He wasn't entirely sure how much time passed.
It could have been a couple of seconds, if he hadn't been able to hear the frantically spoken directives over the comm system, all trying to figure out one thing; Who it was that had gained control. Who it was that had hacked the carrier, who it was that had activated the weapons. They were all trying to do their jobs.
But on the bridge, four people truly understood what had happened. Two Avengers, a member of the Pantheon, and the Colonel. Four people, only four, truly felt the loss. The technicians all scrambled for control, furious that someone had taken control of their ship, their home, from them. But they didn't really think about the occupant of that shuttle, and if they did, it was only to utter a short prayer. A hope that they hadn't seen it coming. But these four did not feel the anger of a home violated, no. They felt the pain of a lost friend.
"So, Colonel Kentucky. You met Fury yet? Because I swear, that eye hasn't left my back since I got here." The words reached Jame's ear from over his right shoulder, the speaker entering the room behind him. Neither of them had been on the Helicarrier for more than a few days, neither of them was older than eighteen, nineteen at most. The super soldier turned, a grin creasing his face as he spoke with the teenager who would become his best friend for the first time.
James was completely still, staring as the world went to **** around him. People rushed about, from one station to the next, furiously trying to make some sense out of what had happened, trying to find where the problem was, trying to take back their home. Fury stared straight ahead, but James could see the pain clearly, even on his face. Despite what everyone said, Fury wasn't heartless. Not even close.
"So, Rogers." James looked up from his bottle of water, staring at the eye patch wearing man in a black coat that had materialized on the football field. He hadn't been there a minute ago, he was certain of it.
"How d'you know my name?"
"I've known your name since you were born." He wouldn't find out until years later that this was only half true. Fury had learned of James' existence precisely one week after his birth, when SHIELD finally made the connection between the genetics they'd found, and where they came from. "I've been watching you since then, too. You've got real potential. But is a field really where it's best spent? On football?"
"You got a better idea?"
Unbidden, his mind played memories over, and over, and over. To most they would have seemed random. Significant moments, mixed in with otherwise normal occurrences. But each one had a meaning. Together, they told a story. A long story.
The same eyes he had first seen over a year before, glaring at him from across a plane. Their owner perched rather precariously on a lumpy wrapped bundle, far from comfortable. James sat in the last real seat, panting as his body slowly mended itself in the many places it was broken. A weak smirk, with a single finger quickly raised in response.
Tears impacted with the metal floor, the sound unheard in the sheer blending of noise that filled the bridge. Under normal circumstances, the sight of anything resembling sadness on the face of the irrepressibly cheerful super soldier would have had the entire carrier in a panic, but in this din, his reaction went all but unnoticed. His shoulder sagged under a weight no amount of power could hold, a burden that he, for all his strength, could not seem to bear.
Two loud laughs, shaking the small motel to its very foundation, as the door closed after the previous occupant of the closet. James, mortified at the simple fact that someone had been in their room when they arrived. A reporter, in fact, chasing down some rumors. SHIELD would track her down three days later. Last James knew, she was working as one of their intelligence officers somewhere in Europe. The son of Hawkeye glanced at James' horrified expression, and burst out laughing anew, finally regaining his breath. "Well, that was exciting. Who's up for frozen yogurt?"
A quiet clatter, as something metal hit the deck. The super soldier turned to look at it with glazed eyes, suddenly realizing that he'd still been holding the package, Barely visible beneath its lid was the metal butt of his last Christmas present. And with it, another weight became readily apparent. With shaking hands, he reached into hic coat pocket, pulling out a messily wrapped package with a slightly flattened bow on top. He'd never been any good at wrapping. Nor had he ever been good about handing gifts out on time.
Now he wouldn't get the chance.
"... because we're reforming the Avengers." Across the table, wise-*** as ever, Brando produced a noisemaker, and blew on it loudly.
With that one last recollection, the tears slowed. The pain was pushed down, as best it could be. Brando had joined the team knowingly. He'd joined a team, the best team there was. And a team looked out for each other. They kept each other safe. Well, he'd failed at that. But there was one thing left he could do. And it was inherent in the very name that had been chosen, decades before. A name that suddenly became maddeningly apt.
Brando had been an Avenger. James was an Avenger. It was time to do what he did best. It was time to live up to the title he had taken on. It was time to make the ******** pay.
With shuddering muscles, he stood, pushing the present that he never got to give back into his pocket. He could grieve later. But right now, there was work to be done.
There was Avenging to do.