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When Star-Spangled Plans Meet Bombshell Chaos

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Steph’s POV

 

My name is Stephanie Plum, aka The Bombshell Bounty Hunter of Trenton, NJ.  I know what you’re thinking, “she calls herself a bombshell?  What’s up with that?  She must be one stuck up lady.”  But let me make myself clear, it is not a nickname I chose and it is one that I fought tooth and nail through the years.  After all this time, however, I’ve resigned myself to it.  

 

I do work as a bounty hunter for my disgusting, pervert of a cousin, Vinnie.  So that part of the name I don’t mind.  The “Bombshell,” on the other hand, isn’t “Bombshell” in the good way.  I wish it was, but let’s face it, at 5’7” and 130 pounds on a good day with crazy, untamable brunette curls, supermodel I am not. Most days I can button my jeans if I haven’t had too many doughnuts, but still.  

 

Nope, I get the nickname “Bombshell” from the fact that things like to explode around me.  Cars, apartments, laundromats, funeral homes, you name it, there’s a good chance it has been hit by a “bomb” or a “shell” or caught on fire and then exploded in my general vicinity. A couple years ago, a local reporter gave me the nickname and there’s been no going back.  Trust me, I’ve tried.

 

At least I’ve managed to ditch my other nicknames for the most part.  My ex-boyfriend, Joe Morelli, always called me “Cupcake” and I hated it.  We broke up several months ago, ending a multi-year on/off relationship.  I’d say it was mutual, but that’d be a lie. I broke up with him, and he assumed we were going to be getting back together.  The longer we went without that happening, and the more times I told him it would never happen, the more hostile he got.

 

Then there’s “Babe”.  That nickname belongs to my mentor and former… lover (for lack of a better term or ever really having had a clearly defined relationship), Ranger Manoso.  I suppose he still calls me “Babe” more often than not, but out of respect for my wishes, I know he’s trying to switch to “Steph”.  Who knows if he’ll ever make it there.  

 

That relationship ended amicably.  When Joe and I ended things, Ranger and I had a talk.  He still wasn’t willing to be in a relationship and I wasn’t willing to be fuck buddies, so we decided to just be friends.  It hurt for a few weeks, but I’ll always treasure his friendship over anything else, including my pride, so we’ve made it work.  No more stolen kisses in alleys or wherever, and definitely no more sex.

 

Ranger owns a security company, Rangeman, and has finally worn me down over the years to the point where I now work mostly for him, picking up skips for Rangeman, and only covering low bonds with my friend Lula on weekends/days off for Vinnie and Plum Bail Bonds.  The hope is for me to hand those fully over to Lula within the next few weeks, and then I can go back to having free time on the weekends and I’ll work full time for Ranger.

 

I’ve trained with Ranger and some of his “Merry Men”.  That’s my nickname for his employees who are kind of big brothers to me.  They freaked out when they first learned that I called them that, but if they won’t stop calling me “Bombshell” or “Bomber” then I won’t stop calling them my “Merry Men”. I can now lift weights, do crunches, and if I have to, I can put in a pretty decently timed run for several miles.  I’ve also been trained in self defence among other skills that former military/mercenaries/gang-banbers can teach you.

 

Unfortunately, no one thought to teach me about bomb defusal.  And really, when you think about it, what’s up with that?  I suppose they 1) hoped that when I started working for Rangeman and it became well known that I could take care of myself, people would stop stalking me and planting bombs (what, I haven’t mentioned the stalkers yet?) and 2) they figured Ranger would wear me down and I would start living in the apartments in Rangeman’s building on Haywood.  Well, looks like they were wrong on both counts.  I still get a decent number of stalkers, and I refuse to lose my independence by moving in to Rangeman.  Plus, who wants to live AND work in the same building as their ex… whatever Ranger is.  We may be friends, but that would be too much, especially when one of us started dating again.  That would be awkward.

 

They’d never stopped trying to convince me to at least move to a more secure building, but a hate moving so I’d always put it off.  Which brings me around to my current predicament.  And sorry for taking so long to get here, but really that all flashed very quickly through my mind as soon as I opened my apartment door and saw those numbers flashing in front of my face.  I guess some bad guys still use timers on their bombs, because those numbers are counting down, and I’m pretty sure that’s a bomb they’re strapped to.  There’s not a lot of time on there, and, unfortunately, I’ve left my phone in my car and I turned in my panic button when Ranger and I went back to just being friends.

