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Out of Darkness and Chaos

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A couple of weeks after Bucky went into cryostasis, Steve returned to Wakanda with Sam, Clint, Wanda, and Scott in tow, having successfully freed them from The Raft. It had been less difficult to break into the maximum security prison than Steve had anticipated, which he attributed partly to Ross and Talbot’s over-confidence; King T’Challa’s incredibly advanced technology, however, was the main factor, he was sure. His stealth systems were clearly even more intricate and encompassing than Tony’s. Of course, seeing as how the Wakandans had managed to keep the entire city of Birnin Zana completely hidden from the rest of world, it really wasn’t that surprising.

 

Once they were in the Wakandan Talon Fighter and flying away from The Raft, the submergible ocean prison receding quickly in the distance, Sam turned to Steve and immediately asked, “What happened to Barnes?”

 

Unable to keep the surprise from his face, Steve looked at the others. While Scott seemed only mildly curious, Clint and Wanda were waiting for his answer with equally intense expressions. “He’s, uh, he’s fine,” Steve finally answered. When that response was obviously not going to be enough to satisfy them, he added, “Because of what happened with…everything…he decided to, um, go back into cryostasis. Until we can figure out how to get Hydra’s programming out of his head.” Seeing Wanda’s wide-eyed reaction, he asked, “How did you know something happened?”

 

“Because Lexi knew,” Wanda said, sadness tingeing her voice. “She couldn’t feel him anymore. Her anguish and despair made it past my dampening collar—until Talbot put it on its maximum settings.”

 

Steve’s shoulders dropped. “Dammit,” he sighed. “Can you feel Lexi’s emotions now that the collar is gone?” he asked worriedly.

 

Wanda shook her head sadly. “Since then, there has been…nothing. We may be too far away for me to feel anything now, but...” she sighed, “I think it’s more complicated than that.”

 

“Let me know if that changes, okay?” Steve asked, Wanda nodding affirmatively.

 

After the four had been checked out by the medical crew, gotten settled into their rooms, and he had checked on Bucky, T’Challa asked Steve to take a walk with him. They strolled outside, along a path that wandered through a courtyard. Lush trees provided a shady canopy against the harsh African afternoon sun.

 

“It is fortunate that you have been away these past few weeks,” T’Challa said, looking forward with his hands clasped behind his back.

 

“Oh? How so?” Steve asked, intrigued.

 

T’Challa sighed. “There was an…attempted coup, by my cousin, N’Jadaka,” he said. “It was most unpleasant.” At Steve’s concerned expression, he elaborated slightly. “I was nearly killed, as was Shuri. Many Wakandans perished in the fighting.”

 

“I’m so sorry,” Steve said sincerely.

 

“Our friend Everett Ross was quite helpful in the matter,” T’Challa said with a lopsided smile.

 

“Really?” Steve said curiously. “He came here?”

 

“He was injured, and we were able to help him,” the King nodded. He chuckled a bit, saying, “Shuri was excited at the prospect of having ‘another broken white boy to fix,’ I believe she said.”

 

“So everything is…settled, now?” Steve asked.

 

“It is,” T’Challa nodded. Seemingly happy to leave the matter at that, he did add, “Sergeant Barnes was never in any danger. The medical suites were never tampered with.”

 

“Thank you,” Steve nodded. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for him.”

 

“Regarding that, Captain Rogers, we need to discuss an important matter. It seems that something has followed you here,” T’Challa said, watching Steve out of the corner of his eye.

 

Steve frowned, coming to a complete stop. “Excuse me?” he asked, confusion clear on his face, going so far as to look around him, trying to see what the King was talking about.

 

“There is a presence, here in the compound,” T’Challa replied, studying Steve’s face, looking for a sign that Steve was aware of what he was speaking. When no sign of deceit was forthcoming, T’Challa continued. “It began when you were away, liberating your friends from incarceration. My people can see it, but only for a moment; as soon as it senses them, it is gone. They are calling it Umoya.” When Steve looked at him questioningly, T’Challa explained. “It means ‘The Ghost.’”

 

“’The Ghost’?” Steve said, his brows arched skeptically. “I don’t understand. If it started showing up while I was away, why do you think it has something to do with me?”

