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Jump the Picket Fence

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The cloud of superheated dust and black smoke expands so quickly that Ruth instantly knows that running will do her no good. She holds her breath, lungs paralyzed by the sudden hot wind overhead, and hides her face in the sleeve of her jacket until she can fumble the zipper of her vest open and use the collar to protect her nose and mouth. Even with her eyes shut, she knows the sunlight is no longer penetrating the cloud around her. The world is dark.

Her brain short-circuits for a few slow seconds, telling her that she’s going to die, envisioning tons of debris falling silently out of the pitch black mass engulfing her, burying her beneath them. When death doesn’t come, she begins to walk forward blindly. Her ability to think logically is wounded, but not crippled: the cloud cannot go on forever. There’s air and wind around her. It will pass. She can find her way out of it.

She walks with no real sense of her direction. The snow makes it hard to tell if she’s moving uphill or downhill, on grass or on pavement, slow or fast. She wants to shout for her dad, to hope that his voice will break through the blind and airless dark like a miracle; she wants to reach out and grasp a friendly hand, to find him and Steve huddled safely together; she wants Vision to come and find her, to reprimand her for disobeying his explicit instructions.

She should never have left Argentina. She should have stayed at home and locked her doors, put the old files in the nearest dumpster, never told her dad or Steve about them, never thought about them again.

But now, she’s here, at the heart of the world that surrounds the Avengers — one in which even her dad could barely survive; a world where buildings fall and bomb blasts shudder through the air and make ripples in her blood; full of low, mournful sirens and rife with fear. Their world was the edge of a precipice — they were content to live out their lives in a house built at the mouth of a smoking volcano. She couldn’t ask her dad to leave it behind, but she had never wanted to join him there. And yet, she had left her home on an impulse, and immediately, she had found herself entangled in the next disaster, the next frantic call that she would make to her dad’s cell when the headlines reached her, when he’d laugh it all off, sounding tired, and tell her not to worry because he and Steve could handle it.

She never liked to imagine the world he lived in. The things he’d seen, that he saw every day. Too close to the warzones that followed at the heels of her own childhood memories. She shouldn’t have come.

Her feet stumble, rolling and sliding on broken pieces of concrete. She must be moving toward the Facility, but she can't tell if the siren has grown louder or softer, whether it's been stifled by the debris in the air, or if her hearing itself has been dampened by the blasting demolition around her, nor can she determine if the dust is thinning, or if her eyes are adjusting, or if her vision is whiting out.

Finally, she raises her eyes skyward, and finds the dim pinprick of light against the filthy brown air and knows it must be the weak winter sun, riding low in the west. It tells her nothing about her current location, but it does give her the barest modicum of comfort. The world hasn’t ended.

Then, as she tracks painstakingly forward in the absence of any other course of action, a body begins to materialize just ahead of her. It’s wandering in a daze, just like she is, sluggish and tired with shock, hands outstretched to grope through the air. It’s a child — and Ruth’s mind bursts into wakefulness with incredible efficiency, and she hears her dad’s voice in her ear, as clearly as if the phone was cradled against her shoulder, Yeah, Lincoln’s fine — I wish there were some other kids around here for him to play with, but—

Ruth cuts the rest of the memory short. She doesn’t need it right now. That has to be him — there are no other children here.

“Lincoln,” she says, surprised when her voice, which she had willed to shout, only whispers tremulously. “Lincoln!” she calls, with all her strength. The figure stops moving, and she pushes her feet through the snow as fast as her tingling legs will allow, taking off her vest as she reaches him and throwing it protectively over his head to keep some of the dust out of his lungs. “Don’t worry, don’t be scared,” she babbles, sounding too afraid to tell him that in good conscience. “Come on — come on, let’s go.” She grasps both of the boy’s hands and helps him wrap them around her neck. He clings to her — solid and bracing and more tangible than the shifting world around her, and suddenly she can think again. She can move again.

She glances behind her — the air is dark brown. She looks ahead — lighter. She runs toward the light, holding her breath, now aware that they’re ascending a steep hill, climbing toward its crest and better air. When they reach the top, a strong wind blows over them like the hand of God, and she narrows her eyes to keep out the stinging grit, but once the gust passes over the hillside, she can see.

Down on the lower ground that she’d fled, the ruins of the Facility are still blanketed in the cloud that had engulfed her. Beyond that, she can see her car by the main entrance, door open, still running. The Facility’s staff has evacuated to a safer distance, some on their phones, some huddled on the ground, some shouting into radios, some carrying others while stretchers come.

