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Avenger Assembled

No Other Hand

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Late March 2015 

 

Gina had been able to tell something was wrong with Steve for the last few days. Always quiet, he'd fallen nearly into monosyllables unless directly pressed, and he'd started spending his nights either reading or sitting up, staring out the window at the world outside. After living together for well over a year, this was a familiar pattern - the only mystery was whether he would eventually tell her what was the matter or if his feelings would sink back down below the mantle of his self-restraint. Finally, over a dinner of oven-cooked shrimp fajita, he put down his fork and broke the silence that had been pressing on him. 

 

"There is an Annihilist living in the DuTemps Building." He said the words with the calm frankness of a man broaching a difficult subject, as well it was. 

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Gina put down her half-eaten fajita and looked at Steve with surprise. Partially because of the content of his words and partially because he was talking at all. Trying to have a conversation with him had become a worrisome exercise in frustration lately, but she'd hoped he was just working something through on his own time. She could hardly point fingers at anybody else for having weird social issues, and at least she'd mostly stopped worrying  that his periods of silent brooding were her fault. It was just a thing he did. "The DuTemps building, that's the one with the weird castle-thing on top, right? And there's an Annihilist?" she asked. "Have you told anybody?" 

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"The Freedom League knows. I was summoned to consult on her case when she arrived on Earth-Prime." Steve knotted his hands in a ball before his face, elbows resting on the table. "Tarva the Black was a hanger-on in the courts of many greater Annihilists. When she learned of the nanite drone experiments last year, she contacted the Furions and directed a team of heroes from Earth-Prime to destroy the construction site. Now she is here, on Earth-Prime, living in the DuTemps building under guard of the superheroes based there. I have spoken to her more than once and each time she has told me she regrets the ways of the past and that she seeks to walk a different path." His low, grinding voice burned with cold blue doubt. "An Annihilist, one who has gazed into the Doom Coil and known its true embrace, would no more feign repentance than they would deny the dark glories of Omega. It would not be possible." 

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"Mmmm," Gina contemplated this for a minute, playing for time with another bite of her dinner. "I've never heard of an Annihilist switching sides before," she admitted. "They're nothing if not committed. But it sounds like she did us a solid with that nanite construction site. I read some reports on the early phases of that project, nasty stuff." She sipped her iced coffee. "It could mean she's really changed her ways, or it could be that she's working for some anti-nanite faction in the Terminus. Annihilists aren't great at the long game, but they can play it. Is she in protective custody at DuTemps?" 

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"She is in...protective custody." Steve stared off at nothing for a moment. "Confined to the building, but free to roam it. She has a comfortable room, she has kept busy with work, and she has given all she knows about the state of Steelgrave's court to the Freedom League. And I should be glad." His hands clenched together tightly, and Gina knew from experience that he could crumple iron with that grip. "Her story is not impossible. Practitioners of umbral magic have been known to shield their minds from the fires of the Doom Coil. This is why someone like her would have been so valuable to Steelgrave's court, as a counter to such things. Normally she would simply leave for another Annihilist, but if Steelgrave is master of the Annihilists now she would have had no place to flee but here. But I..." He fell silent again, staring at his hands. "She...she does not remember my face. My voice. Why should she? It was burned away in the doomforges long ago." When he spoke again, looking at her across the table, the nascent anger in his voice was something altogether new. "But I remember her face. From that day!"  

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Gina scooted her chair around the table till her knees brushed Steve's. It wasn't entirely without risk, being so close to Steve when he was very angry; even without meaning to, his strength could be dangerous. It was also a little strange to see him angry, even with everything he'd been through, or maybe because of it, he was far more prone to depression than rage. "So you've seen this Tarva, and you remember her from the Terminus?" she asked carefully, not wanting to be mistaken. "She was there when you were turned into an Omegadrone?" 

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Steve nodded, evidently not quite trusting himself to speak for a time. "She would have been powerless to prevent it. She would have lived as my parents did. A slave, clinging to the arm of an greater Annihilist for succor. She would have been taken to Steelgrave's bed, just as my mother was." His voice hardened. "But I see her face, and I remember that day, and all those painted faces of Steelgrave's court. I remember the way they LAUGHED!" He had raised his fist, as if about to strike the table (and no doubt shatter it in twain), but at the very last his hand stopped inches from the hard surface. Shaking, he put his hands in his lap. "And it is wrong, because I remember what it is like to kill, to, to...and I should never want that again, never! But I think of her in this place, all because she...she repented, and I..." He fell silent again, staring down at his hands. 