 

“Not you personally, Captain; it is, however, very interested in Sergeant Barnes,” T’Challa responded, watching as concern came over Steve’s face.

 

“Bucky?” he asked, shocked. “What do you mean?”

 

“Perhaps you should come with me to my office,” T’Challa said, turning in the direction of the outer doors. “There is something I would like you to see.”

 

They walked in silence, T’Challa nodding to people they passed in the hallways leading to his office. Once they were inside and the doors were shut, though, the King began to speak. “We have extensive security throughout the compound, Captain, as you are aware.” He walked around his desk and tapped a few icons on the computer touchscreen.

 

“Yes,” Steve said, nodding.

 

“There are cameras in the medical suites as well,” T’Challa said, gesturing to a larger screen on the wall. Steve turned his gaze as a closed-circuit feed came up, showing the inside of the room where Bucky’s cryo-tube was located. “This was the first incident, which occurred the morning after Sergeant Barnes went into cryostasis.”

 

Steve watched the security feed, which was time-stamped at just after 6:00 a.m. on the morning following Bucky’s procedure. The room was staffed 24-hours a day, everyday, but from midnight to 8 a.m., there was only one person assigned to the room. Currently, with the exception of Bucky’s cryo-tube, the room was empty. A few seconds later, however, there was a fog, or a mist of some kind, floating through the doorway.

 

“What the hell?” Steve asked, leaning forward as his eyes narrowed.

 

The misty substance entered the room near the ceiling and slowly made its way over toward Bucky. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t a shapeless mass anymore; it fell, almost as if the mist was water vapor that had been sprayed into the air and then had settled onto someone’s skin. The outline became clearer—it appeared to be a woman, with long hair, who looked to be wearing a gown of some kind, stretching a hand toward the cryo-tube.

 

Several moments later, a medical assistant entered the room, her eyes on a chart she was reading. She looked up when she walked through the doorway, and, upon seeing…whatever it was…she dropped the tablet in her hand and gasped out loud.

 

The woman, or ghost, or whatever it was they were looking at, was clearly startled at the noise, turned toward the medical assistant, and then immediately disappeared.

 

Steve stared at the screen, dumbfounded. His mouth opened and closed repeatedly. Finally he shook his head and turned to T’Challa. “And you said that this was the first incident?”

 

“Yes, Captain,” he nodded. “There have been several more since then. Usually in the morning hours, but once in the early afternoon.”

 

“And this…Ghost, it—she?—always goes to Bucky’s tube?” Steve asked, frowning.

 

“Without fail,” T’Challa replied. “Why would that be, do you think?”

 

“I have no idea,” Steve said, shaking his head slowly. He looked sideways at the young king. “Do you have other footage?”

 

***

 

After watching the other bits of security feed, all which showed essentially the same events as the first—though Steve seemed to think that during the last one, the ‘Ghost’ seemed more opaque than she had before—T’Challa turned off the screen and turned to face him.

 

“So, Captain,” he said, in his deep, smooth-timbered voice, “is there anything you would like to share with me?”

 

“I don’t even know where to begin,” Steve admitted. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

 

“The young woman that arrived here with you today,” T’Challa began.

 

“Wanda,” Steve offered helpfully.

 

“Yes, Miss Maximoff,” T’Challa continued. “I am aware that she is quite powerful. Is this not something she could be doing?”

 

“I don’t think so,” Steve said, frowning as he shook his head minutely. “She was forced to wear a collar while she was on The Raft, something called a ‘dampener’ that was disrupting her abilities. Even so, this isn’t anything like what she’s done in the past.”

 

“Speaking of the past, then,” T’Challa pressed on. “This is quite clearly centered around Sergeant Barnes. Does he have someone in his past that is capable of this?”

 

Steve smiled sadly, still shaking his head. “The only girl from his past is Lexi, and last I heard, she wasn’t doing so—“ Suddenly he inhaled sharply and his eyes became as round as saucers. “Oh, no.”

 

T’Challa’s eyes narrowed even as Steve’s got wider. “Yes, Captain? You seem to have thought of something.”