The boy in her arms is still and heavy against her — silent, dead weight. If this is Lincoln — and it must be — he’s barely recognizable. The grey and white concrete dust has made a thick coat over his skin, clothes, and hair; that uniform color only deviates in the blue of his staring eyes, gazing out of his masked face, the splatter of dark, congealing red on his forehead and right elbow, and his bare feet — washed clean by the snow he’d wandered through, red with the cold.

Ruth is too panicked to cry, though she almost expects to feel tears in her eyes as she sets Lincoln down on the ground so she can look him over, parting his loose blonde curls with shaking fingers to gauge the severity of his head wound. The cut is small, but the bump forming underneath it isn’t. “You’re alright — you’re alright—” she chants mindlessly, and picks up two handfuls of snow from the ground, clutching it between her palms until it begins to melt, and then wiping Lincoln’s face clean, rinsing the dirt out of his empty, hooded eyes. For a while, he doesn’t react at all, but when she makes a second pass over his face with her cold, snow-dampened hands, he pushes her away.

“Don’t!”

“I’m — I’m sorry!” she stutters. “Did I hurt you?”

“I don’t know you!”

She’s not thinking straight. Otherwise, she would lie on her dad’s behalf. But perhaps, in her state of fear and desperation, she makes the right choice. Lincoln doesn’t need a stranger right now, he needs his family, and whatever distance and circumstance lies between them, she’s part of his family. She thinks of the rubble and dust behind her, and all the unanswered phone calls, and realizes with a sudden pervasive terror and profound heartbreak that she may be all the family he has left. “Lincoln — it’s okay. It’s okay, sweetheart,” she promises as gently as she can, catching his hands in hers as he tries clumsily to swat her away. “It’s okay — I’m — I’m your sister, Lincoln — I’m going to keep you safe. I’m your sister.”

His hands go limp in hers and he stares her down. Finally, his eyes have a little life, a little thought in them, instead of only glassy, deadened shock. His mouth hangs open, brow furrowing. Maybe she should have lied. Maybe she’s made everything worse. Lincoln’s breath quickens as he processes the information, and suddenly his slack face twists with disbelief.

“Brooklyn?”

She’s so glad to hear him say something above a horror-struck whisper that she pulls him into a hug. That’s the head injury and the shock talking — after all, his home has just collapsed around him — time travel is just as likely, to a boy his age. “No — no, sweetheart, I’m Ruth. I’m your older sister — we haven’t met, but I’ve seen lots of — lots of pictures of you. Okay — okay, let’s get you down to the medics, let’s see if we can find dad—” And she starts to lift him up again, ready to carry him back through the settling, swirling dust to the main entrance.

Down below, at their destination, shots ring out. A collective cry rends the air.

Ruth screams, startled, and drops to the ground with Lincoln beneath her, clutching him protectively to her chest. More gunshots.

“Stay down—” she instructs breathlessly, and raises her head to survey the chaos in front of the building. Those who can run are running. Others are fighting. There’s a body on the ground.

She can’t take him there — oh God oh God what’s happening? What is happening this makes no sense this makes no sense — She feels as if the world is splitting at the seams.

“No — we can’t go that way!” Lincoln grunts, struggling out from underneath her and stumbling to his feet.

“I know — I’m going to get you out of here—”

“No — Dad is back there—” he pants, trudging toward the bones of the north wing.

“Were you with your dad when this happened?”

“Yeah, he’s back there with my baby sister — he’s back there—”

“Lincoln — Lincoln, stop, slow down — did they make it out?”

“I don’t know!” he calls back angrily, breaking into a run. “We gotta look for them! We gotta find them—”

“Wait!” she shouts, catching him by the arm. God, half of the building is nothing but rubble. They can’t have made it. If Lincoln goes searching through that debris, he won’t find them, or worse, he will. “Where was your papa? Was he with you?”

“He—” Lincoln stops instantly, words sticking in his throat. “He—”

“Lincoln — it’s okay. Just breathe, sweetheart,” she begs, sweeping him up into her arms again.

“He didn’t come with us — he didn’t — he didn’t come with us — he wouldn’t come, he said no, he stayed inside. I want to call him. I want to call him on the phone, please. I think he’s still in there, please, I want to go look for everybody—”

Lincoln is frantic now, and Ruth finds herself at a loss. There’s nothing she can do to fix this, no right course of action, no knowable answer. Lincoln has to stay with her: he has no one else. She can’t go toward the entrance, she doesn’t know how to contact Vision: she has no one else. They can risk finding Steve and Bucky, or they can risk not finding Steve and Bucky in time.