 

So, I did what I think anyone would do, I pulled the fire alarm and then started on the top floor and went door to door as fast as I could.  Now, the fire alarm will usually clear out most people, but I have a lot of senior citizens in my building who take out their hearing aids and fall asleep in front of a flashing TV by this time at night, so they don’t always make it out on their own. I know this from experience because, unfortunately, we all have a lot of it.  I also knew my building super, Dillon, who lives in the basement, would start clearing out the apartments on the bottom floors.

 

Thank goodness my hamster, Rex, was currently hanging out at Rangeman, as he’d been unofficially adopted as a mascot there after more than a few close calls and overnight surveillance shifts.  I was almost with the apartments and was helping who, I thought, was my last elderly neighbor move, more slowly than I’d like, through the lobby and out to the parking lot, when a big man ran up and took over.  As he put his shoulder under the man’s armpit on the opposite side and wrapped his arm around his back, we touched briefly, and I felt a tingle.  A very, very good tingle that spread through my body, lingering in all the interesting spots.  A tingle I hadn’t felt in a while.

 

I mentally shook myself.  “Thanks!” I shouted, “I’m just going to make sure no one else is in there!”  I ran back up to the floor above mine, the fourth and top floor, and mentally ran through the list of tenants and apartments.  Everyone accounted for.  I went down to my floor and did the same.  Everyone accounted for.  I stopped briefly at my apartment door and saw only a little over one minute remained on the timer.  I’d already cleared the second floor and I was just going to have to trust Dillon when he said that everyone was out of the first floor.

 

I turned around and ran into a muscled chest.  It was the man from downstairs.  “Come on, I shouted, we have to get out of here!”

 

His eyes bugged out a little seeing the bomb then nodded briefly and grabbed on to my arm and started running, keeping pace with me.  Somehow, the stairwell door had jammed.  Without a second thought, I grabbed his hand and turned around, running back toward my apartment, shouting “trust me!”.

 

We ran right past the bomb and out onto my fire escape.  30 seconds.  I started down the stairs and the man just grabbed me around the waist, picked me up bridal style, and jumped down.  I screeched in shock before going utterly speechless as he landed and then ran, with me in his arms, further away from the building as if he’d just jumped off a porch step or something.  I tried to get a good look at his face, but it was dark and I was being jostled around in his arms quite a bit.

 

We made it around to the street where all the tenants were gathered just as the bomb went off behind us.  “Damn, he’s fast!” I thought, might even give Ranger and Lester a run for their money.

 

He turned around and gently set me down on my feet, keeping his arms on my shoulders to help steady me. I couldn’t help but notice that there was an oddly shaped duffel bag on the ground by us, which was peculiar.  But I suppose it was probably his.  He certainly didn’t live in my building.

 

“Was anyone in that last apartment?” he asked, “the one with the bomb.”

 

“Probably not, as it is my apartment and I live alone.  Though people break into it a lot, clearly, so I suppose we won’t know for sure until they finish their investigation.”

 

He turned and looked at me, “that was your apartment?!  Why would anyone put a bomb in a dame-- I mean, woman’s-- apartment?”

 

I snorted before I could stop myself and patted him on the shoulder.  “Trust me, it wasn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last.” I replied.  Then I paused and thought for a minute, “Well, I suppose it is the first bomb-bomb.  There’s been grenades, rockets, arson, among others, but that may be the first time someone’s used an actual bomb like that.  Truth be told I don’t quite remember.”

 

At this point, he was just staring, his jaw dropped in disbelief.  I stuck my hand out, “Stephanie Plum, thanks for your help.  It would have been worse without you there.  Please don’t be my stalker or the person who left the bomb.”

 

His eyes widened, almost comically, “N..no, that wasn’t me” he gasped, obviously still taking in the fact that I wasn’t overly shocked to have found a bomb in my apartment. Or maybe it was that I’d semi-accused him of planting it.  Hey, a girl can never be too careful!  

 

“I was happy to help, ma’am.  My name is Steve R--” he was cut off by the squeal of tires and the howl of the sirens.