 

Steve felt nearly close to panic at that point. He looked at T’Challa. “I need to make a phone call.”

 

Without waiting for a response, he got up and bolted from the room.

 

He raced through the hallways, heading for the group of apartments that the king had set aside for Steve and his teammates. In a similar set-up to Avengers HQ, the private rooms were keyed to a person’s biometrics, so physical keys and cards were unnecessary. The door to his rooms unlocked automatically, and he pushed inside, immediately walking over to the desk sitting in the corner of the living area.

 

Opening the center drawer, Steve pulled out the disposable cell phone he had purchased, a twin to the one he had mailed to Tony. On the screen he saw the notifications from several days earlier:

 

You have:

(2) Missed phone calls

(1) Voice message

 

 

Unlocking the phone and opening the voice mail screen, he saw that it was from the phone he had sent to Tony, and his stomach dropped. “Oh, no,” he whispered. A shaking finger pressed the icon to listen to the voice mail.

 

“Cap,” Tony said, his voice sounding scratchy, “call me when you get this. It’s important.”

 

“Oh, god,” Steve exhaled shakily, closing his eyes, as the angry conversation with Tony from weeks earlier ran through his mind.

 

“…if she’s separated from Barnes for much longer, I doubt she’ll survive.”

 

Feeling nauseated, Steve pressed the button to call Tony’s phone. He picked up before the second ring completed.

 

“Cap,” Tony said quietly.

 

“Tony,” Steve responded, tension roiling his gut.

 

“Something happened a few nights ago. With Lexi,” Tony said huskily. He cleared his throat. “You need to know.” He took a deep breath and exhaled. “She’s gone.”

 

“Oh, oh god, no,” Steve whispered, covering his eyes with a shaking hand. He felt like his throat was closing up, like he couldn’t breathe, he needed to sit down, oh god how was he going to tell Bucky, what was he going to do, how would—

 

“We think she got about a twelve-hour head start on us before we even knew she’d taken off, and what with all the—“ Tony was saying, before Steve finally processed his words.

 

“Wait, what?” Steve interrupted, bewildered, his voice ragged and broken.

 

“What?” Tony said, confused, before he exhaled roughly and said, “Jesus, Steve, she’s not dead—I wouldn’t drop that on you over the phone. I’m not completely heartless. She busted out, vanished, flew the coop.”

 

“Oh, my god,” Steve groaned loudly, falling into a chair and dropping his head back to rest on it. “Oh, my god, Tony, I thought she was—I was so—holy shit,” he breathed, feeling the bands of anguish loosening from around his chest.

 

“Yeah, well, before you go getting all relieved, Mister Potty Mouth,” Tony continued, “you need to know that she’s probably on her way to you right now, and this may not end well.”

 

“What? Why—how—“ Steve stammered.

 

“I’m not asking for details, frankly it’s better if I don’t know, but I’m guessing something happened with Barnes a few weeks ago,” Tony said, all business now.

 

“Yes,” Steve answered warily.

 

“Lexi felt it. She knew. She—she passed out, was unconscious, for fifteen or sixteen hours, her hair and her eyes turned pure silver, and when she woke up, she was—“ Tony broke off for a second, exhaling forcefully. “She was different. Said she knew where Barnes was, but wouldn’t tell me more than that.”

 

“She didn’t say where—“ Steve began.

 

“Something changed with her. I’m letting you know that she’s probably coming for him, she’s most likely well-armed, and if anyone gets in her way or tries to stop her, it could end very badly. For them.”

 

“Well-armed?” Steve said in disbelief.

 

“She took every single handgun that was in their armory cabinet,” Tony said flatly. “And, according to the very discreet instructor who handled her last certification, she scored ‘Expert’ in all areas. You brought all his weapons back, you know better than anyone what Barnes had stored in there, so you tell me whether you should be concerned.”

 

Steve was quiet for a few seconds. “Do you really think she’s capable of using them?”

 

“I’m telling you—after she woke up, she was different. I think the term ‘ruthless’ could apply here very easily,” Tony insisted. “She won’t let anyone stand between her and Barnes—probably not even you.”