“Come on, let me carry you.”

“No — we’ve got to hurry—”

“We’ll hurry. But your feet will get cold,” she reminds him insistently, sweeping him back into her arms. They’ll have to search quickly — it’s getting darker by the minute, and if Steve or her dad or Brooklyn are alive, then they may not have much time.

Against her fearful instincts, Ruth turns her back to the commotion by the entrance. She hurries back down the hill with Lincoln in her arms, staying low to the ground, always keeping her body between the shouts and cries and him, cradling the back of his head to press it into her shoulder. When they reach the place where the the north wall had stood minutes before, she can feel him breathing against her, fast and shallow.

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know,” he replies unsteadily. “I don’t know if — maybe it wasn’t a good idea to come back. I don’t want it — what if it falls again?” he cries. “I think maybe we shouldn’t be here — I wanna go—”

“It can’t fall again, sweetheart. I’m going to keep you safe, understand me?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s okay — I’m going to look for your dad,” she tells him, picking her way through the debris and passing through an eerie archway of damaged beams. There’s very little ground within the skeleton of the Facility that’s safe to walk on — parts of the seven levels above the ground floor have fallen all the way through, stacking one on top of the next like messy piles of books. Further back, the collapse is more complete — a shadowy dead end, spanning the width of the building, lit only by the occasional spark of a live wire.

“It’s bad in here,” Lincoln whispers, pressing closer.

“Steve!” she calls out. Her voice is thrown sharply back at them by the forest of naked beams. “Dad! Bucky!” she shouts. The siren drones on at the south end of the Facility, but the wreckage around her remains deathly silent. “Steve!” There’s no answer.

She walks a few feet. Calls out again. Nothing. Stumbles, presses forward into the shadows of the crumbling upper floors, covering Lincoln’s head, until a bank of fluorescent lights tumbles from the broken ceiling above them and the little body she’s carrying squeezes tight against her, terrified. She doesn’t move any deeper into the building after that. She makes her way back toward the pale, uneven windows of daylight, calling for Steve and her dad, over and over again, never receiving an answer, until Lincoln is shaking against her, sobbing. She shouldn’t have brought him.

She couldn’t have left him.

“Lincoln, honey,” she says, in the calmest voice she can muster. “Were you with your dad, when the building fell down?”

He collects himself enough to choke out, “Yeah — I think I was with him — when it—” and then the words start falling out, one after another, senseless. “I was with him. And Brooklyn. She’s my baby sister — I — we gotta find her, she’s really little, she might get hurt—”

“I know, I know. We’re looking. Do you remember where you were?”

Lincoln dares to raise his head for a moment, but his muscles go rigidly still as soon as he sees the building’s dark shell around them, and he buries his face against her shoulder again. “None of this looks right! This isn’t right—”

“Do you remember anything, Lincoln? Maybe something from right before the building fell?”

“I—” he shouts, ready with another frustrated denial, until he says, “Stairs.”

“Okay! Okay, that’s good — so you guys didn’t fall from up high?”

“No, we climbed down the stairs. My — my shirt got stuck.”

“On what?”

“Dad was — he was carrying me. Under his arm. And my shirt got stuck and something scratched me on the belly.”

Ruth can see a little splotch of red on his torn shirt.

“On — on the door. And then I fell. And Dad — he — he grabbed my arm and pulled on me really hard.”

“Do you remember where you went after that?”

“It was…” Lincoln pauses, wracks his memory. “Just very cold. And then it got hot so I was scared to move. And then I was in the dust.”

Ruth weaves through the cavernous opening at the building’s center, out toward the snow that’s now blanketed in fine, brown dirt, jagged concrete, and twisted metal. The pieces of the structure that had fallen like trees across the ground are collecting a thin dusting of snow now. She finds a path through them, thankful to be back in the open, where there’s better air, where the scent of smoke and electricity isn’t so thick.

Desperate beyond words, she looks to the edge of the building on her left and the few beams that still stand there, marking the perimeter, and then she slowly sweeps her gaze across the grounds, hoping to see any sign of movement, until she reaches the less-discernible edge of the same wall at her right. Something draws her eyes back to the grounds.