 

“Ah, yes, the cavalry is here!”

 

“What?  Melinda May is here?”

 

I looked at him funny, “I don’t know a Melinda, but my coworkers are hooked up to the police scanners and they always show up as soon as a call goes out with my address. And I left my phone in my car, so I haven’t answered their calls, and as I mentioned I’m prone to events like this as well as stalkers, so I’m sure they’re quite concerned right now.  Sorry in advance if they…”

 

I trailed off as all of the sudden we were quickly surrounded by Merry Men, dressed in all black, with their guns drawn and pointed directly at Steve.  “Step away from the girl!” they were shouting, “Get on the ground, hands behind your head!”

 

I noticed that there were several cops mixed in with my guys at this point.  Steve was tensed up, clearly taking in the situation around him as he slowly raised his hands behind his head and then knelt on the ground.

 

I stepped between him and Ranger, who stood out among his men with his second-in-command, Tank right beside him.  “Ranger!  Stop, he helped me clear the building!”

 

Ranger raised up his hand and the men dropped their guns by their sides, but remained alert and didn’t holster their weapons.  

 

I motioned for Steve to stay down a little while longer.

“So, what’s up?” I said to everyone, trying to diffuse the situation a little.

 

“I don’t know, Babe, we got the call about the bomb and you weren’t answering the phone.  Who is this, and how do you know him?”

 

“This is Steve.  We just met.  He helped me clear the last of my neighbors out of the building, then helped me get out just before it exploded.  We were just getting around to introductions when you went all ‘Rangers’ on his ass.  Can you back down a bit?  My spidey sense isn’t going off with him, and he did help. I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

 

Steve’s POV

 

I relaxed ever so slightly when I noticed the men relax even more after Stephanie said that her “spider sense?” whatever that was, wasn’t going off.  I wonder if she has some sort of special powers?  That’d be interesting, maybe this was a set-up.  If nothing else, I was more glad than ever that I’d managed to push my alert button when I saw the bomb in that apartment.  My backup should be arriving before too long.  In the meantime, I’d just see what happened.

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t answer my phone,” Stephanie was saying, “I accidentally left it charging in my car when I went upstairs.  Why don’t you all calm down a minute while I go grab it?” she suggested.

 

“Got ID?” a huge man standing next to the “Ranger” fellow asked me.  He’d called Stephanie “Babe,” so I guess maybe this is her boyfriend?

 

“Yes,” I replied, “I’m just going to slowly reach into my bag here with my left hand and get it out.”

 

“Slowly” was his only reply.

 

I cautiously reached into my bag, making a show of appearing calm while searching around.  In reality, I knew exactly where in the bag my ID was, but I wanted to get my shield loose for easier access, just in case.  I was taking in my surroundings the whole time, keeping tabs on all the men, but I couldn’t help but let my gaze wander over to Stephanie.

 

She was walking toward the car and had pulled her keys out of her pocket.  She stopped and looked at it for a minute, a shiver seeming to run up her spine before she shrugged and pushed a button. I could hear the car unlock and also start-up and then I noticed the flash on the dashboard.  With my improved senses, I could just see a reflection in the windshield that looked like single digit numbers counting down!

 

Without a thought about the armed men around me, I reached in my bag and grabbed my shield while simultaneously jumping up and taking off after her.  I grabbed onto her waist as I felt a jolt in my shoulder and heard a man yell, “No! Hold your fire!”  Not even pausing I pulled her down with me and covered her with my body putting my shield between us and the car.  I felt the pressure and the heat a split second before I heard the explosion.  I just held onto Stephanie, making sure her head was covered, and waited.

 

Finally all I heard was silence, and the gasps and panting of the woman under me.  I was a little surprise since she seemed so indifferent about the first explosion, but I guess the second one got to her.

 

“Damnit!” she yelled, “not my apartment AND my car!”

 

I slowly released her so I could stand and looked up at the men dressed in black. They were staring at me without saying anything, but their guns weren’t drawn, so I guess that’s a good thing.

 

Stephanie turned to me and said, “Oh my god, I can’t thank you enough.  Are you okay?!  What am I saying, of course you’re not okay, you just lay down and Bobby will look at your burns and any shrapnel. How are you standing?  BOBBY!”

 

I shook my head and said, “I’m fine.”