 

Steve sat silently, his brow furrowed in worry. “What should I do?” he asked quietly. “I can’t hurt her.”

 

Tony huffed a laugh that sounded anything but joyful. “I think the best you can hope for here is just to try and calm her down before she kills anyone.”

 

Steve nodded, sighing. “Got it. Thanks for the head-up, Tony.”

 

“Keep me updated?” Tony asked.

 

“Yeah,” Steve said. “You’ll do the same?”

 

“Yup. Later, Cap.”

 

“Bye, Tony,” Steve said, but Tony had already disconnected.

 

Steve shut off the phone and dropped it back into the center drawer of the desk. As he pushed the drawer shut, he heard a knock on the door. As he had left it open in his rush, he looked up to see T’Challa leaning against the doorjamb. At the questioning look on his face, Steve closed his eyes and dropped his head back against the chair once again, sighing loudly.

 

When he finally lifted his head and opened his eyes, T’Challa was still there, in the doorway. Knowing that he needed to be completely honest, Steve said, “We might have a problem.”

 

“May I come in?” T’Challa asked, gesturing to the living area.

 

“Yes, of course, please come in,” Steve said, shaking his head at himself. “I’m sorry.” As he stood and walked over to join the King in the living area, he said, “I’ll admit, I’m at a loss here. I’m not sure what to do.”

 

“Why don’t you start at the beginning,” T’Challa said calmly.

 

***

 

“I’m not one-hundred-per-cent positive,” Steve began, “but I think I know who this Ghost is.” He was sitting on a comfortably upholstered chair, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. He was looking at his hands, which were clasped tightly together.

 

“You are distressed,” T’Challa said, tilting his head as he observed his new friend. “You know this person?”

 

“She’s like a sister to me,” Steve said, his voice rough. He cleared his throat before speaking again. “Her name is Lexi. Well, that’s her current name, anyway. She and Bucky are…very close. In love, actually.” He looked at T’Challa then, a troubled look on his face. “Bucky wanted to marry her, before…everything happened.”

 

“What kind of person is she?” T’Challa asked, leaning back in his seat with a thoughtful expression on his face.

 

The lines around Steve’s eyes softened as he thought of the girl he loved like family. “She’s wonderful,” he said, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “She’s kind, loving, loyal,” he went on. “She helped Bucky so much when he first came in—she’s a doctor,” he said, becoming animated, “and she’s so smart, a genius, really, she has seven or eight doctorates—“ T’Challa’s eyes widened, “—and she’s used it all to help people. She’s just very…” Steve trailed off, the happiness suddenly draining from his expression, “…special.”

 

T’Challa watched Steve for a few moments as he struggled with his emotions. “You obviously feel very deeply for this woman,” he said softly. “Why does this upset you?”

 

“Tony—Stark,” Steve clarified, as if the King wouldn’t know which Tony he was referring to, “says that when Bucky went into cryo, that she knew somehow, even though she’s thousands of miles away, and that she reacted very badly.” When T’Challa waited for him to continue, he said, “Apparently Lexi collapsed and was unconscious for hours. Wanda said that even with the dampener collar on, she could feel Lexi’s anguish.” Steve frowned, his gaze falling to the floor. “Tony says after she woke up, that she was…different. Changed somehow.”

 

“I’m assuming there is more to this woman than you are telling me,” T’Challa said, not in an accusing way, but so as to steer Steve onto the topic of the current situation. “You believe she could be our Ghost. Why?”

 

“What I’m going to tell you cannot go any further than this room,” Steve said. “Sam, Clint, Wanda—they all know, they’ve lived with Lexi just like I have, and we all love her, but none of this is public knowledge. It could be dangerous for a lot of people if it got out.”

 

“I understand,” T’Challa nodded. “I will speak of this to no one.”

 

Steve watched him for a few seconds, as if weighing his words. “Lexi is extremely powerful,” he said quietly. “She’s Thor’s half-sister.”

 

“Pardon me?” T’Challa blurted, his eyes like saucers.

