When I am Weak

April 29, 2014

"You've got to be kidding me," Eliza said to her mentor, who was floating above the ground on a metal plate. The old man looked at her from under his bushy brows, his arms crossed across his chest.

"Hands in the dirt, my girl," he said through a smirk. The warm spring breeze lifted the ends of Eliza's hair as she sighed and stuck her hands in the freshly tilled dirt at her feet.

"This is disgusting."

"And necessary. You've made incredible progress in the last eighteen months, but once you master this technique you'll be practically unstoppable."

Erik Lensherr was a holocaust survivor and the recipient of a doctorate from Cambridge University, but he was also a teacher with unorthodox methods. Over the last year and a half, Eliza had learned from him how to control her abilities. She no longer sent pens flying through windows or accidentally crushed alarm clocks; or when she did, it was entirely on purpose. She'd gotten good enough to help Logan with his motorcycles - welding parts without heat, bending wrenches to better reach the hard-to-reach bolts, holding the entire thing aloft while Logan looked at the undercarriage.

But it hadn't come without a price. She had to sit helplessly by while her brother battled The Mandarin and Justin Hammer. She couldn't reach out to help Tony at all, even though she had begged Erik and the Professor to let her go. That had been a few months after she arrived at the school, and she was still too dangerous to leave. In response, she'd pulled the support rebar out of a statue in the garden.

Yes, she'd mastered every task and challenge Erik had for her. She'd made friends with the other staff members at the school, but she still felt like something was missing. She couldn't count how many emails she'd started or how many times she picked up her phone to text or call. But she always stopped herself. In the end, she couldn't expose this place. Not after everything they'd done for her.

Eliza had been appointed Professor Stark, and taught creative writing. Her students were , for the most part, eager to learn from her and she appreciated the small class sizes - there were only about forty students in the entire school, and she taught the upper levels so she had about fifteen students total. Much easier than teaching a 1000-level course at Columbia.

Eliza sighed, not seeing the point in sticking her hands in the ground.

"Do you feel it?" Lensherr asked. "All the metallic elements in the earth's crust?"

Eliza pushed her hands a little deeper. Indeed, she could tell there was aluminum, iron, a little silicon in the earth beneath her fingers. She nodded, keeping her eyes closed to concentrate.

"Good. Now pull them toward you."

"You want me to pull microscopic bits of metal out of the earth?" She looked over her shoulder at her mentor, an incredulous look on her face.

"Just try it, Eliza."

She sighed and refocused, calling the elements she could feel toward her. Little pinpricks started assaulting her fingers and she pulled her hands out of the ground. Instead of dirt, however, they were covered in a thin film of metallic elements. She bent her fingers and turned her hands over, marveling at the technique.

"Very good," Erik said, "Get more."

Eliza obliged enthusiastically, and this time drew her hands back in thick gloves of ore. She pulled the metal off of her hands and began manipulating it into different shapes - mainly defensive weapons. A spear, a sword, a shield.

A chill ran down her spine and she dropped the circular shield onto the ground, pausing for a moment. A large hand patted her shoulder.

"You are never helpless, Eliza, so long as you can find what you need." Erik explained. Eliza nodded and watched as her mentor dissolved the metals back into the earth. It was then that Eliza noticed the large circle of sunken grass around her feet. Charles would have her hide for that, she knew.

A head of flowing red hair appeared on the long veranda behind them, calling their names. Jean was slightly out of breath and pale, as if she'd just run a great distance. "Erik! Eliza! Something's happening in DC!"

Eliza's blood froze in her veins.

Steve.

Fury had told her, during one of his brief communiques, that Steve had transferred down to DC after Eliza left the tower. If Steve was in DC and something was happening, he was surely in the middle of it.

She was running past Jean before she knew her legs were moving, and she didn't stop until she'd reached the rec room. She pushed her way into the thick crowd of students and fellow staffers. Everyone's attention was stuck on the television, where she saw a helicarrier crashing into the Potomac.

"-news of the former SHIELD headquarters, nicknamed the Triskelion, appears to have been destroyed by one of SHIELDs own helicarriers. We are unsure at this time if this is anything more serious than a training drill gone wrong, or if this was some sort of attack -" Eliza half-listened to the news reporter's slightly trembling voice.

"Rebecca, we are getting reports of leaked information from SHIELD, it appears that it is uploading onto the internet via various sources, all of them from SHIELD servers-"

"Professor, do they know about us?" a student asked. Eliza couldn't look anywhere but the television, dread growing in her stomach.

"Are we going to be exposed?" an older student asked.

"Will they come for us?"

"Are we safe here?"

"I'm scared!"

Sounds of fearful tears reached her, but she didn't so much as blink until the television screen went black. Her attention turned to Professor Charles Xavier, who held the remote in his hand and held up his other hand.

