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Elder Statesman Part 3/3
sophie_deangirl

Dedicated to laughtersmelody for her friendship. Our mutual delight in all things h/c and deathfic, from Supernatural to The Avengers, I'm ever grateful to her friendship.


Elder Statesman

Part 3:

Steve listened intently to the battle coming through his com link and longed to be there every time he heard the struggle of each of his friends. He never heard surrender in any of their voices, but for every triumph they achieved, more of Loki's minions descended into the city, taxing each of them just to continue saving human lives.

Steve was struggling as well. No matter how much he tried to will healing, all he received for his efforts was continued, uncontrolled twitches as his muscles kept seizing up causing him to curl into himself with the intense tension. He would close his eyes and clench his face with the extremity of his suffering. Like his friends fighting off Loki's alien army, Steve fought off against what he knew the doctors thought was inevitable. They weren't saying it, but he knew they believed he was slowly dying, that his spirit might be fighting, but his body had been taxed to beyond human limits even his own superhuman ones. Maybe it was too much to ask of it to heal so much damage.

The leaden weakness that was weighing him down didn't seem to be lessening either. He couldn't help thinking how ironic it was that he had his muscular physique back, but that he felt less strong than he had as the 90 pound weakling he once was.

The helplessness he felt only added to that weight, pressing down onto him, not only restraining him from acting, but suffocating him in ways that were more than just physical. Still, hearing his friends giving each other support and coverage at every juncture in the fight allowed him to consider accepting that maybe it would be okay to let go, that they would be all right without him. He wasn’t a quitter, but knowing that his friends would bring the true meaning of the Avengers Initiative to reality gave him a peace that alleviated the pain a little.

But that peace of mind and body was short-lived.

He heard them yelling through the com link that Loki was missing, that they had to find him. He heard Natasha declare that Selvig had finally been severed from the tesseract's control and he had revealed that the key to closing the portal was the scepter. Steve understood the implication. Loki could be anywhere and they had to get the scepter to stop the invasion, more importantly to thwart Loki from reigning over humanity.

But Steve's instincts were telling him that if Loki had separated himself from the battle, there was only one place he would be heading.

Back to him.

Loki's insolence that his army could fend off the Avengers -- they were outnumbered, after all -- would drive him back to the Helicarrier to make sure that his mission to kill Steve was being carried out, that the serum he had injected was working on the one person he feared would ruin any ease of ascension to power over humanity.

Loki's ego wouldn't be able to resist watching Steve die in front of him. The satisfaction would be intoxicating.

It was then that he heard other sounds, sounds that weren't coming from the com link. He felt the wracking explosions as the Helicarrier lurched. There was more gunfire, explosions and screams. They were growing louder and louder and coming towards him.

It was Loki. Steve knew it, felt it in the dying cells of his body. He was coming to admire his handiwork.

Loki had accused Steve of arrogance, that he thought himself vital to the fight against him and his army, that the others were incapable of cohesion without him, but Steve knew better. He knew that Loki feared him, feared his survival. It made him smile to be the Achilles Heel to Loki's perception of his self-anointed reign. In Steve's opinion, Loki was giving him way too much credit for leading the band of Earth's avengers. Steve knew Loki was wrong. He was just one of a select few and that each of them possessed their own strength and power. Collectively, they were more than just Avengers, that was just a label. They were friends and that bond would save the Earth, not just one singular act of courage and power.

Steve fought off his body's rejection towards every move he was making, groaning and panting as he forced himself to rise to a sitting position. Though he managed it, he was barely holding himself steady, teetering on his gurney.

Steve knew what he had to do. He had to engage his body no matter how much it resisted. He had to take the scepter from Loki.

Even if it ended up to be his last stand.

A blast then ripped through the door of the sick bay. The concussive force rocked the containment cell.

It was now or never for the Earth, for him.

When the smoke cleared, he saw Loki standing at the doorway, wielding the scepter as if it were his birthright.

"What took you so long?" Steve taunted.

"New York traffic can be a challenge," Loki said sarcastically in response.

"So I've heard," Steve said.

"If you don't mind me saying so, you look positively deathly," Loki said with a smile.