A little line, winding toward the trees. Bare feet, dragging through the snow.

Hoisting Lincoln up higher on her hip, she hurries toward the closest part of the line she can see, and tracks it backward as it winds through the maze of rubble. It leads her nowhere promising: a mound of concrete, under a single, tilted steel beam.

But just beneath her feet, there’s a deeper depression in the snow — the place where a little body had landed, rolled, slid. Beside it, fading handprints, where he’d struggled to his feet.

She sets Lincoln down in the print his own body had left behind, taking another quick glance at the cut on his forehead as he continues to cry. She wants to run toward the trees with him — find some safe, windless crevice to hide in, to rock him in her lap until he feels even just a little better, in spite of her own ignorance about the needs of children and how to nurture them, how to comfort them when they’re scared. The only example she can imitate is her father’s — God, she wishes he was here with her. He had always kept her safe, he could find his way out of a warzone, and he always knew where to run.

But the best she can do for Lincoln is find the ones who can care for him. Doing so may have passed outside of the realm of possibility fifteen minutes ago, but for his sake, she’ll keep trying.

“Steve!” she shouts, louder than before, all the fear that had weakened her voice turning to bolstering, blind determination.

The grounds are quiet.

Almost.

“Lincoln—” she hisses sharply, with no time to care how harsh she sounds. “Lincoln, stop crying.”

Luckily, Lincoln is still more afraid than heartbroken. A command spoken so urgently is still enough to startle him into silence.

There’s another sound. Another cry. Shrill, weak. Too close to have carried from the main building, but still almost too soft to hear.

Lincoln’s whisper momentarily drowns out the faint noise. “That’s my baby sister.” And then, his eyes widen and his body vibrates with nervous energy. “That’s my baby sister!” he yells, elated and mindlessly scared, filled with hope and gut-wrenching panic.

Lincoln runs toward the sound first, but Ruth runs faster. They both follow the cries to the pile of concrete at the building’s corner — which Ruth now guesses must be the collapsed stairwell — and circle it feverishly, listening for an opening where the noise might be louder. Lincoln finds one: one small, solid slab of wall, propped up on a chunk of concrete no bigger than a football, which has left a narrow, triangular gap against the wet ground.

“Help me!” he begs, reaching for the largest piece of debris and trying in vain to lift it away. “Help me get her out—”

“Lincoln, no!” Ruth bites out urgently. Lincoln’s hands still and he jumps back as if he’s been burned. “No! Do not move anything, it could collapse!”

“I’m sorry! I — I didn’t—”

“It’s okay — I — stay here. Stay right here, don’t move. I’m going to find someone—”

“You can’t go back there! Someone had a gun! I saw it!”

“Lincoln, we’ve got to—”

“But — look, I can fit!”

“No, no, sweetheart, we’ve got to get help,” Ruth pleads uselessly. Lincoln has already dropped down onto his belly in the snow and dragged himself, arm over arm, underneath the frighteningly narrow gap. All she can do is grab his legs to stop him going any further. “Lincoln, I don’t know what I’ll do if you get stuck, too, sweetheart, come back—”

“No! I can do it!”

Ruth holds her breath. And then lets go of his legs.

“Keep talking to me, Lincoln!”

“There’s — I can feel more room in here, but it’s just a little box! I can’t get deeper — it gets — too little for me to fit—”

“Come back—”

“Dad!”

“Steve? Lincoln — Lincoln, can you see your dad?”

“No — I can hear him!”

Ruth can’t even catch the rustle of Lincoln moving anymore. He must have found a way to crawl further in.

“I see them!”

Ruth’s heart pounds, aching with pressure, feeling like it’s going to burst inside her chest. She lies down on the ground beside the opening, but she can’t even see Lincoln’s feet. “Can you make it back out?”

“I — I don’t know — there’s — I can reach underneath—” And then, for a few nauseatingly tense minutes, there’s only the sound of Lincoln’s strained voice, shouting wordlessly, hoarse and winded from struggling to move.

Ruth slides her arm into the gap, reaching in as far as she can, groping for anything but snow and rock and finding nothing. “Lincoln, come on, sweetheart, you can do it,” she prays aloud, not knowing whether he’ll hear it or not.

Finally, the melting snow near her hand shifts minutely. She stretches further, wishing she could tear her shoulder out of its socket if it meant feeling him.

His cold foot kicks out, and lands right in her palm.