 

Meanwhile, I heard one of the guys snicker and watched him shove at another man.  “Man, Les, I can’t believe you shot Captain America!”

 

At that, Stephanie paused, then looked down at the shield in my hand.  I just reached my hand out to her and said, “As I was saying before we got interrupted, my name is Steve.  Steve Rogers.  Happy to help.”

 

I watched her slowly process this information, and open her mouth to respond, when I heard someone yell, “Jesus Christ, Cupcake!  What the hell did you do now?!  What is this, another stalker of yours?  Why can’t you just lead a normal life?!  Get a decent job?  And new friends!”

 

I was seriously beginning to wonder about this woman.  And who was this new guy.  Why would he automatically assume it was her fault. He didn’t even ask if she was okay. I tuned out his ranting as I looked at the rest of the men around us.  They seemed to have relaxed about me, but were on alert now scanning the area around us looking for additional threats.  No, seriously, what is the deal with this woman?

 

Just then it started pouring rain out of nowhere and I heard the sound of what, I’ve been repeatedly informed, was AC/DC’s “Back in Black”.  

 

Iron Man flew through the air and landed next to me and actually between Stephanie and the majority of the men.  Then Thor flew in with his hammer and landed a few feet away at my back, twirling his hammer around threateningly.  I heard Stephanie’s squeak of surprise and fear, and reached over and twined my fingers with hers and squeezed her hand in what I was hoping was a reassuring manner.  I felt rather than heard her take a deep breath and relax a little. Then she she muttered so quietly I barely heard it beyond the music “Holy fucking hell, he’s fucking Captain America and that’s Iron Man and Thor.  Am I  even awake right now?”  I had the sneaking suspicion that she hadn’t meant to say that aloud.

 

“What do we have here?” I heard Tony say in a bemused tone.

 

I was about to open my mouth, when I heard Stephanie shout, “Guys, seriously?!  You know who they are!  Put your guns down, are you insane.  Let’s take the testosterone down a notch.” then under her breath again, I heard her mutter, “or three.”

 

As the men started ever so reluctantly lowering their weapons, I turned to Tony and then Thor and said, “stand down,” watching as Thor stopped swinging his hammer and Tony turned off his music and lowered his face mask.

 

“Okay,” Stephanie said after another deep breath.  “Steve, it appears you are Captain America, is that correct?”

 

I heard Tony chuckle as I responded, “yes”.

 

“So then is it safe to say you aren’t stalking me and you didn’t bomb my apartment OR my car?”

 

I just gaped at her for a second, and before I could reply, Tony barked out a laugh, “are you kidding?!  He’s Captain America. He can barely hold a conversation with a woman, let alone stalk one.  He’d die if he accidentally saw even one inch more skin than you’re showing now.  And he can’t even lie let alone bomb innocent civilians!”

 

“Alright, then I suggest we all relax for the night.  I’m going to go out on a limb,” she said, glancing over at the men dressed in black and not even sparing a glance at the last man who had arrived, “and say that I’ll be giving a statement to the cops and then heading back to the Rangeman offices and we’ll be working on figuring this out.”  This Ranger guy just nodded, as did the rest of the men.

 

“You are all three welcome to join us,” she said, causing some of the men to start to protest, but they stopped as soon as they saw the look in her eyes.

 

I glanced over at Tony and Thor, and said, “are the others?” when they nodded, I turned to the larger group.  “Just so you’re aware, I think we’ll be having some more people join us while we wait.  Then, we will take you up on your offer to be involved in the investigation.  I’m not going to leave until I know that you’re safe.” I directed the last part at Stephanie.

 

She just looked in my eyes for a few second and I could feel an inexplicable connection again that I’d felt the few times we’d touched tonight.  It was… soothing…

 

Then she turned and reached out her hand to Tony, introducing herself without a care in the world for the fact that this was a highly dangerous man and that she was shaking hands with him through a metal suit.  After she had done so, she turned and did the same with Thor, not even hesitating for a second at his bizarre armor.  And all I could think was, she must be one special lady to just accept us like this, no questions asked.

 

After the introductions were made, she went over to the other men in black, still studiously ignoring the late comer, who I now gathered was a cop, and talked to them.  She seemed to be reassuring them that she was fine.