"Guess I have you to thank for that."

"Well, I can't take all the credit. I see that you have tried to restore yourself to your former state. Not all together successful, were you?"

"What do you want?" Steve asked, injecting as much venom in his voice as he could, but even he could hear how less than threatening he sounded. "If you've come to gloat, you haven't won yet."

Loki sneered with contempt.

"Arrogant to the end, I see."

"You should talk."

"I will win. Best face that now."

"Never," Steve said defiantly.

"Well, considering you can barely sit, I think it's you who's underestimating who has the upper hand here."

Steve realized that Loki wasn't aware of his com link and that everyone could hear their conversation. All Steve had to do was stall him and he had to hope that he had the strength to do it.

"Why are you wasting your time with me exactly? Why aren't you commanding your army? Come to admire your work? Look at me!" Steve said, trying to play up his uselessness though it was hardly an act. "I'm a dying man."

"You wound me, Captain," Loki said, feigning hurt as he placed his hand on his heart sarcastically.

"I would do more than that if I could," Steve threatened feebly.

Loki laughed.

"How easy it was to bring you to this pathetic state. Clearly you tried an antidote to defeat my formula. Let me guess, Erskine's original serum, perhaps?"

"You seem to have all the answers," Steve said, groaning. "You tell me."

"Ah, yes, and that is why I am here."

"What? Couldn't wait for the serum to do its work? Had to stop by to finish me off? I'm no threat to you."

"Oh, but that's where you underestimate your worth. I won't make that mistake."

"Really?" Steve said, his agony rising, his fortitude over it weakening quicker than he had hoped.

"Left alive, you could possibly defy the odds and survive to command your Avengers, as you call them, to incite an insurrection against me. You would become the leader of a rebellion. I'm no fool, Captain, even I can see that. I can't have any obstructions to my reigning over Earth."

In his ear, Steve heard his friends telling him that they were on their way. It gave him renewed strength. He'd just have to keep Loki amused for just a little while longer until they got there.

Steve knew that he had to grab the scepter from Loki. It was all down to him now. He couldn't let his friends down, let Earth down, even if it meant dying. Dying wasn't the worst fate, letting Loki and his army take over the Earth was, leaving his friends to avenge it or worse yet, to depose Loki's control. That would be an even worse legacy to leave behind.

"You give me way too much credit. Now it's you who's underestimating their commitment to defending Earth. They don't need me. I'm just one man."

Steve closed hIs eyes to gather whatever energy he had left in him as he heard Loki laugh again. It was now or never so he took in a breath and lunged for the scepter.

Steve tapped everything he had left in him. He knew that strength alone wouldn't be enough because he had very little of it left, but power could be drawn from quickness, finesse and cleverness. Steve brought all those skills to bear as he grabbed the scepter with both hands, catching Loki by surprise and off balance. Steve’s fragile state left Loki underestimating the situation, not expecting an assault on him.

Steve twisted the scepter, wrenching it from Loki's grip before he could tighten his grasp on it. Steve used the momentum he had and swung it, hitting Loki square in the jaw, sending him flying across the containment cell. Steve's legs were trembling beneath him, threatening to buckle as he stood unsteadily.

Steve changed his grip to continue using the scepter as a weapon. It gave him the needed leverage to keep Loki at bay until the others showed up. Every move he made brought fresh pain and every muscle he engaged protested, sometimes threatening to surrender under the stress he was exerting yet they tenuously held. His left hand then accidentally seized the tesseract cube in the scepter. A surge of energy assaulted him and threaded through his body.

As the electric tendrils coursed through his body, he thought it was finally over, that he had been defeated, that he had failed his friends. The power of the tesseract cube streamed more excruciating pain into him and it drove him down to his knees. He tried to let go of the scepter, but the cube and the scepter had seared themselves onto his hands.

Loki was transfixed by what he was witnessing, a ripple of fear crossed his face as he attempted to wrench the scepter from Steve's grip only to be catapulted again into the opposite wall.

The team had finally arrived onto the Helicarrier and had rushed into the containment cell to join Loki and Steve. All of them then skidded to a sudden stop unable to believe what they were seeing as well.

