Somewhere in the year prior to the Event
Jared Norris ducked behind a car and shielded his head from the glass shattering the window behind him. Poking his head back out briefly, he scanned the situation. Enigma and Falcon were engaged with whatever friggin’ villain of the month was wreaking havoc high above the St. Louis streets. He couldn’t see where the other team members were—the robotics one and the ape—but he was certain they weren’t far. That part wasn’t his job. Now that those guys had it in hand, he knew exactly where his own charge would be: on the ground. “Nightingale” was an apt name for the woman. She never knew when to quit, and with so much collateral damage going on, there was no doubt he’d have to step in.
He had to FIND her first.
Keeping low and close to the line of parked cars on the curb, he crouch-ran forward. Two blocks up were the fire trucks and emergency personnel. He briefly glanced at the app on his phone, a smile of grim amusement pulling one side of his face. Yep, she was there, right where he was hoping she’d be by this point in the fight. Lo-jacking her hadn’t exactly been part of the deal, but how the hell was he supposed to keep an eye on her?? Blasted woman had taken to this powered gig like a duck to water despite her fears that she’d be essentially useless.
What sounded like an explosion just ahead had him ducking between cars again, scanning for the source. Huh. LEOs weren’t going to like that one—looked like someone lobbed a Molotov cocktail into a storefront while the chaos raged above and around them. Typical. Not his problem.
Jared kept making his way toward the triage area. Twice more he had to stop or go around various obstacles. That jackass in the sky kept yanking things like cars into the air to smash them into the heroes…. or rather, MISSING the heroes and therefore sending the cars crashing to the ground, hitting buildings and sometimes the stupid rubber-neckers on the street. You’d think those f***ers would get under cover, but there were always a few Darwin Award–winners.
Finally gaining the roped-off section of the block where the fire and rescue people had set up a barricade around an intersection that had lower buildings, he flashed his FEMA ID and the officers guarding the line allowed him through. Past barricade, the entire triage space was a madhouse. There were people burned, people who’d been hit by shrapnel and larger debris from the buildings. He paused a moment, caught his bearings, and headed for a canopy that had clearly been set up for emergency medical personnel.
Natalie—Nightingale—was already at work. Not shocking. He was under direct instructions to not step in unless the situation was drastic. She was a grown woman, perfectly capable of handling herself. But she was also a soft heart, unable to turn away people who were hurting. Rage blew through him fast and hot. Grabbing a guy who was wearing scrubs, he demanded, “How long has she been here?”
The guy looked at him, glancing where Jared pointed, and jerked back out of his hands. “At least a half an hour. The doc over there has been trying to get her to take a break for 10 minutes now.”
Without a word Jared released the guy, shoving him not-so-gently back into motion. He stalked toward the woman kneeling on the ground with her hand on a man’s face. In the ten steps it took him to cross the space (and avoid mowing down other emergency personnel), she was turning to yet another victim. She stood up and damn near keeled over. Jared literally grabbed her around the waist and pulled her away from the injured woman on the ground.
“No more!” he growled, directing his enraged look at the doctor crouched not far away. “You can’t let her heal that many high-level injuries at once! It could kill her!”
The doctor put up both hands in a surrendering gesture. “I’ve been trying to get her to rest!”
Jared looked down at the woman he was holding upright. Natalie looked back at him and glared… or at least she tried to. He could tell she couldn’t even focus her eyes. “Na.. Nightingale, you know better,” he rumbled at her in an angry, gravelly tone.
“More injured,” Nightingale objected, pulling to get out of his grip.
Jared ignored her feeble attempts and swept her up. “Where can I put her to lay down?”
The doctor pointed toward the far end of the triage tent, where ambulances were parked just outside.
Carrying her out there and setting her gently if unceremoniously on a pallet, Jared studied his charge. “Jesus Christ, woman. How many did you heal?” Although he knew the injuries to her own body would heal within the hour, she looked like she’s been run through a meat grinder.
“Not enough,” Natalie mumbled, struggling to get oriented. Being moved that way with the head injuries that she’d already healed scattering her focus had made her dizzy and somewhat nauseous.
“Enough for now,” Jared pronounced sternly. “You can’t even stand on your own. It’s time to stop, or you’re not going to be able to help anyone else.”
Natalie started to fire back a retort and then thought the better of it, letting herself relax just a little. “Okay,” she agreed. “I think I hit all the worst ones.”
If she hadn’t, it was too damn bad, he thought. Taking up a guard position, he turned his eyes to the sky to watch the end of the fight. He figured it was just about tied up, from what he could see. When he glanced back at her, Natalie’d passed out. He shook his head. He understood dedication, but damn … Hurting the way she did for other people was going way above and beyond in his opinion.
He crouched down to check on her. Her breathing was shallow and a brief run of his hands revealed multiple ribs injured and he’d bet money she was bleeding internally. Checking her pupils confirmed she’d taken at least one serious head injury, if not more. And it looked like her wrist might be broken. Those were only the ones he could see right now. God knew how many more her power had already healed at least to the point that he couldn’t discern them.
He stayed nearby with her until the battle was completed. She would be in good hands; he knew the team would take care of her. He waited until the Guardians arrived at the triage and slipped out of the back of the tent to go do what FEMA does—help pick up the pieces. Again.