It’s not easy.
It’s not easy swinging the shield, let alone throwing it. James Barnes was finding that out the hard way.
It was 12 pm, and James was speeding through the noon traffic of Long Island City. He ran the lights at Jackson Avenue, executing a tight turn as he entered the Queens Midtown Expressway.
Within three minutes, he spotted his target. It was hard to ignore a red Porsche convertible in a sea of Honda sedans and Toyota minivans.
“You aren’t making this any easy on yourself, Batroc.”
Batroc the Leaper turned from his seat, smirking when he spotted James. Georges Batroc was, in James’ estimation, the most unfashionable French man standing on two legs today. Dressed in a purple jumpsuit and orange gloves and boots, complete with a matching orange leather mask, Batroc looked more like a circus performer than a master of savate. The way he moved, like a lethal gymnast, made James think there was little difference between the two. His mustache nonwithstanding, Batroc had gone toe-to-toe with Steve Rogers many times. The last time he and James fought, Batroc more than held his own.
“Au contraire, mon amie, I am making this look too easy.”
Batroc rose from his seat and leapt off the bonnet of his vehicle, landing on the back of a Humvee for a fleeting second before backflipping onto the back of a huge armored truck.
“I liked it better when you were talking in French,” James yelled as he chased Batroc’s crew, his Harley speeding through the wide lanes like a slick, metallic battering ram. “It’s almost as bad as your English.”
Two of the masked men in the convertible turned in their seats, training their Uzis on James’ shiny blue cowl.
James felt like shouting something stupid, such as ‘do you think the letter on my head stands for France?’ But that’s too corny and tone deaf for the twenty first century. Steve would never say something like that.
The bullets rained, and James ducked, his right hand gripping the handle tightly, as he closed the distance between him and Batroc. Batroc was already busy attaching explosives to the reinforced door of the truck.
James gritted his teeth, heart pounding as bullets flew past his eyes and ears. He grabbed his shield with his left arm, taking a moment to take note of the bridge railings, the lamp post, the Porsche’s suspension and the tilted way the second gunner held his Uzi. Then, without hesitation, he let the shield fly.
James felt the dimmest tear in his arm, but paid no heed to it. The arm still hadn’t healed from that mission with the New Avengers, and he never was all that good with that arm when it came to shield throwing, either.
All he paid attention to were two things: Batroc, and his shield. Batroc leapt away as James rammed the bike on the truck’s door. The shield, on the other hand, flew through the air like a discus-shaped heat seeking missile, bouncing of the railings and impaling the lamp post, which fell right in front of the Porsche.
The driver braked instinctively, and he braked harder as the lamp post crashed on the car’s bonnet. The driver and first gunman flew out of the car as it crashed. The Uzi fell out of the gunman’s grip, just in time for the shield to bounce off the floor of the rear door and hit the man sharply on the chin.
James smirked as he extended his arm, the shield returning to his hand a second later. Barton’s training and Stark’s simulations were paying off.
Batroc’s smile faded as he surveyed the carnage. James lifted his Harley off the ground, using the back of the Porsche as a ramp for a jump.
James leapt off his bike, kicking it at Batroc the Leaper, who nimbly leapt upwards. Landing swiftly on the roof of the truck, James rose to his feet, charging with his shield at the mercenary, who was still falling. As Batroc drew closer, adjusting mid-air to target James’ head and torso, James edged his shield sideways, wielding it as he would a circular blade. Instinctively, he went for the neck.
Focus, Barnes. You aren’t trying to kill him.
A moment later, James lowered the shield an inch lower, so that it hit Batroc on the chest instead of the throat. Batroc spat blood, his hands balancing him off the truck as he leapt towards the back, increasing the distance between him and James.
James swayed, and Batroc did too, as the truck swerved. The intersection was closed off, and if the sirens and chopper engines were anything to go by, then HAMMER was already on its way.
Time was definitely not on either of their sides.
Batroc charged, swiftly moving towards James, chest puffed and hands drawn to his sides.
He’s going for a kick. Bastard is so confident he isn’t even going to mask it.
True to his name, Batroc leapt, the edge of his foot clanging James’ helmet. James, however, had moved left at the last second. Although disoriented, he grabbed Batroc’s leg with his metal arm and smashed him to the ground like a ragdoll. Then, for good measure, James unsheathed his combat knife and sliced at Batroc’s tendons, stomping his shins with finality before pinning the mercenary to the floor with his shield.