Thor was, initially, in as much shock as his brother, watching a man he had pledged his brotherhood and unconditional allegiance being plunged back into agony by the tesseract. When he regained his senses, he turned his attentions towards Loki to restrain him.

"We have to help him!" Natasha said, frustration in her voice.

"We can't," Thor said. "The tesseract has melded with him. Any attempts to intervene would kill Rogers."

"Melded with him? What does that MEAN exactly? We're not on Star Trek! That thing isn't Mr. Spock!" Tony said, his own need to help just as urgent yet also just as thwarted as his friends. "What is it doing to him?"

"If it's doing to him what it did to me then we have to get it off him!" Clint yelled, the idea of anyone else experiencing the disabling disconnect of mind and, in his opinion, soul that he had was unconscionable to him.

"There is a legend that the tesseract contained powers other than just as a weapon. In the right hands, it could heal," Thor said.

"Right hands?" Fury interjected.

"It rightfully belongs to me!" Loki declared with defiance.

"You stole it!" Thor said with a booming rumble in his throat as he tightened his hold. "It decides who shall claim its power. You imprisoned it. That is not birthright, that is abduction, abusing its power to serve your whim, to quench your thirst for absolute power, to have dominion over innocents. That is NOT what the tesseract was destined for."

Loki scoffed as he ceased to struggle against his brother's grip. He knew Thor was the only man who could hold him. Resistance was wasted energy. Still, he was sure that his purpose for coming there would still be served if not exactly as he had planned. Steve Rogers would be destroyed at the tesseract's will. No human, superhuman powers or not, could survive its power. It was meant for demigods like him.

"It is said that the scepter takes on the character of the person who wields it. It becomes an extension of that person. Loki seized and harnessed its power against its intended purpose, a weapon for destruction. For Rogers, I know not its intent. What I do know is that we will not be able to intervene until that bond has been made," Thor explained.

"What about the portal?" Natasha asked. "We can't seal the portal without the scepter. Selvig’s waiting at Stark Tower to close it."

No one had an answer.

Loki smiled in triumph and stayed silent.

All the Avengers could do was wait...and hope because as much as they knew they needed the scepter to save Earth, their friend’s life was more important. Even if they could pool their collective powers to yank the scepter from Steve’s hands, if it meant killing him in the process, they couldn’t do it. If Thor was right and there was a chance that it would heal Steve, perhaps save him, they had to choose that over the Earth in that moment. It was a shared emotion that didn’t need to be expressed aloud. For the first time, they were all united to the same cause and concern. They owed that unity to Steve.

Once again, everyone was forced to helplessly watch as their friend was being subjected to more pain and suffering. It was almost too much for them to bear so it was hard to imagine how Steve could be enduring it and yet he was, again, showing them all his greatest powers: Resilience and courage.

Steve heard everyone and everything around him. He heard them mentioning that the scepter was the only way to close the portal as well as that it was melding to him, but try as he might, he couldn't let it go, it wouldn’t let him go. It stayed adhered to his hands, sending energy through him. He was awash in pain, but suddenly, also with memories. Dr. Erskine, and Peggy, they materialized in front of him, smiling at him. He was both afraid and strangely comforted by what his mind was telling him was an illusion. He knew they were dead, but seeing them as he had remembered them, untouched by time, eased his agony.

Everyone else also stared with amazement as they, too, saw the apparitions.

“What the -” Tony stuttered.

“That’s Dr. Erskine and Peggy Carter,” Fury informed.

“The woman Steve loves,” Natasha said almost dreamily.

“I know that. I’ve read his profile,” Tony said as he watched Fury throw an amazed look at him. “I know, I know, shocking. Get over it. I DO read, you know. The more important point here is that they’re -”

“Dead,” Fury filled in.

“Again, read his profile, I know that. What I want to know is why are they HERE? Why are we seeing them? Have we gone from Star Trek to seeing dead people now?” Tony snarked.

“Rogers has reached an altered state through the tesseract,” Thor informed, his words soft, his expression, a mix of sadness and uncertainty.

