Barnes sits patiently in his cell and stares at the ceiling. He just counted the third hundred forty-sixth minute since he last looked at a clock – it’s 00:44. There’s a sliver of moonlight coming in through the cell window high above him. He has yet to see his signal. And he won’t move until he finds it.
Everything has been calculated to a T. Approximately two hundred thirty miles from Virginia to New York. Seventy-seven stories up the tower before he comes across any living space. There needed to be a perfect mix of stealth and strength in disabling the artificial intelligence that would inevitable alert the authorities – and his target – of his presence, unless his new friend helped in this. The only wild card is the target himself, and whether he will be wide awake like the night owl he has been rumored to be or knocked out cold in a drunken stupor. It doesn’t matter. He can work with either.
Minute three hundred forty-seven. The red slips into his line of view, and Barnes knows he is safe to move. Four bricks are pulled out of the wall gently and placed on the bed before he climbs the wall, his hands and feet fitting into the holes in the wall. The two bars are pulled out with his good arm, the other now a wooden prosthetic, and he crawls out. The bars and bricks are left out. He doesn’t bother placing them back. He wants them to know he’s gone.
The spotlights are running around the grounds as usual, but they are mostly remote-controlled instead of manually moved, and no one is currently conscious enough to realize he’s escaping. The fence is climbed with ease, with the prosthetic taking the brunt of the barbwire. Half a mile down the road, there’s the sedan, waiting as promised two weeks before, when this plan was hatched. Barnes gets in the front passenger seat.
“Something tells me we both underestimated the other,” Maximoff says. She reaches into the backseat and pulls out something. His metal arm is placed on his lap. “We can put it back on when you’re ready.”
Barnes takes off the wooden prosthetic and drops it on the floor of the backseat. The metal arm is held up to his shoulder and he nods at Maximoff. She uses her magic to help connect it. He tests out its use by clenching his hand into a fist. Good as new.
“We’re both going to be arrested by SHIELD for this,” Maximoff says as she starts the long drive up north. “SHIELD doesn’t handle its prisoners too kindly.”
“No,” Barnes says. “I’ll cover for you.”
“I’ll tell them that I used your emotions against you. You had nothing to do with this. Psych evaluations will have you back in the field in nine weeks max.”
“What if I don’t want to go back? What if I’d rather be an outlaw than an Avenger?”
Barnes shrugs. “You’re choice.” Maximoff nods and focuses her attention on the road. Barnes leans his head against the window. He won’t let Maximoff take the fall. He’ll claim she’s innocent. Whether or not she tells SHIELD otherwise is up to her. To Barnes, she’s too young to throw her life away like that. Him? He’s one hundred years old. He’s lived long enough. He’s been imprisoned enough times to know how to break out without leaving a trace. She doesn’t need to go through any of that.
Barnes looks at the clock on the dashboard. 00:53. At least three hours to New York. He clenches his fist. Now he’ll finally be able to finish a mission that he started and failed years ago.
In New York, Maximoff parks twelve blocks away from the tower in a parking garage. She flashes her SHIELD ID at the man sitting in the booth and he opens the gate without question. Barnes is slightly impressed. She puts a blonde wig over her hair and an oversized black hoodie over her dress. Barnes puts on sunglasses and nothing more. He isn’t here for stealth. He lets her lead the way so he can get in without being noticed.
“How do you plan on doing it?” she asks. She hadn’t asked before, but he knows she can’t help it. She’s been giddy since they drove into the tunnel. It’s her dream come true, no matter how much she’s been hiding it from the others.
“With an audience,” he answers. She doesn’t need to know. She’s already involved too much for his liking. She smiles at his answer.
“Let’s take the stairs,” he adds. Maximoff nods and lets them into the stairwell.
This is his chance. He grabs her by the hood and pulls her into a sleeper hold. She puts up a valiant fight against him, but she’s no match for the metal arm, and she’s caught too off-guard to use her magic against him in time. He puts her behind the stairs and rips off the wig. Someone will find her eventually, and if not, he’ll tell them she’s here. At least she can’t be held fully accountable.
He doesn’t take the stairs. He takes the elevator, in full view of anyone who cares to turn their head. He holds eye contact with all three cameras for ten seconds each, and flips off the fourth with his metal finger. The elevator jolts to a stop on the seventy-seventh floor, where he quickly ducks into the kitchen and assesses the layout. It’s basic, with no identifying personal touches. Likely, it’s Banner’s floor. It will be unoccupied as long as he’s a wanted man.
Something on the table catches his eye. A floor plan, with Stark’s handwriting labeling each floor. As he guessed, this was Banner’s floor. Another seven to Stark’s. The ones in-between mean nothing to him. Steve’s is the floor above, and he will make sure that SHIELD finds him there. He needs to grab himself a little memorabilia on the way out anyway.
Barnes heads to the stairs and starts his way up. He pauses on the fourth floor up, Barton’s floor, to grab himself a few guns and knives, finding them all stashed in the bedroom. Again, no one is home. He doesn’t know where Barton is, and as long as he isn’t here and in his way, he doesn’t care.