Batroc stifled a scream. “You fight without honor. You are unlike any Captain America I know of.”
James grimaced. “Thanks. I aim to please.”
Honor was overrated. Honor was what got Steve a bullet in the gut while climbing court steps. Stark understood that, but he fell too when he failed to anticipate the Skrull invasion and its world-altering consequences. James was a soldier first, an Avenger later.
“What’s in the truck, Batroc?”
“What are you asking me for? I am just a contractor. I work on a need-to basis.”
James grunted. Batroc had a good point. Despite his flashy clothes, he was simply a merc following orders, not a mustache twirling supervillain like the rest of the costumed weirdos.
James leaned closer, applying more pressure with the shield on Batroc’s tendons. “Who are you working with then?”
“Why don’t you ask them?”
It was then that James noticed the hum of the Cobra engines. They were uncomfortably close, and uncomfortably loud, for HAMMER stealth choppers.
James groaned. Did they really need a helicopter to deal with little old him?
He picked up his shield, turning his head to spot the chopper, machine gun barrels already spinning. He raised the shield, his ears deafened by gunfire as three hundred armor-piercing rounds clashed against vibranium at nine hundred meters per second.
He considered staying by Batroc’s side a while longer, but leapt off the truck when he failed to draw fire away from the mercenary. As he spun in the air, the gun swerved to match his movements. James grabbed his Luger. He had three seconds until the gunfire started again.
He spotted the main pilot. Headshot or chest shot? None, of course. It would have been easier and faster, but Captain America doesn’t kill.
Instead, he shot at the pilot’s arm and hands. The chopper spiraled out of control. After landing, James fired a few more shots at the fuselage. The pilot escaped, parachuting to safety across New York, while James held his fire.
James turned towards the truck. Batroc was limping towards the open door. James ran towards him, aiming at Batroc’s legs. Even a wounded Batroc was too spry for James’ liking.
Ankle, shin or thigh?
With the Luger’s firepower, it didn’t really matter. This thing could take down rhinos and slow down Hulks. If he wasn’t careful, James could blow Batroc’s legs into smithereens.
James aimed, and squeezed the trigger. The Luger roared, and the bullet sped towards Batroc’s feet. a dark shadow peeked out of the truck, however, and surged towards James. It passed through the bullet, which froze in midair and fell to the ground.
The color drained from James when he saw greyish white eyes materialize, along with a billowy head, a brown trench coat and a matching Fedora. The Man With No Face.
“It is you, isn’t it?” an ethereal voice rasped. The shadowy figure hovered around Batroc, who climbed on to the driving seat. “The Winter Soldier. How are you still alive, after all these years?”
“I could ask the same thing about you,” James stayed rooted to his spot. He remembered how terrifying No Face was. A superhuman with phasing abilities who doubled as one of the Winter Soldier’s target’s bodyguards. “Chin sent you, didn’t he? What is he after?”
“You talk too much, soldier,” No Face said. It soared towards James once again, and James braced. The last time, the only things that were remotely useful against this man were electric batons.
Instinctively, James knew what he needed to do to take the specter-like being down.
This was going to hurt.
“I agree. Talk is cheap.”
He aimed the Luger at No Face’s chest and then placed his metallic palm in front of the barrel. He ran an electric charge through his arm, and then squeezed the trigger the moment the current ran over his palm.
The neural link with his palm severed, just at the moment he felt the electronic pain being transmitted to his shoulder’s nerve endings. His hand-cannon bored a hole through his hand, firing a supercharged, electrified bullet that tore through No Face’s intangible skin and exploded into a million pieces, slicing his carotid and vertebral arteries to smithereens.
No Face screamed. It was a terrible, Banshee-like wail. James grimaced, flexing his fingers experimentally. There was a feedback lag of four or five microseconds, not to mention the immense soreness he felt around his wound.
“They were wrong, You are even worse than you were forty years ago,” No Face hissed, backing away from James. Batroc, on the other hand, had no pity to spare. He floored the pedal, driving the van through the deserted streets and away from the battle.
“The world’s a worse place than it was forty years ago, No Face. Now tell me, what is Chin after?”
“He’s after what everyone else is after.”