“What does that mean?” Fury asked in a frustrated, demanding tone.

“It means that he will need to make a choice," Thor said, sadness winning out in the timber of his baritone. "This world or theirs,”

"Why are we seeing them?" Bruce asked, joining in.

"The tesseract is showing us what Rogers is seeing," Thor continued to explain.

“So, ghosts, then,” Tony said, with a tinge of self-satisfaction in his voice, but not reveling in the admission.

"No, no, it's not real. We have to help him," Natasha uttered, the idea that they had gone through all they had only to lose the one battle they had to win gave her an ache.

"It is real for him. He is truly seeing his friends," Thor said. “The tesseract is testing him.”

“Testing him? For what?” Tony interjected. “To become prom king?”

Thor rolled his eyes at Tony’s impudent remarks.

“It is testing his will, not only to live, but of whether he is deserving of possessing the tesseract’s power,” Thor said. “The apparitions are what it pulled from his mind to seduce him to surrender.”

“To let go,” Natasha said, her heart breaking at the idea that Steve would surrender, but in a way, she would understand after everything he had endured. No one would blame him.

Clint watched Steve’s struggle and his expression was calm.

“He won’t let go,” Clint said, composed confidence in his voice.

“You don’t know that,” Natasha declared.

“You told me that he had faith that I could overcome the heinous acts I did under the tesseract’s influence because of the kind of man I am. I won’t believe anything less of him because he's a better man.”

Natasha looked up at Clint, their gazes met and she smiled proudly at the man she loved.

Peggy walked up to Steve. She was brimming with golden light and her warmth enveloped him. He sighed with it. She reached up and caressed his cheek. Though he didn’t really feel her flesh touch him, the memory of her gave her reality.

“Steve, it’s so good to see you,” she said softly.

“It’s good to see you too,” Steve said, his voice sounding disconnected to him, but he was too happy to see her to waste time concentrating on why it did.

“You look tired,” she said, her expression filled with concern.

“I am a little,” Steve admitted softly with a shaky smile.

“You need to rest. Come be with me. I miss you,” she offered almost seductively. “It's your turn to have what was robbed from you, from us. We can finally be together. You’ve done enough for this world, for them."

She tilted her head, pointing it towards the Avengers, his friends.

“Let someone else be the hero,” Peggy said, continuing to stroke his cheek.

Steve felt the pull of her seductive words and the idea was attractive; to let go of everything, the pain, the suffering and to be with the woman he loved, to be with all the friends he had lost in a war so long ago...

Wait...his friends.

Steve clenched his eyes closed from a jolt of spasm that came with the thought, as if he was breaking free from some kind of hold and he had received a shock of realization for his trouble -- from what, he wasn’t sure -- but it gave him needed clarity. He opened his eyes again to look at Peggy.

Steve then looked over at his newly acquired friends; friends who were like him, friends who were alive and who were fighting for the same reasons he was. Their expressions of concern and powerlessness at not being able to help him, pulled at his soul. As attractive as it was to just let everything go, to release his anguish, to be with Peggy, leaving them behind brought him a pain separate from what the tesseract was inflicting and it felt worse. He realized that he had found friendship in purpose, something he admitted was lacking in his other life. He was fighting alone back then, the entire weight of the world's safety squarely on his shoulders and he had suffered tremendous grief at being unable to save his very mortal friends. Here, he had others who were equal to his skills and strengths, together, they would prevail over any threatening evil.

"I'm not a hero, Peg. I never was. I just did what had to be done. These are my friends," Steve said. "As much as I want to be with you, I can't...I can't leave them to do this fight alone. They've been there for me."

Steve looked into her eyes and gazed longingly into them. He was absorbing the strength of her memory and drinking in her beauty so that he could have her in his mind to recall. She had always been in his heart.

"I love you, Peg. I should have told you that before the crash. I'm sorry I didn't say it then. It's time I practiced what I preach," he said as he smiled at remembering how he had told Natasha to tell Clint that she loved him.

He knew it had been too late for him to really tell Peg he loved her, but this was the best he could do. He had to hope that wherever she was, she would feel it.