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Gina leaned forward and cupped his scarred face in her hands, looking into his eyes. "She's nothing, do you hear me?" she told him, quietly but fiercely. "What she remembers, what she did in the Terminus, it doesn't matter, because she is nothing compared to who you are. You were victimized and you overcame it, you were lost and you found yourself, you were alone and you saved me from being lonely. All she did was run away from her own evil and seek shelter in a place where people weren't going to turn her away." 

 

She moved in closer, nearly kneeling on his lap so that their foreheads almost touched. "Of course the heroes took her in, she had nowhere else to go and she'd probably just cause trouble if they let her free. We treat even our psychotics humanely because it's a luxury we have here. But she has a long, long way to go if she ever hopes to be any more than a prisoner in exile, and she will never, ever come close to being the kind of person you are." 

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"I wish..." He put his hand on hers, gently, his anger cooling at her touch. Guilt warred with an infinite pool of regret in his voice, finally stealing the latter from him as he gently touched his forehead to hers. For a long time, there was only the gentle hum of machinery in the room and the soft sound of their breathing. "But wishing will never bind a wound, nor raise the dead to life." He looked at her, his scarred face lined with emotion. "That we have made our fate together is a greater boon than I could ever have imagined." 

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"It's all right to wish things were different" she assured him, stroking his cheek with her fingertips. "It doesn't matter if it does any good, sometimes it just feels good to be able to say it." The awkward position was starting to make her legs fall asleep, so with only slight reluctance she shifted to sit on his lap instead of on her own chair. "We can keep an eye on the Annihilist, figure out who's got control of her and make sure she doesn't get out of hand. If she's got some trick up her sleeve, we'll stop her. But you don't have to see her or interact with her or even hear about her if you don't want to." She chuckled. "Why do you think I bothered making all these contacts in the first place, if not to farm out some of the unpleasant hero work?" 

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"I don't want things to be different." He gently took her face in his hands and kissed her, long and deep, before letting his hands slide down her body. She was so soft, so fragile, so very human in a grip that a few minutes earlier could have cracked her bones. It had been a night for desires, kept tightly-locked away and only shown to a select few, and these were desires he had ample experience with showing her. "I want things between you and I to stay as they are." He'd spent enough time on Prime, barely, to bite back the "until we are dead" that was nearly on his lips. Instead he pressed his lips against hers, urgently, drinking her in with the need of a man in the deep desert. 

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Gina kissed him back, running her hands over his bare scalp, tracing the lines of his scars with her fingers as though she were following a topographical map. "I don't want things to be different either," she agreed, "not in any of the ways that count. Which is a big change for me." She smiled and kissed him again, then rested her forehead against his. "I'm sorry that her being here hurts you. You're right that it doesn't seem fair, when she knowingly collaborated to hurt and kill so many people. Nothing can ever make up for that. I guess somebody must think there's something salvageable in her, but I don't know. No matter what, she's not going to have a chance to hurt anybody else." 

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"Let us not speak of her again," agreed Steve, looking deep into her eyes, hers so perfect and his marred by the lingering scars of his transformation. He kissed her again, more slowly this time, and pulled her onto his lap so she was straddling him - the better to stand up, his arms around her and hand on her butt, holding her up as easily as holding up a feather. "We need not speak at all," he added, as he stepped back, careful not to knock over the chair. "Supper can wait." 

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Gina made a surprised eep noise and locked her legs around his waist as he stood, giggling a bit nervously. Sitting on his lap made her uneasy, but she had to admit she liked it when he picked her up like she weighed nothing every once in awhile. Draping her arms over his shoulders, she leaned in and rubbed her nose lightly against his."I can think of all kinds of good ways to change the subject that don't involve talking," she assured him. Sending a mental command to Emerson to put everything away, she turned her very formidable intelligence towards making her lover forget everything that had ever bothered him. Maybe neither of them could fix the other, but at least they could make it better for awhile. 

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