James kept his eye on the fleeing van. It was barreling through cars, but it would be stopped, sooner than later. HAMMER’s response time is five minutes. It had been six minutes already. “No Face, can we cut the crap? You are bleeding out in Long Island City. You are going to die for absolutely nothing, you dick.”
No Face smirked. His interrogation and torture training, as James suspected, was up to standard.
“Fine, if you want to play hard, we will play hard.”
James grabbed his earpiece from a pouch and turned it on. “Nat, we need extraction. And we need it fast.”
James grabbed No Face by his coat, pulling him up to eye level. “Night night, chuckles.”
James clocked No Face hard with his fist. It was his normal arm, but it was enough to knock the Chinese agent out clean. He lifted the unconscious man onto his shoulders, carrying him back to his downed Harley.
He strapped No Face onto back seat, before jumping onto the bike and revving the handles as hard as he could. He briefly contemplated following Batroc, but there was no time for that. It had been seven minutes and thirteen seconds already.
He turned, snaking his way through the deserted expressway. He was an open target out here. He needed a safe extraction point, and he needed it fast. He opened his comms channel again. “Nat, where are we meeting?”
There was no reply.
James didn’t have any spider-sense, but he still felt the hair on his neck rise, like quills on a porcupine. He exited the expressway, sliding onto 21st street before swerving into an alleyway. When he was sure that he spent enough time covering his tracks, he snaked his way through 49th Avenue and then Vernon Avenue, heading towards the general vicinity of Greenpoint.
By the time he reached Pulaski bridge, he saw Blackhawks descend from above. They didn’t need to open fire, not when they were already targeting him with missiles.
He turned again, speeding through the traffic, doing his best to avoid pedestrians and oncoming traffic. He didn’t have many options for retreat, not when he was breaking speed limits in Greenpoint Avenue.
Calvary Cemetery. Fury had one of his underground safehouses there. It would have to do.
Steve would have made this look so easy. He was three times faster and four times stronger than James on his best day. He still remembered those headlines from when SHIELD tried to arrest Steve, and Steve ended up riding one of the F-22 jets like a skyboard.
“Nat, I am recording this message and sending it through our proxies,” James spoke, ducking silenced gunfire. “I am heading to a Fury safehouse. HAMMER is in hot pursuit. Stay safe. Don’t do anything stupid. I will contact you after things die down.”
It had been exactly nine minutes and three seconds that James saw a black, slimy tendril fly past his cheek, grabbing on to a nearby building. On his sidemirror, he spotted the reflection of a black-suited Spider-man, swinging down from the sky with a ferocity rarely seen from any wallcrawler James had seen.
For this was no Spider-man, but Venom in disguise. The Dark Avengers had been deployed.
“Gee, It’s nice to know I am valued,” James chuckled. Venom zoomed across the streets, hovering menacingly above him. He was soon joined by the floating figure of Ms. Marvel, who was, of course, another villain, Moonstone.
“Stand down, whoever you are. As an Avenger, I am fully authorized to use force to subdue you,” Moonstone said airily, floating lazily above James.
“Come and make me, sweet cheeks!” James yelled.
“Ooh. That guy’s going to need a lot of diversity training, isn’t he?” Venom quipped.
“Heh. I guess all Captain Americas are old-fashioned pigs,” Moonstone concurred. “Let’s chase him, see where he goes.”
James grimaced. These guys were way above his pay grade. He could sure do with assistance from a Thor or Hercules right about now.
But all he had were his shield, his knife and his Luger.
And also, the flash grenades.
He dug one out of his pouches and pulled the pin.
He threw it at the two figures, who dodged instinctively. He shot the grenade in mid-air, which exploded with concussive force, disorienting both of them and throwing them against nearby buildings.
James continued towards the cemetery, driving his bike through its gates. He searched the rows and columns for a J. Simon.
He found it, after thirty-five seconds.
He ditched his bike, picking up No Face and rushing towards the J. Simon’s grave plot. He started digging around the tombstone, searching for hidden switches or levers of any kind.
“Did you really think we didn’t know where you were headed, Cap?”
James stopped. This just wasn’t his day, was it?
Norman Osborn was there. The director of HAMMER himself. But now, hovering five feet off the ground and dressed in a dated, repainted Iron-man armor, he was also the Iron Patriot.
“Osborn. Aren’t you supposed to be quelling riots in Latveria?”