“Pull me out!” he cries urgently, and she does, only going as slowly as she does for safety’s sake, forcing herself to be careful, not to disturb the precariously balanced structure or twist his body too sharply around the tight bend in the passageway he’s crawled through. She scrambles backward, pulling him after her until his head is clear of the rubble. Instantly, he struggles to his knees, face still pressed to the icy, wet ground, arms disappearing into the small opening again and—

And he did it.

He got Brooklyn.

“Oh my God,” Ruth says numbly. She crawls over to them, hands working frantically as she touches each of the baby’s limbs, brushes her fingers over her head looking for abrasions, cleans the dust away from her eyes and nose and mouth, and frees her from the blanket that’s soaked through with filthy, icy water.

Brooklyn had been quiet as Lincoln had pulled her free — terrifyingly quiet — but now, she’s starting to cry a little louder, punctuating her wails with little coughs as she clears the dust from her throat. Ruth and Lincoln move automatically — Ruth practically tears off her body-warm coat and sets it in Lincoln’s outstretched arms, and they put Brooklyn in it and wrap her up. Lincoln clutches her close to his chest — he’s crying harder than she is.

“Dad’s still — he’s still in there — he can’t fit—”

“Hold on to her — keep your hand against her head, she can’t hold it up by herself — good, that’s good. Okay, stay back,” Ruth pants.

She doesn’t think she can do this. And if she can do it, there’s a good chance that something will go wrong, that something will shift, and Steve will be crushed. But Lincoln had been brave. She can be brave, too.

She stands up, staring at the ruins of the stairwell. The bottom is all smaller pieces: the remainder of a demolished exterior wall. It’s the same on top. Somewhere in the middle, trapped on a precarious angle and impossibly balanced between all the jagged rock and metal, there’s a slab of smoother interior wall, cracked in a few places and not guaranteed to withstand any sudden movements. It could crush Steve easily if it breaks. It could crush her, too.

It’s a huge risk, but she’s going to take it.

She searches out two footholds in the rock, wedges her fingers under the rock, and pushes.

And nothing happens.

Of course I can’t do it. I’m not like them.

And then, a louder voice — a real voice — shouts, “Try again!”

Ruth takes one quick look over her shoulder, at Lincoln standing in the ankle-deep snow, barefoot, holding his newborn sister, brow knitted with determination and eyes filled with an unshakeable belief that his dad will make it out of the crumbled stairwell alive and unharmed.

Ruth climbs a little higher. Bends low. Deep breath. Lifts.

And once it’s budged an inch, the debris begins to slide off the top, tumbling away as rock grinds against rock, and just above the ringing in her ears, she can hear Steve’s voice, groaning like a wounded animal beneath the stone.

Underneath the slab, she can see down to the ground. She braces her hands against the face of the wall and climbs, putting one foot mindlessly in front of the other and not daring to think about what will happen if the rubble gives way beneath her. Her mind and body are bent solely on the task of lifting, moving. There still another more jagged, broken section of wall between her and Steve, and just beneath it, she can see the top edge of the door they must have escaped from.

Another deep breath, and she jumps down off the edge of the debris, holding the weight of the slab over her head. Nearly slips, knees and elbows nearly buckle, but she stays upright. She can’t do this much longer. She starts walking her hands forward across the concrete, pushing it higher as physics dictates that it grows heavier, and at last, the rocks trapping Steve are no longer pinned beneath its weight. They shift briefly as he struggles to push them away and break free, but he can’t do it.

Ruth digs her heels into the ground. Presses upward. Splays her fingers. If her dad is dead, if this stupid, irresponsible, recklessly brave and violent life he leads has finally killed him, then she hopes he can see her now, wherever he is.

And with that final thought, she drops one hand away from the stone. Keeps the wall above her head with the other. Her feet sink into the soft ground, but she reaches down, finds the edge of the rock pinning Steve into the dirt, and together, they lift it away.

She doesn’t see him stand up — she’s shut her eyes and clenched her teeth, no longer breathing, swiftly approaching the limits of her physical strength and losing her footing fast. She barely hears Steve’s ragged voice beside her, a guttural shout, and the wall becomes suddenly weightless in her hand, slips away from her, and tips back toward the building, where it breaks apart like a puzzle, the impact reverberating through the building’s shell.