In the stairwell, right as he’s about to enter Stark’s floor, an airy, female voice comes from nowhere, saying, “Commence code LD-01.” Barnes is confused when nothing happens, until he nears Stark’s bedroom door. There is a metal wall, steel and at least three feet wide, over where the door should be. It seems Stark knew for a while he was coming, the crafty bastard. Barnes doesn’t mind. It’s not a complete bust. He just needs to motivate Stark to come on out.
He finds the motivation in the form of a blonde woman sleeping in a different bedroom. This room doesn’t have its own reinforcements, keeping Stark from sealing her inside. She’s also snoring, so she’s unaware. There are numerous pill bottles on the nightstand – she’s drugged, likely for an injury. Something for Barnes to work with. He grabs the half-full glass of water on the nightstand and throws it on the woman, his other hand pointing one of the guns at her head. The woman splutters awake, then sits right up. Barnes motions for her to stand, but she motions to a pair of crutches under the comforter. She can’t walk on her own. Fine by him. He picks her up by her hair and drags her out of the room. She screams and tries fighting against him. She can’t.
Back in the main room, the television turns on to a live feed of Stark within the room. “Don’t drag Sharon into this,” he says.
“I’ll trade your life for hers,” Barnes replies. What’s an extra dead body to him? As long as one is Stark’s, he could care less.
“This has nothing to do with her. Just let her go and we’ll resolve this like men.”
Barnes doesn’t want to “resolve this like men”. He presses the heel of his boot against Sharon’s thigh, near where her injury is. She fights against crying out, but does a poor job of it. The gun remains pointed at her head. He looks at the camera, daring Stark to dare him to take things further.
“Let her go.” Barnes’ head snaps to the left. There’s his little Natalia, all grown up, pointing her own gun at him. She looks different from the last time he saw her. She has wavy hair instead of straight, and she looks very tired.
“Stay out of this, Natalia,” he warns. He doesn’t want to drag her into this mess.
“Let go of Sharon. Don’t make me hurt you,” she says.
“Don’t make me hurt you.” It won’t be the first time he has to shoot her, and she knows it.
Natalia narrows her eyes. “I’ve called back-up. Sam says he’ll be here soon. Vision and Rhodey aren’t too far behind,” she tells Stark.
“Wanda is in the stairwell on the first floor,” the sentient voice says. Barnes sighs. Now Maximoff is involved. He looks for a quick getaway. There’s an air vent above the bar in the far corner. It has to lead to Stark’s room. He has to think fast.
He shoots the television twice – first the screen, then the camera hidden in it. He holds up Sharon as a shield, then shoots around her to get Natalia. He nails her in the forearm, causing her to drop her arm and her weapon. He backs away from Natalia and continues holding the blonde as a shield, even as he climbs onto the bar and removes the grate over the air vent. Sharon is thrown to the ground before he climbs inside. He rushes fast toward Stark’s room before it’s too late.
He drops onto Stark’s bed to find it empty and the bedroom door open. Back in the other room, both women and Stark are missing. A trail of Natalia’s blood gives him a clue. Stark’s hushed whispers and the women’s hisses and soft swears gives him a better idea of where they are. He holds up his gun, ready to aim and kill Stark.
He has to give it to Natalia, though. She’s always the best at what she does. She shoots him before he even lays eyes on Stark.
Barnes wakes up in a hospital. The SHIELD logo above his bed tells him which hospital he’s at. His arm is gone, and the other is handcuffed to the bed. So are his legs. There are also multiple straps tying him to the bed. He feels the stitches on his forehead. He guesses there are around ten.
“The gun was only meant to stun you, but you hit your head pretty hard against the sink. You actually broke the marble,” a woman says. He feels the bed tilting up until he’s almost perpendicular to the floor. He recognizes the woman. Helen Cho. HYDRA is interested in her and her work on the Vision. “Don’t think about trying anything. There are thirteen agents outside this door who are ordered to kill you if you do something that threatens my life or Tony Stark’s.” She pulls a file that’s sitting on a chair by the door. “Quite the story to hear from Tony. And Sharon, who had to get her stitches redone. Plus Natasha, who had to have surgery to fix the damage you caused. With the serum in her, she’ll be fine in two weeks, with an additional few days of extensive physical therapy.”
“And Wanda?” Barnes asks. His mouth is dry.
Helen Cho raises an eyebrow, as if to ask him why he cares about the girl he used and attacked. “Psychological evaluations say that she’ll be won't be placed back in the field for three weeks. She insisted she wanted to help you, but the doctor wasn’t so convinced.”
“Why are you the one telling me this?”
Helen Cho smiles a bit. “Because I’m the only one who wasn’t going to hit you for what you did. I’m a professional, Mr. Barnes.” She heads to the door. “You’ll be relocated to your cell in twelve hours. I’d suggest getting some rest now. They’ll be questioning you later.”
The door closes behind her, and Barnes’ bed resets itself back to its horizontal position.