“Please. Doom can go to hell for all I care,” Osborn droned. Even with the robotic filter, his voice struck that dangerous chord of controlled insanity. “I want to talk to you. Who is it under the mask? Barton? Walker?”
James grinned. He took the shield off his back. “You took your sweet time getting here, Osborn.”
“Are you one of the sidekicks? Jones? Wilson?”
James chuckled. He wondered how he could get mistaken for Falcon of all people, that too in broad daylight. Sam would have a field day with that someday.
“Listen, Osborn. I have had a really, really shitty day,” James said, cracking his knuckles, shield in right hand and Luger in the other. “Thirteen minutes. Five hostiles. Three superhumans. If you want to join the pile, fine by me. Don’t bore me to death with your Freudian horseshit.”
“Look at the mouth on you!” Osborn charged at Mach 2. “Is it you, Wolverine?”
The first punch hit James’ ribs. The second hit came from a knee, which smashed against James’ torso.
James gritted his teeth, spitting blood. He emptied his Luger’s last clip into Osborn’s chest. The first three layers fell away, but the endoskeleton still remained.
“Is it you, Castle? Have you finally switched colors from black to red, white and blue?”
“You talk too much, tinhead,” James bashed Osborn’s helmet with his shield, following it up with a haymaker. “I can see why you get along with Spidey so well.”
James leapt to the side, targeting the exposed endsokeleton once again with the edge of his shield. He switched between styles seamlessly, using Muay Thai kicks to keep Osborn busy and Krav Maga strikes to neutralize the man’s left arm.
Osborn parried skillfully as well, using a mix of brawling strikes and repulsors to keep James at bay. James leapt, rolled and dodged, using the tombstones as cover before throwing his shield at the damaged chest.
The shield bounced off, creating the tiniest bit of opening from which Osborn’s suit peaked through. Before it could return, however, Osborn shot the shield with repulsors, throwing a good ten feet away from James.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though, if you were just another nobody?” Osborn wondered dryly, now firing his repulsor in a continuous barrage, like a stream of napalm at James, who ran towards his shield. “Just a random ex-SHIELD operative, brainwashed by Fury and Hill. Another misguided attempt at superheroics.”
James picked up his shield and turned towards Osborn, who took advantage of his momentary gap in defense to nail James in the torso with the repulsor barrage. James flew off his feet, his head smashing hard on the concrete pavement.
“That’s rich, you calling someone else misguided,” James grunted, springing to his feet. He couldn’t take licks like that any longer. He had given this fight his hundred and fifty percent, but he wasn’t going to last three more minutes at best.
He swayed on his feet before steadying himself, placing the shield in front of him. Osborn flew at full speed, repulsors blasting at full power.
“That’s all you has-beens do. Complain. I get things done. That’s what matters.”
“I don’t know what you do in your spare time, Osborn,” James said as he pushed through the repulsor beam. This was taking too long. Every step took a little more energy than he had to give. “But you should have spent more time studying the tapes.”
But Osborn wasn’t listening. He had already lead with a punch, which James blocked with the shield, dodging downwards to allow Osborn to pass over him. And then, as Osborn torso passed over his arms, James grabbed Osborn’s forearm and twisted in a way that the human arm wasn’t meant to be bent, Iron-man armor be damned.
Bones splintered, as did Osborn momentum. He tumbled out of air, and James seized his chance, flipping onto Osborn’s chest, driving him to the ground with his knees. Then, with every force left in his body, he swung the shield down on Osborn’s chest, striking at the arc reactor and cracking its outer case.
When James started this day, all he was looking for was a rematch with Batroc and more leads into the Griffin investigation. But here he was, about to bring down Norman Osborn. He wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
James brought his shield down once again, but it didn’t reach Osborn.
An energy blast hit James in the back, and two arrows pierced his shoulder blades. James quickly lost feeling in his arms, and then the rest of his limbs. The shield fell from his hands.
James dropped to the ground, his vision blurry. Hawkeye (i.e. Bullseye) walked into view, as did Ares, Moonstone and Venom. The day was now unequivocally, spectacularly, worse.
Osborn rose to his feet, huffing and puffing. “Well, Cap, keeping in spirit with our predecessors, I am going to call this a draw.”
James lost consciousness soon afterwards.
For the second time in the last three years, a Captain America had been captured and placed in government custody.