 

Steve huffed a laugh. “Believe me, no one was more surprised than Lexi, except Thor, maybe. Apparently they share a mother who is even more powerful than an Asgardian.” As the king sat, stunned, Steve continued. “We knew Lexi had abilities when we offered her the position at HQ—“ at T’Challa’s questioning look, he said, “she’s the Head of Physical Therapy there. But yes, we knew she was gifted. After she and Bucky got involved, though, she got stronger; she began to develop even more abilities, and some of them were occasionally difficult for her to control.”

 

“If she is our Ghost, what do you believe she is trying to do?” T’Challa asked.

 

“Honestly? I think she’s checking on Bucky, just making sure he’s okay,” Steve replied. “Unfortunately, Tony says she’s disappeared. Gone from HQ,” he said, shaking his head sadly, “and if he’s right, she’s coming here.”

 

“Can you provide us with a picture?” T’Challa asked. “Even if she were somehow able to find the city, she would not be able to make it inside, much less get to the facility, without being seen.”

 

Steve actually laughed at that. His head fell back against the chair and his eyes crinkled at the corners. T’Challa watched him, bewildered. “You doubt our security?” he asked.

 

“Against Lexi, yes,” Steve said. He remained slumped back against the chair as the laughter subsided.

 

“Please, do enlighten me,” the king said, smirking indulgently.

 

Steve smiled fondly, thinking of his friend. “She can completely alter her appearance, just by thinking about it,” he said, watching with satisfaction as the smirk left T’Challa’s face. “She can also disappear at will. One second, she’s standing right in front of you, and then poof!” Steve said, waving a tired hand, “She’s gone.”

 

“This is not a joking matter, Captain,” T’Challa said seriously. “If she does come here, what do you think she will do?”

 

“She’ll be coming for Bucky,” Steve said, all kidding aside. “And if Tony is right, she’ll take out anyone who tries to stop her.”

 

***

 

It wasn’t until she was Jocasta Achyrónes that she first encountered difficulty. Actually, perhaps ‘difficulty’ was too strong a word; she was annoyed. She had expected trouble far sooner, to be honest. She had made it from New York to Paris, France, and stayed there for more than a week before moving on to Athens, Greece, with no one giving her more than an appraising or leering look. Usually a hard stare in return was enough to make most of them turn away and leave her in peace; there was a certain breed of individual, however, that considered a complete and total lack of interest a challenge.

 

She had reservations at a hotel that was close to the Athens International Airport for the night. Her next flight wasn’t leaving until late the following day, and she couldn’t allow herself to fall asleep on a plane, not when she needed to be vigilant about her appearance.

 

As she checked in at the front desk, she took note of a man across the lobby. She had seen him when she first walked in, how he looked her up and down and grinned, obviously liking what he saw. He was not overly tall, perhaps only five-foot-nine or -ten, probably one hundred and eighty pounds of untoned muscle that was turning to flab, with the olive complexion typical to Greece. His greased-back hair was dyed midnight black, so she placed his age at probably early-to-mid-forties. He actually had very smooth, lovely skin and large, dark eyes that had undoubtedly won him admirers in the past, but she wasn’t the least bit interested, of course, and not just because he was wearing pants that were far too tight for his girth and a shirt that was unbuttoned nearly to his navel to display his remarkably hairy chest and numerous gold chains. She ignored him and continued on, but was very aware that he had moved closer as she finished her transaction.

 

Once she received her room key from the hotel clerk, she turned and started walking toward the bank of elevators. Suddenly he was right in front of her, obviously having listened to her dealings with the hotel clerk, and was attempting to block her path.

 

Geia sas, ómorfo,” (“Hello there, beautiful,”) he said smoothly, his eyes taking in her long, dark hair, dark brown eyes, and deeply tanned skin. This, combined with her ability to speak flawless Greek, made her look and sound as if she had lived her entire life on the Mediterranean.

 

She had no time for his nonsense. She was tired and needed to rest. “Eímai pantreménos. Parakaló min me enochleíte.” (“I am married. Please do not bother me.”)

 

After a perfunctory glance at her left hand, he barged ahead, undeterred. “Akóma taxidévete mónoi sas? Ísos tha thélate kápoia etaireía,” (“Yet you are traveling alone? Perhaps you would like some company,”) he responded, trying to sound solicitous, but coming off sounding slimy instead.