Steve doesn’t take a second look at her. He says nothing — just drags himself toward the edge of the rocks that had trapped him and his daughter for the last twenty immeasurable minutes and clambers desperately up the side and over. Ruth only takes a moment to look down as she marvels at her own hands, surprised and delighted to find them dirty but unbroken, still usable after moving a wall a meter thick. Just as she’s processing the caliber of her own physical strength, her eyes wander to the ground beneath her, and in an instant, she finds herself once again humbled and daunted.

There’s clear evidence in the dirt of the course of events immediately following the collapse. Steve must have thrown Lincoln out from under the wall that had caught him, and his son had landed just beyond the worst of the collapse almost fifteen feet away. Here, where Ruth is standing, the remainder of the story is unearthed: the deep imprints left in the mud left by Steve’s hands and knees, and at the center of those four sunken holes, a little oval of melted snow, where Brooklyn must have lain, safe from the ton of debris held aloft on her father’s back as he had waited for help to come.

Ruth doesn’t need more than a second to take in the magnitude of it all — it’s starkly apparent. She follows Steve out of the wreckage just in time to see him stumble right to his son and daughter and, as if his body has already forgotten the past twenty minutes of hell, he snatches Lincoln up in one arm, steadying Brooklyn with the other, and he drowns out Lincoln’s disbelieving shout of, “Dad!” with his own voice and a cry so gut-wrenching that Ruth feels like she’s had the wind knocked out of her.

He sits down hard on the ground with both of them cradled close and cries and cries, pressing kisses to their cheeks and heads between each crippling sob until Ruth wonders if she could even bear the weight of loving a child as much as Steve loves Brooklyn and Lincoln.

A distant, low drone catches Ruth’s attention, and she tears her eyes away from Steve and the kids. She watches, numb with helplessness and reduced to dispassionate observation as a plane flies low, descending from the clouds on the other side of the lake a mile away, and tilts drunkenly to one side just before shuddering under the force of too much wind resistance, and makes its oddly gentle descent across the near horizon. She sees the pitch-black smoke, flecked with hot red and orange fire, rise like a bubble out of the trees a few seconds before she hears the percussive blast roll over the earth like thunder in the ground.

“God,” she says, hearing with some confusion how steady her own voice sounds, in the face of a world that may very well be shuddering to an end all around her. “What is this?”

Steve must have seen it — he’s facing the treeline, but his mind is too saturated with adrenaline to process it. He doesn’t offer any conjectures, just reaches out to her and pulls her down to the ground beside him, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and holding her tightly against him, no differently than he’s holding on to Lincoln, choking out, “Thank you, thank you,” over and over, until he’s too breathless to continue. “Where — where is—”

“I don’t know — I don’t know where dad is,” she forces herself to answer.

The stricken expression on Steve’s face tells her she could have put a bullet in his chest and hurt him less gravely. Finally, he locks eyes with her, and then shifts his gaze suddenly back toward the north wing. There’s not much left. Ruth is painfully aware that he’s looking at more than a collapsed building: that was his home. He’d raised his son there. That was the last place he’d seen Bucky.

“Steve — we have to look for him — please, I’m—”

In the momentary silence as Ruth runs out of meaningful words, the sounds of chaos on the other side of the building, the sounds of a fight, are once again thrown into sharp relief. Steve covers Lincoln’s head with a protective hand, clutching him closer. His face twists with agony, and then relaxes into an expressionless stare as he evaluates the state of the building. Ruth thinks he must not see much promise in its ruins. Not enough to risk their proximity to whatever’s happening on the other side of the grounds.

“We can’t stay,” he says, as if he’s only realizing the truth and gravity of his statement in the moment the words leave his mouth. “I — I think I know what this is — we’ve gotta get them somewhere safe — somewhere — isolated, we can’t—”

Ruth wishes she could stop herself — Steve doesn’t need to see her cry, not now. But Bucky is her dad. Bucky’s been through enough, been left behind too many times, by too many people to be left behind now. He doesn’t deserve to be left behind, not by her. Not again. This is Steve’s loss more than it’s hers. Lincoln’s loss more than Steve’s. She shouldn’t let herself cry.

Steve’s face hardens as he looks back toward the burning remains of the Facility. He seems to set his jaw. He stands up without ever relinquishing his hold on Lincoln and Brooklyn, who have fallen silent against him, dazed with shock. “He set up a bunker by the lake. I’m taking them there,” he informs her emptily, then, without another word, he turns on his heel and heads for the treeline. Ruth follows behind him at a distance, struggling to walk away from the Facility that wasn’t even her home.

But Steve doesn’t look back again. Not even once.