"I will say this only once! We are not going to be exposed. SHIELD's fall is worrying, but the only person in that organization who knew where and what we are is deceased. I am confident our secret died with him. Now, if everyone would disperse I would like to have a word with the staff in private." The man in the wheelchair had a commanding, soothing presence and the sobs turned into sniffles as older students led the younger ones out of the room. Eliza squeezed the shoulders of some of her students as they passed her.

Logan shut the thick double doors after they cleared out and stood with his back toward them - ever the protector. Eliza looked around at the rest of the staff, her palms clammy. She could tell she was the most anxious among them.

"Director Fury is dead, then?" Storm asked from her position by the ping pong table. Jean and Scott were huddled together by the fireplace. Erik had taken a position behind Charles, a hand on his husband's shoulder. The sun shown through Hank's blue fur as he looked solemnly out the window, hands in his pockets.

"Unfortunately, yes. He did not survive the attack."

"So it was an attack?" Logan asked, crossing his arms across his broad chest. His usual tank top was smeared with grease and oil. He must've been in the middle of fixing one of his bikes when he got the news.

"I received intelligence from Fury just yesterday saying that HYDRA had infiltrated the organization, that he was sure they didn't know anything about the school or mutant kind at all."

"That's a relief," Scott muttered.

"A man is dead, Scott," Erik said, derision dripping off of every word.

"Dead men tell no tales," Logan muttered.

"That's enough!" Charles raised his voice slightly. He and Fury had been good friends, and Eliza could tell the Professor was a little rattled by his death. It was off-putting seeing a man of his calm demeanor like this, but grief manifested in strange ways. The old man composed himself, with a helpful squeeze and loving look from his partner.

Eliza looked away, a heavy feeling settling in her chest. Gods, how she wanted someone to look at her like that. To be there to help her through the tough times. She'd spent the last year as a guest in their house, had never felt unwelcome, but she'd never felt like she fit in wholly. Her first month she and Logan had gone on a date, but it was so horrendously awkward that both of them agreed to never try it again.

She glanced at the man with the metal fused to his bones. He looked at her as if to ask if she was okay. She nodded slightly at him.

"So what do we tell the kids?" Storm asked, concern etching her beautiful face.

At the same moment Charles opened his mouth to respond, Eliza's phone started ringing in her pocket. That was extremely strange, as the only people who had the number were all gathered in the room with her. She'd left her old Tony-issue phone back in the tower, and Charles had given her an old flip phone when she arrived so other staff members could reach her.

The front screen flashed a number she didn't recognize, but something told her to answer anyway. She flipped the phone open and crossed the room as she answered, nudging Logan out of the way. The hallway was thankfully empty of students and the annoying electric marimba of her ringer echoed slightly.

"Hello?" she answered.

"Eliza, you need to get to DC," a silken voice said. Eliza recognized it instantly as belonging to Natasha Romanoff.

"Natasha?" she asked.

"This isn't a secure line," was the woman's only answer.

"Is Steve okay?" she demanded.

"Get to DC. He's at Washington General."

And the line went dead. Washington General was a hospital in DC. Steve was in the hospital. But he was a superhero, he wasn't supposed to be in the hospital. He was supposed to be bulletproof, invincible, all that jazz.

Eliza turned on her heel and jogged up to her room, throwing some clothes in a bag and planning the quickest route to DC in her mind. It was spring break, so she could duck out for a few days. She had to see Steve, had to make sure he was okay.

A text from the same number came through on her phone.

'Renaissance file leaked.'

Renaissance. Project Renaissance. The project that gave her abilities was now on the internet for anyone to read.

"Fuck!" she swore loudly, packing faster.

She had some major damage control in her immediate future. The sooner she got to DC the better.

No one liked hospitals, of this she was sure as she breezed by security, flashing the badge Natasha had gotten her so she could visit Steve. They stank of stale disinfectants and cleaners to cover up smells of death and bodily fluids. They were always either too quiet or too loud. Perhaps it was the fluidity of life and death that made people uneasy. Natasha hadn't specified how bad Steve's condition was, but something told Eliza that if he was in the hospital at all it wasn't a good sign. A building had collapsed and he'd been involved somehow, all the pieces added up to it not being good.

She pushed the thought down and turned the door handle. Steve looked horrible. The screens on the medical equipment flickered a moment and Eliza's hands flew to her gaping mouth. Two, three steps further in and she could tell how pale he was. He had scratches and bruises on nearly every bit of exposed skin, tubes in his arms, a split lip.

"You must be Eliza," a voice said, making Eliza jump. A man about her age was sitting on the other side of Steve's hospital bed. He looked pretty banged up himself, so she figured he must be a new ally of Steve's.

"Yeah, Eliza Stark. And you are?" she asked politely, sticking out her hand for him to shake.

"Sam Wilson," he said, shaking her hand. "I guess you could call me a friend of the Captain's here."

"You guess?" Eliza asked, dragging the chair in the corner toward the bed.