 

Egó den. Fýge.” (“I do not. Go away.”)

 

Min eísai étsi. Eímai polý filikós,” (“Don’t be like that. I am very friendly,”) he cooed, reaching out for her arm as she tried to move around him.

 

She came to a complete halt, staring daggers at him. “Mi m'angízeis.” (“Do not touch me.”)

 

To thélo móno—” (“I only wish to—“) he began to say.

 

She lowered her voice, speaking every word clearly and concisely. “Tha spáso káthe dáchtylo pou mou vázete. Eínai safés?” (“I will break every finger that you lay on me. Is that clear?”)

 

He smiled, though there was a hint of trepidation in his eyes as he slowly pulled his hand back. “Eísai kakóvoulos. Mou aresei afto,” (“You are a feisty one. I like that,”) he leered.

 

She actually smiled at that. So that’s how this was going to go, then? “Den nomízo óti tha sas arései ótan sas grothiá ston laimó kai sas afíno na pnigoún sto pátoma.” (“I don’t think you’ll like it when I punch you in the throat and leave you to suffocate on the floor.”) Then her eyes hardened. “Tóra vgeíte apó to drómo mou kai min me enochlíste páli.” (“Now get out of my way and don’t bother me again.”)

 

Walking around him, she pressed the elevator button. Over the next several seconds, a few people joined her as she waited. A somewhat older woman stood next to her on her left and said quietly, “Efyge.” (“He’s gone.”)

 

Glancing to the side, she acknowledged the woman with a slight nod. “Efcharistó,” (“Thank you,”) she said softly.

 

The elevator doors opened and she stepped inside, the older woman and a French couple joining her. Two floors later, the French couple got out, and after the doors slid shut, the older woman asked, “Thélate na peíte ti eípate se aftón? Schetiká me to spásimo ton daktýlon tou? Kai i diátrisi?” (“Did you mean what you said to that man? About breaking his fingers? And the punching?”)

 

Still looking forward, she said, “Káthe léxi.” (“Every word.”)

 

The elevator slowed and the doors slid open. The older woman turned and said, “Próseche. Ándres san aftó den prépei na aporrifthoún.” (“Be careful. Men like that do not like to be rejected.”)

 

As she exited, she smiled serenely at the woman and said, “Eán me enochleí páli, tha eínai to teleftaío prágma pou kánei poté.” (“If he bothers me again, it will be the last thing he ever does.”)

 

The older woman’s eyes widened as the doors slid shut once more.

 

***

 

It was simple enough to get the weapons case unpacked and have Bucky’s SIG-Sauer P226R loaded and ready, sitting on the desk. It only took a handful of minutes after that to set up her laptop and break into the hotel’s security system, specifically the live video feeds from the cameras placed strategically around the lobby, the elevators, the emergency stairways, and the floor her room was on. She knew it would take at least that long for the idiot in the lobby to talk himself into coming after her, seeking to avenge his bruised ego.

 

She changed clothes, opting for tactical rather than comfortable at this point, selecting a black tank top, black jeans, and a pair of sturdy black boots with reinforced toes. She pulled her still long, dark hair into a ponytail on the back of her head and watched the video feed.

 

The idiot was easy to spot, greasy hair and gold chains making him stand out like a bad 70’s stereotype, and she was able to pick out the exact moment that testosterone overruled his prefrontal cortex and all common sense fell by the wayside. He stomped into the elevator and pushed the button for her floor. She sighed inwardly. She had hoped he hadn’t gotten her room number, but…ah, well. The hard way it is.

 

She watched the feed until the elevator doors opened on her floor and he walked out, looking at room numbers as he made his way down the hall. Once he was two doors away, she stood, picked up the loaded SIG, and walked over to the door. Looking out the peephole, she saw the moment he found her room, straightened his clothing, smoothed back his hair, and picked up his fist to knock on the door.

 

She pulled the door open quickly, stepping back and simultaneously bringing the loaded semi-automatic pistol up to eye level and aiming it directly at the idiot’s forehead. His hand glanced off the door and he fell forward slightly, his eyes widening hilariously as he took in the picture before him. Were she not so tired and just done with this idiot, she may have laughed at his expression. Instead, she met his eyes with a completely blank look and slowly shook her head, her message clear: This was not happening, and there would be no more warnings.