"I knew it the moment I laid my eyes on you. I always will love you."

Peggy smiled and gave him a kiss then faded away.

Dr. Erskine then materialized. He pointed then placed his finger to his chest.

"You have kept your promise. You are a good man. Never forget that, no matter the challenges that await you, nothing can ever change that."

Steve nodded, seeing the pride in Erskine's eyes moved him.

“I hope I won't let you down,” Steve said.

“You never could,” Erskine said as he, too, faded away.

Suddenly, Steve felt infused with strength, the weakness that had dogged him lifted, the relentless pain ebbed away and he rose from his knees. He was also finally able to move his hands away from the cube. He held the scepter and it seemed to adapt to his grip as if it belonged to him.

"Are you all right?" Natasha asked, concern in her voice.

Steve saw all of the worried expressions and was renewed by their support, their presence, their collective priority to his well-being.

"Yeh, yeh," he said, for the first time his voice no longer filtering through pain. "Take me to the portal. I know what I have to do."

"I can give you a lift, just don't make anything out of it, okay?" Tony teased, a smile on his face at not only seeing Steve whole again, but that he could do something to help him.

Everyone smiled as well, including Steve. The hope in the room palpable and the friendship authentic.

AVAVAVAV

When Steve and Tony arrived at Stark Tower, protected and defended by the others as they continued to fend off the alien army, Steve had continued to feel the enveloping energy from the tesseract. Instead of depleting him, it was empowering him and if it was possible, he felt even stronger than he ever had before. It wasn't all just coming from the tesseract, though, it was also coming from the bond of friendship and the united front he felt from his friends. It was as if the tesseract was magnifying and channeling their collective confidence and trust into him.

Steve grasped the scepter, angling it to push through the force field. Natasha and Selvig had commandeered one of the alien transports to join him there in case Steve needed them. He gave them a nod then pierced through to the center of the power source.

Once the cube connected with it, a blast of energy catapulted skyward, heading toward the alien ship just beyond the portal. The powerful beam disintegrated the ship into pieces, destroying Loki’s army along with it.

Steve was surprised to feel a sense of pure oneness with the scepter and tesseract. There was no pain, just a feeling of accomplishment, as if the tesseract was alive and transmitting its emotions into him. Steve didn’t resist it and welcomed the relief it gave him. For a moment, his gaze caught Peggy and Erskine again, still smiling as they had before. This time, though, he knew that Peggy wasn’t enticing him to be with her, this time, he knew she was letting him go. They both were.

His friends began to report that the remaining aliens in the city were crumbling earthward, being destroyed along with the ship. Then, like an eye of a tornado, with diminishing winds, the portal shrank, collapsing on itself, closing finally.

The power source disengaged from the tesseract and Steve lifted it away. Selvig and Natasha smiled brightly at him.

It was over. They had done it.

Each member of the Avengers joined them except for Thor. Understandably, as soon as the battle was won, he had used his hammer to transport him and his brother back to Asgard so that Loki could face trial and punishment for his criminal acts.

For the first time, Steve felt rejuvenated, not exhausted and stood among his friends, grateful to have them there with him to share in the victory.

“Anyone hungry? Because I’m STARVING. Saving the world can do that, you know? I know this great shawarma place...that is, if it’s still standing.”

Everyone laughed heartily. When it tapered off, Steve took in a breath, gazed at each face and smiled.

“Thanks,” he said.

Each one of them just returned his smile, in each its own gratitude for Steve’s friendship towards them, after all, in a moment of hopelessness, he had given them all what they had needed just as they had needed it. Words were unnecessary, a “you’re welcome” seemed superfluous. They were the Avengers Initiative personified now.

"To Coulson," Steve then said as he saluted skyward and as the others bowed their heads in tribute.

The victory then felt a little bittersweet as a moment of quiet reflection permeated throughout them, demonstrating respect for a man who had sacrificed his life believing that they could all become greater as a team than as singular individuals, long before they had believed they could.

"We will never let you down again," Steve said as he completed his salute.


FIN

Thanks for reading. I hope it was worth the read.


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Just had to say again how much I enjoyed this! :) *hugs*

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