and catching it with perfect ease.
“So are we just gonna ignore the fact that Cap apparently ditched the fight to go visit his girlfriend? Because I’m cool if we are, I just want us all on the same page,” Tony drawled.
He sighed. He was never going to hear the end of this.
Later, after the dust of the battle settled and he convinced Tony that – no thank you, he really didn’t want to try shawarma right now, but maybe next time – Steve made his way back to the library.
Belle was sitting alone on the steps, and a part of him he hadn’t even realized was still tense, eased at the sight of her.
“Mind if I join you?” he called up to her.
She smiled, eyes roving over him and looking inordinately relieved. “I was worried you’d forgotten about me.”
“I could never,” he reassured her. “I just got a little held up.”
“It’s been a busy day,” she acknowledged, startlingly calm. She rose, walking down to him, but stopped on the bottom step. Even with the extra height, she still had to look up to meet his eyes. “We have a lot to talk about, don’t we?”
“We do,” he agreed. Deciding to belatedly take Mr. Nowak’s advice, he added, “Maybe over a milkshake?”
He was rewarded with a breathtaking smile. “Strawberry?” she lifted a brow.
He grinned. Unable to keep from touching her one moment longer, he at last placed his arms around her, pulling her into his arms. “Whatever you like. I’m not picky,” he assured her.
His heart thudded as she lifted her arms over his shoulders and rested her head against his chest, her fingers lightly grazing the hair at the nape of his neck.
Content, they both stood like that for a few moments, each of them reveling in the presence of the other. They were safe. Despite everything that had happened, they were together and they were safe. That was all that mattered for the moment.
“Steve?” she whispered into his chest.
“Yes?” he asked, bending his head down to lightly nuzzle her hair. He wasn’t willing to pull away just yet. If he had it his way he’d never let her go again.
“Remember how I told you my Pop Pop served in WWII?” she asked.
He snorted lightly, pressing his lips into her hair. “Yes.”
“Do you think you knew him?” she asked, a teasing lilt to the question that made him smile even if she was poking fun at him.
“You’re going to tease me about this for a while, aren’t you?” he asked, feeling almost elated at the prospect.
Everything was going to be okay, he suddenly realized. Belle wasn’t going to run from him and he sure as hell wasn’t letting go of her any time soon. Probably not ever. They had a lot to talk about, but he was in it till the end of the line and he was starting to suspect she was as well.
Told ya you could do it, ya putz, Bucky’s voice chastised him.
“I doubt I knew your grandpa, Belle,” he shook his head with a little laugh, both at her and himself. The relief that they were finally together was so strong he felt nearly drunk on her presence alone.
“Pop Pop,” she corrected. “He was a bit repetitive with his names – said he had to hear it twice in order for it to sink in. He was no Dum Dum even if he acted like one, though.”
Steve blinked, his entire being freezing. There was no way, he told himself. It was a coincidence, nothing more. But then again, he hadn’t yet been able to bring himself to peruse the files Fury had given him regarding his fellow Howling Commandos…
“Steve?” Belle broke the silence again.
He cleared his throat, stuttering a breath as he tightened his arms around her. “Yes?” he responded, his voice a tad higher than usual.
“You totally knew my Pop Pop, didn’t you?”
The tension broke and Steve laughed, pulling just far enough back to look down at her. “Now that you mention it, I think I may have, Belle.”
“Bella,” she corrected softly, her eyes flinching in the slightest show of guilt.
She had nothing to feel guilty for, though. Not with him.
“Bella,” he offered, his smile never wavering.
Eyeing him a moment to gauge his sincerity, Bella’s shoulders slumped in apparent relief and she smiled even as she melted in his arms once more. Her head burrowed against his chest so tightly he was positive she could hear how she made his heart race and skip a beat. Even a week earlier and he would have found that to be embarrassing, but he couldn’t bring himself to find it so anymore. If anything, it was a relief not having to hide how she made him feel.
“I think I’m ready for that milkshake now,” she murmured, though she made no move to pull away.
“Me too,” he said, pulling her even tighter to him.
Time seemed to stand still for them in that moment as they stood content in their sweet embrace.
(A/N): Thanks for reading. This is now complete.
For anyone interested, Set My Soul Alight will be updated in a couple days – I’m editing it now, but have a head cold so it’s slow going, lol.