 

He staggered back, hitting the wall on the other side of the hallway, before getting his buckled knees back under him and running for the elevator.

 

Exhaling slowly, she shut the door again, locking and bolting it. Well, shit.

 

Walking back to the desk, she watched the video feed as he exited the elevator in the lobby and ran out the hotel’s front door.

 

She changed into a pair of slacks and some sandals and called down to the front desk to request a room change, telling them truthfully that a man was harassing her. The hotel manager, a woman, was incredibly apologetic and was more than happy to accommodate her, coming up personally to escort her to a new room on a different floor.

 

Half an hour later, she was in her new room with her laptop open and video feeds back on. Everything was quiet, so she was able to take a hot shower and let Jocasta Achyrónes wash away, never to be seen again.

 

She fell asleep in one of Bucky’s big, soft t-shirts, hoping she would be able to visit him after a few hours’ rest. It had been several days and she missed him desperately. She needed to see him.

 

***

 

Steve had spent several nights in the medical suite, on the off chance that the ‘Ghost’ would make an appearance. He didn’t know what he would do if he was right and Lexi was the mysterious incorporeal form that came in to see Bucky from time to time. Would she talk to him? Could she talk to him? He was at a loss for ideas, to be honest, so he decided that he wouldn’t even try to figure it out until he knew whether it was even her. Steve hadn’t said anything to Sam or the others yet, wanting to have some concrete answers first.

 

The first few nights, nothing happened. He stayed awake the entire night, thinking that if he was right, she was usually visiting during the overnight hours when staff was lightest.

 

After taking a short nap during the day, Steve was again sitting quietly in a dark corner of the medical suite. It was just after two o’clock in the morning, and everything was peaceful. Steve was reading a book he had picked up, something to pass the time, when he heard…something, almost like a whisper, or a sudden change in the air current, and he looked up slowly.

 

There, in front of Bucky’s cryo-tube, was the misty outline of a woman, her arm outstretched, her hand reaching for the cool glass that surrounded Bucky and kept him safely asleep. Steve carefully set his book aside and stood, silently moving along the darkened edge of the room, trying to get a better look. By the time he was at a ninety-degree-angle to the apparition and could see her face clearly, there was no doubt in his mind that it was Lexi, and his heart broke at the sadness, the desolation apparent in her expression.

 

He watched her, looking over Bucky, studying his features, drinking him in. He saw her nearly transparent lips move, forming the words, “I love you so much, Bucky. I miss you.” She was talking to him, silently, saying things; Steve wished he’d had Clint there, he was a much better lip-reader than Steve. Finally, after several minutes, she stopped, seemingly done talking. Her hand moved away from the glass.

 

“Lexi?” Steve said quietly.

 

She moved with a swiftness he hadn’t expected, whipping around to face him. Despite the lack of color and the general haziness of her form, it was easy to see when her expression changed from surprised disbelief to dismay to pure, unadulterated rage.

 

If she had been able to make a sound, Steve was sure that she would have awakened the entire compound with her wrath. Her misty, hazy outline actually became sharper, more focused as she unleashed her anger at Steve, screaming silently with everything she had, before flying directly at him with her fists raised.

 

Steve put his hands up in self-defense, not knowing what to expect, but felt only a cool breeze as her hands passed harmlessly over him. Opening his eyes, he saw her only for another second before she disappeared.

 

Standing there with his heart pounding, stunned at what had just happened, Steve looked around, but he was alone. Everything was as it had been before, quiet but for the hum of the machines, the regularly blinking lights being the only outward signs of activity.

 

When he finally broke free of his stupor, he walked slowly back to his chair, picking up the book he had left there. As he turned to face the door, a voice stopped him in his tracks.

 

T’Challa stood in the doorway. “It seems we have something to discuss, Captain,” he said in his quiet, serious way.

 

Steve sighed sadly, a sudden lump in his throat making it difficult to speak. He nodded instead, and followed the King out of the medical suite.