"Well your boy here one upped me on a jog, came to a group meeting, next thing I know he's knocking on my door talking about secret organizations and how we gotta stop a lotta people from dying." Sam explained, obviously giving her the abridged version of the story. She could read more about it later. Or ask Steve when he woke up.

"Sounds like Steve," she smiled fondly at the sleeping man, "Making allies wherever he can."

"He mentioned you, you know."

"Oh yeah?"

"Said you were a big reason why he didn't feel entirely lost. But then you went away to wherever you went."

Eliza looked down at her hands, her face heating in shame. "I had to."

"That's what he said. Still hurt him though."

Eliza stood abruptly, "Do you want a coffee or anything? I need coffee."

"Look, I'm not trying to bust your balls -"

"Then put the bat down, man!" she half-yelled. "I just met you and you're laying a guilt trip on me? I know leaving hurt him, it hurt a lot of people. But I had to, I was dangerous!"

"And you're not now?"

"No. I'm not," she took a deep breath, knowing that both of them had blown this first impression. But Steve was a good judge of character, and if this man helped him with whatever fuckery was going on at the Triskelion he must be at least a decent guy. "I'm sorry. You still want that coffee?"

Sam nodded, "Black, if you please."

Eliza nodded and left the room on a coffee hunt.

When she returned, two black coffees in hand, she nearly dropped them both at the sight of Steve's blue eyes taking her in, a smile spreading across his face.

"Told you you had a special visitor," Sam said, rising from his chair. He grabbed his coffee from Eliza. "I'll let you two catch up. Thanks for the java, Miss Stark."

"N-no problem," she stuttered, remaining where she was until the door shut behind her.

She'd imagined a thousand scenarios of how they would meet again; come up with a thousand things to say. Most of them were exceptionally clever. Now that it was really happening, though, her mind was a blank. All she could think was how happy she was that he was okay. He was sitting up and smiling and the room seemed all the less dreary for it.

"You know," he started, the smile still on his face, "If I'd known it would take a building falling on me to get you to come back I would've done it a long time ago."

Her eyes brimmed with unwelcome tears. "Hey you," was all she could manage.

"Hey," he said back, his voice soft. Then Eliza heard the music playing - Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man - and she couldn't help but chuckling. Sam had chosen wisely. Steve was definitely trouble, but trouble worth having. She suspected Sam already knew that.

She brushed the tears away. "I'm really glad you're okay."

"Me too."

"How've you been? I mean, before all this obviously," she asked, sipping her coffee. She'd forgotten how All-American he looked. Blonde hair, blue eyes, broad shoulders. All things a girl could swoon over, and if the internet was any indicator, they definitely did.

"I've been okay. Fury kept me busy." That seemed like all she would get out of him for now, and she understood. He must be on enough medication to sedate an elephant with how fast his metabolism burned through things.

"That's good," she offered.

"You?"

"I've been good. Look what I can do now," she said, lifting the three metal IV stands around him in the air a bit before letting them drop gently to the ground.

"You're giving me flashbacks," he chuckled, "Looks like you've been working hard."

"I have been. Found myself a mentor and -" her phone buzzed in her pocket indicating a text message, but she ignored it. "Studied hard. I'm way past tossing things out the window. On accident, that is."

Steve yawned through a laugh, "That's great, Eliza."

Eliza. Hearing her name pass his lips like that reignited something inside her chest. Something that longed to reach out and grab his hand, touch his face, run a hand through his hair. Another part of herself said that it wouldn't be appropriate. At least, not until they could actually have a talk about all that happened. Maybe Steve had found himself a girlfriend? It had been nearly two years since they'd seen each other and his godlike looks didn't seem to repel women - again, see the internet.

She settled for resting her hand on the railing of the hospital bed, the other still clutching her coffee. "Thank you, Steve."

He yawned like a lion, "I don't remember the last time I was this tired. Or in this much pain."

"Want me to get a nurse?" Eliza rose to her feet, but a calloused hand with purple bruised knuckles on top of hers stopped her.

"No, I think I'm gonna go back to sleep for a bit though," he said, looking up at her almost shyly. "Will...will you stay? Until I fall asleep, that is, not the whole night or anything."

Eliza couldn't help the smile that blossomed on her face, "I'll stay as long as you want."

Sam Wilson returned to the room about an hour later, having finished his coffee and struck out with seemingly every nurse on shift. He smiled to himself and backed out of the room when he saw the two of them, him asleep on his bed and her on the chair Sam had occupied, fingers entwined through the bed railing.

He'd been able to tell, even in his short acquaintance with Captain America, that the super soldier had been carrying a torch for the MIA billionairess. Now that she was back, Sam hoped, maybe Steve wouldn't be so eager to dive headfirst into danger.

But deep down Sam knew that was bullshit. The two of them together would probably only make more trouble.

Shoving his hands in his pockets and turning on his heel, Sam Wilson whistled "Trouble Man" and made his way back down the hallway.