 

Tony and Thor finally stood fully down and walked over to me to start to get the story when Tony suddenly gasped and reached out for me.  “Cap!  Who shot you?!” he exclaimed before going back into full armor and Thor started pulling together a storm again.

 

“Calm down,” I explained, “They didn’t know who I was, and they were protecting her!”

 

As I nodded toward Stephanie, I noticed that she had clearly heard what Tony said and was wide eyed!

 

The one that I had previously determined to be “Les” shuffled his feet and muttered something to her, and she turned around and smacked him upside the head.  “Lester Santos,” she scolded, “Why did you shoot him?!”

 

“Beautiful, he was a stranger, your apartment has just exploded, and he was running at you!  I didn’t know he was Captain America!” he justified before turning to me and saying, “I’m truly sorry, sir.”

 

I just waved him off and just said, “I understand.”

 

Stephanie was walking back toward me, gesturing to another of the men. “This is Bobby Brown, he’s a trained former-Army medic and he handles all of my gunshot wounds.  Well the ones that are minor enough that I can talk him out of making me go to the hospital.  Will you please let him look you over?”

 

I nodded my assent as one of the men in the background hustled up to Bobby and handed him a medic’s bag.  I tried not to blush as I shrugged off my shirt and heard Stephanie groan.  After a couple minutes, Bobby was offering me stitches and recommending that I go to the hospital, but I just shrugged him off.  “Go ahead with the stitches if you feel the need, but I’ll heal soon enough.”

 

Then as he prepped a local anesthetic and pain killers, I just waved him off and said, “don’t bother, they won’t work, it’s fine.”

 

He looked over at Thor and Tony who just nodded in agreement before cleaning the area and beginning the stitches.  Stephanie was next to me, flinching when he started stitching and holding my hand.  I looked at her, slightly alarmed since we had just met, but Lester just shook his head and said, “don’t worry, she does this when we get hurt too.  Just let her fuss over you; you won’t be able to stop her anyway. You’ll just annoy her trying.  And you did just risk your life, at least twice by the sounds of it, to help her, so you won’t be able to shake her off.”

 

I noticed that everyone in the vicinity seemed to have stopped what they were doing in favor of watching Stephanie and I.  As much as I didn’t understand or welcome the attention, I was used to some level of spectacle when I went out or when the Avengers and I completed a big mission. But I was surprised by the level of scrutiny. It seemed extreme even for us.

 

I turned to Tony and started to say something when a Quinjet suddenly hovered just above the parking lot, allowing the rest of the Avengers to assemble around us.  I guess the other men took my warning to heart because they barely tensed up at all and didn’t draw on the newcomers, for which I was grateful.  Somehow I didn’t think that Clint and Natasha would appreciate that too much.

 

Natasha looked over, took in Stephanie hovering and holding my hand, and grinned.  I opened my mouth, but before I could say anything, Natasha said, “who is this? Is she why you wouldn’t ask out Kristen from statistics?”

 

“What? No! I! I just met Stephanie!  And…” I trailed off stuttering as the rest of the Avengers chuckled and everyone just looked on with bewildered expressions.

Stephanie walked up and introduced herself to each new addition before turning to one of the uniformed cops and saying, “Eddie, mind if we take this to Rangeman?  I think maybe this would be better handled not out in the open at this point.”

 

The cop just nodded, and Stephanie turned back to Natasha and I.  “Can I hitch a ride with you guys and lead you to Rangeman?  There’s a helipad and space on the roof for you to park that… thing…”

 

Natasha and I both nodded and I put my hand on the small of her back, picking up my duffel and guiding her onto the jet, which had managed to land on the street.  Once we were inside, she turned back to the men dressed in black and shouted, “see you at Haywood!”

 

As the loading door was rising, I heard a, “what the hell, Cupcake?!” again.  Then there was relative silence as the jet took off and all of the Avengers stood in a semi-circle staring a Stephanie and I.  I chuckled as she gave them all a finger-wave then said, “Hi, I’m Steph.  It’s a pleasure to meet you all.  Do you mind if I tell your pilot where to go before answering all your questions?”

 

We just nodded and I led her to the cockpit.  The lead into a possible threat I had been looking into earlier this evening had been a dead end, but this had certainly turned into an interesting night.